Today i need something silly to cheer me up: i'm in Turin, it's August and the whole place is inert. All the art galleries are closed. Half of the cinema are 'on holiday pause' and even the postman hasn't brought any bill nor urgent (sigh!) parcel for two weeks at least. I'm in need of a distraction so let me tell you about the Poo Printer....

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Fabrizio Lamoncha, Poo Printer

Fabrizio Lamoncha entrusted a group of male zebra finches to be the main makers and actors of the Poo Printer, an analog generative typography printer using bird-poo to slowly trace the Latin alphabet characters, poo pixel by poo pixel, over a large paper roll placed under the cage.

The Poo Printer consists of a wooden cage sized 170x120cm and 100cm high with a removable tray in the center. This tray has interchangeable parts looking like tree branches with integrated food dispensers. According to the order of placement of these pieces it creates the shape of each of the characters of the Latin alphabet. The birds will hang out there most of the day, eating, pooing and even eating and pooing simultaneously.

The Poo Printer webpage said too much or not enough and i'm curious. So i asked the artist and designer to tell me more about the poo printing experiment:

Hi Fabrizio! What made you develop the work in the first place? A desire to bring humour to generative typography? A passion for male zebra finches? What were you researching exactly?

The first idea was to make this project outdoors with wild birds, but I had to find out if the project would work or not, so I simulated this process with captive birds. The conceptual idea was questioning technological development in relation to the current definitions of nature, inquiring the response of the audience to this topic. I decided to document the research very rigorously to be able to give detailed information about my work with the finches, just as rigorously as any experimentation with animals should be.

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Fabrizio Lamoncha, Poo Printer

Why did you chose to work with male zebra finches specifically?

Zebra finches are one of the most common and known captivity birds worldwide. They are small birds and that allowed me to reduce the size of the prototype. Something that also made me decide for the finches and no other species of birds is that although the finches have adapted very well to the captivity conditions, they are still afraid of humans. On the other hand we still consider them as pets, and when they are exhibited, the visitors, whatever their opinion on the project is, still inevitably empathize a lot with the birds. This natural engagement of the audience was very positive for my research.

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Fabrizio Lamoncha, Poo Printer

Now for a short list of trivial technicalities:
How many birds are participating in this experiment of 'simulated factory-chain'?

During the research period, I worked with four of them. Currently, I am exhibiting the final version of that first prototype. This one is sent empty, together with instructions and tips for the correct care and adequate environment for the birds, such as the light conditions, ventilation, etc. In this case, the contractor is the one in charge of finding the birds and taking responsibility for their welfare. Last time, for example, the curator borrowed the finches from a nearby animal shelter and at the end of the exhibition, they brought them back.

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Fabrizio Lamoncha, Poo Printer

The description of the project says that "The observation of this group of non-breeding birds in captivity and the experimentation with induced behaviors has been rigorously documented for this task." Could you explain and maybe give examples of the observation and research you're referring to?

This project simulates a product performing generative typography with bird droppings. My goal as the producer was achieving maximal efficiency, which means finding the ways to make the birds focus on the feeding - the more they eat, the more they poop. This variety of birds have different daily routines, such as times for feeding, sleeping, pecking, grooming, etc. But these routines can be modified according to their needs. For example, finches are hierarchical animals. It´s part of their nature, and as I said before, part of their daily routine is to peck at each other to move up the hierarchy. This is not an act of violence, but just a role game. My work was to transform this power structure into a peaceful flat hierarchy. Since I was documenting their routine 24/7, I found out that their perception of human presence stimulated their social bonds. Human presence represented a threat for them, and their reaction to that was to come together. On the other hand, as soon as they were alone again, the pecking would continue. Since I was not able to stay around them all of the time, I researched the ways I could simulate human presence. I researched on their abilities to form concepts, and recalling 1984, I tried placing severe human portraits, and playing recordings of political speeches. The funny thing is that everything worked -but only for a while.

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Fabrizio Lamoncha, Poo Printer

How long does it take for the birds to print a letter?

It depends on the amount of birds and surface area of the letter. I just can tell you that with four finches you can make an I in one day, or an A in a bit more than two days, it all depends on the shape of the symbol.

