Like probably many people i wouldn't think of using a phone booth anymore but i feel a pang of nostalgia each time i see an old-style one. Many artists have created performances, installations or games around public booth. One of my favourite performances is Sophie Calle's adoption of a phone booth in Greenwich Village back in 1994.
When Paul Auster suggested that the French artist contribute to the improvement of life in New York City, she spent a week sitting on a chair next to a public phone booth in TriBeCa. She replaced the Nynex logos with Have a Nice Day and Enjoy, stocked the booth with snacks, cigs, drinks and flowers, listened to conversations, chatted with people and got comments on the notepad left at the booth.
In the end representatives of the telephone company threw all of Calle’s improvements into a trash basket (via).
More recently, Ryan Holsopple launched a public pay phone who-dunnit that invites people to make a toll-free call from any public pay phone in Canal Street Station and solve a murder mystery.
Set in the maze of tiles that make up the station, the Canal Street Station game puts participants in the shoes of a private investigator, as he searches the depths of Canal Street Station for a young French woman that may have committed a murder, or may be a figment of his own imagination.
Players are asked one simple riddle that can be solved by refrencing a subway map on the platform, the answer has to be entered into the keypad when they hear Niki (alias Tajna Tanovic) say the words, "Canal Street Station."
"If you answer the clue correctly you hear her say, "Great Work Detective!" Niki then tells you a more difficult riddle that takes you to another platform in the station. The riddles become increasingly difficult as you walk the creepy corridors of the Canal Street Subway station finding the answers," explains Ryan Holsopple. "You can start on any payphone, but no matter where you begin you will eventually end up on the same platform in the end of the mystery, when you answer the final question, you are told which train to exit the station on to take you to the last stage of the mystery."
It's not the first time that the artist works with payphones: one project recorded subway Buskers, busker dial up (in collaboration with John Schimmel) and Peter Stuyvesant's Ghost, a self-guided walk through the area of Peter Stuyvesant's farm utilizing pay or cellphones to access soundworks.
I asked Holsopple a few questions about his latest project:
Why payphone? Are you still using them to make phone calls? Were you interested in working with them for some nostalgia-related reason?
I love payphones and with the growing number of mobile phones, it seems that payphones are on their way out, but I feel they are still essential to the makeup of the city.
Payphones in the NYC subway are the only way to communicate with the outside world, so that puts a boundary on users in a piece such as this, which is great when it comes to a game/theater piece.
I also love the nostalgia theme and much of the work that 31 Down does is based in nostalgia and the technology of the past and how it relates to the present.
The theater company centers around the ideas and cliches of the 'Private Investigator', so this became extremely relevant when I started working with Asterisk, which is an open source PBX created by Mark Spencer. Asterisk (and the voyeuristic possibilities that it offers) has a very 'seedy' side to it and seems to me to be the perfect fit for a private investigator obsessed with surveillance and eavesdropping.
I was also interested in a report by the Straphangers about the state of payphones in the NYC subway.
When i first read about your project i immediately thought about some old films noir. Are there movie scenes that influenced the scenario or any other elements of your project?
31 Down's work is heavily influenced by film-noir. In this pay phone mystery, the audience gets to play the character of a private detective, Mike Sharpie. For clues along the mystery, you hear the inner voice of the detective through the phone handset, this convention has a direct relationship to the film-noir voiceover narrative, which I love.
You also hear the voice of a young lady who speaks with a heavy French accent (played by Tajna Tanovic), she may have killed someone in the station and she is leaving mysterious clues for the detective; this device is mostly based on the work of film director Krzysztof Kieslowski (Dekalog), and the use of obsession and voyeurism in his work.
Paving the way for more news about Bogota...
The Ophonine is the first in an upcoming series of applications that transform your mobile phone into various musical instruments. With the Ophonine you can record and play sound loops with a press of a button.
First you have to download the Ophonine Pophorn software which will be available for free in May 2007. After that it works like this: press and hold the button to record a sound loop, using the microphone of the handset. When you let go of the button the loop is played back repeatedly - through the phone speaker or via an audio cable - until another sound has been recorded. Demo.
The Ophonine Pophorn is based on Unsworn’s installation, the Four Ophones.
Top image by Bogotrax' photos.
