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Finland- and UK-based artist-researchers Loca were running their project in downtown San Jose. They had molded hollow concrete objects which they attached to various lamps, traffic lights and signposts. Being made of gray concrete makes them effectively invisible which is important because they contain sneaky cargo: inside, there's a mobile phone and a power source which lasts around a week. Using a custom software, the phone will continuously scan for devices that have bluetooth enabled and set to discoverable. Every occasion of a tracked device will be sent to the central database and archived there. At their booth they would print out a receipt-style list of the places you've been to which in my case was approximately 2 meters long, others were gigantic. Now here comes the fun part: Loca not only collects your data but also tries to combine it with the context of the "urban semantics" it is operating in and tries to draw conclusions from that. Having checked out a few shops and the park for instance, you would suddenly get the message: "You were in a flower shop and spent 30 minutes in the park; are you in love?�?.

Another thing that Loca do is the tagging of photos according to the electromagnetic context of the device at the time they were taken, i.e. the identities of the nearby bluetooth devices. The pictures they have been uploading to Flickr for some time now contain information about the presence of other's cameras, which already represents quite a history of social encounters, opening a wide field of possibilities for mining and combining the data. There was another work called BlueStates which apparently works in the same direction.

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IN[ ]EX is a project by a Canadian art group which acts as a nice low-tech approach to the spread of digital information. Their piece consist of a shipping container with (initially) 3000 wooden blocks of various sizes attached to it with tiny magnets. There are also a few bigger ones that actually contain sensors for the smaller blocks. The setup has two functions: a sound installation inside the container which is being generated and influenced through the way that the small blocks are attached to the wall of the container and around the bigger, sensitive blocks. The other part is actually participatory since the artists ask visitors to pick a block and take it with them. Ideally, they should attach it to another metal surface in the city, spreading the installation all over the place. IN[ ]EX is meant to "explore the migration of capital, goods, and people through the ports and public spaces of Vancouver and San Jose", and the Canadian wood did migrate quite a lot. By the time this photo was taken, almost 1000 pieces were already gone and you would see them in the most absurd places, some people get really ambitious with these things.

The exhibition-space at South Hall in San Jose, being a giant temporary tent-like structure, was a bit remindful of the Cargolifter hangar close to Berlin, blimp and blimpsters included!

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miranda-1.jpgI usually try not to blog too often about the work of the same artist. But for some artists whose work i particularly appreciate, i just don't try too hard. That's why the name of Ricardo Miranda Zúñiga has popped up here and there in the blog. He creates both computer-generated art and sculptural vehicles to achieve powerful social metaphors that investigate issues of globalization.

If you're not familiar with his work yet, here's a few projects he developed: Vagamundo, a video game that depicts the plight of new immigrants from Latin America to the US. The game goes right into the streets to directly meet its public in the form of a ice cream cart, similar to those pushed by paleteros in major U.S. cities.

Nexum ATM (2003) hides a comment on U.S. imperialism inside a standard ATM machine.

The Public Broadcast Cart is a shopping cart outfitted with all the technical ingredients that enables any pedestrian to become an active producer of an audio broadcast. The audio stream is available to anyone online and simultaneously transmitted via speakers making the cart a temporary soap box for willing participants.

But the project that won me is Dentimundo which offers citizens of the U.S., a wealthy country where 42 million people do not have health benefits, help in finding affordable dental care just across the Mexican border. The website documents this micro-economy of cross-border dentistry. I liked the project for several reasons: it's very well documented, with plenty of humour, interviews and informative graphics. It opened my eyes on a reality i knew nothing of and added a new perspective on the Mexican/US border issue. Last reason is that i live in a country where dentists are still using tools and methods that come right from the '50s, so i have to take a plane to Brussels whenever i have a toothache (which unfortunately happens quite often.) But enough with my life and back to Miranda Zúñiga's.

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He grew up between Nicaragua and San Francisco. This bicultural background extended into his artistic practice -- that investigates the divisive nature of capitalism and the social tools used to establish hegemony.