Did everything go according to your plan? Or did the birds manage to surprise you?

From the perspective of the development of the project itself, I have to say that everything went surprisingly well from the beginning. I documented myself a lot before, but I still think that I am very lucky. From the personal experience, I guess whoever has shared a part of his life with animals could tell you the same. Taking responsibility for the welfare of a living being is a transforming experience.

Are you going to keep the birds as pets?

To be honest, I was never a big fan of keeping animals in captivity. When I decided to start this project, I weighed the pros and the cons of developing an artistic research under these conditions and I finally decided to put my moral issues aside and go for it. It has been an invaluable experience from all perspectives and I am very happy with the result. Of course, after sharing all that time, I became very attached to them. I wish I could have kept them all, but this was not an option.

Is this good for them to be kept in strictly male company?

Actually, I read that if you are not interested in breeding them it´s better to keep males and females apart, because during the breeding, the male can be very aggressive to the female. Finches are social animals, but as long as they are more than one per cage everything is fine. When they are just males, they still gather together in couples for grooming, and they are happy and peaceful with each other. It´s worth seeing!

The work has received an incentive for production from the VIDA competition. So how are you planning to go further with the project? Try all the letters of the alphabet? Do other type of research in how to use birds in typography?

VIDA14.0 was a great surprise and it meant a lot to me that they considered my work. In the last months, I finished the letters and the documentation and as far as I am concerned, the research is finished. Now I am focusing on the exhibition, but I wouldn´t turn down working with living animals again, it´s a very interesting topic.

Any upcoming project, exhibition, areas of investigation you'd like to share with us?

I keep working on the pooprinter and at the moment I am developing the instructions for an outdoor version, so people interested in the project can CNC the parts, build their own and install a pooprinter outside in their garden or wherever they want. No more bird cages.

Thanks Fabrizio!

Related stories: Wim Delvoye: Cloaca 2000-2007,
Wim Delvoye´s talk at Ars Electronica.

Sponsored by:





Adam Brown is a conceptual artist working with scientists to create art pieces that use robotics, molecular chemistry, living systems and emerging technologies. Years ago, i saw one of his works at Emoção Art.ficial [Art.ficial Emotion], a Biennial of Art and Technology in Sao Paulo. The robotic sculpture, called Bion, explored the relationship between humans and artificial life. Fast forward to May 2013 when i am aimlessly clicking around and stumble upon one of his most recent pieces. This time, the project doesn't use swarms of responsive synthetic "life-form" but bacteria that, over a period of one week, process the toxins of gold chloride and produce nuggets of 24-karat gold.

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Adam Brown in collaboration with Kazem Kashefi, The Great Work of the Metal Lover, 2012

The Great Work of the Metal Lover earned Brown and his collaborator microbiologist Dr. Kazem Kashefi world-wide media coverage, an Honorary Mention at Ars Electronica as well as a Special mention at VIDA.

Brown brings together science and art into each of his works, from the initial concept up to the final realization. His artistic practice not only challenges scientific inquiry but it also comes with undeniable aesthetic qualities (something that is sometimes little more than a second thought in artworks that make use of the latest advances in science and technology.) Simply put, his artworks are beautiful to look at. While the Bion sculpture (below) is as stunning as it is smart, Origins of Life: Experiment #1.x (a working scientific experiment that builds on Miller-Urey's 1953 experiment to draw attention to the artifice and aesthetics of experimentation) neatly hangs scientific instruments and processes on a wall as if they were museum paintings.

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Adam Brown in collaboration with Robert Root-Bernstein, Origins of Life: Experiment #1.x (detail), 2010

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Adam Brown, in collaboration with Andrew Fagg, Bion, 2006-present

Brown is an Associate Professor at Michigan State University where he created the Electronic Art & Intermedia department. He is also a Research Fellow at the Institute for Digital Intermedia Arts at Ball State University, and serves as an Artist in Residence for the Michigan State University BEACON (Bio/Computational Evolution in Action Consortium) project.

I interviewed him via email just before he flew to Sydney to attend the ISEA Symposium on Electronic Art.