I met Mushon Zer-Aviv at ars electronica last year where he was presenting two projects: Upgrade!, an international network of gatherings around new-media, and ShiftSpace, an open-source meta-layer built above the web. A few weeks later, Mushon's path crossed mine again. He was presenting You Are Not Here at Conflux, a festival of psychogreography held in New York each year.
Mushon is a guy who never stops and makes us all feel lazy and useless. He designs, teaches, writes for mags, acts and netarts within new media. He is interested in particular in challenging the perception of territory and borders and the way they are shaped through politics, culture, globalization and the world wide web.
He lives with his wife and cat in New York and i'm really happy that he found some time to answer my questions.
Mushon, i first met you in Austria, you were presenting (between others)the activities of Upgrade! The Upgrade! network is growing and getting more active as time goes by. What motivated its creation? How did it develop? What are its objective?
Upgrade! started in 1999 by new media artist Yael Kanarek when she and three more friends got lonely and decided to meet in a bar in the East Village to discuss each other's works, these unofficial meetings developed and expanded and Yael started holding these meetings at Eyebeam Center for Art & Technology. In 2003 Upgrade started to expand when participants in the New York node and other friends of Yael opened similar nodes in Vancouver, Montreal, Boston, Seoul, Munich and at all more than 20 cities around the world. In 2005 I started the Tel-Aviv node, currently run by the Sala-Manca group. Since I moved to New York I have been more involved in the international level.
At the end of November 2006, we've met for the second Upgrade International gathering in Oklahoma City where we all exhibited, presented, held workshops and lectures around the theme of DIY. This was one of the most exciting events I've been to and I kept saying to myself how proud I am to be a part of this (I was also fortunate to work on the catalog). Every morning for the 4 days of the event we would meet for breakfast and discuss the network. We would learn about each other's nodes and think of ways to develop the international level.
Each node works a bit differently and reflects the culture and interests of its local community. For example, the Scotland node invites both artists and other specialists to present back-to-back it also moves every month between Glasgow and Dundee, the Chicago node holds its meetings at restaurants and acts as a meeting point for different new media academics, the Belgrade node serves as an umbrella to different art organizations, the Boston node is very tied to the practice and artist-base of Turbulence, the organization that runs it and the Salvador and Tel-Aviv/Jerusalem nodes are very interested in media activism and social change, and so on...
On the larger perspective it seems like Upgrade is going through the three classic models of networks, it started as a centralized network, with Yael's original NY node, continued to a decentralized network with different organizers networking between themselves and running local nodes and communities. One of our goals right now is to reach that third model of the distributed network (the same one behind the internet protocol that allows us to communicate) meaning - peer to peer communication and collaboration between artists from different nodes.
On the last day of the International gathering last month, Dan Phiffer, my partner on many projects, have presented his Postnational Foundation project where he attempts to challenge nationalistic approaches to politics through small local interventions. I think we were all very inspired by his presentation and sympathized with the 'think global/act local' approach. It is not accidental that the nodes are named by cities and not nations, we do see ourselves as a postnational network. Upgrade is a great platform for us to challenge globalization and offer better models of global networking.
Can anyone set up an Upgrade! in his or her own city? What are the rules? Any condition to fulfil?
We always try to make up rules, yet we keep deciding not to. Up to now we have a thriving network with only one case of a node loosing contact after one event, as much as it is not desirable we have decided it is ok, nodes will naturally have various lifespans. We decided to try not to make rules. If it breaks, we'll fix it. The way Upgrade started, the way it evolved and the way we would like it to keep growing is through the social networks of it's members, we're all friends of friends of friends. This narrows it down to one simple rule - you want to start an Upgrade? First become our friend :)
Do you see the internet as a public space? And how does ShiftSpace -that you developed together with Dan Phiffer- fit in the picture?
Dan and I met in ITP, I come from a design background and he from creative web hacking. We both really love the web and see it as the most important model for a future postnational world. That's why we're also very concerned about the main paradigm of the web, namely privatization. While the discourse about the web is full of superlatives implying freedom and sharing, we find ourselves constantly bouncing into new walls and boundaries online. The web is built as a huge set of private spaces - while the internet protocol is indeed distributed, the DNS (Domain Name System) protocol is totally centralized - meaning the control of the page content (no matter how interactive or web 2.0-ish it is) always in the hands of a single private power holder.We are trying to challenge this approach and make a point by not just questioning the web's power structures, but prove that we can build an interesting and useful tool.
