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Only in England: Photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr

Fri, 10/18/2013 - 14:28


Location unknown, possible Morcambe, 1967 - 68 by Tony Ray-Jones © National Media Museum

The Science Museum in London has recently inaugurated a new Media Space. I was expecting it to be filled with photos of super computers and distant planets. Instead, i found Only in England, a retrospective of Tony Ray-Jones' photos curated by Martin Parr. Which is completely fine by me as i'd rather spend an afternoon looking at eccentric English ladies than at moons around Jupiter (no disrespect to satellites.)

In the late 1960s, Tony Ray-Jones traveled across his country in a VW camper to document the leisure and pleasures of the English. He was a man who lived by his own rules. One of them was to never take a boring photo. There are dozens of images in the exhibition and none of them is remotely insipid. It's easy to see why the photographer had such an impact on Parr's work: he had a taste for the quietly humorous, the compassionate detail, the ironic narrative.

Ray-Jones died of leukaemia in 1972. He was only 30 but in his short career, he invented a new way of looking at society.


Beauty contestants, Southport, Merseyside, 1967 by Tony Ray-Jones © National Media Museum


Only in England exhibition © Kate Elliott for Media Space


Blackpool, 1968 by Tony Ray-Jones © National Media Museum


Eastbourne Carnival, 1967 by Tony Ray-Jones © National Media Museum


Bournemouth, 1969 © Tony Ray-Jones, Courtesy James Hyman Gallery, London


Location unknown, possibly Worthing, 1967-68 by Tony Ray-Jones © National Media Museum


Strongman Contest, Mablethorpe, 1967 (James Hyman Gallery)


Windsor Horse Show, 1966-67


Windsor Horse Show, 1967


Glyndebourne, 1967


Ramsgate, 1967 by Tony Ray-Jones © National Media Museum


Brighton Beach, 1966 by Tony Ray Jones

A black and white photo series by Martin Parr, The Non-Conformists, is also part of Only in England. The work follows the religious life of the Methodist and Baptist communities in and around Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire. Shot in the mid-1970s, just after Parr graduated from art school, the photos have a gentleness i wasn't expecting from Parr.


Mankinholes Methodist Chapel, Todmorden 1975 by Martin Parr © Martin Parr/ Magnum


Tom Greenwood cleaning 1976 by Martin Parr © Martin Parr/ Magnum

Only in England: Photographs by Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr is a the Science Museum until 16 March 2014.
You might also want to check out Another Country. Vintage Photographs of British Life by Tony Ray-Jones which is up at the James Hyman Gallery in London until 7 November.

Categories: New Media News

Morphs, the architectural creatures that behave like slime mould

Wed, 10/16/2013 - 13:32

A few weeks ago, i went to the graduation show of the Interactive Architecture Studio - Research Cluster 3 at the Bartlett School of Architecture UCL. The unit, headed by Ruairi Glynn and Ollie Palmer, focuses on kinetic and interactive design looking at the latest robotics, material and responsive systems while at the same time borrowing from a long history of performative machines and performing arts. As you can guess, i was quite enthusiastic about many of the works developed over this one-year postgraduate course.

One of the most interesting for me was William Bondin's research project which explores the gap between digital simulation and physical prototyping in the performance of dynamic architectural systems.

Bondin's proposal involves a colony of self autonomous creature-like structures, called Morphs, which very slowly navigate public parks. Their moves are not just dictated by a set of pre-programmed rules, they also rely on their physical and social environment.

Morphs exist and wander freely as individual nuclei but they can also join together and adopt certain geometries according to their needs and circumstances.

This is still very much a work in progress but a very promising one.

Simulations for tetrahedron and octahedron nuclei were carried out. In addition, one tetrahedron nucleus was fabricated as a proof of concept in order to understand the limitations of the technology employed.

Video documenting the whole research:

The morph performing one step:

I contacted the young architect for a quick interview:

Hi William! If i understood correctly, your self autonomous creature-like structures are inspired by a species of brainless slime mould. Can you tell us what you found interesting about that type of slime and how this translated into the Morphs?

The interesting thing about slime mould, in particular Physarum polycephalum, is that its cognitive processes occurs within its environment rather than a centralised brain. It is an example of an organism which has developed a clever way of exploiting its surroundings in order to perform navigational tasks and memory-related processes. For instance, when foraging for food it deposits slime in areas which have already been explored, and then avoids the same slime so that it will not re-explore the same area twice. This simple feedback technique inspired me to develop a form of mobile architecture which, analogously to slime mould, deposits digital data into its environment in order to off load its computational processes such as path finding and spatial memory. In fact, Morphs are very low-level creatures in terms of computational abilities and their complex trajectories are a result of the complex environments in which they are placed.


Proposal for Mobile Reconfigurable Polyhedra (MORPHs) to occupy a site and encourage interaction through play


MORPHs during winter might experience neglect

Could you describe the behaviour of the Morphs?

Morphs, which stands for MObile Reconfigurable PolyHedra, have a behaviour which is dictated by the sites in which they are located and their physical morphology. They are attracted to areas with high pedestrian traffic which ensures a higher probability of engagement with the public, and they stay clear of vehicular roads due to their very slow movements. Therefore, characteristics which are embodied within a site become highly influential to their "desired" locations. Similarly, their physical composition dictates the way they perceive their environment and consequently the way they behave. For example, due to their solar powered circuitry, they avoid shaded areas and do not travel during night time or overcast weather. They are also terrified of water and do not operate in wet conditions, in order to protect their electronics. These are their basic low-level behaviours which, similarly to our primary instincts, ensure their own protection and survival in complex environments. Therefore as an end result, you have these creatures which are very playful and gather in areas where people are likely to meet, but they get scared easily and become very introvert when threatened.


Fabricated fully-actuated tetrahedral truss performing a walking action

Because Morphs move so fluidly and elegantly, i couldn't help but think of Strandbeests. But they have nothing to do with Theo Jansen's creatures, right?

I really enjoy Jansen's work and appreciate it in its context; as beautiful objects which occupy and travel across landscapes. However, as an architect, I'm not only interested in the spaces which man-made creatures inhabit but also in the spaces which they create. Morphs have the ability of joining together into complex formations to create spaces which can be occupied by people, and respond to these temporal inhabitants. Additionally, Theo Jansen's creatures are automatons which are unaware of their surroundings and the people within their "personal space". Morphs, on the other hand, are responsive spatial structures which communicate between them and their users in order to perform collective tasks. If you threaten one Morph you might send a whole community into hiding, while if one of them enjoys learning a new dance routine it might teach it to others and perform it in groups.

The Morphs move super super slowly. Can't you make them move faster? Why?

All buildings move. They do so over a very prolonged timescale, and it can take centuries for a building to move a couple of millimetres. So if we had to speculate on how buildings view time, because after-all Morphs are architectural creatures, we have to acknowledge the fact that architecture operates on a very different timescale than its users. Morphs operate on a mediated timescale, because although we perceive them as very slow movers they are lightning fast compared to their 'static' counterparts. In terms of time, they exist somewhere in between. This also gives us practical benefits, such as very low power consumption and risk mitigation.

The "Morphs rely on environmental cues and human participation in order to attain purposeful behaviour." Which kind of environmental cues and human participation are you talking about?

Morphs continuously assess light intensity and water presence in order to take informed decisions about their next steps. This ensures that they will not get trapped in ponds or under trees, and helps them to locate themselves in sunny and dry areas. However, Morphs are not completely self autonomous.

There are four classes, or sub-species, of Morphs and each of them has different purposes and degrees of control. The music-enabled units, which are finished in bright orange, are very slow and rarely change their location. They allow musicians to play music within their enclosure, and transmit the sounds they pick up via wi-fi, as a sort of a free-for-all radio station. The purple ones, which relate to dance, are very fast movers and they respond to push-pull action by their choreographers. They are able to store unique geometries in sequence and play them back when instructed to. The architectural ones, identified by their blue colour, are very slow movers but they can carry a significant amount of load. They are ideal for assembling large configurations and can be attached to different coloured units to create complex spaces. An additional class of these polyhedrons is also envisioned to cater for open-source development, whereby users can design and build bespoke components which can be plugged into existing units.

Do the machines learn in the course of their 'life'?

It is envisioned that over time these machines start to learn about their environment, participants and even themselves. This will give them the ability to take better informed decisions about their future actions. For example, if a tetrahedron breaks one of its edges it will then have to learn a new way how to roll over without using that side. In addition, it might ask for collective help from its peers to help it travel or become permanently bonded to another Morph for successful locomotion. Another suggested form of learning is the ability to predict participants' preference and behaviour. This will ensure that the right amount of units are present at the right location when needed.

However, in practice machine learning is a very complex area of research. So far we have been exploring this field in simulation, with limited degrees of success. The intention is to collaborate with robotics engineers and computer scientists in order to actualise these processes into the next generation prototypes.

Do you see applications for the Morphs? In architecture, robotics or other areas?

Morphs started out as a research project into adaptive behavioural architecture. Over the course of a year, it has developed into a semi-speculative project which brings together robotics, computer science, public art, landscape architecture and urban design.

What is next for the Morphs?

Morphs are planned to be unleashed by the end of 2015 as an autonomous but sociable reconfigurable architecture. Prototyping of a tetrahedron nucleus started in March 2013 and has resulted in one functional unit. Current research involves the programming of these nuclei, development of their digital communication and the simulation of their social behaviour. The next fully mobile, untethered, Morph is aimed to be completed by the end of 2013 before larger assembles are explored through 2014.

Thanks William!

Categories: New Media News

#A.I.L - artists in laboratories, episode 41: Financial subversion with Brett Scott

Tue, 10/15/2013 - 13:39

The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM, London's favourite radio art station, is aired this Wednesday afternoon at 4pm.

Brett Scott, a campaigner, former broker and a Fellow of the Finance Innovation Lab. Scott is the author of The Heretic's Guide to Global Finance. Hacking the Future of Money published by Pluto Press (and available on amazon USA and UK.) The book "is a friendly guide to taking on the world's most powerful system. It sets up a framework to illuminate the financial sector based on anthropology, gonzo exploration, and the hacker ethos, and helps the reader develop a diverse DIY toolbox to undertake their own adventures in guerilla finance and activist entrepreneurialism."

We'll talk about the book, the bitcoins, Brixton Pound and other radical approaches to global finance of course but also about Scott's plan to start a London-based school of financial activism.

The show will be aired this Wednesday 16th of October at 16:00, London time. Early risers can catch the repeat next Tuesday at 6.30 am. If you don't live in London, you can listen to the online stream or wait till we upload the episodes on soundcloud.
Categories: New Media News

Shunga: sex and pleasure in Japanese art

Mon, 10/14/2013 - 08:30

And now for something completely different....


Katushika Hokusai , Diving Woman and Octopi, 1814). This woodblock print image borders on the surreal. Source: Micheal Fornitz Collection via Bloomberg

Last Thursday, i stopped at the British Museum to see Shunga: sex and pleasure in Japanese art. I thought that Thursday would be a good day for a quiet visit. Wrong! It was the kind of crowd in which you have to stretch your neck in unnatural directions to read the descriptions of the works and wait patiently behind several people before you can actually approach a print. When finally you're in front of the work and have had a good look, you want to turn and walk to the next window but you're blocked by the people waiting and staring behind you. And no, they won't move lest they loose their spot in the queue.

My visit was thus laborious but i liked the show so much i'll have another try (a Tuesday morning when the doors open? a lunch time?)

Produced in Japan from 1600 to 1900, Shunga (or "picture of spring", spring being an euphemism for sex) are erotic paintings, prints and books that were used for personal stimulation and for the education of young lovers.