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Adam Brown in collaboration with Kazem Kashefi, The Great Work of the Metal Lover, 2012

Hi Adam! What you've achieved sounds almost like a fantasy... Using bacteria to turn valueless material into gold. I'm sorry for the very mundane question but why don't you make it a full time activity? You could be drinking cocktails on your yacht, on your way to a golf game with Donald Trump instead of answering my questions right now...

This is probably one of the most asked questions that I have received about this piece. The other question that is often asked is if I can share with people how to "make gold." The potential to make gold and accumulate wealth is a very powerful motivator of the human condition. Even Forbes wrote about it. Fortunately, the process is not cost effective at this point. I have to buy the soluble form of gold I put into the reactor and, since the bacteria only grow in anaerobic conditions (no oxygen), I also have large expenses in creating the conditions for their growth.

Of course the natural follow up question is if it is possible to harvest the dissolved concentrations of gold in the oceans (which contain about 10 parts per million). It might be possible, but it would take a great deal of expense to scale up a system that would be efficient and cost effective. However, this is not something that I am interested in doing. What would be the environmental costs of engaging in such an activity? With our limited knowledge of the oceans ecosystem it is unclear what would happen to the ocean life if it were depleted of dissolved gold. As an artist, I'm more concerned with probing and questioning the potential impact of our ability to engineer and control nature.

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Adam Brown in collaboration with Kazem Kashefi, The Great Work of the Metal Lover, 2012

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Gold flakes made by Adam Brown and Kazem Kashefi

What brought you to alchemy? A nostalgia for an ancient quest or the mere curiosity to explore what an artist can do with modern microbiology?

Alchemy is a topic that I have been interested in for quite a long time. Alchemy incorporates both a spiritual, creative and scientific pursuit all in one. As an artist of the 21st century working with biological systems, alchemy feels like an appropriate model of reference.

At the height of Alchemy during the time of the European Renaissance the world appeared to be much less defined. Artists were at the same time engineers, architects, alchemists, chemists. It was possible for a single person to strive to be the universal person and have relatively deep knowledge of many fields. Of course times have changed, complexity has grown and specialization has become more necessary. Newer technologies including augmented memory and instantaneous access to information have changed the way artists work. Now instead of being the total person one can employ collaborative practice to venture into territories that were previously inaccessible. This changes the role of the artist to one more akin to manager or director.

I also like the poetics of possibly solving the ancient alchemical problem of the philosopher's stone using modern microbiological science. Interestingly, the process does have some overlap to the description provided by alchemists describing the philosopher's stone. One would know when they were getting close to transmuting base metals into gold because the solution would turn a redish/purple color called "rubedo." The bioreactor of the GWML turns a purplish color when the microbial community is precipitating gold.

You developed the work in collaboration with Kazem Kashefi from the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at Michigan State University. What form did the collaboration take exactly? Was it you dictating what needs to be done and the scientist was executing your instructions. Or is the experience more hands-on from your part? With a more critical feedback from Dr Kashefi?

The relationship was hands on and mutualistic. One of my major interests is in origins of life research. This led me to extremophiles as they are probably some of the first forms of organized life on the planet and to Dr. Kashefi (Kaz). I read a paper he wrote in 2000 about how anaerobic extremophile microorganisms have the ability to precipitate heavy metals and even gold. I asked him if he thought it possible to devise a system capable of producing enough gold that one could hold in one's hand. This was the beginning of the collaboration. Over the course of a year, Kaz and I conceptualized how to construct a sustained culture capable of this task. He taught me the lab bench practices to, culture, grow anaerobic microorganisms. I designed, conceptualized and built the installation; Kaz led the scientific inquiry but we practiced the science together.

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Adam Brown in collaboration with Kazem Kashefi, The Great Work of the Metal Lover, 2012

Unlike many works that merge art and science which outcome only appear in art publications, articles about The Great Work of the Metal Lover also appeared in science magazines. So what makes the piece appealing to the scientific community?