After receiving his MFA from Carnegie Mellon University in 1999, Ricardo Miranda Zúñiga started working at The College of New Jersey. He teaches Digital Arts, such as building interactive applications, Web Design and development (html, css, php, mysql, flash), computer graphics and so forth. In his second year there, he also introduced a Conceptual Art Studio class as a first year requirement in order to immediately introduce students to 20th Century avant-garde movements that may present intellectually rigorous and conceptually driven practices and -in his words- to get himself out of the computer lab.

0cartoto.jpgHow did passersby react to a work like Vagamundo?

Several passersby have first asked me what flavor ice cream I had. When I tell them that I don't have paletas but that I do have a free video game for them to play they are first surprised and then engage with the game or sometimes disappointedly continued on their search for a paleta. In general, children tend to immediately want to play the game and do so with no instruction. Adults however usually take some coaxing. Many will self-consciously try it out for a while, others will want to hear all about it, but then tell me that they are really bad at video games or wouldn't know what to do.

Were the immigrants happy with the way you portrayed their situations?

Yes and no. The protagonist of Vagamundo is the Mexican comedian Cantinflas or Mario Moreno, an iconic character in Latin America. I used Cantinflas, because Latin Americans can immediately recognize the game as a comic or satirical portrayal of the downtrodden. In this manner, most Latinos in the know recognize that the game uses entertainment to portray a difficult reality. Cantinflas is also painted onto the sides of the cart itself, Latinos on the street, see this, are drawn to it and then laugh whenthey see an animated version of Cantinflas being controlled in a videogame and then want to play.

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Poster of a Cantinflas movie

In researching the project I worked with the Tepeyac Association and interviewed many new Latin American immigrants to gather a diverse set of perspectives on getting into the United States and then life in the U.S. The game portrays an amalgamation of these personal perspectives, not as recent immigrants view themselves, but rather as others stereotypically view them. People who have experienced illegal immigration recognize this stereotyping and tend to agree that they are viewed in that manner.

Also when presenting the project, I target wealthy neighborhoods in which most non-affluent immigrants are behind a kitchen, walking a stroller, or tending a deli's flower shop - they are hard at work, so not many new immigrant's have played the game on the street. The overwhelming majority of pedestrian players have been upper middle class and white, this is the intended audience.

There was one instance, during a presentation at Columbia University's MFA graduate studios that a two Latino students reacted negatively to the Cantinflas representation - to the fact that the protagonist at each level is slightly hunched over reflecting a subservient role. My response to them was that the project doesn't seek to create a positive image of how far Hispanics have come in the United States, which is the cosmetic image that main stream media does choose to represent. Rather, I seek to put the viewer/player in a game that will have her/him reflect upon the intense hardships of undocumented Latino immigrants as part of our labor force in the United States.

Do you show the work regularly? Also in non-artistic contexts?

I haven't shown Vagamundo in a couple years. When I first created the project, I primarily presented it at non-artistic contexts such as street festivals and randomly on sidewalks, in wealthy neighborhoods of Manhattan.

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Another work that interacts with passersby in public space is the Public Broadcast Cart. The work invites pedestrians to become active producers of a radio broadcast. People are not used to undertake such an active role, are they willing to take the opportunity the cart offers? Do you get different kind of reaction according to the country or area where you show the Cart?

After having presented the Public Broadcast Cart in NYC, Linz, and Berlin, I'm convinced that high population density in Western cities creates a desire in individuals to be heard, to have their person or voice amplified. Whenever, I've made this project available in New York City, people immediately want to use it. The first time I presented it, I was most surprising. The Broadcast Cart was part of Wireless Park Lab Days, an NYC Wireless festival in Lower Manhattan's City Hall Park. A man who had just finished his gym work out, anxiously awaited an opportunity to use the cart. Once it became available, he took over the cart and played emcee for the following two hours, pushing the cart throughout the park, interviewing people and generating discussion - public radio.