Make no mistake: this was art, not what we'd now call "pornography". In fact, the works were regarded as a suitable gift to brides on the eve of their wedding or to official foreign visitors. Unaffected by the inhibited sexual attitudes of Christianity or Islam, Shunga presented a fantasy world of sexual delight enjoyed by both sexes. The sense of sin didn't have a place in shunga. But female pleasure, tenderness and beauty did.

The genre flourished even when it was officially banned and many works were in fact produced by some of the country's most distinguished artists. The decline of shunga is attributed to the arrival of Western culture and technologies at the end of the 19th century and in particular the importation of photoreproduction techniques. How could Shunga compete with erotic photography?

In Japan, however, the influence of shunga can still be seen in manga, anime, tattoo art and other popular cultural forms.

I got the following photos from the British Museum press office. Unsurprisingly (but disappointingly), the ones i received were quite tame compared to most of what you can see in the show:


Kitagawa Utamaro; Mare ni au koi 稀ニ逢恋  (Love that Rarely Meets), c. 1793-1794  © The Trustees of the British Museum


Torii Kiyonaga, Sode no maki (Handscroll for the Sleeve), c. 1785. © The Trustees of the British Museum


Nishikawa Sukenobu, Sexual dalliance between a man and geisha, c. 1711-1716. © The Trustees of the British Museum


Kano school. Older and younger man making love, first scene from Untitled shunga handscroll. Early 17th century. The British Museum, purchase funded by Brooke Sewell bequest


Hosoda Eishi, Contest of Passion in the Four Seasons (Shiki kyo-en zu), late 1790s-early 1800s; one of a set of four hanging scrolls


Attributed to Sumiyoshi Gukei and Takenouchi Koretsune. Series title: Tale of the Brushwood Fence, 17th century

Shunga: sex and pleasure in Japanese art is at the British Museum, until 5 January 2014.

Categories: New Media News

Games Reflexions

Thu, 10/10/2013 - 12:15

How much does the practice of video games affect our imagination? Are video games shaping our perception of reality or is it our perception of reality that shapes the imagination behind video games?


Robert Overweg, Stairway to the sky 2011, Mafia 2


Robert Overweg, Hotel 2011, Mafia 2

On the one hand, the move from 2D image to 3D image in video games has accelerated the race to ultra-realism. Ironically, reality has been lost in the process. By striving to mimic reality, 3D images become hyper realistic, they are slick and clean to the point of looking almost unreal. A game supposed to reflect life ends up proposing only a constructed reflect of life. This reflection, in turn, influences the way we see and imagine our surrounding.

On the other hand, we've been observing a revival of pixelated, ASCII, Cubist or simply geometric games. They give more room for imagination and reflection, as if the mind could fill the spaces between the pixels, the voids, the geometric shapes.

Games Reflexions, an exhibition that will open next week in Cergy, France, investigates how gaming is reflecting and influencing our perception of reality. And vice versa.

I found these questions of interpretation, representation and reflection interesting but then I think that it is my duty to take an interest in what Isabelle Arvers is working on. Isabelle is the curator of the exhibition, she is also a media art critic, an author and one of the most respected and most astute experts of video games in France.

I'm looking forward to visiting the exhibitions she curated in Aix-en-Provence this month. One about machinimas for the GAMERZ festival. The other, about 21st century borders. In the meantime, i asked her to talk to me about Games Reflexions.
(If you scroll down, you will also find the original version in french of Isabelle's answers.)


Christoffer Hedborg, Cathode Rays


Simogo, Year Walk. Trailer

Hi Isabelle! Why do you think that now is a good time to reflect upon gaming? And more particularly about the relationship between our perception/construction of reality and video games.

I don't know if this is the right time but it seems to me that gaming has adopted different forms and directions which allow us to approach it through a more complex lens than in the past. Games studies were developed in the 80s and they made it possible to look at gaming under various perspectives: psychoanalysis, economy, philosophy, political science, etc. The reflection about the video game issue is nothing new. However, gaming is starting to be perceived differently by the public and the media, so it seemed appropriate to support this trend by raising the issue in an exhibition located in a contemporary art space.

The issue of perception is very important to me ever since i wrote a dissertation about the virtual in the mid- 90s when I was wondering the impact that the virtual could have on our bodies and minds. I'm still asking myself this kind of question: each technique, software or language influences our way of seeing things, of approaching reality. But what about video games? One day, some students (and fans of video game) told me that they dreamt in computer-generated images, and even preferred this type of image to the ones they saw on TV, because they were more beautiful. I confess that I was deeply impressed by their remark.

I then thought that video games affect our imagination just like tales did once. Since I started creating machinima, I haven't looked at cities and the movement in the cities in the way I used to, it looks as if people are moving like in the games... Any ideas related to other realities impress me too. While thinking about this exhibition, I thought about Plato's cave, about these ideas which we perceive only through their reflection. The idea that there are parallel worlds attracts me and I 'd love to imagine them through games.

I am still waiting for computer-generated images to refer to something that is not seen, I expect them to lead me to the other side... Most games that try to mimic reality produce an image too sleek, too smooth, that seems far removed from what I would like to discover. That is why when I found the compilation Pirate Kart and the amount of games with universes so diverse, trash and funny, I wanted to go into this direction and exhibit them in a gallery. What made me particularly happy during the Pirate Kart exhibition at the ESAix gallery was that people told me that it gave them confidence, that they made this kind of games at home but didn't think it would interest anyone else. It's a bit like opening a world of possibles and extracting pearls from the game jams world and from the independent games circles to make the broader public discover them.


Titouan Millet, A Cosmic Forest - Trailer

The exhibition talks also about the quest for hyper-reality, are you already seeing interesting game experiences that use the Oculus Rift? is this something you're following or are excited about?

That's funny because this weekend, at the festival Retro no Future Games Festival at Visages du Monde - which also commissioned the exhibition Games Reflexion - the game Cosmic Forest by Evilion was presented with Oculus Rift and we're getting there!! In the game, we cross lines and columns of colors, as if we could slide between the ropes... This direction of work is interesting insofar as you get immersed inside the image, the perception of your eyes takes central stage and manages to mislead the rest of the body.

What I find particularly interesting today is this physical dimension that some games can adopt, allowing us to live different experiences with other human beings. I am thinking here of Blast Theory's pervasive games which, through games that are played both online and in public space, look at the new kinds of relationships that technology can create at the corner of a street corner. Or the game Johann Sebastian Joust which plays with the contact between players listening to the rhythm of the music. How gaming can take us to another place without it being necessarily a virtual world. I also like the approach of Florian Rivière who transforms any space into a playground and establishes the concept of game through the smallest details: objects found on the street and re-purposed to become table football, golf shoes, turnstiles... It is in this spirit that David Calvo created the game Scintillations for the Games Reflexions exhibition. It reminds us that everyone must set up their own show and that everyone can play with the content, and re-appropriate it.


Robson, YYYYYY


Atari 2600 Breakout Gameplay


Nicolas Cannasse, Evoland

The exhibition text talks about the revival for pixelated, ASCII and geometrical games in the indie game scene. Are the people who develop and play retro game the people who grew up with the games produced in the 1980s and 1990s. Or is this an entirely new generation? And by that question i guess i mean also "is this a question of nostalgia or aesthetics'?

Most of the time, it's the new generation that creates this kind of pixelated, cubic or geometric video games. Of course, some are older and have a certain nostalgia for the aesthetics of 1980s games but I think that the key is not in the nostalgia. First of all, there is a reaction to the ultra clean aesthetic of mainstream games. There is also the desire to express yourself with the new tools currently available. So I think it's mostly a matter of aesthetics, of finding your own, whether it is closer to drawing, cubism, watercolor, pixel or 3D. I feel that there is a desire to think outside the box and to offer something else. Anne Roquigny was telling me this afternoon that the same phenomenon happens in online creativity today: the comeback of the gifs animated, of neon colors and of an aesthetic more or less close to the one of 1990s net.art. Both the web are the design tools are more accessible so creativity expresses itself in all kinds of directions. And I do not think that we're speaking about nostalgia here either, mainly because this movement is unknown to new generations!


Aniwey, Candy Box


Merrit Kopas, HUGPUNX


Zak Ayles, PUNKSNOTDEAD

Do you see 'arty', independent games ideas and trends (such as retogaming) filtering into the commercial gaming world?

Yes, very much. As soon as a new "niche" appears, marketing lays its hands on it. That's how the Playstation has its indie corner. Or why, for example, many complained about the excessive presence of sponsors with booths such as the Nintendo one during the last IndieCade. The "indie game" has become a new standard, an argument that sells. The success of games like Limbo and Minecraft have opened a new path. The use of old games or pixelated aesthetic is recurrent on mobile platforms. Yes, it has grown into a real business which, in this case, very often plays on nostalgia ...


Carjacked (After Barbara Kruger), Colleo, 2013


Carjacked (Racing after Hirst), Colleo, 2012

Carjacked, one of the works you selected for Games Reflexions, consists of 17 BMW cars created by Coll.eo with the Livery editor of the videogame Forza Motorsport 4 for the Xbox 360. The cars are customized 'by' famous contemporary artists. It is also a parody of the contemporary art world. But if the world of gaming is looking at the world of contemporary art, is the opposite true? Are art galleries, museums and collectors interesting in video games?

When MOMA added video games to its collection, even if it was in the department of design, it caused a stir in the contemporary art world. Gallery and museum initiatives are still relatively rare. The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam produced, two years ago I think, three games co-designed by artists and game designers. Game art exhibitions are still fairly marginal in this type of cultural structures. The Arcade exhibition in France toured many national exhibition spaces. This kind of exhibition is usually initiated by independent structures such as the collective Babycastles in the United States. The Cité des Sciences in Paris is about to host a major exhibition about video games but this is not a Museum of Contemporary Art. I feel, but I could be wrong, that for the moment this kind of creation follows the same parallel logic as media art. However, some artists like Miltos Manetas, Invader and Cory Arcangel who are close to the world of video games are definitely present in the art world. It is actually becoming difficult to show their work outside that network ... ;)


Harun Farocki, Parallel (still), 2012. Two-channel video installation

I'm always completely blown away by the selection of video games that you make for the GAMERZ festival every year. I'm also obviously impressed by your knowledge and understanding of the game scene. Are there any books, websites, blogs or other resources you could recommend to people who are not so versed into the world of video game but would like to know more about it?

Thank you! I feel the same about we- make-money-not- art! More than books -even though I recommend Rise of the Videogame Zinesters, by Anna Anthropy, and The Art of Immersion, by Franck Rose, which I liked a lot- I strongly believe in the network. The network of artists, designers and game developers. They are my first resource. I follow the twitter accounts of developers, the Facebook accounts of close and not-so-close friends from the world of video game, 8 bit music or digital art. One of the best references for me is the gamescenes.org site. For the exhibition Reflections Games, I asked Peter Corbinais of Oujevipo for a few tips and he sent me some fifty references! I am also very attentive to what is happening in schools in France and abroad. I follow the projects of the LA Game Space, the Game Department led by Eddo Stern at UCLA. Another resource that has thaught me a lot is the Scratchware manifesto written in 2000 and republished by Mike Myer one or two years ago.


Might and Delight, Shelter

And does the work of a video game curator involve daily hours of video game playing?

The preparation of an exhibition requires a lot of that. The rest of the time I do what i can, especially when I'm traveling. But my job obviously involves playing and it's been going on for a while. However, if we look at this year as an example, I spent more time working on issues of borders than playing. Even if there are two games in the antiAtlas des frontières exhibition, that's not what prevails. Playing takes time and I don't have much to spare. However, what is great is that what comes out of most game jams are mainly games that can be played quite fast, and that's brilliant for me! That said, I also spend a lot of time making machinimas during workshops and again they require me to practice. I actually dream of a residency where I'd spend several months testing every conceivable games to create the best machinimas...