One of my goals as an artist, especially when it comes to collaboration is make work that has a high degree of mutuality between the respective disciplines. While it is not always the case, when working collaboratively I like to try to make contributions to the various fields of research that are represented. So, in this case, it is important to not only make contributions to the arts, but also to the sciences. The GWML does tap into interesting science in that we have shown that the microorganism is able to survive and even flourish on much higher concentrations of gold chloride than has ever been reported (ten fold in fact). Secondly, the research is relevant to scientists that are interested in the possibility of metabolic process being responsible for mineral production. Finally, novel uses of microbes, including genetically modified versions, are a hot topic for research at the moment; scientists are looking at biotechnologies to do everything from bioremediation, to microbial pharmaceuticals, to even energy production. Of course, gold does have a universal appeal, having been coveted by most people; scientists are not excluded from this bias.

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Adam Brown in collaboration with Kazem Kashefi, The Great Work of the Metal Lover, 2012

The artwork doesn't stop at creating gold nuggets, it also features images made using a scanning electron microscope and an ancient gold illumination techniques. Could you explain us what the process involved and what the images represent?

The Scanning Electron Microscopic (SEM) images depict the microorganism Cupriavidus metallidurans creating the nanoparticles of gold within a biofilm. The prints function conceptually to provide objective proof that the claims of gold production are indeed authentic and act as a literal manifestation of combining ancient practice with modern scientific imaging. They also comment on scientific objectivity as well. Most images that we see made by an electron microscope are altered or enhanced in some way, usually using an application like Photoshop to add color and adjust contrast. The prints that I am producing are also enhanced. The only difference is that I am highlighting the location of the gold using the gold produced in the bioreactor in the image by adding gold to the surface of the print.

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Adam Brown in collaboration with Robert Root-Bernstein, Origins of Life: Experiment #1.x, 2010

The description of the work Origins of Life: Experiment 1 opens on a quote by biologist E. O. Wilson "The aim of art is not to show how or why an effect is produced (that would be science) but literally to produce it."
What is your understanding of the quote or how does the artwork illustrate it?

The quote illustrates a close alignment between art and science and that the practices are more connected then disconnected. The artist wishes to create a phenomenological output while the scientist's main goal is to understand the phenomenon: a complementary/mutualistic relationship; an epistemological difference signifying that there are many more commonalities than differences. This once again ties into the discussion of the previous question about collaboration and mutualism. Origins of Life is an installation and a performative re-enactment of the Miller experiment that attempts to quite literally depict this relationship. It is in essence a contextual problem filled with an epistemological shifting perspective.

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Adam Brown in collaboration with Robert Root-Bernstein, Origins of Life: Experiment #1.x, 2010

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Adam Brown in collaboration with Robert Root-Bernstein, Origins of Life: Experiment #1.x, 2010

The Great Work can be summed up in a catchy headline, but Origins of Life cannot be reduced so easily to one sentence. Not everyone knows about the Miller-Urey experiment for example. So how do you manage to engage a scientific audience with an artwork and vice versa: how do you get the attention of art lovers with a work that deals with scientific theories?

True. Not everyone knows about the details of the Miller experiment, but big questions such as "where do we come from?" and "how did life begin?" have a much greater universal appeal overlapping with philosophy, religion, art and science. You don't have to know anything about Miller-Urey or theories of how life originated to be fascinated by an apparatus that makes lightning and thunder, bubbles and boils, gleams and glistens and mysteriously converts a tank full of gas into brown-colored goo. Once interested, you can get the scientists to think about the artistic aspects of their practice and the artists to think about creating life as a metaphor for the creative process itself. The origins of life question is also what makes us human.

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Adam Brown in collaboration with Robert Root-Bernstein, Origins of Life: Experiment #1.x, 2010

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Stanley Miller working in the lab where he simulated atmospheric conditions similar to those on Earth 3.5 billion years ago and created organic compounds. © Bettmann/Corbis

You also defined the project as being "open source", as it 'invites contributions and participation from other scientists.' If find you very brave. not many artists would be comfortable with the idea. Why was it important to you to leave them this open door instead of keeping the project stable and immutable? Could you tell us how and if scientists have contributed or pushed it further and, more generally, how they have reacted to the work?

Once again, it goes back to the idea of collaborative practice and mutuality and started out as a collaboration with the scientist Robert Root-Bernstein. While it is important for me to have some conceptual ownership over the work, it is also important to attempt to solve the mystery of how life started on the earth. And technically, the original scientific experiment does not belong to me either as it is an appropriation from Miller. Are not the under-pinnings of the scientific method that of "open source"?