ShiftSpace is an open source platform for the social extensions of websites. It is if you will, a transparent layer above any website where users can leave notes, discuss, protest, create art, and deeply explore the interactive potential of the web.
By installing the plug-in's current public beta version 0.07 (which we launched for the first day of 2007) users can use the 'Notes' space (application for ShiftSpace) to leave post-it notes on websites, use the 'ImageSwap' space to switch any image on the web with any other image, and use the latest addition 'SourceShift' to modify the html source of any page. We call these modifications shifts. When a user browse to a shifted page, she gets notified by a little icon, she can then click the
We are currently working on many new spaces and on a feature called 'trails' which would allow users to link shifts together and create information-maps on the web.ShiftSpace challenges the privatized interface paradigm and hopes to become an attractive platform for net artists, researchers, activists, poets, technologists and the everyday users. The Meta-Web concept has not managed to 'catch' yet, though many attempts have been made on it from the days of Third-Voice through GreaseMonkey to the proliferation of meta-web 2.0 annotation tools that are available out there.
ShiftSpace is a very young and ambitious project, we try to learn from the successes and mistakes of our predecessors and provide a true public space on the web. It is a Wild Wild Web out there and we're trying to make the platform as stable and yet as open as we can.
Has the shiftspace project evolved since I first heard the presentation you made at Ars Electronica in September 2006?
Definitely! First of all, we had four more releases since then (with v0.08 is coming soon too) and have just launched the new ShiftSpace.org which is wider and more comprehensive than the previous site. The new site also allows users to watch and subscribe to RSS feeds of shifts created by the vast user community.
We have been giving more presentations to spread the word and have been throwing 'installation parties' where participants were invited to install a public spaces on their laptops. We are currently working with Turbulence to start a unique commission program to support artists creating new parasitic net art and using ShiftSpace as a platform. This can become the moment we've been working towards, where ShiftSpace becomes an open-ended creative platform, shared and developed by a wide community.
We are looking for more people to join us in working on it. It can be as simple as using the system, being creative with it, and also reporting bugs from time to time when they appear (and bare with us while they will most certainly appear...). You can also join by developing new spaces for ShiftSpace, or best - for the web gurus out there, we are looking for developers to help us work on the core system itself. We are pretty serious about the open source model and are inspired by the Wikipedia foundation. We hope to achieve a stage when we could hold elections for the lead of the project. We will then hopefully compete with peers who are as enthusiastic and committed as we are to the future of the (meta)web.
You Are Not Here invites people to a touristic tour of Baghdad throughthe streets of New York. What was the impetus for this project? What doyou think New Yorkers can learn about their own city and about Baghdad with this project?
For me YANH has a lot to do with ShiftSpace. While ShiftSpace adds an information layer above the online space, YANH adds one above the urban space. We were generally dissatisfied with the way mainstream media communicates terms like 'Baghdad' and 'Iraqis', we were feeling these terms have lost their human scale. YANH attempts to allow a one-to-one scaled experience of Baghdad.
Accompanied by a two-sided NY/Baghdad map, the participants find the situated YANH signs in the streets of NY and call the YANH Baghdad tourist center to get the audio tours. Ubiquitous computing and specifically cellphones merges physical presence with mediation, and that's it's power, YANH is built around a tension between the two. Specifically, the guide for these Baghdad locations is very American. While you get to "walk in Baghdad", to experience information in human scale, this western guide reflects again the way we're all guided through information in mainstream media. This also adds a certain repulsive preview of culturally colonized Baghdad. The tension of tourism/colonialism is an inherent part of the project. I hope you got to experience this when you participated in the Conflux tour last September. NY based readers can try it too by downloading the map from the website and simply go out and enjoy Baghdad.
Can you tell us something about the new version of YANH: a tour of Gaza through the streets of Tel-Aviv?