Merci Isabelle!

Games Reflexions runs from 19 October until 30 November 2013 at Le Carreau in Cergy.

Isabelle Arvers has two other shows that just opened in France: Machiniglitch, at ARCADE, Festival Gamerz and The antiAtlas of Borders, at the Tapestry Museum, Aix-en-Provence.

See also this other interview i made with her 3 years ago: Machinimas at the GAMERZ festival.


Santa Ragione and Paolo Tajé, Mirror Moon


The Fullbright Company, Gone Home

-----------------------------

And now for the original version in french:

Bonjour Isabelle! Why do you think that now is a good time to reflect upon gaming? And more particularly about the relationship between our perception/construction of reality and video games.

Je ne sais pas si c'est le bon moment mais il me semble que le jeu a pris différentes formes et directions qui permettent de l'envisager dans une plus grande complexité qu'auparavant. Les games studies se sont développées dès les années 80 et ont permis d'appréhender le jeu sous différentes facettes : de la psychanalyse, à l'économie, en passant par la phylosophie, la science politique, etc. La réflexion liée à la question du jeu vidéo n'est donc pas nouvelle, par contre, le jeu commence à être perçu différemment par le public, les médias, il me semble donc bon d'accompagner ce mouvement en posant cette question au sein d'une exposition dans un espace d'art contemporain.

La question de la perception est pour moi très importante et ce, depuis mon mémoire sur le virtuel écrit au milieu des années 90 où je me demandais comment le virtuel pouvait influencer notre corps et notre esprit ? Je continue à me poser ce type de question : chaque technique, logiciel, langage influence notre manière de concevoir les choses et d'appréhender le réel, du coup qu'en est-il pour les jeux vidéo ? Un jour, des étudiants, fans de jeu vidéo, m'avaient dit rêver en images de synthèse et même préférer ce type d'image à celle qu'ils pouvaient voir à la télé, parce que c'était plus beau. J'avoue que cela m'a profondément marquée.

Je me suis dit alors dit que les jeux vidéo influencent notre imaginaire comme le faisaient autrefois les contes. Depuis que je fais des machinimas, je ne vois pas non plus les villes ni le mouvement dans les villes de la même manière, j'ai la sensation que les gens avancent comme dans les jeux... Toutes les idées liées à d'autres réalités me séduisent aussi. En réfléchissant à cette exposition, j'ai repensé à la caverne de Platon, à ces idées dont nous ne percevons que le reflet. L'idée qu'il y ait des mondes parallèles m'attire et j'aimerais beaucoup les imaginer à travers des jeux.

J'attends encore que des images de synthèse me renvoient à quelque chose qui ne se voit pas, j'attends qu'elles m'amènent de l'autre côté... Alors que pour la plupart des jeux qui cherchent à mimer la réalité, ils ne produisent qu'une image trop nette, trop lisse, qui me semble bien éloignée de ce que j'aimerais y découvrir. C'est pourquoi, quand j'ai découvert la compilation Pirate Kart et la quantité de jeux aux univers si divers, trash et drôles, j'ai eu envie d'aller dans cette direction et de les montrer dans le cadre d'une galerie. Lors de l'exposition de la Pirate Kart à la galerie de l'ESAix , ce qui m'a fait le plus plaisir c'est que des personnes m'ont dit que ça leur redonnait confiance, qu'ils faisaient ce genre de jeux chez eux mais ne pensaient pas que ça puisse intéresser qui que ce soit. C'est un peu l'envie d'ouvrir des possibles et de faire sortir ces perles du monde des game jams et du cercle des jeux indépendants afin de les faire découvrir au plus grand nombre.

The exhibition talks also about the quest for hyper-reality, are you already seeing interesting game experiences that use the Oculus Rift? is this something you're following or are excited about?

C'est amusant car justement ce week-end, dans le cadre du festival Retro no Future Games Festival à Visages du Monde - qui est aussi le commanditaire de l'exposition Games Reflexion - le jeu Cosmic Forest d'Evilion était présenté avec Oculus Rift et là on touche presque au but !! Dans ce jeu, on parcourt des lignes et des colonnes de couleurs, comme si on pouvait passer entre les cordes... Cette direction de travail est intéressante dans la mesure où on s'immerge dans l'image, la perception de ce que voient nos yeux devient alors prédominante et parvient à induire le reste du corps en erreur.

Ce qui m'intéresse le plus aujourd'hui c'est justement l'aspect physique que peuvent prendre certains jeux et nous permettre de vivre des expériences différentes entre êtres humains. Je pense ici aux jeux pervasifs des Blast Theory qui au travers de jeux qui se jouent en ligne et dans l'espace public, s'intéressent aux nouveaux types de relations que les technologies peuvent créer au détour d'une rue, d'un obstacle. Ou encore au jeu Johann Sebastian Joust qui joue sur le contact entre des joueurs à l'écoute du rythme de la musique. Comment le jeu peut nous emmener ailleurs sans que ce soit pour autant uniquement dans un univers virtuel. J'aime aussi beaucoup la démarche de Florian Rivière qui transforme tout espace en un terrain de jeu, qui réintègre la notion de jeu grâce au plus petit détail : des choses trouvées dans la rue détournées pour devenir des baby foot, des terrains de baskets, un tourniquet... C'est dans cet esprit que le jeu Scintillations de David Calvo a été créé pour l'exposition Games Reflexion. Il vient rappeler que chacun doit se faire sa propre exposition et que chacun peut jouer avec les contenus, les détourner se les approprier.

The exhibition text talks about the revival for pixelated, ASCII and geometrical games in the indie game scene. Are the people who develop and play retro game the people who grew up with the games produced in the 1980s and 1990s. Or is this an entirely new generation? And by that question i guess i mean also "is this a question of nostalgia or aesthetics'?

C'est très souvent la nouvelle génération qui crée ce type de jeux vidéo pixellisés, cubiques ou géométriques. Bien entendu il y en a qui sont plus âgés et qui ont une certaine nostalgie pour l'esthétique des jeux des années 80, mais je pense que l'essentiel n'est pas dans la nostalgie. Il y a tout d'abord une réaction vis à vis dune esthétique trop propre des jeux mainstream. Il y a aussi l'envie de s'exprimer avec les nouveaux outils accessibles aujourd'hui. Je pense donc que c'est surtout une question d'esthétique, de trouver la sienne en propre, qu'elle soit proche du dessin, du cubisme, de l'aquarelle, du pixel ou de la 3D, j'ai la sensation qu'il y a une envie de sortir des sentiers battus et de proposer autre chose. Anne Roquigny me faisait remarquer tout à l'heure qu'il se passe exactement la même chose dans la création en ligne aujourd'hui : c'est le grand retour des gifs animés, des couleurs fluo et d'une esthétique plus ou moins proche de celle du net.art des années 90. Le web est plus accessible, les outils de conception le sont aussi alors la création s'exprime dans toutes les directions. Et je ne pense pas qu'il s'agisse de nostalgie là non plus, principalement parce que ce mouvement est très méconnu des nouvelles générations !

Do you see 'arty', independent games ideas and trends (such as retogaming) filtering into the commercial gaming world?

Oui, énormément. Dès qu'il y a un nouveau « créneau » le marketing s'en empare. C'est ainsi que Playstation a son carré inde, que lors du dernier Indiecade, beaucoup se sont plaint de la trop forte présence des sponsors avec des stands comme celui de Nintendo par exemple. Le « jeu indé » est devenu une nouvelle référence, un argument qui fait vendre. Les succès de jeux comme Limbo ou Minecraft ont ouvert une nouvelle voie. Le recours aux anciens jeux ou aux esthétiques pixellisées est récurrent sur les plateformes mobiles, oui c'est devenu un véritable business qui ici, joue très souvent sur la nostalgie...

Carjacked consists of 17 BMW cars created by Coll.eo with the Livery editor of the videogame Forza Motorsport 4 for the Xbox 360. The cars are customized 'by' famous contemporary artists. It is also a parody of the contemporary art world. But if the world of gaming is looking at the world of contemporary art, is the opposite true? Are art galleries, museums and collectors interesting in video games?

Lorsque le MOMA a intégré des jeux dans sa collection, même si c'est dans le département du design, cela a fait grand bruit dans le monde de l'art contemporain. Pour autant les initiatives de galeries ou musées sont encore assez rares. Le Stedelijk Museum à Amsterdam avait produit il y a deux ans je crois trois jeux conçus conjointement par des artistes et des game designers. Les expositions de game art ont encore assez peu lieu au sein de structures culturelles de ce type. L'exposition Arcade en France a tourné dans de nombreuses scènes nationales. Ce genre d'exposition est plutôt le fait d'indépendants comme le collectif Babycastle aux Etats Unis. La Cité des Sciences à Paris va bientôt accueillir une exposition importante de jeux vidéo mais on ne peut pas parler de Musée d'art contemporain. J'ai l'impression, mais je peux me tromper que pour l'instant ce type de création suit la même logique parallèle de diffusion que celle du media art. Par contre quelques artistes comme Miltos Manetas, Invader ou Cory Arcangel, que l'on peut rapprocher de l'univers des jeux vidéo sont bien présents dans le monde de l'art, il devient d'ailleurs difficile de les montrer en dehors de ce circuit... ;)

I'm always completely blown away by the selection of video games that you make for the GAMERZ festival every year. I'm also obviously impressed by your knowledge and understanding of the game scene. Are there any books, websites, blogs or other resources you could recommend to people who are not so versed into the world of video game but would like to know more about it?

Merci ! J'en aurais autant à dire de we-make-money-not-art !! Plus que des livres même si je recommande Rise of the Videogame Zinesters d'Anna Anthropy et The art of immersion de Franck Rose que j'ai beaucoup appréciés, je crois fortement au réseau. Au réseau d'artistes, de créateurs et de game developers, ce sont eux qui sont ma première ressource. Je suis les comptes twitters de développeurs, les comptes Facebook d'amis proches ou lointains du monde du jeu, de la musique 8 bit ou de l'art numérique. Une des meilleures références reste pour moi le site gamescenes.org. Pour l'exposition Games Reflexions, j'ai demandé quelques conseils à Pierre Corbinais du site Oujevipo et il m'a envoyé une cinquantaine de références ! Je suis aussi très à l'écoute de ce qui se passe dans les écoles en France et à l'étranger. Je suis ce qui sort du LA Game Space du département jeu de UCLA dirigé par Eddo Stern. Une autre ressource qui m'a beaucoup apporté est le Scratchware manifesto apparu en 2000 et republié ensuite par Mike Myer il y a un an ou deux.

And does the work of a video game curator involve daily hours of video game playing?

Pour la préparation d'une exposition ça en demande énormément, le reste du temps c'est comme je peux, surtout dans les transports. Mais c'est sûr que mon travail implique de jouer et que ça commence à faire un moment que ça dure ! Par contre, si on prend cette année en exemple, j'ai beaucoup plus travaillé sur la question des frontières que passé du temps à jouer, même si il y a deux jeux dans l'exposition antiAtlas des frontières antiatlas.net, ce n'est pas ce qui prédomine. Jouer demande du temps et ce n'est pas ce que j'ai le plus, par contre, ce qui est génial dans la plupart des game jams c'est qu'il en ressort beaucoup de jeux qui se jouent assez vite, et ça pour moi c'est formidable ! Ceci étant dit, je passe aussi beaucoup de temps à réaliser des machinimas dans le cadre d'ateliers et là aussi il faut pratiquer, d'ailleurs je rêve d'une résidence me permettant de passer plusieurs mois à tester tous les jeux possibles et imaginables pour réaliser au mieux des machinimas...

