Some researchers have observed that apes held in captivity watch tv programmes. Some of them are fond of the Teletubbies, others favour emergency room dramas or Disney cartoons. But is it possible to script, shoot and screen cinema just for primates? That's what Rachel Mayeri set out to discover with her work Primate Cinema: Apes as Family.
The artist worked with Stirling University comparative psychologist Dr Sarah-Jane Vick to identify which kind of action, narrative or images a group of chimpanzees from the Edinburgh Zoo were most receptive too. The scientist and the artist observed how monkeys reacted to documentaries, cartoons, dramas screened inside a research pod where the animals could pop in and out as they pleased. The monkeys would spend a few minutes in front of the images then go away, come back, sit down for a moment, get up and bang violently against the wall that protect the tv screen, etc. Unsurprisingly the monkeys reacted more strongly to scenes featuring sex, food, violence but they were also interested in drumming and seemed quite fascinated by humans dressed as monkeys and by humans removing their monkey masks.
The result of the artist's research is a 20 minute movie. The video installation juxtaposes two screens. The right screen shows the movie for apes, its stars are actors dressed as and acting like monkeys. The second half displays the reactions of the ape audience when the film was shown on a chimp-proof screen at Edinburgh Zoo last August.
The hero of the film for monkeys is an actress wearing an animatronic suit with motorized eyes that are controlled by a puppeteer. She enters a house, gets a soda from the fridge, goes upstairs and falls asleep in front of the tv. Soon, a group of chimpanzee intruders enter the house as well and start misbehaving: they help themselves to the bananas and carrots in the fridge and basically trash the house. The clatter wakes up our chimp heroine. She gets up and goes downstairs to see what's the tumult about. That's when the plot thickens. Because chimpanzees also appreciate to watch social and sexual dynamics on screen.
Rachel Mayeri told us a few thought-provoking facts during her presentation:
- chimps might like to watch tv but that only happens when they are in captivity. Left in the wild, they have far more interesting things to do than watch tv.
- even the zoo is not the most suitable place to study the reaction of monkeys to moving images as the chimps' backgrounds may vary dramatically: some were rescued from poachers, others used to be mascots, some were born in captivity, etc.
- it's not correct to say that we descend from chimps as they haven't stayed exactly the same while we were evolving, our closest cousins have evolved too.
- chimps don't focus solely on the images appearing on the TV, they regularly check the changing social situation around them. They monitor each other ("who around me is sexually available?" for example) just like we do on facebook. Two of the most 'avid' tv watchers were a mother and daughter. During the research, the females were the ones who spent most time watching the tv screen. On the day of the screening of the finished movie for chimps at the Edinburgh Zoo, they were in rut, distracted and the center of male attentions.
- The artist is conscious that she made a film that reflects her own, very human prejudices and ideas of what a film should be like. She therefore asked herself "If a chimp director had to do a film for humans, would it have done the same mistakes and made a film for chimps rather than one for humans?"
Rachel also showed an extract of her first Primate Cinema video experiments, Baboons as Friends. In the two channel video installation, field footage of baboons are shown next to a reenactment by human actors, shot in film noir style.
The work was inspired by primatologist Deborah Forster who, unlike most people, can watch babboons for hours as if they were actors in a soap opera. The artist attempted to translate the plot of lust, jealousy, sex, and violence into the human world.
Primate Cinema: Apes as Family is at The Arts Catalyst in London until 13 November 2011.
I don't review documentaries very often but 1. i should and 2. this one is about Joe David, a pioneer in the field of art and biotechnology. And so much more.
Trailer for HEAVEN + EARTH + JOE DAVIS, a film by Peter Sasowsky:
Short Synopsis: Thirty years ago, a peg-legged motorcycle mechanic walked into the Center for Advanced Visual Studies at MIT. They had not returned his calls. The police were summoned. Forty-five minutes later he walked out with an academic appointment. Since then Joe Davis has sent vaginal contractions into space to communicate with aliens, encoded poetry into DNA, and designed a sculpture to save the world.