Definitely. As an Israeli, this is something I'm specifically excited about. Four members of the original YANH team members (Kati London, Thomas Duc, Dan Phiffer and myself) are currently working on this second YANH project. This time reflecting Gaza and Tel-Aviv in a similar manner. Though geographically close (only two hours ride) these two cities are both emotionally and politically detached. This political and emotional detachment is a complicated issue, with some history. While the disengagement of Israel from the Gaza strip in the summer of 2005 was thought to open a new hope for Gazan civilians, it has practically turned Gaza to the biggest jail in the world. Where once Gazans used to work in Israel, now that the borders are closed the situation in Gaza deteriorates every day. It's a vicious circle in which the Israeli air-force keeps shelling the city to 'retaliate' for rocket launching from Gaza to Israel. You see... most Israelis are tired from the 40 years long occupation and want to see it end. Yet, in Tel-Aviv the general mind-frame is that after the disengagement we are not IN Gaza anymore and therefore are no longer responsible for it. This is something we want to address through the new YANH.
One thing we're doing differently this time is that we are not going to have an American or an Israeli narrator, but rather work with people from Gaza. We have just started working with Laila El-Haddad the talented writer of the fascinating blog Raising Yousuf, Unplugged: diary of a Palestinian mother. It is too early to say where would this collaborations lead the project, but we have high hopes for it. We are interested in the potential to turn Tel-Aviv into a situated media platform for geolocated audio blogging from Gaza. You Are Not Here: A Tour of Gaza through the Streets of Tel-Aviv will be launched in April, and the map will be printed in the 4th issue of Block Magazine. We are thinking of future episodes for YANH and are in contact with our Korean Upgrade friends trying to promote a tour of P'yongyang through the streets of Seoul.
How about the Little Feet Bureau? What did you try to achive with that project? Did you intend to raise the attention to online surveillance? Which kind of audience did you have in mind when you developed the LFB?
By now you can probably pick an overarching theme I'm working with. You know, growing up in Israel I always had regional maps around me, each one of them looked different... I managed to reach quite a grow up age without knowing what are the borders of my country. In a way I still don't. It has become my own private border conflict. That is why I'm so drawn to the internet and that is why I'm so interested in Postnationalism.
The Little Feet Bureau is concerned with exactly that - the tension between the Postnational tendencies of the web and the paranoid tendencies of national information agencies. Governments and national ideologies secretly surveil innocent internet traffic trying to project and justify their fears and construct fantastic narratives of terrorism, extremism and instability through bundeling of 'dangerous keywords'. For me this is the peak of the tension the core of the digital border conflict.
Toshi Ozawa, David Nolen and myself have created the Little Feet Bureau, an independent agency providing surveillance services for different governments. LF's dot-matrix printers are personalized to the client's ideology and print accusation letters to suspect users based on these paranoid keyword narratives. Essentially, these are paranoia machines - embodying national fears and cultural segregation into computer algorithms.
Did we do it to inform and raise attention about online surveillance? I'm not sure. Actually, Little Feet was launched in an Upgrade! New York event we held in Eyebeam. The title of the event was: We Passion Power and Control: the dark desires of art under surveillance. We also had presentations by of in(security) and of Generative Social Networking (both worth a WMMNA post). When we opened it to discussion we asked exactly that - did we do that to educate? to inform? to raise attention? or was there another thing? There is a constant love/hate relationship between artists and power. On one hand we want 'to protest against them', 'to raise awareness', 'to reveal the injustices' but on the other hand we simply envy that power, we WANT to posses the power of surveillance, we protest against it both because we think it's wrong and because we actually wish WE had this enormous power at our disposal.
I saw a similar thing happen at the Three Cities Against The Wall exhibition (where Less Rain studio and myself presented Graffiti Studio: Separation Wall). Artists both cried against the separation wall Israel is building in the west bank but many works actually longed for that power. There was a certain hidden desire kind of saying "I wish I could build such an extraordinary spectacle".
Atlas Gloves is a DIY physical interface for controlling 3D mappingapplications like Google Earth. Why did you and Dan decide to open the code and let people re-create the gloves. Which kind of improvement do you think other users can bring to the gloves?
This is actually a funny story. Dan and I were in our first semester in ITP in Tom Igoe's Introduction to Physical Computing class. Both of us spoiled software brats were a bit afraid of electronics and searched a way in the realms of the physical away from all these scary electrifying breadboards. Plus we are both very much about distribution, and have decided to build a cheap video tracking based hand gesture interface for Google Earth. The fun part is that it's just two ping-pong balls and keychain lighters - about $8 worth of a fancy Minority Report'ish interface.