Categories: New Media News

Book review - Explore Everything: Place-Hacking the City

Tue, 10/08/2013 - 11:20

Explore Everything: Place-Hacking the City by Bradley Garrett, an ethnographer from the School of Geography and the Environment at University of Oxford working within the global Urban Explorer community.

Available on Amazon USA and UK.

Publisher Verso writes: It is assumed that every inch of the world has been explored and charted; that there is nowhere new to go. But perhaps it is the everyday places around us--the cities we live in--that need to be rediscovered. What does it feel like to find the city's edge, to explore its forgotten tunnels and scale unfinished skyscrapers high above the metropolis? Explore Everything reclaims the city, recasting it as a place for endless adventure.

Plotting expeditions from London, Paris, Berlin, Detroit, Chicago, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, Bradley L. Garrett has evaded urban security in order to experience the city in ways beyond the boundaries of conventional life. He calls it 'place hacking': the recoding of closed, secret, hidden and forgotten urban space to make them realms of opportunity.

Explore Everything is an account of the author's escapades with the London Consolidation Crew, an urban exploration collective.

The book is also a manifesto, combining philosophy, politics and adventure, on our rights to the city and how to understand the twenty-first century metropolis.


Climbing Battersea Power Station


In Detroit

Like almost everybody else i guess, i'd like to be Bradley Garrett in my next life... Minus the troubles with the Transport for London, of course.

Bradley is a writer, photographer and researcher at the University of Oxford. He is also part of a group of urban explorers who trespass into derelict industrial buildings, sewer mazes, construction sites, deep shelters, drains, transportation networks, skyscrapers and other tall structures (mostly for the unique perspective they offer on the city below), and even in the (then) under-construction 2012 Olympic stadium. Urban explorers enter where they are not supposed to set foot, they avoid security guards and often operate at night. They never, however, willingly cause damage nor commit criminal offences. Bradley compares urban explorers to computer hackers: both groups assist in strengthening security by exposing systems' weaknesses through benign exploration.

The reason why Bradley's name might be familiar to some of you is that he is part of the London Consolidation Crew. The group were all over the English newspapers last year when they entered, one after the other, London's 'ghost' tube stations. They had already gained access to a number of them when, 4 days before 'the royal wedding', they tried to get to the British Museum Tube Station, starting at Russel Square station, running across the platform, down the piccadilly line, then switching to the central line tracks. They were caught but the British Transport Police let them off with a caution but Transport for London issued an ASBO forbidding them to talk to one another for 10 years, or to carry any equipment that could be used for exploration after dark.


Airplane graveyard at George Air Force Base (The Southern California Logistics Airport)


Hiding from security at Airplane graveyard at George Air Force Base (The Southern California Logistics Airport)

They've also infiltrated many other fascinating locations (some of which we will never see, no matter how much we are ready to pay.) They climbed on foot the 76 stories of the Shard when it was still under contruction. Or Burlington, Britain's Secret Subterrean City, the place where the British government was to be rebuilt in case of a nuclear attack. They also visited several of the 33,000 derelict buildings in Detroit. The took photos from the roof of the closed down Sahara casino in Las Vegas. They climbed up the wings of the Angel in Gateshead to wrap a scarf around its neck. The played with the London Rail Mail, a miniature underground railway used by the Post Office to move mail between sorting offices. They walked around the unglamorous but rather interesting London sewerage system designed by Joseph Bazalgette in the 19th century. And they managed to move around unnoticed in the spectacular plane graveyard of the George Air Force Base (The Southern California Logistics Airport).


Grain Tower Battery


Las Vegas

In his book, Bradley narrates the many expeditions of the LCC in London, in the rest of Europe and in the United States. It does sound dangerous (and indeed it often is) but, as he explains, UrbEx is not just about adrenaline. It is also about exploring the fractures in the city, working together as a group, gaining a deeper understanding and awareness of the city and more importantly experiencing the world in non-scripted, non-normative, non-capitalist ways.

The pages also come with the reflections and lessons that each expedition brought about: the social exclusion felt by urban explorers who become unable to connect with people living a 'normal' life, the direct experience of the authoritarian state, the realization that the city is built vertically as well as horizontally.


The London Underground

Explore Everything: Place-Hacking the City is a lively book. One moment, you're exploring the architectural remains of the Soviet Union. Next, you are wondering along with the author whether or not it is ethical to visit drains when you know you might be disturbing the homeless who live there (as it happened in Last Vegas a city of 580,000 inhabitants that count 14,000 homeless people)?

I have severe vertigo and a reluctance to spend the night in a cold, humid bunker. But i'm grateful to Bradley for giving me an opportunity to live vicariously and comfortably through some of the episodes of his breakneck adventures.


Battersea Power Station


Climbing up The Shard at night


Michigan Central Station


To an abandoned Brach's candy factory in Chicago


On top of the 72-story Legacy Tower


Hacking The London Underground

Crack The Surface - Episode I, short documentary focusing on the culture of Urban Exploring

Episode 2.

Categories: New Media News

Visual Leader 2013, the best of Germany magazines and internet

Mon, 10/07/2013 - 12:34

Last week (or maybe it was the week before) i was in Hamburg for the Reeperbahm festival. As soon as the symposium i participated to ended, i walked to the other end of the city to see the Santiago Sierra show. Only that i went to Deichtorhallen -one of my favourite centers for contemporary art and photography- to discover that Sierra was actually in another exhibition space a few metro stops away and that i had to book in advance to see the show. Well, i was Deichtorhallen, they have a nice bar, an über friendly staff (i should add that i found everyone i spoke to in Hamburg to be extraordinarily helpful and welcoming) and a photography show. I love a good photo show. And so i stayed.


Max Vadukul, Back To Berlin, for Zeit Magazin


Gabriel Bouys, Entblösst (Stern 1)


Albrecht von Alvensleben, Pretty Awful Terribly Nice, Horst und Edeltraut Nr. 04

VisualLeader 2013, The Best of Magazines And Internet displays the works of the nominees and winners of last year's LeadAwards, Germany's most prestigious print and online media award. Photo reports, fashion shoots, advertisement, blogs, etc. The lot! That made for a great afternoon so without further ado and in no particular order...


Benny Lam, Life in 6,42 square metres, Stern Nr. 11


Benny Lam, Life in 6,42 square metres, Stern Nr. 11

Photos taken by Benny Lam for the Hong Kong-based social welfare group Society for Community Organization highlight the housing crisis in one of Asia's richest cities. The apartments photographed are just four feet by seven feet. According to the South China Morning Post, an estimated 280,000 families are currently living in those shoebox apartments, which are essentially regular-sized (for Hong Kong) flats that have been divided into usually four smaller units (source).


Paolo Pellegrin, Guantanamo


Paolo Pellegrin, Guantanamo


Paolo Pellegrin, Guantanamo

Paolo Pellegrin photographed life in the U.S. prison camp in Guantanamo. Together with journalist Tim Golden, he traveled to the place that Obama promised to abolish. Yet, terror suspects are still being held without charge in the military detention camp. Pellegrin's photos were submitted to the scrutiny (or rather censorship) of the military press office. He had to delete approximately a third of his photos.


Hans-Christian Schink, Industrial building, near the port town of Minamisanriku


Tanogashira, Utatsu, Miyagi Prefecture


Hans-Christian Schink, Houses piled up the tidal wave in the destroyed village Ogatsucho Mizuhama has piled up the tidal wave

One year after the tsunami, Hans-Christian Schink spent several weeks traveling through the Tohoku region in northeastern Japan.
More images in Zeit.


Linda Forsell, Another Day in Paradise, (Vice 5). From the series Life's a Blast


Linda Forsell, Gaza. A man is bathing his sheep in the ocean. They are reluctant at first but when they have entered the water the become completely calm. From the series Life's a Blast

Life's a Blast is a series of photos that Linda Forsell took in Israel and Palestine from 2008 to 2010.


The Standard: Erwin Wurm, Pee on Someone's Rug

A print ad campaign for The Standard hotel featuring an image from Erwin Wurm's series of Instructions on How to Be Politically Incorrect.


Paweł Jaszczuk, High Fashion


Paweł Jaszczuk, High Fashion


Pawel Jaszczuk, Street Photography from Japan

Everyone's favourite: 'salarymen' who fell asleep in the gutter in their suit and polished shoes.


Heidi and Hans-Jürgen Koch, Magical Beginning, Fetus of a brown-breasted hedgehog , Erinaceus europaeus, about 6 cm long, shortly before birth, gestation period about 35 days, about 100 spines are white and change color after birth, Hubrecht collection, Berlin Museum of Natural History


Alexander Zemlianichenko. In the dock: The members of Pussy Riot on 8 August 2012 in Moscow


Esther Friedman, Iggy Pop in James-Bond-Pose in a Berlin U-Bahn Station, 1979. © Esther Friedman für ZEITmagazin


Corey Arnold, Ein großer Fang, in "Mare" Nr. 90 and "Dummy" Nr. 37

I got a surprising (to me at least) request from the guard while i was taking photos in the gallery. He told me that i would have to either stop taking pictures or go back to the ticket office and buy a 'photo license' that cost 2 euros. That was new to me. No more laughable excuse, just "go and get the right to take photos."


Photo Henning Rogge for Deichtorhallen


Photo Henning Rogge for Deichtorhallen


Photo Henning Rogge for Deichtorhallen


Matthias Vriens McGrath, Facilitated Mess, Zoo-Magazine

VisualLeader 2013, The Best of Magazines And Internet runs until 13 October at Deichtorhallen The House of Photography in Hamburg. Deichtorhallen has a photo set on flickr.

Categories: New Media News

The Living Mirror

Wed, 10/02/2013 - 13:14

Last week, i mentioned my quick trip to Leiden to see the winning projects of the third edition of the Designers & Artists 4 Genomics Award, an international competition that gives artists and designers the opportunity to collaborate with life science institutions carrying out research into the genetic makeup of people, animals, plants and microorganisms.

One of the winning works is The Living Mirror, a 'bio-installation' that combines magnetic bacteria with electronics and photo manipulation to create liquid, 3D portraits. The piece was developed by Laura Cinti & Howard Boland from the art-science collective C-Lab in partnership with AMOLF, a research institute focusing on nanophotonics and physics of biomolecular systems


Image C-Lab


Image C-Lab

Living Mirror involves cultivating magnetotactic bacteria, a group of bacteria able to orient along the magnetic field lines of Earth's magnetic field. The artists collected the bacteria and used an array of tiny electromagnetic coils to shift the magnetic field, causing the bacteria rapidly reorient their body that changes how light is scattered. The resultant effect can be seen as a light pulse or a shimmer. Taking pixel values from darker and lighter areas in captured images, [C-Lab] programmatically harmonise hundreds of light pulses to re-represent the image inside a liquid culture.


Image C-Lab


Image C-Lab

I had a quick Q&A with the artists:

Hi Laura and Howard! The Living Mirror, to me at least, almost belongs to the world of magic.It uses software, hardware and wetware. It is a particularly complex project. How did you know it would work out in the end? And what were the biggest challenges you encountered during its development?

Indeed, as a work it has been a very ambitious undertaking that integrates quite complex processes of wetware, software and hardware. We had to work very closely with various types of engineering disciplines and work as engineers ourselves. Over the past few months we built several prototypes to help us understand how a magnetic culture of bacteria might work. In the beginning when we worked on pulling biomass our biggest challenge was to generate enough bacteria and have a system that could produce a significant magnetic pulling force.