It's a great life for a man driven by imagination - except when it's not. No one pays him. He is evicted from apartments and labs. His uncompromising approach to art and life collides with the world's banal requirements. This is a story of self-discovery, sacrifice and the complexity of human endeavor, of the price of art and the ecstatic joy of discovery.
HEAVEN + EARTH + JOE DAVIS is a 90 minute wonder: the movie manages to capture the chaos (or at least a significant part of it) inside the head of Joe Davis. Clearly, the film Director is like most of us, he is puzzled by half of what Davis says or does but that doesn't prevent him from appreciating and communicating the wit and depth of the MIT researcher, artist, thinkerer and scientist.
The first moments of the film might be unsettling if you've never heart of Davis or of the field of bioart but the movie fills you in bit by bit and the charisma of the man will do the rest. On the other hand, you can still expect a hell of a ride even if you've studied the work and thoughts of Davies. One minute, the artist goes on a 'trash night' in Cambridge next, he explains you how to insert messages into bacteria or how to distinguish the sound that a paramecia make from the sound that a stentor emits. After that he will marvel at ferns or cover a pretty Norwegian woman in honey for a performance that will transport sound on lightwaves and then remind you that astronauts are flushing toilets in outer space and that the matter is circling the Earth as you're reading these lines. We see him washing dishes in a bar like others do yoga, fight for a space to store his work, fight to get funding, fight to find a language that other people might understand.
The most disheartening moments depict the resistances he meets in the art world and the science world alike. Because if there's one man who can teach something to the many 'art and science' conferences organized all over the world these days, it's Davis. He is an artist as much as a scientist and he cannot really dissociate between the two like our culture does. The film shows how he moves back and forth between departments at MIT. He belongs to the biology, the art or the architecture departments but he doesn't quite fit in any of them.
The images alternate between snapshots of Davis life, archives documenting some of his most memorable works and family movies that show Davis as a kid and capture the faith that the '50s had in the power of science and technology.
The film has its lengths and repetitions but it illustrates quite convincingly Davis's belief that "The things that are the most sensible turn out to be most absurd and the things that are the most absurd turn out to make most sense."
If you're in London, don't miss the screening of HEAVEN + EARTH + JOE DAVIS on October 1 and 2. The film is an official selection of the 2011 Raindance Film Festival, and is one of 5 films nominated for the jury award of Best Documentary.
Follow the facebook page of the film for news about screenings and related events.
P.s. Thanks Tamar for telling me about the film!
At the beginning of the Summer i was in Nottingham to participate to Making Future Work. That day was only the last of a long string of events, conferences, meetings and commissions.
MFW started back in December 2010 when Broadway -a cinema we shall all salute for its programme dedicated to media arts- called for artists, designers and organisations based in East Midlands to submit proposals that would respond to four distinct areas of practice: Co creation / Online Space, Pervasive Gaming / Urban Screens, Re-imaging Redundant Systems and Live Cinema / 3D.
The winning projects were therefore very different from each other. Hopefully, their quality will put East Midlands on the digital art/interaction design map.
One of the winning proposals is Le Cadavre Exquis, a digital re-interpretation of the surrealist game Exquisite Corpse and the parlour game Consequences in which participants define parts of an image or text. The next person will add a portion of text or image without having seen the previous one and the process repeats itself until a complete narrative or image is completed.
In the interactive installation designed by Brendan Oliver and Brendan Randall, members of the public are invited to record a short stop-frame animation (with a little help from a custom designed software and gesture interface) as a response piece to a previously recorded submission. The piece is uploaded online within minutes and textual narrative is then created by online participants through a narrative suggestion feature.
Le Cadavre Exquis' aims to explore how notions of co-creation and user-engagement in live/on-line spaces, within the context of digital art or digital interaction, can be used to create an ever-growing visual film generated entirely by participants.
Contemporary sources of inspiration include user-generated content projects such as Aaron Koblin's wonderful The Sheep Market and The Johnny Cash Project, a crowd-sourced music video initiated by Chris Milk. I had never seen it before Brendan Oliver and Brendan Randall screened it in Nottingham so let me copy paste the embedded code over here:
I thought i should catch up with Oliver and Randall to see how the installation had evolved and traveled since we met in Nottingham.
