Mario Klingemann seems like a cheerful guy from Munich but is actually a heavyweight of the Flash-scene and showed a couple of his projects, many of which deal with digital found footage. (A good part of his presentation didn’t work due to net problems, but he was quite good in making up for that with singing the soundtrack and jumping around.) After playing around a bit with images from Flickr to create kaleidoscopic effects, he had realized that this is actually an interesting way to create small narratives that have an inherent unpredictability about them. His piece Flickeur “randomly retrieves images from Flickr and creates an infinite film with a style that can vary between stream-of-consciousness, documentary or video clip”, a technique which gives it a suggestive power that comes, apart from the sound, without any influence by the artist. Built on that is Islands of Consciousness, in collaboration with sound artist Oleg Marakov which gives back a bit more control since it is doing a kind of “tag-surfing” that narratively ties together a bit more closely what appears on the screen, though it’s still random. One of his latest projects is The Stake an Anti-Amazon if you want, which allows you to burn the media you’ve always been hating and so far only have been allowed to put in your shopping cart.
On to more sophisticated things, Stamen Design from San Francisco presented their great research into live data visualization. To them, it is a medium in its own right and rapidly gaining in importance since the world that we live in is becoming ever more measurable. People are participating in situations and leave behind (data-)traces but are not able to perceive their own “creations”. According to Ben Cerveny (their on-site philosopher who was outlining the theoretical backdrop until he got stopped several times by the other guys, quite funny) we can now build something that filters information to make the landscape of patterns and artefacts visible – these are the tools that Stamen want to build and make accessible. So far, they are probably best known for their work for Digg which tries to visually tackle the service’s massive amount of user generated content through three different visualizations of activity. The Swarm shows how new stories are being created as circles to which then yellow pods attach for every time the have been “dugg”. These virus-like aesthetics allow the viewer to very quickly recognize the popularity of stories and to see the current liveliness of the system as well as the variability of the data. Stamen also helped Digg to get an idea about the usage of their service by mapping diggs in time. Already a simple time-mapping of activity, later color-coded by the age of individual users’ accounts, revealed interesting facts. For instance it made visible possible activity by bots which might have gone unnoticed without the possibility of being able to see the respective patterns with one’s eyes, with the actual process being slightly similar to tuning a radio to a certain part of the spectrum. Another effect that became obvious once the visualization had been tuned accordingly, was that many new users seem to randomly dig stuff on the homepage, probably just to try out the service.
Cabspotting is another one of their projects which maps activity in time, in this case the activity and speed of San Francisco taxi-cabs according to their GPS-data. Again, mapping data in time gives you an idea of activity and, quite literally, lets you see the city pulsate in a very capillary way. When cabs were passing the bay bridge on the lower level, they would cause a sharp spike on the map, basically because their GPS lost track of the satellites. But this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing because it revealed a vertical dimension which in Google Maps for instance one wouldn’t notice, mapping the city through glitches. According to Ben, the city has had that heart for a long time and since we got the tools we can now see it – which is important because since it’s made of people who are all “psychologically invested” in the city they’re living in and have an active interest in shaping it. An example for that notion are the Oakland crime maps Stamen have recently been working on. Built on the Modest Maps-framework, they allow affected people to collaboratively map incidents which results in a both “lyrical and analytical” view of the city which once could even show where a crime is about to happen in the next moment. Quoting Bruce Sterling: “You will have seen to have done what you did.”
Robert Hodgin showed a range of his works with generative design. We were completely in awe of his latest experiments in which he toys around with the laws of nature to extend the aesthetics of magnetism and gravity into breathtaking visuals.
Finally, Futurefarmers‘ Amy Franceschini and Michael Swaine took a shot at audience participation, starting with “Rainbow Seating” which required all of the audience to get up and reshuffle in accordance to their shirt colors. We were then asked to draw something (I was blue so I had to draw a shoe) and write a word we felt would relate to the drawing. The words would then be used as cues during the presentation while the drawings themselves (stitched together on stage by Amy and Michael taking turns) will be featured in several exhibitions in the future. On the project-side Futurefarmers presented a couple of their wide range of works, most of which are about people and how they relate to nature, essentially wanting to be a reminder that our environment isn’t something which is separate from us.
The gorgeous Sundial Watch is one such project, as is their Photosynthesis-Robot. The robot is built around the idea that the natural process which comes closest to the I/O-paradigm of computers might be that of photosynthesis, hinting at the fact that many of our so-called inventions are actually biomimicry. When the Department of Homeland Security was promoting their color-coded terror forecast, some US citizens apparently received letters from the DHS in which they warned about handwritten or otherwise “unusual” letters which people should report. Futurefarmers found that terrible and reacted with a series of ironic Homeland Security Blankets which “disseminate temperature change” and sport an indicating light which alerts the user of current threat and “comforts them accordingly”. Harnessing the unused powers of nature is another one of their notions, for example the Hydrogen Bioreactor (“green hydrogen from pool scum”) which, built in collaboration with Tasios Melis and Jonathan Meuser, is a $100-system that produces hydrogen to power cars from a big bag, some kitchen equipment and oxygen. The Botanical Gameboy works along the same lines in the way that lemons are being used to power a Gameboy in order to show people how much chemically produced energy it takes only to power such a modest device through a game called “Count Volta” (In fact it would have taken 48.000 lemons to go the same distance as its four AA-batteries). Raising awareness is also the objective of their Gardening Superfund series of projects which all deal with pollution that was and is caused by the IT-industry, both in the US and in other parts if the world. A Superfund site is “any land in the United States that has been contaminated by hazardous waste and identified by the Environmental Protection Agency as a candidate for cleanup”. During ISEA in San Jose, Futurefarmers organized “Free Soil Biodiesel Bus Tours” to visit those sites and a disassembling workshop with a single PC. What was really striking was the fact that lots of the highly toxic e-waste actually goes to china to be manually scrapped for metals, beautifully captured by Jeroen Bouman (his site is unfortunately a bit toxic as well). Their last and probably most charming project before they read out aloud the green group’s words was Michael Swaine’s “Reap What You Sew” commmunity-project in which he pushes an old fashioned ice cream-style cart on wheels with a treadle-operated sewing machine on it through the streets of San Francisco’s Tenderloin district and sews stuff for people.
At the end of the night, Graffiti Research Lab rolled out their Mobile Broadcast Unit Barcelona to tag the white walls of MACBA. That was before the policía came and told them off (although having “if this is the future, we’re in deep s**t”-expressions on their faces). They took it to the streets again yesterday night, curious to find out what happened.