I have been interested in the Miller experiment since I was in high school. The original experiment enacted by Miller in 1953 never seemed to make much headway after the initial experiment; that is the production of amino acids from inorganic material. Perhaps this was a result of available technology of the time. When Miller died in 2008 I felt like it was an opportunity to continue with the project. There are many adaptations and further experiments that were never realized or maybe thought of: such as adding a phosphorus source like salt or even running the experiment for longer then a week. Since trying out some of these modifications we have synthesized Adenosine triphosphate (ATP) the power source of cellular life as well as a building block of DNA and also have shown evidence of the production of lipids which are the materials that make up cellular membranes.

Most scientists have been very positive about the project. They realize that scientific funding agencies are very conservative and can only fund what will obviously work. But what we already know will work doesn't help us progress in our understanding. Engaging in the project as a performance lets us break out of the constraints that the scientific peer review system imposes so we can try the kinds of experiments most origins of life scientists would really like to try.

In fact, one scientist who had invented an ultra-sensitive ATP-measuring device, donated one to us so we could test whether we could make ATP along with amino acids. Overall, the scientific community has received the work very positively. Origins of life research in general has massive appeal. It is inspirational to scientists and artists both.

Any upcoming project, exhibition, areas of investigation you'd like to share with us?

I have a few projects in the works. I will definitely share them with you and We-Make-Money-Not-Art when they are ready to be released in the near future.

Yes, please! And thank you for your answers Adam.

Remember i was telling you about "Anti Anti Utopia", the talk that Vicky Messi gave at the FILE festival symposium a week ago? She was highlighting media art projects from Latin America that 'look beyond anti-utopia.' The first work she presented was Arcángel Constantini's Nanodrizas, a fleet of "flying" saucers deployed in polluted waters to clean them up.

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A second brilliant project she mentioned was Ciudad Nazca / Nazca City, a land art project in which a robot draws a true scale map of an imaginary city onto the surface of the Peruvian desert.

Artist Rodrigo Derteano's autonomous robot plows the desert ground to uncover its underlying, lighter color, using a technique similar to the one of the Nazca lines, the gigantic and enigmatic geoglyphs traced between 400 and 650 AD in the desert in southern Peru. Guided by its sensors, the robot quietly traced the founding lines of a new city that looks like a collage of existing cities from Latin America.

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Nazca monkey, Peru

Because of the city would extend over several squared kilometers, the map can only be appreciated as a whole from certain a height by means of airplanes or satellite imaging. Just like the Nazca lines.

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The project invites to reflect upon the explosive urbanization of the deserts of the Peruvian coast, taking place since the middle of the last century, and its consequences on environmental sustainability and the quality of living.

I asked Rodrigo to talk to us about Ciudad Nazca:

Hello Rodrigo! What is the motivation behind the project? During her presentation at FILE, Vicky mentioned the spectacular growth of the city of Lima and the need to find new ways of designing and envisioning cities, maybe by building them in the desert. Can you expand on this?

I live and grew up in Lima. About 60% of the city today lies within the desert, most of it grew without any serious urban planning. It's a self-made metropolis, the second largest city built in the desert after Cairo. It grew from 1 million to 8 million people in less than 60 years. There's a lot of problems derived from this development in terms of sustainability and living standards which exacerbate the huge inequality of our society. The desert plays a big role in this regard. People living in desert areas of the city are usually poor and often have to pay more for water than those living in more centric (richer) areas. They also lack proper infrastructure and have much less public places and parks. For a long time, these areas were not considered part of the city by the ruling class and the authorities until they became the majority.

By drawing a gigantic map of a city onto the desert, the project not only seeks to draw attention to this facts, but questions our very concept of city, specially in regards to its environment. Lima is a sort of negation of the desert. Our model and ideal of city is very occidental, and does not adapt very well to its context. The desert is seen a kind of non-place, not a part of our living environment. In this sense, there's a sort of irony in using a robot to draw a city onto the desert, as if it would be drawing it on the surface of Mars (exploring the outer space for the possibility of urban life).