Opening the source was an obvious decision for us, first of all we did it in the Processing programming language which is in itself opensource so it seemed only fair to make our software open too. But we were trying to make a point for low-tech as well. A lot of the spectacle of electronics involves how much it costs, these high-end interfaces demonstrate both control and wealth. Atlas Gloves is a free software and almost free hardware, and it works well. And if it doesn't work for you, you can fix it yourself, and if you're not into Google Earth or you want to use it for something else, than the code is yours to play with. Actually John Craig Freeman, an artist from Upgrade Boston is currently trying to see if he can use Atlas Gloves for his Second Life based artworks. That's exactly the beauty of open source.
Are there researchers or artists whose work you find particularly inspiring? Why?
As you probably noticed I am constantly inspired by the Upgrade network and the loads of talent, inspiration and leadership it has to offer. My professors are a great inspiration, Clay Shirky is very supportive of ShiftSpace and was there from the beginning, Raffi Krikorian was in the background of Little Feet, Frank Lantz, Nancy Hechinger, Alex Galloway, the list is long... For better or worse I am inspired by what's going on in the world and specifically by the way it is mediated. I enjoy some magazines, such as Bidoun: Art and Culture from the Middle East, that have inspired You Are Not Here a lot. I have designed and am involved in Maarav, an Israeli art, culture and media magazine that is a great inspiration for me. It is very politically involved and like Bidoun is dedicated to art from the middle east (English version coming very soon). I have been watching a lot of documentaries lately, Adam Curtis's 'Century of the Self' and 'The Power of Nightmares' are both must sees, John Pilger got me quite depressed, some Israeli documentary movies like Avi Mograbi's 'Avenge But One of My Two Eyes' is very strong, so is Juliano Mer-Khamis' 'Arna's Children'.
I am extremely inspired by my good friends the Sala-Manca group. They are inspiring artists that have managed while maintaining total independence to become a leading force in the Israeli contemporary art scene. They publish a magazine, curate exhibitions and art events, run no-org.net where they publish net art exhibitions, hold workshops, run Upgrade! Tel-Aviv/Jerusalem and lately have also become parents. They are truly amazing, you should definitely check them out!
I really can't figure out how you do it all: study at itp, have a webdesign studio, create cool project and follow Upgrade! Do you have timeto dedicate to anything else?
My wife would love this question (did she write it?). The truth is that I get by with a little help from my friends. All the projects I mentioned are at least 50% the work of the super talented people I have got to work with. First of all Shual studio is also in the good hands of my partner (and great inspiration) Guy Saggee. I always work with more people, for me that's the best way to work. That's what Upgrade is all about, that's also why I went to ITP, collaboration is ITP's secret. I only can't believe it's almost over. We're graduating really soon and I still have a huge list of ITPers I would have loved to work with... Andrew Schneider, Christian Croft, Ariel Efron, Chetan Mengat, Zach Layton, Britta Riley, Stefan Hechenberger, Jenny Chowdhury, Josh Klein, Heather Dewey Hagborg... it's a long list of people I have not collaborated with yet. I hope we will get the time for that too, after all, we are (comparably) young, right?
Podcast of the presentation of Upgrade at ars electronica.
As i mentioned yesterday, the Design Interactions department at RCA leaves space for people who want to work on more traditional interaction design projects. Here's a first example:
Peer pressure encourages us to fit in and be like everyone else. We come to develop a secondary personality for the public self, leaving the real personality only for our loved ones.
However, not everyone has the potential or enthusiasm to act through their life just to impress others. Alice Wang (whom you might remember for the buzz that her Pet Plus prototypes created last year) investigated whether products could be designed to help you create the perfect secondary personality to maximize your chance to fit in a new working environment.
The popular mobile is meant to make you look popular in public, it beeps at regular intervals to pretend you've just received another text messages.
When you are in your office cubicle, your colleagues often can’t see but can vaguely hear you. The fast typing keyboard is designed for those who are worried about getting laughed at about typing too slow. Just touch one or two keys and you'll hear the sound of a multitude of letters typed at high speed.
The positive printer helps generate positive rumours about you in the office. It filters your email inbox (all you have to do is tick the bocks of the key words you want to trigger the "print" function") and automatically prints out all your positive emails (invitation to exclusive parties, requests from the press or producers who fell in love with your new projects, etc.) When your colleagues pick up their print from the shared printer, they accidentally see your print and get the gossip going.