The interactive art installation was aimed at producing real-time images using living bacteria - but pulling biomass was slow. When we discovered that these bacteria produced a shimmering effect in real-time we were intrigued and felt that this was a better phenomenon to pursue and also allowed us to work with much lower magnetic forces. By changing the magnetic field we were seeing bacteria rapidly switching direction in a synchronic rotation causing light to scatter and producing a visible shimmer. So the major challenges we have encountered so far has been cultivating these bacteria and producing the electronic boards needed for approximately 250 individual magnetic coils.

There are many unknowns in the project which is what makes it quite exciting for us - having living bacteria respond in real-time is not something we experience on a visual scale we are accustomed to and finding out whether this system will be able to produce shimmering pixels that can form a portrait image is to be seen in the weeks to come.

To see the shimmering effect we observe, please see these videos below:


Bacteria scattering light at different magnetic speed


M. gryphiswaldense on magnetic stirrer

In LIVING MIRROR, multiple pulsating waves of bacteria are made to form a pixelated image using electromagnetic coils that shift magnetic fields across surface areas. By taking pixel values from darker and lighter areas in captured images, LIVING MIRROR programmatically attempts to harmonise hundreds of light pulses to re-represent the image inside a liquid culture.


Image C-Lab


Image C-Lab

In the proposal you wrote for the competition, you say that "Recent years have seen the human body reconfigured as an ecosystem of mostly non-human bacterial cells. Together with fungi and human cells, these form our complex 'superorganism', an image the work seeks to renegotiate by literally reflecting and fleshing out these ideas." Could you elaborate what you mean by that?

Until recently, our understanding of human 'self' was, at least biologically speaking, thought to be 'human' cells. This perspective is now understood to include microbial communities and interestingly, these microbial cells not only outnumber our own 'human' cells but our bodies contain significantly more of microbial DNA than our own genome. (Our bodies contain a mere 10 per cent of human cells and 90 per cent microbial cells). In this sense our bodies can be seen as a 'superorganisms' - working collectively as a unified organism or an ecosystem.

As a liquid biological mirror, LIVING MIRROR draws on the idea of water as our first interface predating today's screen-based digital technologies. It points to the myth of Narcissus who fell in love with his own image by believing it was someone else in the water reflection. Drawn into the image, he tragically drowned - a reminder of how we continue to immerse ourselves in similar mirrors as we extend our identity into the virtual. Simultaneously, the work highlights how contemporary science has shattered the idea of our own body by recognising that we are mostly made up of non-human bacterial cells. These ideas have shaped digital and biological understandings of our human self and are technically and conceptually reflected in LIVING MIRROR.

A living mirror is a very seducing idea. Do you see possible applications for it? Or was it just an artistic experiment?

Throughout the project we have been in communication with many leading researchers and there are certainly some specific technological overlaps (i.e. possible use of shimmer as a magnetic measurement or methods for orienting or guiding cells). As a display what can be seen is certainly different to existing technologies and LIVING MIRROR remains a research-based artwork.

Thanks Laura and Howard!


Image C-Lab


Image C-Lab


Image C-Lab


Image C-Lab


Video of Prototype #2 with Magnetotactic Bacteria in Continuous Vessel (9 coils)

Flickr set + videos

The Living Mirror and the other winning projects of DA4GA are on view until 15 December at Raamsteeg2 in Leiden, in The Netherlands.
Previously: Ergo Sum - The creation of a second self using stem cell technology and The Fish Bone Chapel.

Categories: New Media News

East of Eden

Tue, 10/01/2013 - 13:58

I haven't seen that many exciting exhibitions in London over the past few weeks. I was however, bowled over by the photos of Philip-Lorca diCorcia at the David Zwirner Gallery. The East of Eden series brings side by side biblical references and the American dream gone sour. East of Eden is named after John Steinbeck's 1952 novel, contains direct references to the book of Genesis and is inspired by the collapse of the economy as well as the political climate of the United States towards the end of the Bush era.


Mr. Briggs, 2007-2008

"It was really about the loss of innocence I think the whole world went through when the financial crisis started," diCorcia explains. "The financial crisis was the beginning of an economic crisis that led to a political crisis. It took two administrations to learn that the war on Iraq was based on a lie, that Saddam Hussein didn't work together with Al-Qaida, and that Afghanistan was an impossible country to transform. Now we have natural disasters that we never could have imagined before. And then there are all those people with no homes. I did feel some compulsion to respond. I never respond directly. But I had a distinct motivation for the conceptualization of the imagery."


The Hamptons, 2008

The only photo in the gallery that is not likely to throw you into a melancholy state is the one with the two placid white dogs watching porn in a Hamptons home. They were actually looking at much tamer images. 'I rarely manipulate photographs after they are taken,' said diCorcia, 'but in this case the dogs were watching Bambi. I put in the porn later.'


Iolanda, 2011

The lady in Iolanda is the artist's mother-in-law. She is either staring at her own reflection or looking at the sky outside, waiting for the tornado forecast on tv.


Epiphany, 2009

The tempting Serpent from the Garden of Eden is symbolized by the stripper gliding up and down a pole.


Cain and Abel, 2013

Everything has a meaning and purpose in diCorcia's photos. One man is wearing a red jumper, the other a blue one, while a pregnant woman looks at them from the door. Cain and Abel are locked in reluctant embrace before one kills the other. They also represent U.S. politics and more precisely the Democrat/Republican relationship.


Abraham, 2010

East of Eden is at David Zwirner in London until 16 November 2013.
And do check out GalleriesNow and Happy Famous Artists, they are far more inspired by the London art offer than i am.

UPDATE: David Zwirner will host a talk by Martin Barnes, Senior Curator of Photographs at the V&A, about the artist's work, 19 October 2013, 11 AM, RSVP to +44 (0)203 538 3165.

Categories: New Media News

Interview with Addie Wagenknecht

Fri, 09/27/2013 - 07:03

I discovered the work of Addie Wagenknecht a few months ago while visiting The Digital Now exhibition in Brussels. The young artist was showing Pussy Drones gifs. I didn't fully get what they were about at first but the more i looked at the porno-grotesque-aggressive images in the exhibition space that day, the more i thought she was a talent to follow. And indeed, the rest of her portfolio didn't disappoint. Addie made a painting using a drone as a brush, enrolled a stern industrial robot to rock a baby cradle, asked online sexcam performers to replicate classical paintings, and built a chandelier using CCTV cameras.

Addie Wagenknecht studied photography, traveled the world, completed a Masters at New York University as a Wasserman Scholar and right after that got a fellowship at Eyebeam Atelier, CultureLabUK and more recently at HyperWerk Institute for Post-Industrial Design and Carnegie Mellon University under Golan Levin at The Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry.


Optimization of Parenting, ABB Robot Arm, Digital Fabrication Laboratory,
(dFab), CMU School of Architecture, 2012


Asymmetric Love Number 2, Single Produced Sculpture (Steel, CCTV cameras and DSL internet cables), 2012

Now that the long, idle Summer hiatus in which i published roughly 0.7 posts per week is over, it's back to business as usual and i'm glad that Addie Wagenknecht has accepted to be the first artist i interview for the the new 'season'.


The Career Machine, Installation, Los Angeles, CA, 2011

Hi Addie! While reading the description of The Optimization of Parenthood (Part 1 and Part 2), i realized that i almost never encounter artworks dealing with parenthood in media art. Or, because the accompanying texts mostly talks about mother, should i say feminism? Do you see these two works as new ways of exploring and discussing feminism?

Theorists wrote and said this series is celebrating the death of the mother. It's not objective, it's subjective. At the time we developed this piece I spent a lot of time trying to decide on a title: "The Optimization of Parenthood" vs. "The Optimization of Motherhood" because those are very different in my experience. We were doing a residency at The STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University. At the time I was pregnant and wanted to examine this false sense of balance between parenting and career in America. How the process is transparent but the structure to function is a secret. The formula is often behind the closed door of people's homes (and psychiatrist's office). I found that being critical of the choice to be a parent, as a parent, is taboo. More so, being critical of the experience as a mother is censored socially if not outright denied by everyone around me. I watched the unraveling of the carefully crafted facade of women and family v2.0.

I think women of my generation were raised to believe that we can have it all, but that theory had never really been tested, our mothers gave us something impossible. At the same time, I was playing with materiality and preconceived notions of perfection within my own work. I wanted to let go of that in a playful way. I never wanted to be responsible for feminism, yet this particular notion made sense and I want to have the poetic liberty to give that away to someone else who really wants it.


The Optimization of Parenthood

The charm of the OfP rocking robotic arm is that it is purely industrial. What made you decide to use this orange factory-like robotic arm rather than a cute robot or even an almost invisible unobtrusive robotic system?

I wanted to highlight the repetitive nature of parenting in a way that was relatable in terms of gestural motion, but foreign in its implementation. The blatantly robotic arm evokes this idea of industry - mirroring the precise, reactive nature that parenting often demands. I wanted the arm to suggest this idea of impossible flawless perfection.


Anonymity, 2007


Anonymity [image from cctv feed], Public Performance at MuseumsQuartier Vienna, 2013

You recently wore the Anonymity accessory for a performance in Vienna. Could you tell us about the performance? How it unfolded, who participated to it, how passersby reacted to the black bars, etc.

Anonymity as a concept is addictive - especially when you're living in a major metropolitan city like New York. That is why projects like Pirate Bay and Tor are some of the most successful works of our time. They have a large scale participatory aspect allowing people freedom and a chance to challenge outdated ideas around copyright. It is one to many system, no one person controls it, there is so much beauty in that. I think we are reaching a point if we haven't already where anonymity is imperative to creativity.

The performance in Vienna was all about encouraging people to openly claim anonymity, as a public statement. While living in New York, I started to became aware that we were constantly under surveillance; I was being watched by security cameras, asked to show my ID to get into a building, etc. The pervasiveness of surveillance made anonymity more desirable. Surveillance has become so ubiquitous its become comfortable. We do not think twice or challenge it. We have become such a surveillance saturated society, in some regards we expect it. Anonymity is becoming a solution for some to protect destabilized identities, revolutionaries, and hackers. It is changing the way we define the face. Mask in public spaces are beginning to be outlawed. I think that the goal has shifted that we no longer want to become an individual, but to become anonymous. People who are able to maintain anonymity have a sort of tense, mystical quality, and we wanted to explore this in a literal, physical piece within public space.

The large-scale performance was commissioned by Bogomir Doringer for the "Faceless" exhibition at MuseumsQuartier. We provided 1,200 museum attendees with limited edition, wearable black bars that allow for preemptive non-disclosure. As they walked through the courtyard, a live feed was projected into the exhibition space. It intentionally occupied the line of criticism and play, allowing the surveilled to become the surveillance.


broken_link_1, 4.25" x 2.5", Lambda print, Austria 2013

I think Broken_links is the most irritating work i've seen recently. I keep coming back to that page -and feeling utterly silly in the process- in the hope that the images will eventually appear on the screen. I just can't help it. Did you realize that a work in appearance so simple would create such emotional response?

[laughs] Yes, that's one of the goals. It's looking at those instances when an algorithm, code, or search engine fails to properly interpret code. Essentially, broken_links is about capturing points of failure and glitches in their most literal form. The Internet is so volatile, yet at the same time it's completely cached and highly functional. Images, websites, and texts, are removed all the time without our knowledge as the user. Google, for instance, plays a powerful role because they're able to manipulate the availability of information. They show us what they want us to see, not necessarily what we searched for. So, I wanted to take the information bias, that false sense of trust, and run with it.