I'm also fascinated by the Nasca people and their lines (200 BC - 600 AD). Studying theories about them, I found their notion of desert as ritual space, and therefore an expansion of their living space, to be in sharp contrast to our notion today. Some see the Nasca lines as cult to fertility and life in the desert, trying to communicate beyond. In this sense, Nasca City is kind of a cult to urban life in the desert today, not communicating beyond, but within our society...

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I was also interested in the cities you selected for the final collage. How did you chose them? Why Belo Horizonte and Rio de Janeiro rather than Sao Paulo? Why Bogota rather than Medellin for example?

The project required an interdisciplinary group of people working together to make it happen. In regards to the design of the city we worked together with the Latin American architecture collective Supersudaca, represented by the 51-1 architecture studio in Lima. The collective proposed to do a real scale collage of pieces of the 10 largest cities in Latin America (Sao Paulo is included). They would overlap at the borders creating new urban forms and zones of conflict. The idea was to create a map of mixed references, city patterns already charged with meaning, that people would be able to recognise, compare, and understand the scale of the drawing according to their own real life experience.

Why 10? Well, they like to put up simple rules. The cities pieces were put together conserving their relative geographical position and original orientation.

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The city drawn in the desert is ephemeral is that correct? Isn't it disheartening to dedicate so much energy and see the city being slowly erased by the wind and other natural elements?

Sometimes I also find it disheartening, but most of the time I think it is ok for it to be slowly erased by the wind. The lines loose the sharp contrast with the surface in a couple of weeks, but the relief will be visible for years. I don't know if I would find the drawing and whole action equally meaningful in, let's say, 20 years. The desert is quite a special place for me, and I had my thoughts about leaving permanent marks that large on its surface.

For it to stay forever, we would have had to do it in a terrain with almost identical conditions as in Nasca, which is a protected area classified as world heritage by UNESCO. We would have ended in jail for sure, if we had done it over there. Which brings me to question number 5...

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How long did it take to draw the whole city and did you have to stay near the robot constantly to monitor its work?

The drawing took 5 days (4 under ideal conditions). We had to rescue the robot sometimes and had some problems, but most of the time, it would do fine by itself.

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Did you need to obtain special permits to do this piece of land art or can anyone do anything they fancy in the desert?

In theory, you can't do what you want in the desert (in Peru), unless you own it. And even then, you'll have to do an official and quite expensive study certifying the absence of archeological rests. In a protected area like Nazca, it would be a serious crime (to destroy national heritage). We certainly could not buy up that amount of terrain (!!). But it is permitted to drive around in non protected areas, which also leaves marks. So there's kind of a gray zone. In practice, people exploit the landscape in all sorts of ways, but we wanted to go public with it. We had to make sure we could do it, or at least be prepared for the consequences. The local authorities were sympathetic to the project and we got an unofficial permit...

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Are you planning to repeat or show the project elsewhere in the near future?

The project is not completely finished, because there are lots of follow ups. Maybe I'll take on the topic in further projects or exhibitions. Maybe someday we repeat the drawing process, but it's quite a production and I have no concrete plans. There are no exhibitions planned at the moment, but I have a lot of material and would like to show it again.

Thanks Rodrigo!

And if you speak spanish, check out this interview that Vicky did with Rodrigo:

All images courtesy of Rodrigo Derteano.

Previously: Nanodrizas, "flying" saucers for polluted waters.

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Every year, the FILE festival invites artists and other people who have a hands-on approach to new media art to share their views, works and ideas with the audience during a 4 afternoon long symposium. One of the most fascinating talks for me this year was the one that Victoria Messi, author of the fantastic blog El Pez Eléctrico, gave about media art projects from Latin America that 'look beyond anti-utopia.'

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Vicky Messi at the FILE symposium

Titled Anti Anti Utopia: Arte Eletrônica na América Latina / Anti Anti Utopia: Electronic Art in Latin America, the presentation introduced us to four projects by media artists who believe that art still has the power to transform society. I was planning to write a long post that contained her whole presentation but i thought it would be more fruitful to highlight the projects one by one. First of all because each of them is so clever, quirky and fascinating that it should have its own space. Secondly because i've just started The Leopard and as much as i'd like this Jo Nesbø gem to last as long as possible i can't stay away from the book more than it is strictly necessary for my mental well-being.