The double sided headphone is for people who like "embarrassing" music but who might be worried that people around them might hear it too. It plays one track inwards and one track outwards at simultaneously.
He has been working together with Jimmy Loizeau since 2001. They were both students at RCA at the time and they came up with the much talked about Audio Tooth Implant. Their website consists of both joint and individual projects. "When collaborating we share all areas of development and realisation equally, we're a bit like Rolls-Royce but without the Rolls (he was the business minded one)," says Auger. "We both work outside of the partnership (I'm at the RCA, Jimmy teaches at Goldsmiths) this work funds our own projects."
Between March 2002 and Jan 2005 he was a research associate at Media Lab Europe where he and Loizeau were exploring technology's effect on human culture, behaviour and experience. That's when i saw one of their works for the first time. In 2004, they were showing the Iso-Phone on Linz' main platz, for the festival ars electronica. This extreme telecommunication concept blocks out peripheral sensory stimulation and distraction, allowing the wearer of the Iso-Phone helmet to focus fully on the phone call. The only sensory stimulus present is a two-way voice connection to another person using the same apparatus in another location.
What can i say? I found the idea both scary and appealing. So i kept an eye on what these two were doing. Got in touch with Auger when i heard that he would be showing several prototypes of Augmented Animals gear in Lausanne (they are at the MUDAC until February 17) and ended up asking him if he had time for an interview.
Auger-Loizeau recognizes "that for each placated consumer of technology there is an unsatisfied, complicated or strange one." Does it mean that all your projects start with the encounter of an unsatisfied or complicated user? Any unsatisfactions and complications you'd like to work on in the near future?
Actually this is an old statement that we are planning to replace in the near future, things have evolved a little since we wrote that. Certainly the statement remains at the core of our investigations.
Our products provide an alta-vista on how we could interact with technology for better or for worse. They tread a fine line that tries to maintain a grip on reality whilst dealing with the complex social issues that result from an increasingly technologically mediated existence.
Current complications we're working on; mourning in a technocratic age and an exploration into the hidden potential of the sense of smell. (more about this later).
From what I've heard and read, people seem to love the Augmented Animals project. A reason for that might be that consumers are getting pet-techno-crazy these days. You started working on the project in 2001. Since then, companies have launched a phone for dogs, a translator for dogs' barkings, all kinds of interactive bowls, collars and toys for pets, etc. Do you think that the project is loosing some of its "strangeness" as time goes by?
Perhaps slightly cynical but I think that recently designers and
The products in the Augmented Animals series were all conceived with the animal's wellbeing in mind. Some of the proposals such as the status enhancers (methods for turning vermin and pests into entertainers and celebrities to enhance chance of survival) by their very nature are also of benefit to humans therefore these could be confused with marketable products and as such are certainly are becoming less strange as time goes on. Concepts such as the Night Vision goggles for rodents remain to me, extremely odd. Although feasible hypothetically, who would pay for the development, manufacturing, distribution, fitting and maintenance?
The project exists on two levels, on the surface it's a bit Chindogu, it can be read as a comic book with each of the concepts existing as a one-liner. On a deeper level it's philosophical, exploring our developing relationship with animals and the role technology has to play in shaping both our live and theirs.
What I enjoy about the reception of the project is that it seems to be
Each year, a blogger discovers the Audio Tooth Implant, and then there's a wave of posts on the blogosphere. Other bloggers write about it, re-discover it but very few question the fact that it might or might not be a real product they'll be able to get their hands on soon. How do you explain that? Is the implant a body enhancement that many people would love to have? Are people still contacting you to know more about it?