The call for proposals invited artists and designers to respond to "four distinct areas of current practice" in digital innovation. You chose to focus on 'Co creation.' But did you have this particular project of Le Cadavre Exquis in mind well before reading about the commissions or did you start from scratch when you read the commission guidelines? How did the project mature and evolve?
Whilst we have an interest in co-creation and user-generated content the actual concept of Le Cadavre Exquis was generated completely as a response to the call for submissions and wasn't something we were already working on. When we read the briefs we considered them all and potential responses to each before deciding to submit a proposal for "Live Cinema and Co-Creation". It was at this stage the concept of Le Cadavre Exquis was born.
Initially the concept was that participants would respond visually to a textual narrative set by the previous participants and this would serve as the basis for them to act out their own submission. Once they had completed their submission they would then set the textual narrative for the next participants (using a keyboard) and by doing so we would have an entirely user-generated linear visual and textual responsive narrative.
However, through our research and development of the installation, we realised that this approach was very restrictive for participants and by allowing participants to dictate the visual and textual narratives the quality of the final outcome would be less successful than if we allowed participants to be responsive. We came to this conclusion for two main reasons. Firstly, we felt by having participants provide a textual narrative as well as record their visual submission this was too immersive and time consuming for an installation environment. Secondly, there was also the possibility that people would feel they could not respond to the textual narrative for varying reasons such as the narrative being purposefully difficult to respond to or controversial. We also wanted the focus of the installation to be on the creativity and expression in the visual submissions and for the technology to be almost invisible to them. It was always the aim to create tools that empowered the participant in the creative or artistic process and not for them to focus on the technology.
Is there any way for the public to check out the archives of the stop frame animations done by other people in the past?
All submissions can can be viewed online on the project website at www.LeCadavreExquis.net as well as textual narratives added to each video created. Visitors to the website can become participants themselves by submitting their own textual narratives to describe scenes filmed within the installation space via the 'Participation' page at www.lecadavreexquis.net/participate/. This also introduces a competitive element where visitors can vote for submitted textual narratives. Where more than one textual narrative has been submitted for a clip the narrative with the most votes then becomes the narrative for that video submission.
"Upon completion of the animation the players provide the next line of the dialogue for future player". How is it done exactly? Do they have to type the scenario on a computer? What is this step like exactly? Does it mean that in the end, if you put the short animations side by side the public has constructed a long collaborative narrative?
This was the original idea and the collaborative narrative is still at the heart of the final installation but we decided to allow participants to respond to the previous visual narrative rather than have them respond to a dictated textual narrative.
The original concept meant that only visitors to the physical installation would be able to take part and to view the output. However, our research-based conclusions, helped us to consider opening up the installation to an online audience.
In the final installation we separated the visual and textual narrative submissions to make it easier for participants to be creative with the visual story and to include an online audience by asking them to add a textual narrative via the website developed for the project. Animations created at the installation were compiled into video files and automatically uploaded to the website where they can be viewed by visitors and textual narratives submitted online. The textual narratives were then pulled back down from the website and displayed as subtitles when the visual narrative is projected in the installation space as a playback aspect.
You probably spent a great deal of time and energy on LCE so are you not ever tempted to influence the public? To ask them to perform in a certain way? Is it not frustrating to let everything in the hands of the strangers?
We did spend a lot of time developing the installation and website, much more than we initially envisioned and was originally considered for the commission. It was always our aim to create something where the final outcome was created solely by the audience and participants. We empowered participants to do this through the technology and the concept of Le Cadavre Exquis. We very much see the installation as a tool for creativity rather than prescribing the creative aspect itself. We are very much interested in how participants respond and in particular how we can enable people who wouldn't ordinarily consider themselves creative to lose their inhibitions, get excited, have fun, enjoy the experience and become the artist. Due to these ideals its not been frustrating for us to let participants create whatever they like.
I'm quite curious about the way people use LCE. Do they feel immediately at ease with the installation? Do they find it easy to engage with it? Do they reflect a lot before using it? Are they bold? But also did they surprise you along the way? Did they find ways of using the installation you had not thought about before?