The first project Vicky Messa mentioned is Nanodrizas, a project that Mexican artist Arcángel Constantini has been working on since 2006.

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Shaped like small flying saucers, the Nanodrizas are floating autonomous robots forming a network of wireless sensors, which attempt to interact with biological elements. The robotic prototypes measure, in real time, the environmental conditions (temperature, pH scale, level of humidity, turbidity, etc.) of polluted water surfaces. The data collected is then transmitted via wireless communications for interpretation and analysis. Once to the level and nature of pollution has been identified, the nanodrizas directly intervene by emitting synthesized sound and releasing bacterial and enzymatic remedies in the eco-system that, ultimately, should regulate the quality of the water.

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Prototypes of the nanodrizas have been deployed in heavily polluted locations. In particular, in the river going through the city of Puebla in Mexico. Puebla hosts "La Constancia", an ex textile factory which used to be one of the most modern factories in Latin America. La Constancia relied heavily on water to function: water was used to power its turbines and water was where waste was then dispersed. As a consequence, the river is now suffering from high levels of pollution. The mission of the robots is therefore to intervene directly and revert the effect of the pollution in the water.

The Nanodrizas benefit from relatively sophisticated technologies but were made using discarded materials such as children's toys.

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First prototype, 2006

The work thus moves beyond other environmental tactical media interventions by making an attempt to be actively therapeutic. The work will also functions to alert and sensitise people to the situations via, in the first location, the sound emissions of the Nanodrizas and second via displays in exhibition centers and online.

The project thus exemplifies an admirably holisitic kind of art practice which is simultaneously technologically well informed and technologically inventive, while being engaged with complex social histories and activist with respect to fundamental problems of our time.

Check out this interview that El Pez Eléctrico had with Constantini about the Nanodrizas fleet. I'd recommend watching it even if you don't understand spanish because you will not only see the nanodrizas in action but you will also be able to listen to the artist's melodious Mexican accent.

Related: Nomadic Plants by Gilberto Esparza.

FILE, the Electronic Language International Festival remains open through August 21, 2011, at the FIESP Cultural Center - Ruth Cardoso, in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Entrance is free.

Previously: Winners of VIDA 11.0 announced (part 1)

The second Prize of the VIDA competition was given to Performative Ecologies, a work by young artist, architect and too rare blogger Ruairi Glynn.

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Performance Ecologies © Ruairi Glynn

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Performance Ecologies © Ruairi Glynn

Performative Ecologies is made of 4 independent 'creatures' that observe the public and dance for them. At the beginning of the exhibition, the creatures are rather dumb, they have little understanding of the way to move their heads and react to visitors. The only instinct they have is 'to be looked at" so they search their environment for people. As soon as their camera has detected that someone is watching them, they start dancing in order to keep the attention on them. In the beginning, they perform randomly. As time passes however, the little machines learn which kind of dance is more successful with observers, they improve their movements and choreography. They become increasingly smart and informed.

The dancers learn and behave as individuals. In fact, they even compete with each other to get your attention. But they also form a community. When foreigners are out of the room, the dancers share what they have learnt. Just like what happens in real life, their relationships is based on mutual understanding but also on disagreement.

Glynn believes that his role is not to come up with a pre-choreographed set of 'interactions', he merely built an environment for these creatures and gave them the ability to develop their own individual personality. Instead of working on the usual action-reaction mode that characterizes many of the so-called 'interactive installations', Performative Ecologies evolves through a series of experiences that generate genuine and new information, unexpected results and multiple layers.

The third prize of the competition went to Chico MacMurtrie's Sixteen Birds.

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Sixteen Birds © Chico McMurtrie

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Sixteen Birds © Chico McMurtrie

The inflatable robotic birds extend and move their wings in a coordinated flight-like motion as they sense the presence of visitors. But beware! If people come too close and in too high a number, the birds suffocate and deflate, as if deperishing. A strong environmentalist position is already implicit in the bio-mimetic shape of the birds, and is reinforced in other features of the work. For example, in the first exhibition of Sixteen Birds, the configuration of the sculptural group as a whole suggested the flow of the local river, threatened by over-development.