In Linz, people actively used it because it was presented in the framework of the Ars Electronica Festival, and people wanted to participate with the art. Also it was Ars 2004, two months before the second Bush election. Non-U.S. citizens were interested in discussing these elections, particularly with an artist from the United States. So I accompanied the cart to generate greater use. Ideally, The Public Broadcast Cart is a tool that others use without my monitoring or emceeing, this has been the case in NYC, but in other cities people are more likely to use it if I am present for introduction and discussion.

0caoapo.jpgWhenever presented, mounted on the cart is text that introduces the function of the cart as well as a questionnaire appropriate to the time and place where it is presented. When pedestrians take the time to read these texts they tend to participate and allows me to step away. However in Berlin, it wasn't getting much use, except by street
musicians and football fans. So with the help of a couple of friends Emanuele Guidi and Marco Barotti, we organized a public concert, Copa Sonar. The event featured five experimental sound and noise groups at a public plaza, Schlossplatz, a historically politicized and contested site that is currently largely abandoned except for skaters who have set up ramps on the plaza. Performances by ap/xxxxx, B Component, the rottt (the return of the thinking thing), OLYVETTY, and saal-c were broadcast from the site via miniFM and visitors were offered free wine and beer. It was a great summer evening, with a diverse audience of sound art connoisseurs, curious tourists, and skaters. And the performances were so good that if it wasn't for the Internet, I'd produce a CD, all the performances are freely available:
http://www.ambriente.com/copa_sonar/

To return to your question, yes, in each instance, depending on country and context, the placement and reaction to the cart has varied.

I grew up in Belgium, in a city inhabited by many children of Italian and Moroccan immigrants. Most of them told me how they felt like they didn't belong to any country in particular, neither Belgium nor Italy or Morocco. However i always felt so much envy for their "double identity". Are you grateful for it or do you find it difficult to handle as well? How does your bi-cultural background feed your work?

I'm very grateful for my "double identity," I think there was period when I had a hard time with it, but that was from the age of 14-16, long ago. Today, I enjoy traveling through Latin America where people assume I'm entirely Nicaraguan. Also much of my work is grounded in having grown up between the two countries and seeing the incredible differences.

The project that impressed me most is Dentimundo. It's extremely well documented. What is its aim beyond being extremely informative? Isn't the situation it exposes mostly a win-win one?

Dentimundo seeks to function as a creative documentary with a functional purpose (such as the list of licensed dentists that one may visit). It presents a win-win situation, however underlying the win-win situation are negative elements of capitalism and globalization that the project seeks to expose. Also in North America there are many people with misinformed perceptions of Mexico and its medical industry. The site with all its documentation seeks to expel some of these misconceptions.

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Most of your works investigate current sociopolitical issues. Some of them are sculptural vehicles, others are on screen. What is the respective power and/or role of these approaches? How do you decide which medium will best suit a particular issue?

The decision as to what medium will best suit a particular issue depends on a variety of variables. I'm interested in creating work that combines aesthetics with critical perspectives but that is also somehow functional to others. So the decision of medium may depend on the community that the project targets, how the work can best be utilized by others, in what context it can establish the most powerful gesture or in what context it can establish a lively discussion...

Public Radio should be on the street and available for anyone to use, Upper East Side homeowners should acknowledge the reality of the kitchen staff who washes their dishes, and US citizens without medical or dental insurance should be aware of near by alternatives. Recently a Canadian emailed me with the following message: "Please Mention that Canada has NO dental insurance OTHER than private insurance that is VERY limited and virtually useless. The cost of Dentistry is on par with the United States and the situation is just as bad."

In general, I prefer work that is not only on the screen. I enjoy unexpected situations in physical space, however information tends to travel best over the web. So I use the web to share my research and at
times for the project itself, after all, today many people in the United States are likely to look for a new dentist online.

Which pieces of advice would you give to artists who want to engage with social, cultural or political issues?