Whilst we had introduced the installation at The Nottingham Contemporary for the final commission presentation we were thrown in at the deep end to a certain degree with being invited to install the piece at the V&A some two days later. We had naturally tested the technology and had also experimented was a local Dance company but the V&A would be the first public acid test. So naturally we, whilst confident, were a little nervous as to how the installation would be received. We needn't have worried though as from the first person to the last seemed to have no problems at all interacting straight away. We had worked very hard to ensure that the technology was very easy to use and understand and this was proved to be the case. With the event being at the V&A there was lots of people from various countries all over the world attending. Even those with little or no English seemed to have no problem understanding how the installation worked and how they could be creative.
As far as installations go this is quite an immersive experience for people to be involved with as we're asking them to be creative on the spot and to try and lower their inhibitions. Some people have been reflective, a few declined but the overwhelming majority have been excited and more than happy to be involved in something creative and user-generated. Having the playback projection aspect where people entering the space could see all the previously recorded scenes definitely helped in this respect. We think feeling they are part of a larger whole, part of the creative process has been a great incentive and we have been really surprised at the variation and quality of the stories told within the ten frames of the animations they create. You'd be surprised what can be done. We even had a meeting of a couple, courting, engagement, marriage and finally the birth of a baby - all in ten frames.
The beauty of the installation is that because we haven't sought to control the output it can be used in various ways. For instance The Nottingham Contemporary, who hosted the installation after the V&A, provided a number of props and accessories for participants. This has been great for creative submissions but also influenced the public towards certain narratives by the style of the props themselves and the fact they had tied it into the on-going Jean Genet exhibition at the gallery.
The work has traveled to V&A in London and other venue since we met in Nottingham in June. Do you have plans to show it elsewhere?
It's been quite non-stop for Le Cadavre Exquis being in the V&A two days after completion and directly following that it has been running permanently in The Nottingham Contemporary over the summer. It's due to finish there on the 4th of September. Our vision is that this is an installation that, in theory at least, can keep running and running. If we can keep installing and generating submissions there's no reason this can't be the case. We've already had enquiries for installing in various other environments and alternative uses. We are very much open to propositions or proposals from anywhere & anyone.
By the very nature of how the installation is conceived we can adapt the system in many ways to different uses and environments from performance to education uses. We also have plans to develop the project using the generated content itself. One area we're looking into is a 'Director' tool aspect where online users will be able to access all the videos and textual narratives (or indeed write their own) to create their own self-directed movie. We're currently looking into funding opportunities to develop this aspect. This notion of 'Directing' has routes into performance and writing within the arts and education - all of which is very exciting for us and for the project in the future.
Thanks Brendan and Brendan!
Photo homepage: Le Cadavre Exquis at the V&A's Web Weekend programme Credit: Rain Rabbit.
I wasn't planning to blog about this exhibition today but i'm just back from Watch Me Move: The Animation Show at Barbican and if i don't share with you a couple of gems i saw there, i won't be able to focus on anything else.
The exhibition traces the history of animation over the last 150 years in over 100 films by contemporary artists, animators, auteur filmmakers and exponents of experimental film alongside the production of commercial studios.
Wallace and Gromit, Mickey Mouse, Felix the Cat and The Simpsons are there. Astro Boy and Sailor Moon too. So are dozens of films by artists, film-makers and studios such as Studio Ghibli, Fernand Léger, Harun Faroki, Cao Fei, Eadward Muybridge, Lumière Brothers, Stan Brakhage, Len Lye, William Kentridge, Kara Walker, etc.
Because this has to be a quick parenthesis before i get back to our regular programme, i'm going to copy/paste below a few links, images and embedded codes:
One of my favourite film is Rabbit by Run Wrake. Two children, as greedy and cruel as they are cute, find an Idol in the belly of a rabbit they have just brutally killed. Fortune and copious massacres ensue.
Tim Burton and Rick Heinrichs's cult stop-motion short film Vincent follows a young boy who dreams that his life is as ghoulish as one of Vincent Price's horror movies. Narrated by Vincent Price himself.
My heart goes to Vincent's poor little dog.