Black Hawk Paint, New York City, 2008

I was also very interested in Black Hawk Paint. Especially because I saw that you worked on it in 2008 and, at least in Europe, it's only more recently that artists and curators have started to work on the drone topic. Do you think that the work of artists who engage with UAV technology have an impact on how the public is understanding the issue?

Yes. I wanted to re-appropriate the drone technology as a tool for creativity, expanding the way people consider their potential use. I implemented a computer vision tracking system, and used the drone as a brush. The resulting images are abstract, and I consider the process of making the piece as important as the finished work.

I see Kyle McDonald's "Liberator Variations" he developed for FAT lab working in a parallel way. He noticed people's fear surrounding the Liberator and his response was to produce a series of remixed versions of the original file, transforming the 3D printed gun into a version of the OpenGL teapot, among other things. He wrote: "There is only fear when we feel disempowered, when we lack understanding, when we are censored, when we lack input and are instead being controlled."


Kyle McDonald, The Englishman (Liberator Variations)

You're a member of F.A.T. Lab. Can you tell us how you got involved in the group and how you fit into it?

I suppose I made enough provocations at some point to get an invite. [laughs] I also knew Evan, James, Steve and Geraldine quite well because we were more or less at Eyebeam together around the same time. I consider F.A.T. my friends and family. It's an honor to be part of the lab. They are all extremely talented and they've been an inspirations and constant supporters of my practice. It's really humbling.

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

I'm taking part in the first-ever digital art auction at Phillips NYC on October 10, where the piece "Asymmetric Love #2" will be auctioned. It is a chandelier made of steel, CCTV cameras, and internet cables. In November, at MU in Eindhoven is F.A.T. GOLD Europe, a traveling retrospective of F.A.T. Lab's work that originated at Eyebeam Art + Technology Center in April. There will be a few new pieces in that exhibition which are forthcoming. Both of these are curated by Lindsay Howard. In early 2014 the exhibition "Blackmarkt" at 319 Scholes. The pieces for this exhibition are remixed off of items bought off the Silk Road/deep web. We are working on a series of jewelry made from drugs and bootleg items, which is a new space for me. The pieces look at how perception fulfills value, and the relationship of originality, copies and demand. Finally, in June will be my first solo exhibition in Europe at RUA RED Dublin, curated by Nora O Murchú.


Asymmetric Love Number 2, Single Produced Sculpture (Steel, CCTV cameras and DSL internet cables), 2012

Thanks Addie!

Categories: New Media News

#A.I.L - artists in laboratories, episode 40: Erica Scourti

Tue, 09/24/2013 - 07:23

The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM, London's favourite radio art station, is aired this Wednesday afternoon at 4pm.

My guest tomorrow will be Erica Scourti. Erica is an artist/film-maker who's studying MRes: Moving Image Art at Central St Martins, run in conjunction with LUX. Her work uses autobiographical source material, as well as texts found on the internet to explore the mediation of personal and collective experience through language and technology in the net-worked regime of contemporary culture. Which means that tomorrow the episode will focus on online language and communication, algorithms, forms of mediated intimacy, and distributed art works. Amongst others!


Erica Scourti, Life in AdWords, March 2012

A few years ago, every day, for over 10 months, Erica wrote and emailed her own diary to her Gmail account and copied the list of suggested keywords linking to clusters of relevant ads. After that, she spoke the text to webcam, creating daily portraits of her life as understood and translated by Google's algorithms. WIth another project, Woman Nature Alone, she hijacked the process by which Google's algorithms organize the hierarchy of online visibility. Erica used titles taken from stock video sites corresponding to the key words 'woman', 'nature' and 'alone' as the starting point for a series of films that show her performing each action described in the title. The video and title were then uploaded to YouTube, forming a collection of 'rushes'. After that the online works started a life of their own...

The show will be aired this Wednesday 25th of September at 16:00, London time. Early risers can catch the repeat next Tuesday at 6.30 am (I know...) If you don't live in London, you can listen to the online stream or wait till we upload the episodes on soundcloud.
Categories: New Media News

This Will Have Been: Art, Love, and Politics in the 1980s

Mon, 09/23/2013 - 10:07

This Will Have Been: Art, Love, and Politics in the 1980s, by Helen Molesworth, chief curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) Boston.

Available on amazon USA and UK.

Publisher Yale University Press writes: Art of the 1980s oscillated between radical and conservative, capricious and political, socially engaged and art historically aware. Published in association with the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, this fascinating book chronicles canonical as well as nearly forgotten works of the 1980s, arguing that what has often been dismissed as cynical or ironic should be viewed as a struggle on the part of artists to articulate their needs and desires in an increasingly commodified world. The major developments of the decade--the rise of the commercial art market, the politicization of the AIDS crisis, the increased visibility of women and gay artists and artists of color, and the ascension of new media--are illuminated in works by Sophie Calle, Nan Goldin, Mike Kelley, Jeff Koons, Sherrie Levine, and Lorna Simpson, among others. Essays by leading scholars provide unique perspectives on the decade's competing factions and seemingly contradictory elements, from counterculture to the mainstream, radicalism to democracy and historical awareness, conservatism to feminist politics.


Group Material, Untitled, 1991


Christy Rupp, Rat Patrol, 1979

Unlike the fashion of that decade, the art of the 1980s never really benefited from a revival. It generally remains overlooked and unbeloved. Yet, while reading through this book, i realized that just like today's artists, the artists of the '80s had plenty to fight for and fight against.

Many factors contribute to make the 1980s a fascinating period: the HIV/AIDS crisis, Ronald Reagan elected twice as the President of the U.S.A., the secrecy surrounding gay and lesbian life (Molesworth argues that the 1980s began with feminism and ended with queerness), queerness itself which i think is a very 80s word, the return to figurative imagery, a world that became increasingly media-saturated (and indeed the artists represented in This Will Have Been belong to the first generation to have grown up with a television in the home), etc.


Peter Nagy, Intellectual History, 1984

But the 1980s are also hold mirror to our times. Think of the ongoing resurgence of feminism, the current debate about footballers ashamed to 'get out of the closet', the Occupy movement which has so much in common in form and force with the ACT UP actions against a governmental lack of concern for the AIDS pandemic, the global economic recession, etc. Are we as combative, as revolted, as inspired as they were in the '80s? Is there anything today's socially-engaged artists can learn from a previous generation?

This Will Have Been is the catalogue of an exhibition of the same name. It is only one of the many possible retrospectives of art in the 1980s. First of all, because it is very U.S.A.-centric but also because it looks at the artistic production of that decade through the lens of desire.

This Will Have Been is divided into four non-hermetical sections that each explores a specific issue/desire.

"The End Is Near" is about the desire to break with the past. The 1980s was characterized by debates about the end of painting, the end of the counterculture, the end of history, the end of modernism.

"Democracy" addresses political desires under the conservative governments of Reagan and Thatcher, and in particular the renewed interest in the street as a site for public intervention, the increasing awareness of the importance of the mass media, the growing prominence of South and Central American artists and artists of color, and the pervasive commitment to the political that shaped the period.

"Gender Trouble" elaborates on the implications of the 1970s feminist movement by gathering works that interrogate and ultimately expand our sense of the social construction of gender roles.

In "Desire and Longing" artists working with appropriation techniques are held in relation to the emergence of queer visibility brought on by the AIDS crisis.


Carrie Mae Weems, American Icons: Untitled (Letter holder), 1988-89


Carrie Mae Weems, American Icons: Untitled (Salt and pepper shakers), 1988-89


Guerrilla Girls, The Advantages of Being A Woman Artist, 1988


Deborah Bright, Dream Girls, 1989-90


Peter Hujar, Daniel Schook Sucking Toe, 1981

Peter Hujar's portray of members of the gay subculture in New York's East Village were often part document, part theater--collaborative performances between himself and the person in front of the camera.


Black Audio Film Collective, Handsworth Songs, 1986

Formed in 1982 and dissolved in 1998, the seven-person Black Audio Film Collective (BAFC) explored Britain's emerging multicultural society, combining a montage aesthetic with personal reflection to invent a new genre of moving image that challenged traditions of British documentary and drama, and profoundly influenced contemporary avant-garde film-makers and theorists.


David Hammons, How Ya Like Me Now?, 1988

The painting of a blond and blue-eyed Reverend Jesse Jackson's was originally installed in Washington, DC, near the National Portrait Gallery which displayed no portraits of blacks at the time. Misinterpreting the work as racist, local African American youths smashed the piece with sledgehammers. The painting was moved into a traditional gallery and David Hammons subsequently added a row of upside-down hammers as a reference to the incident.


Charles Atlas, Mrs. Peanut Visits New York, 1999


Marlon Riggs, Tongues Untied (trailer), 1989

Marlon Rigg's Tongues Untied mixes documentary footage with personal account and fiction to address the specificity and difficulty of being both black and gay in North America.


Richard Hamilton, Treatment Room, 1983-84,

Richard Hamilton's Treatment Room, where a video of Thatcher giving a speech plays over a hospital bed in a bleak room, was an urgent response to the assault on the National Health Service.

The design of the catalogue (by Scott Reinhard Co. with James Goggin) is particularly stunning, simple and efficient.


This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s

catalogue essay.
Image on the homepage: Guerrilla Girls on Tour.

Categories: New Media News

Ergo Sum - The creation of a second self using stem cell technology

Fri, 09/20/2013 - 07:50

Last weekend i was in Leiden, a short train trip away from Amsterdam, for the opening of an exhibition of the winning projects of the third edition of the Designers & Artists 4 Genomics Award.

The DA4GA give artists the opportunity to develop ambitious projects in cooperation with life science institutions carrying out research into the genetic makeup of people, animals, plants and microorganisms.


Charlotte donating skin to Christine Mummery's laboratory in front of an audience at the Theatrum Anatomicum at the Waag Society in Amsterdam. Photos by James Read and Arne Kuilman


Charlotte donating blood to Christine Mummery's laboratory in front of an audience at the Theatrum Anatomicum at the Waag Society in Amsterdam. Photos by James Read

One of the recipients of the award is Charlotte Jarvis who used her own body to demystify the processes and challenge the prejudices and misunderstandings that surround stem cell technology.

Ergo Sum started as a performance at the WAAG Society in Amsterdam. In front of the public, the artist donated parts of her body to stem cell research. Blood, skin and urine samples were taken and sent to the stem cell research laboratory at The Leiden University Medical Centre iPSC Core Facility headed by Prof. Dr. Christine Mummery.

The scientists then transformed the samples into induced pluripotent stem cells, which in turn have been programmed to grow into cells with different functions such as heart, brain and vascular cells.

The whole process used the innovation which earned John Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka a joint Nobel Prize last year. The two scientists are indeed behind the discovery that adult, specialised cells can be reprogrammed and turned back into embryo-like stem cells that can become virtually any cell type and thus develop into any tissue of the body.

The pluripotent stem cells offer an alternative to using embryonic stem cells, removing the ethical questions and controversies that surrounded the use of embryonic stem cells.


Brain cells grown from stem cells derived from Charlotte's skin


Charlotte Jarvis, Ergo Sum, 2013 (exhibition at Raamsteeg2 in Leiden.) Photo by James Read

But let's get back to Charlotte's stem cells. Copies are now kept by the university for scientists to use in their research. And because the cells can be stored for an unlimited period, they are immortal. The ones that are on view at the exhibition in Leiden right now have to be kept alive by a team of scientists who regularly visit the exhibition space to care for the cells.