I think it's important to carefully inform oneself of the various perspectives concerning issues in any public arena, and not through secondary or tertiary sources, but by actually speaking with people directly involved. In doing so, the work is likely to establish greater depth and sensitivity.

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View of FALLOUT: What's Left installation in Brooklyn

What are you working on now?

I'm reorganizing FALLOUT What's Left for an installation in a branch of the Miami-Dade Public Library System, a branch in a predominantly Nicaraguan neighborhood. I'd also like to take all the submission to the FALLOUT website, along with the graphics, and research and translate it into book form. I feel that there are several submissions that are powerful and present personal histories and current perspectives that are ignored. A few of my favorite submissions are:
http://turbulence.org/Works/fallout/viewentry.php?user_id=30
http://turbulence.org/Works/fallout/viewentry.php?user_id=50
http://turbulence.org/Works/fallout/viewentry.php?user_id=36

I'm also starting a long term project concerning the social constructions behind the term and concept of freedom.

Any artist from Nicaragua whom you think should get more attention from the public?

I like the work of Ernesto Salmeron, a conceptually based artist that uses video, installation, and public intervention. He is currently investigating the erasure of Nicaragua's revolutionary history. I also like the work of more established artists Patricia Villalobos and Patricia Belli.

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Artist Karolina Sobecka gave me a ride in her car yesterday, which she is driving around as part of her performative installation Wildlife. On the backseat of the car there is a powerful projector which is beaming a tiger on whatever happens to be parallel to the car. The animation of the cat is directly linked to the speed of the car, so when Karolina hits the throttle, the tiger starts running along as if on a leash, leaving behind baffled pedestrians. There are also sensors for cars that pull up in direct proximity which will also be represented by smaller animals.

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To her, the tiger is like an avatar to the car which creates a poetic juxtaposition between the "grittiness" of the city and and the luminescent figure of the cat on the wall. She wants to remind people of how much most technologies draw both their inspriration and (quite literally) power from nature. Another aspect is the fact of our relation to nature within the cities and potentially predatory animals that are coming to the cities, like the coyotes of Los Angeles or the bear that recently appeared in Germany. How much of nature would we really want to have around us?

Being one of the recent drive-by-projection projects (see related links) and being exhibited in California, it's almost ironic that the animals return through cars to San Jose.

Related: Light Attack, Parasite, Safari, Urban Monsters

4swirewwess.jpgConflux, the annual New York festival for contemporary psychogeography, will take place in Brooklyn, NYC, September 14-17.

At Conflux, participants turn NYc into a playground, a laboratory and a space for the development of new networks and communities. All events are free and open to the public. They include walks and tours, lectures, workshops, street games and tech-enabled expeditions, interactive performance, public art installations, movies, etc.

I've spotted a few interesting projects in the programme:

2.4GHz scape (image on the left), by Sawako Kato, will let audiences experience the realtime sonification of 2.4GHz signal (spectrum used for WiFi, microwave ovens, bluetooth, baby monitors, cordless game controllers etc.) around the place. People will also be invited to join the soundscape using their laptop or bluetooth devices such as the mobile phones to make the signal interference.

The Anti-Advertising Agency's Portable Sound Units are small sound-systems triggered only when pedestrians pass by them. They playback on-the-street interviews with the public about their opinions on outdoor advertising. Sara Dierck, Michael Dodge, and Steve Lambert from the AAA conducted hours of audio interviews about issues surrounding outdoor advertising with the public but also with selected individuals in the fields of advertising, conservation, and social criticism. They compiled and edited down the interviews into very short clips that raise questions about the role of advertising in culture. During Conflux, the units will be temporarily installed in various locations around the festival and area streets.

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AAA Portable Sound Units

Also on the programme: Sue Huang's Street Cut-ups that uses text found on the street and remixes it to find surprising new meanings; Caroline Woolard will affix “seats? into the u-channel of the no parking and stop sign posts implanted in the sidewalk; Toby Lee and Fotini Lazaridou-Hatzigoga will invite you to freeze for 5 minutes; etc.