As mentioned above the project created a mixed reaction, it was never meant to be taken seriously (although I have received a few complaints from nature lovers who thought I really was advocating the development of technology for animals). The Tooth Implant was different from inception. It was conceived as a project to explore the potential and ramifications of in-body technology (implants). Jimmy and myself were conscious that for the project to instigate a wide public discussion the concept had to exist on the borders of contemporary reality too extreme and it would be seen as science fiction, too conservative and it would just blend into the plethora of current technological gadgets available on the market. Initially we were honest about our motivations but it soon became clear that the press weren't too interested in technological debate so we changed our methodology and went down the surreptitious route; by suggesting that it was a real product and would be available on the market at some point in the near future they took the bait. We learnt the correct technical jargon to explain how the chip would operate and built the model resin tooth as a representational graphic. Then after the project's launch at the Science Museum in London the journalists took over and the myth was created. We perhaps spoke personally to around 20 individuals; the rest is copy, paste and exaggerate. New media such as the web have enabled news and stories to spread like viruses, mutating as they weave their way around the world. This has perhaps perpetuated the project beyond its normal lifespan, that together with bad journalism. In all the time the project has been public only one or two journalists have questioned its validity. A German reporter from Die Zeit called Harro Albrecht wrote a wonderful article in 2002 and last year we were contacted by Wired enquiring into the status of the project. We still get a lot of requests for the tooth image, it¹s still featured regularly in lad's gadget magazines and people are still offering their teeth for experimentation.
What we¹re learned is that Brazilians love the idea of tooth implants, many people in the USA claim to already have them, planted by some secret government organisation and the Germans are very cynical about it (to their credit).
What did you try to achieve/investigate with The Interstitial Space Helmet? Don't be offended but I tend to see that project more as an art project than as the work of an interaction designer. What's your opinion on that?
This was a project that Jimmy and myself developed at Media Lab Europe, together with the Iso-phone. Both projects were an experiential comment on contemporary communication as mediated by technology. With The Interstitial Space Helmet (ISH) we were looking at the rise of digital mediation of human representation and how this challenges normative ideas of image, personality and communication.
This is one project that perhaps did start out with the complicated and strange user. Whilst placated in front of the screen, interacting with others via web cams and artificial personas they might run into problems dealing with real people in physical interactions. The concept blurs these two worlds, taking elements of the virtual into the physical. It is really a product for the Otaku generation, acknowledging the fact that the internet has created new forms of social interaction enabling new modes of behaviour and possibility. Online chat rooms, games and virtual worlds such as Second Life where we can be whoever we choose to be, exemplify this. Normative modes of behaviour and rules don't exist and for some, these places are more comfortable than the physical world.
The Interstitial Space Helmet is strange today, but in 10 years time?
Social Tele-Presence looks like the perfect accessory for our Big Brother'd generation. What's the idea behind the project? What does it comment on?
This is quite an old one. The original premise behind the early projects was that human evolution is not fast enough to keep up with technology; we are therefore in some cases the limiting factor, a hindrance to further development both physiologically and psychologically. An example of this is travel sickness a huge issue with the advent of space tourism. The concepts explored solutions to this situation, from post-human ideas such as implants or genetic modification to more simplistic methods such as tele-presence. (The experience of being fully present at a live (non-virtual) location remote from one's own physical location).
Tele-presence is currently used for military and exploratory purposes, allowing the body to exist in dangerous or inhospitable physical environments. Taking this as a starting point it seemed that there was potential to shift from physically inhospitable situations to social. The camera and microphone that are part of the hardware were relatively easy to develop but the robotic element was extremely complex and problematic. To get around this I originally attached the camera/mic to a dog but later the rent-a-body service was conceived. This operated in two ways; a human body with all external senses removed is made available for use. Camera and mics are attached and the renter can use the body to explore and visit socially dangerous or inhospitable places. I imagined MPs and strip joints or blind dates for the chronically shy. The other service was parasitical tourism, achieved by attaching the camera to people in a different social circle to your own, a bit like Being John Malkovich.
I suppose the project does fit into the Big Brother theme but it's really from a more personal perspective, a more active than passive relationship with the camera and screen.
You've spent some time in Japan to work for Issey Miyake. What were you doing exactly?
Unfortunately and much to my chagrin I had to sign an NDA as thick as the yellow pages so am unable to talk about it at the moment. I can say that I worked with the A-POC team and Dai Fujiwara in particular who was and still is very inspirational. It was a great experience.
You're now Tutor/Research Fellow at the department of Design Interactions, RCA, London. Could you give us more details about your role there? The kind of ideas or projects you're developing with the students?