Ruair Glynn made a brilliant little video about the VIDA exhibition:

The list of Honorary Mentions is full of small jewels. Here's just two of them:

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Meet the two robots of Sobra La Falta: the "dibujante" (sketcher) is in charge of drawing sketches on the floor using rubbish thrown on the floor by the audience. Dibujante collects the rubbish and arranges it on the floor to create a drawing of a stickman, a "@" symbol, or other iconic symbols. The second robot enters when the drawing is over. It's the "barredor" (sweeper) and it will diligently undo the drawing by collecting the rubbish and storing it to one side. With this work, Argentine group Proyecto Biopus questions the point of creating a work of art using technology in a country like theirs, which has to face so many social problems.

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Allison Kudla's Search for Luminosity stars six living shamrocks, arranged on a disc; an array of six lamps above, and in the center, a rotating custom optical scanner. Because it has a programmed memory, or an endogenous rhythm, the Oxalis plants open up their leaves in the morning in preparation for the sunrise. The scanner detects this movement and switches on the lamp for that plant. The plants have been prearranged such that they awaken in a clockwise sequence over 24 hours. The lighting of a lamp, based on the respective plants behavior, also switches off the lamp diametrically opposite, putting that plant to sleep. Viewers are therefore able to see in one look the plant in several periods of its cycle from fully awake to fully asleep. An ironic echo of those dreaful floral clocks found in old gardens.

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One of the issues raised by the development of new technologies, is how they will impact our identity of human beings. Interested in the conversation between art, science, technology and society, Fundación Telefónica has launched an International competition dedicated to art and artificial art called VIDA . This years they are celebrating the 11th edition of the competition by launching an online archive that documents thematically and chronologically the evolution of the discipline it has been so closely following for more than a decade.

Besides, Fundación Telefónica is setting up for the first time an exhibition of the winners of its competition (outside of the usual booth at the ARCO art fair that is). The three winners of VIDA 11.0 as well as a couple of other pieces are currently on view at Matadero Madrid. During the press conference yesterday, Francisco Serrano, Director of the foundation, couldn't help but point to the irony of hosting VIDA (which means 'life' in spanish) into a stunning art center called Matadero ('slaughterhouse' in spanish.)

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Hylozoic Soil © Philip Beesley & Rob Goberz

The winner of the first prize this year is the uncanny, poetical and fascinating Hylozoic Soil, an immersive sculpture by artist and architect Philip Beesley.

Hylozoic Soil takes its cue from Hylozoism, the philosophical view that all or some material things possess life. It takes the shape of an artificial environment that seems to be made of the same substance as jellyfish, breathing like one, wrapping itself around you and exhibiting complex behaviour as you walk through it.

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Delicate arms made of a shape memory alloy called nitidol gently move in reaction to people's behaviour, while hanging pillars transmit a very quiet energy, miles away from the more direct and manly energy displayed by most robotic installations. Although the work manage to almost absorb visitors it has been developed using as little material as possible. The structure was expanded into an ethereal meshwork.

Allow me to copy and past a short text that gives more details about the artwork:
Hylozoic Soil implements a distributed sensor network driven by dozens of microprocessors, generating waves of reflexive responses to those drawn into its vast array of acrylic fern stalagmites. Different levels of programmed activity encourage the emergence of coordinated spatial behaviour: thirty-eight controller boards produce specific responses to local action, while a bus controller uses sensor activity collated from all the boards to command an additional "global" level of behaviour. The forest thus manifests a haunting, breathing organicity, as it stirs to envelop and charm its human explorers. In keeping with the tradition of biologist artist Ernst Haeckel's Riddle of the Universe (1899), which traced actions of organic and inorganic nature alike back to natural causes and laws, Beesley's Hylozoic Soil stands as a magically moving contemporary symbol of our aptitude for empathy and the creative projection of living systems.

Video documenting the construction of Hylozoic Soil, at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in September, 2007:

More information in the book Hylozoic Soil, published by Riverside Architectural Press.

Part two of the report: Winners of VIDA 11.0 (part 2)

More details about the VIDA awards: Interview with Daniel Canogar. Last year's coverage: Winners of VIDA 10.0, Honorary Mentions at VIDA 10.0.

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