The synthesized body parts (now brain, heart and blood cells) are kept in an incubator made especially by a company specialized in museum displays as traditional incubator don't have a window that would allow the public to have a peak inside. The cells are accompanied by videos, prints of email exchanges, photos and other items that document the whole story of the project.

Ergo Sum is a biological self-portrait; a second self; biologically and genetically 'Charlotte' although also 'alien' to her - as these cells have never actually been inside her body.


Charlotte Jarvis, Ergo Sum, 2013 (exhibition at Raamsteeg2 in Leiden.) Photo by James Read


Charlotte Jarvis, Ergo Sum, 2013 (exhibition at Raamsteeg2 in Leiden.) Photo by James Read


Charlotte Jarvis, Ergo Sum, 2013 (exhibition at Raamsteeg2 in Leiden.) Photo by James Read

You first idea was to donate your eggs for the project but the scientists told you this might not only be illegal but also unnecessary. Could you explain why the eggs were unsuitable for the experiment and what the lab used in the end?

In the first instance I was unable to donate an egg because of the birth control I take. I have a three monthly injection (the DEPPO) which works by stopping egg production. It can take a year for your body to start producing eggs again after stopping the DEPPO, so I would not have been able to produce an egg in time for the project.

However, there were also ethical reasons for not donating an egg. I believe fervently in the use of embryos for scientific research, as of course do the scientists I work with. They have to fight for the right to use embryos in their research and under no circumstances would I do anything to jeopardise that. The use of embryos for artistic purposes is a different moral question. I felt that it would have been wrong (and potentially damaging to the scientists working on the project) to confuse those two ethical questions by making an art project utilising the scientific method for making embryonic stem cells.

What we used instead was stem cells derived from adult tissue. These are called Induced Pluripotant Stem Cells (IPSCs) and it is this technology that won the Nobel Prize last year. I donated skin, blood and urine to the lab. The lab was then able (using this new and wonderous technology) to send those cells back to how they were when I was a foetus - to turn them back into the stem cells they had been roughly 29 years ago. You could call it cellular time travel! I find our ability to do this completely awe inspiring.


Scars from biopsy 11/03/13

Now that you've finally met your 'second self, your dopplegänger, do you feel you have some kind of connection to it?

Seeing my heart cells beating was a unique experience - especially the first time I saw it. There is something that feels distinctly 'alive' about the beating heart cells and something quite extraordinary about seeing part of your own heart beating and living outside your body. But in general I would say that I feel no more connected to my second self than I would any other self portrait. I do not feel that these parts of me are sacred in some way, or even that they really belong to me in anything other than the genetic sense. That is really the point of the project - to question how we build our identity as humans and how that might change in the future. This may sound obvious, but I have learnt that I am more than the sum of my parts; that just because something has my heart, my brain and my flowing blood it is not 'me' and it is not a human.

Thanks Charlotte!


Charlotte Jarvis, Ergo Sum, 2013 (exhibition at Raamsteeg2 in Leiden.) Photo by James Read


Charlotte Jarvis, Ergo Sum, 2013 (exhibition at Raamsteeg2 in Leiden.) Photo by James Read

Ergo Sum and the other winning projects of DA4GA are on view until 15 December at Raamsteeg2 in Leiden, in The Netherlands. Ergo Sum is funded by the Netherlands Genomics Initiative.

Categories: New Media News

#A.I.L - artists in laboratories, episode 39: Sitraka Rakatoniaina and Andrew Friend

Tue, 09/17/2013 - 13:16

The new episode of #A.I.L - artists in laboratories, the weekly radio programme about art and science i present on ResonanceFM, London's favourite radio art station, is aired this Wednesday afternoon at 4pm.

My guest tomorrow will be Sitraka Rakatoniaina and Andrew Friend who will be talking about the aesthetics of scientific experiments but also about the human capabilities in sensing future events. They've explored this slightly debatable topic with a series of experiments inspired by the experimental evidence for the existence of physiological precognition, depicted the Sensing the Future paper written by Daryl J. Bem a social psychologist and professor emeritus at Cornell University.

Andrew Friend and Sitraka Rakotoniaina, Prophecy Program, 2013

One of the experiments in the designers' Prophecy Program project consists in perching an individual on an ultra-elevated chair where they will act as seismograph and predict earthquakes, exploring accuracy and specificity of psi and experience in landscape. A second one is an 'autonomous biological drone' which, inspired by bioenergetic capabilities of plants to sense humans intentions, would operate overhead monitoring human activity and emotions below. The last one is the working prototype of a 'Pre-cognition test rig' which acts as a big Russian roulette that fires at individuals while sensors pick up any body sign that they are indeed sensing the upcoming shoot.

As you can guess, this episode is neither typical nor tedious. Sitraka and Andrew's work, however, is far less fanciful than it might seem at first sight.


Pre-cognition test rig. Photo Andrew Friend and Sitraka Rakotoniaina


Test subject wearing the gears before firing the precognition test-rig


Balloon triggers


Autonomous biological drone


Model of the Tower for predicting Earthquakes


Prophecy Program - in front of the elephant door

The show will be aired this Wednesday 18th of September at 16:00, London time. Early risers can catch the repeat next Tuesday at 6.30 am (I know...) If you don't live in London, you can listen to the online stream or wait till we upload the episodes on soundcloud.
Categories: New Media News

The Turing Normalizing Machine. An experiment in machine learning & algorithmic prejudice

Thu, 09/12/2013 - 07:58


Mushon Zer-Aviv and Yonatan Ben-Simhon, The Turing Normalizing Machine, 2013. Image courtesy of the artists

Alan Turing was a mathematician, a logician, a cryptanalyst, and a computer scientist (as i'm sure you all know.) During World War 2 he cracked the Nazi Enigma code, and later came to be regarded as the father of computer science and artificial intelligence. In the 1952, Turing was convicted of having committed criminal acts of homosexuality. Given a choice between imprisonment and chemical castration, Turing chose to undergo a medical treatment that made him impotent and caused gynaecomastia. Suffering from the effects of the treatment and from being regarded as abnormal by a society, the scientist committed suicide in June 1954.

Inspired by Turing's life and research, Mushon Zer-Aviv and Yonatan Ben-Simhon have devised a machine that attempts to answer a question which, at first, might seem baffling: "Who is normal?"

The Turing Normalizing Machine is an experimental research in machine-learning that identifies and analyzes the concept of social normalcy. Each participant is presented with a video line up of 4 previously recorded participants and is asked to point out the most normal-looking of the 4. The person selected is examined by the machine and is added to its algorithmically constructed image of normalcy. The kind participant's video is then added as a new entry on the database.

(...)

Conducted and presented as a scientific experiment TNM challenges the participants to consider the outrageous proposition of algorithmic prejudice. The responses range from fear and outrage to laughter and ridicule, and finally to the alarming realization that we are set on a path towards wide systemic prejudice ironically initiated by its victim, Turing.


Mushon Zer-Aviv and Yonatan Ben-Simhon, The Turing Normalizing Machine, 2013

I found out about the TNM the other day while reading the latest issue of the always excellent Neural magazine. I immediately contacted Mushon Zer-Aviv to get more information about the work:

Hi Mushon! What has the machine learnt so far? Are patterns emerging of what people find 'normal? such as an individual who smiles or one who is dressed in a conservative way? What is the model of normality at this stage?

TNM ran first as a pilot version in The Bloomfield Museum of Science in Jerusalem as a part of the 'Other Lives' exhibition curated by Maayan Sheleff. Jerusalem is a perfect environment for this experiment as it is a divided city with multiple ethnical, cultural and religious groups practically hating each other's guts. The external characteristics of these communities are quite distinguishable as well, from dress code to tone of skin and color of hair. While the Turing Normalizing Machine has not arrived at a single canonical model of normality yet (and possibly never will) some patterns have definitely emerged and are already worth discussing. For example, the bewilderment of a religious Jewish woman trying to choose the most normal out of 4 Palestinian children.

The machine does not construct a model of normality per-se. To better explain how the prejudice algorithm works, consider the Google Page-Rank algorithm. When a participant chooses one of the random 4 profiles presented before them as 'most normal', that profile moves up the normalcy rank while the others are moved down. At the same time, if a profile is considered especially normal, it would make the choice made by its owner more influential on the rank than others, and vice versa.

We are currently working on the second phase of the experiment that analyzes and visualizes the network graph generated by the data collected in the first installment. We're actually looking to collaborate with others on that part of the work.

Usually society doesn't get to decide what is good or even normal for society. The decision often comes from 'the top'. If ever such algorithm to determine normality was ever applied, could we trust people to help decide who looks normal or who isn't?

While I agree that top-down role models influence the image of what's considered normal or abnormal, it is the wider society who absorbs, approves and propagates these ideas. Whether we like it or not, such algorithms are already used and are integrated into our daily lives. It happens when Twitter's algorithms suggests who we should follow, when Amazon's algorithms offers what we should consume, when OkCupid's algorithms tells us who we should date, and when Facebook's algorithms feeds us what it believes we would 'like'.

What inspired you to come up with an experiment in algorithmic prejudice?

This experiment is inspired by the life and work of British mathematician Alan Turing, a WW2 hero, the father of computer science and the pioneering thinker behind the quest for Artificial Intelligence. Specifically we were interested in Turing's tragic life story, with his open homosexuality leading to his prosecution, castration, depression and death. Some, studying Turing's legacy, see his attraction to AI and his attempts to challenge the concept of intelligence, awareness and humanness, as partly influenced by his frustration with the systematic prejudice that marked him 'abnormal'. Through the Turing Normalizing Machine we argue that the technologies Turing was hoping would one day free us from the darker and irrational parts of our humanity are today often used to amplify it.

The video of the work explains that "the results of the research can be applied to a wide range of fields and applications." Could you give some examples of that? In politics for example (i'm asking about politics because the video illustrated the idea with images of Silvio Berlusconi)?

Berlusconi is a symbol of the unholy union between media and politics and it embodies the disconnect between what people know about their leaders (corruption, scandals, lies...) and what people see in their leaders (identification, pride, nationalism, populism...). A machine could never decipher Berlusconi's success with the Italian voter, it needs to learn what Italians see in him to get a better picture of the political reality.

Another obvious example is security, and especially the controversial practice of racial profiling. My brother used to work for EL AL airport security and was instructed to screen passengers by external characteristics as cues for normalcy or abnormalcy. Here again we already see technology stepping in to amplify our prejudice based decision making processes. Simply Google 'Project Hostile Intent' And you'll see that scientific research into algorithmic prejudice is already underway and has been for quite some time.


Mushon Zer-Aviv and Yonatan Ben-Simhon, The Turing Normalizing Machine, 2013. Image courtesy of the artists


Mushon Zer-Aviv and Yonatan Ben-Simhon, The Turing Normalizing Machine, 2013. Image courtesy of the artists

How does the system work?

The participant is presented with 4 video portraits and is requested to point at the one who looks the most normal of the 4. Meanwhile, a camera identifies the pointing gesture, records the participant's portrait, and analyzes the video (using face recognition algorithms among other technologies). The video portrait is then added to the database and is presented to the next participant to be selected as normal or not. The database saves the videos, the selections and other analytical metadata to develop its algorithmic model of social normalcy.

Any upcoming show or presentation of the TNM?

There are some in the pipeline, but none that I can share at this point. We are definitely looking forward to more opportunities to install and present TNM, as in every community it brings up different discussions about physical appearance, social normalcy and otherness. Beyond that, we want the system to challenge its model of prejudice based on its encounter with different communities with different social values, biases and norms. Otherwise, it would be ignorant, and we wouldn't want that now, do we?

Thanks Mushon!