And The Tale of the Fox, a brilliant brilliant brilliant movie from 1929-1930 by Irene and Ladislas Starevich. The songs and dialogues are in verse and particularly delightful if you understand french.
I also liked Matter in Motion by Semiconductor but there's only a snippet of the film online. And there are two clay animation by Nathalie Djurberg. I'm like everyone, their dog and their uncle, i adore her work.
Trailer of the show:
The entrance price is a bit steep but then you could spend the whole afternoon moving from bench to bench watching the animation films. Watch Me Move: The Animation Show is open till 11 September 2011 at the Barbican Art Gallery, in London.
ASPECT Magazine releases periodically DVDs documenting works by 5-10 artists working in new or experimental media. The videos of the pieces can be viewed in their original version or accompanied by the audio commentary of an expert. The commentators usually start with a description of the work then they go deeper by bringing the work in the broader context of history/art history/history of technology, by revealing anecdotes about the career of the artist, by explaining the technological challenges of the work or highlighting the issues the artist wanted to raise.
This week, i've been watching Volume 16: Lo-tech and Volume 17: Hi-Tech. The first presents nine artists who work with basic, or in some cases antiquated technology. As its name indicates, its 'hi-tech' counterpart features ten artists working at the intersection of new ideas in art and technology.
There were only a few names that were familiar to me in Lo-tech and Hi-tech and that's good, i'm all for discovering new artists. One of the reasons of my ignorance might be that i tend to be a little too enwrapped in Europe and most of the artists and commentators in both volumes are North Americans (one notable exception is Arie Altena presenting with his delightful Dutch accent Marnix De Nijs's Beijing Accelerator.)
I'll just highlight a work that blew me away. Nikhil Murthy's video Two Crashes (1926/2007) juxtaposes special effects that were regarded as "high tech" at the beginning of the 20th century to what was considered "high tech" at the beginning of the 21st. The first film is Buster Keaton's The General (1926) that shows the most expensive stunt of the silent era: a real wood burning steam locomotive driven onto the burning bridge, where it collapses. The second scene shows the spectacular crash of a real Porsche Carerra GT in the film Redline (2007).
The artist slowed-down and sped-up the video extracts according to data from two notorious stock market crashes: the ones of 1929 and 2008. The two clips are then edited together by rapidly flashing between the two films. Because of their differing speeds different combinations are seen throughout the video. It is always the same scenes, there are only two of them, yet the construction of the ensemble is mesmerizing. What is most annoying however is that i can't find the video online, just the extract on ASPECT's website.
New media art can do with it as much introspection and analysis as it can get and ASPECT does that in a very approachable yet precise and professional way.
Image on the homepage: Stephen Vitiello, Something Like Fireworks, 2010.
I'm just back from the Galleria Franco Soffiantino in Turin where i saw a pretty amazing creepy thought-provoking drama by Melanie Gilligan, an artist whose previous 4 part video Crisis in the Credit System received much attention back in 2008. I've just discovered that the 5 episodes of Popular Unrest are available online too. I wish i'd known before because the screening at the Turin gallery was as uncomfortable as humanly possible.
Popular Unrest is set in a fictional future that looks very much like today's London. The drama explores a world in which the self is reduced to physical biology, directly subject to the needs of capital. All exchange transactions and social interactions are overseen by a system called 'the Spirit'. Hotels offer bed-warming servants with every room, people are fined for not preventing foreseeable illness, weight watching foods eat the digester from the inside and the unemployed repay their debt to society in physical energy.
The film starts at the moment when things start to go wrong in the world that was so far impeccably controlled by 'The Spirit.' Unexplained killings are taking place across the globe. Sometimes the assailant strikes in public but no one has ever seen it/him. Just as mysteriously, groups of unrelated people are suddenly coming together everywhere, forming groups that are becoming bigger by the day. They feel a deep and inexplicable sense of connection to one another.
Shot in London with a cast of twelve main actors, the film is inspired by the current state of politics, technology as well as public debates about privacy, capitalism and societal organization. Popular Unrest owes also a lot to David Cronenberg's 'body horror' and American television dramas CSI, Dexter and Bones, where reality is perceived through a pornographic forensics of empirical and visceral phenomena.