Another Glowlab production: The Drift Relay , a collaborative psychogeographic experience in the form of a 24 hour relay-style exploration of San Jose, will kick off next week at ISEA: Tuesday, August 08, 10am - Wednesday, August 09, 10am.

Nicoline van Harskamp has done an extensive research on both public and private security guards and police forces in Amsterdam, Glasgow, Berlin, The Hague, Istanbul, London, and Rotterdam. Her project was different for each city.

The Istanbul version addressed issues of (the privatisation of) street surveillance with a group photo shoot of different private guards, a video piece and a "Little Guide to Istanbul guards" booklet.

In the Turkish city every street is ‘owned’ by the people that live and work there. Many Istanbulites pass the time waiting and watching. This system of urban social monitoring makes the city with 15 million people virtually street crime and vandalism free. Nevertheless, (military) police officers, municipal guards and soldiers also have a strong public presence.

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An unusually high number of private security people is present around public spaces like parks and bridges. There is no formal legislation restricting the privatisation of public safety and the guards themselves have no more rights or power than any other person in the street.

Her Istanbul video documented an experiment for which van Harskamp employed two men to spend 12 hours in the streets doing nothing. The team was dressed in special uniforms and wore false I.D. cards. They became traffic police on busy crossings, Zabita officers on Galata bridge, tourism police in Sultanahmet, boat attendants on the ferry, etc. and the public reacted to them accordingly. The team surprisingly easily made friends with other uniformed people. Hands were being shaken with police officers, soldiers and ‘colleagues’ from special security companies. Some of them just wanted to know how much they were earning and if they could get a job with the company.

More on private guards
, but in Mexico this time:

00casita.jpgThe Casitas: mexico city security huts series examines the structures built to provide shelter for the security guards Mexico City's wealthy neighborhoods (Lomas de Chapultepec).

These photographs depict the architectural/cultural dichotomy of having a 10 sq. ft structure in front of a 2000 sq. ft. mansion and where both serve the same function of a ‘house’. The men who work/live (they often work 24 hour shifts) in these casitas decorate them with photos of women (the virgin of Guadalupe and pinups) and fill them with amenities, such as radios, televisions, hot plates for cooking tortillas and, in some, even toilets. Very personal spaces placed in a public setting.

Jeremy Clouser

Via artbbq and subtopia.

Third project from the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea final show (see dedicated category).

Chia Ying Lee's Sonic Graffiti invites urban artists to collaborate and create music together, while allowing the passersby to enjoy it as well.

A system of devices enables graffiti artists to create and geo-tag music in the urban space with real spray cans:

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- The sound cap has to be snapped on the top of spray cans to spray out sounds and do simple sound manipulations with gestures. Users create music by overlaying/remixing various paint/sounds from the caps. Each cap can store up to 4 sounds in its memory card. They can be loaded from computers or portable devices like iPod, mobile phone, etc. Gestures to manipulate sound include fade in/out and scratch. Several artists spraying at the same time can create a sound composition.

- The controller is used for listening to the music with earphones when creating, and positioning sounds. It also comes with a recording part can be used for collecting sound samples from the city.

- The Boom box provides a shared listening experience for a group of creators in the public. Collaborations can be achieved both synchronously and asynchronously.

- Audiences can download a dedicated software player to install in mobile devices. Each graffiti is a small radio station. The player tunes into the music of the nearest sonic graffiti automatically while you go through the city. You can also mark the locations of music you like, hence make a personal sonic graffiti map.

This project gives graffiti audio meanings. It may change people’s viewpoint about graffiti. The music can also serve as the soundtrack reflecting the vibes of the city.

More details on Chia-Ying Lee's thesis blog. My images of her installation.

Related: spatial graffiti, Wearable inkjet printer for street art, Audio messages left in space, Graffiti Analysis projections, Hektor the graffiti machine, emergency spray can, Bench'Mark

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