I spend 2 days a week on the research and one day teaching both 1st and 2nd year Design Interactions students. The course evolved firstly from CRD to Interaction Design and last year to Design Interactions. Basically it's Interaction Design that incorporates emerging technologies such as nanotech, biotech, AI, pharmacology etc. It feels like home as these are the kind of areas I've been interested in since I graduated from the RCA, probably no coincidence as Tony Dunne (Head of Department) was my tutor in Design Products at the time.
It's a very people centric approach with the students exploring how these new technologies may manifest themselves in mainstream reality. I'd say that my role is one of guidance, of helping to sift out the ideas with most potential and aid in the development of the project. We place a lot of emphasis on communication, presenting complex ideas about the future requires delicacy and imagination. Science fiction can offer some clues but tends to sensationalise technological possibility and therefore lessens the impact of the message. Design has the potential to operate much closer to the borders of reality, removing the fictional element and therefore begging the question of the audience: "is this real or not?" When projects reach this level, the viewers own imagination can take over; how would it be to live with such products? Would I like to exist in such a world? and the discussion is initiated.
Currently we have projects envisioning a future where the poorest utilise new possibilities of fusing nanotechnology and the body as real-estate; a series of proposals reinventing myth and legend in the 21st century; an exploration into the potential of virus as commodity and more traditionally a critique and series of proposals on the world of blogjects, to name but a few.
Any plans in the new future or new projects you're working on?
We've (auger-loizeau) just finished a project for the Science Museum in London on the future of spying. The average audience there is 8-12 year olds so it was quite a challenge but we're happy with the result. This opens on the 10th February.
The RCA research project, sponsored by Philips design is progressing well. I'm exploring the potential of smell and its role in human interaction and behaviour. Suddenly it seems like quite a fashionable area but hopefully I've a slightly different take on it, control being a major aspect of the concept: Smells reaching the nose and emissions coming from the body. I've found some fascinating research related to these issues and am currently building an operational prototype for experimentation and photographic scenarios. Basically the themes are dating, health, cooking and control of personal information.
Finally I'm working with Jimmy on an old project of his: Afterlife, an aid for the grieving process in a technologically mediated culture. It used to be featured on our website but after we came clean about the tooth implant we didn't want people to think that this project was of the same nature. We're collaborating with scientists and attempting to offer the service for real. Basically creating a microbial battery from the energy of a loved one that may then be used to power a range of electronic products. We're at the early stages of development but keep an eye out for the new website, here we're working with our usual graphic designer, Johnny Richards who¹s done some great work for us over the years.
Jonathon Keats is a conceptual artist who is currently exhibiting extraterrestrial abstract artwork at the Judah L. Magnes Museum in Berkeley. Previously he petitioned Berkeley to pass a fundamental law of logic - A=A (Aristotle's Law of Identity) and gained notoriety for his attempt to genetically engineer God in a petri dish. In collaboration with the UC Berkeley, he used "continuous in-vitro evolution" to mutate bacteria and fruit fly and make them more godlike. To increase its chances of success, Keats played the MP3 recordings of prayers (the Jewish Shema, the Muslim Allahu Akbar, and the Christian Kyrie Eleison) for seven days and nights -- a standard Biblical time period -- while flies listened to live talk radio. Back in 2003, the artist even proposed to sell his brain.
Cage once famously composed 4 minutes and 33 seconds of silence, which was performed on a piano, in front of an audience, back in 1952. His silence was imperfect, owing to the limitations of the technology available at the time. "John Cage can't be blamed," explains Keats. "He lived in an analog age."
My Cage (Silence for Cellphone) dispenses with performer, piano and auditorium, instead utilizing a continuous stream of silence produced on a computer, and compressed to ringtone format.
While noting that Mr. Keats doesn't have a cellphone of his own, and may be less-than-qualified to make global pronouncements about them, the CEO of the company that distributes the ringtone believes that "My Cage" may be a platinum hit. "People want a respite," he says, "and not everybody has the time or money to go to a spa. The virtues of silence are unsung."
Nevertheless, Mr. Keats is careful not to take credit for silence in general, and hopes that people will bootleg his creation, just as he was inspired by John Cage. Mr. Cage, who died in 1992, could not be reached for comment.
Image 1: Keats creating a person's own personal meter stick, including stand and personal conversion table, based on and calculated from her heart rate (beats per minute). Image 2: John Cage playing a children's piano.
Jonah Brucker-Cohen interviewed Jonathon Keats on Gizmodo.