Categories: New Media News

Abominable Science!: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids

Fri, 09/06/2013 - 13:45

Abominable Science!: Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids, by writer, illustrator, and skeptic Daniel Loxton and paleontologist, geologist, and author Donald R. Prothero; Foreword by science writer and historian of science Michael Shermer.

Available on Amazon USA and UK.

Publisher Columbia University Press writes: Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero have written an entertaining, educational, and definitive text on cryptids, presenting the arguments both for and against their existence and systematically challenging the pseudoscience that perpetuates their myths. After examining the nature of science and pseudoscience and their relation to cryptozoology, Loxton and Prothero take on Bigfoot; the Yeti, or Abominable Snowman, and its cross-cultural incarnations; the Loch Ness monster and its highly publicized sightings; the evolution of the Great Sea Serpent; and Mokele Mbembe, or the Congo dinosaur. They conclude with an analysis of the psychology behind the persistent belief in paranormal phenomena, identifying the major players in cryptozoology, discussing the character of its subculture, and considering the challenge it poses to clear and critical thinking in our increasingly complex world.


The Patterson-Gimlin film is a short motion picture of a "Bigfoot", that was supposedly filmed on October 20, 1967, by Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin, in California


Leonard Nimoy narrates the episode dedicated to Bigfoot in the TV series In Search Of...

Abominable Science! was supposed to be a harmless, laid-back and jolly lecture. I knew nothing of the Great Sea Serpent, the Mokele Mbembe, i had barely heard of Bigfoot and the Yeti but i'm quite the fan of Nessie. So surely, this book should have been an inoffensive ride. No one believe in those monsters, right?

Wrong! Daniel Loxton reveals that when asked "Do you think Bigfoot (also known as Sasquatch) is real?" in a 2012 poll, 7 percent of American respondents answered that Bigfoot "Definitely is real," and 22% said Bigfoot "Probably is real." Don't snort! i just found out that 24% readers of The Guardian (at least the ones who bothered to participate to the poll) believe in the existence of the creature.

I grew even more uncomfortable when i read in the book that Young Earth creationists are actively looking for surviving dinosaurs in the hope that the discovery of an Apatosaurous-like animal in Congo will bring the definite proof that the theory of evolution is a big fantasy.

Abominable Science! is as much about absurd creatures as it is about pseudoscientists making radical claims about the world, writing off evidence-based research and undermining the teaching of science in the process.

In an interview about the book, Donald R. Prothero said: "To me, the sad aspect of cryptozoology is that they practice "sham science": they adopt the trappings of science (fancy cameras and sound recording equipment, night-vision goggles, camera traps, sonar, other devices) without following the methods of science, especially the idea of testing and shooting down hypotheses that have failed, and getting rid of ideas when they have been decisively debunked. This indeed reflects badly on the scientific literacy of Americans, since they don't understand that science is not about white lab coats and bubbling beakers. It is about the methods you use to investigate claims, and the willingness to admit you're wrong and throw out bad ideas when they fail."


Image released by "Bigfoot's" finders at a press conference in August 2008

The press isn't doing a great job for the advance of science and human progress either when they cover stories such as the one that made the headlines a few years ago when a policeman and a former corrections officer claimed that they had discovered the body of Bigfoot. Media outlets, from CNN to BBC, reported the news which, unsurprisingly, was a hoax.

Prothero wrote some of the chapters in the books. Loxton wrote the rest. The scientist is inflexible in his belief that giving too much credit to the existence of those monsters does more harm than good. Loxton, however, is more tolerant. He has learnt that these fantastical creatures do not exist but he is still much seduced by the stories that surround them.

And indeed the book contains plenty of interesting stories:

This 1951 photograph of a purported Yeti footprint was auctioned off at Christie's London for £3,500.


Eric Earle Shipton, Yeti footprints in the Menlung Basin, 1951

This famous photograph of the monster of the Loch Ness was taken by Colonel Robert Wilson in April, 1934. He later admitted that he had built a small model monster around a toy submarine.


Robert Wilson, Nessie, 1934

There have been plenty of Nessie "sightings: throughout history. One of my favourite is the one that 'shows' Nessie on Google Earth. But the more sophisticated the technology, the less evidence was found of the existence of those monsters. In 1987, for example, Operation Deepscan took place. Twenty-four boats equipped with echosounder equipment were deployed across the whole width of the loch and they simultaneously sent out acoustic waves.


Operation Deepscan, 1987

Amusingly, some theories propose that the monster is actually a camel able to stay for long periods of time in and under water.

Other believe that Nessie is a survivant variant of the Plesiosaurus. Just like the Zuiyo-maru creature, a carcass caught by the Japanese fishing trawler Zuiyō Maru off the coast of New Zealand in 1977. Analysis later indicated it was most likely the decomposed carcass of a basking shark.


Photograph of the front of the Zuiyo-maru carcass. Taken by Michihiko Yano, April 25, 1977

I also liked to follow the hunt for the Mokele-mbembe which Americans and Europeans have been searching for in Congo, often to the dismay of local populations. The creature is believed to be a surviving brontosaurus.


Daniel Loxton's drawing of the Yeti included in Abominable Science!

Interview with the authors.

Categories: New Media News

Disobedience Archive (The Republic)

Wed, 09/04/2013 - 13:10


Oliver Ressler, Politics thwarting the logic of rule, 2005


Disobedience Archive (The Republic). Exhibition view. Photo Castello di Rivoli

I caught the last weekend of the exhibition Disobedience Archive at Castello di Rivoli.

Disobedience Archive is a video collection which explores four decades of social disobedience: from the uprising in Italy in 1977 to the anti-globalization protests and to the insurrections in the Middle East.

The Castello di Rivoli is a stunning contemporary art museum a few kilometers away from Turin. The exhibition had a theme i'm particularly interested in. The works brought together were worth the trip to Rivoli. So far so good. Except that Disobedience Archive (The Republic) was an extremely frustrating exhibition. Videos that were made to inspire people to question, contest and discuss suffer from being hosted into a grand castle located in a provincial town. Rivoli might be one of the most prestigious contemporary art centers in Europe but the well-earned title is not enough to attract the crowds. When i visited the show, on a Saturday afternoon, the rooms were almost empty.

Still, splendid castle to spend an afternoon:


Photo Castello di Rivoli


Photo Castello di Rivoli

This one is part of the collection of the museum. It has nothing to do with Disobedience Archive but how could i resist adding it:


Maurizio Cattelan, Novecento, 1997. Photo Castello di Rivoli

But let's get back to my grievances about the exhibition. The whole setting was as unappealing as possible: aside from a stern broadsheet at the entrance of the show, there is no information to give context and meaning to the works. The chairs to view the videos -some of which are over an hour long- are remarkably uncomfortable. There are too many videos to see in one visit and i'm not sure many people are ready to shell out 6.50 euros each time they want to come back and watch the films they had missed on their first visit.

There is a website for the video archive. It contains no video at all.

A frustrating exhibition thus. I would have liked everybody to spend hours watching the videos but i can't blame anyone for not doing so. This was a show that only the 'intellectual elite' would have seen. It shouldn't have been. Still, i'm glad i fancied myself as being part of that 'cultural elite' because the content was exceptional.


Disobedience Archive (The Republic). Exhibition view. Photo Castello di Rivoli

The archive is divided into nine sections: 1977 The Italian Exit looks at the revolutionary movements in Italy in the 1970s, with a focus on 1977, year of large-scale violent confrontations with a reactionary state. Protesting Capitalist Globalization documents or comments on the new social wave against globalization. Reclaim the Streets presents proposals to create autonomous social spaces through experimental forms of education, community, urbanism and architecture. Bioresistence and Society of Control refers to Foucault's analysis of the ways the operations of power extend beyond the institutions of state. Argentina Fabrica Social explores the political and economic crisis that stretched from the 2001 uprising to the election of Néstor Kirchner. Disobedience East brings together videos of political and activist art from post-communist Europe. Disobedience University shows alternative practices and strategies in which consumption is seen as a form of co-realization and collaboration. The Arab Dissent tries to raise questions about changes and antagonism in the Middle East. Gender Politics suggest the destruction of gender identity.

The show counts 57 videos. I wish i could link to all of them but only a handful can be viewed online. Here's my very subjective selection.

Unsurprisingly i made a beeline for the section entitled Bioresistence and Society of Control as it focused on issues encountered within prisons and asylum centers, on bacteriological experiments in warfare programmes and on other strategies deployed in the modern state to regulate and control life.


Genterra, Critical Art Ensemble, 2002

The Critical Art Ensemble had 3 films in the show. One of them was GenTerra, a collaboration with Beatriz da Costa. The video documents a participatory "theater" performance that gave the public an opportunity to get a more critical and hands-on understanding of transgenic organisms in relation to environmental and health exposure.


Ashley Hunt, Corrections, 2001

No video for Ashley Hunt's work, alas! In Corrections, the artist investigated the privatization of the prison system in the United States, exposing the role of the penal institution in preserving racial and economic divisions within society.


Angela Melitopoulos, The Cell - Toni Negri and the Prison (Prologue)

Angela Melitopoulos filmed three interviews with sociologist and philosopher Antonio Negri. The first in 1997 while he was in exile in Paris, the second in 1998 in the cell of Rebibbia prison in Rome, and the final one in 2003 in Rome, after his release.

Negri's report on his life as a prisoner describes new forms of control in the penal system, the psyche and mentality of prisoners, and forms of resistance with which he was able to retain "the freedom of his spirit".

One of the highlights of Disobedience East is a film by Harun Farocki & Andrei Ujica.


Harun Farocki & Andrei Ujica, Videograms of a Revolution, 1992 (short extract)

Videograms of a Revolution uses -professional and amateur- video archives to examine the role of television in the infolding and understanding of the 1989 Romanian revolution. 'Demonstrators occupied the tv station in Bucharest and broadcast continuously for 120 hours, thereby establishing the tv studio as a new historical site.'

Half of the videos in the section The Arab Dissent were dedicated to the occupation of Palestine.

Khaled Jarrar, Infiltrators (Trailer), 2012

Khaled Jarrar's Infiltrators follows individuals and groups as they are looking for gaps in the seven meter high wall that separates the Palestinian territories from Israel.

I only saw one film in the Disobedience University selection and i think i struck gold with that one:


Eyal Sivan, ITGABER. He Will Overcome, 1993. On science and values


Eyal Sivan, ITGABER. He Will Overcome, 1993. On State and laws

According to professor Yeshyahu Leibowitz, "the honest man should know that he should never respect the law too closely". Israeli filmmaker and critic Eyal Sivan sat down with the philosopher and listened to him talk about ethics, science, values, but also about State, religion, law and human responsibility.

Even though Leibowitz took part of in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, he openly criticized the politics of the State of Israel, in the name of a Jewish tradition of responsibility and divine law. During the conversation, the philosopher expresses his support and solidarity with the Israeli soldiers who refuse to serve in the Occupied Territories.

The 57 videos were accompanied by two thematic rooms. The opening one contained artworks and archive documents related to the student and workers protests in the Italy of the 1970s. Again, a bit of context and explanations would have been welcome.


Photo from La Stampa


Photo from La Stampa


Disobedience Archive (The Republic). Exhibition view. Photo Castello di Rivoli

The final room amassed books, props and other objects associated with political and social dissent in first decade of the 21st century. Works by Nomeda & Gediminas Urbonas, Superflex, Journal of Aesthetics & Protest, Oliver Ressler, Arseniy Zhilyaev, Critical Art Ensemble, etc. It should have been a fascinating, informative and inspiring display. Alas, and I'm going to repeat myself, short texts about their meaning and significance would not have been superfluous (the ones in the broadsheet/guide of the exhibition were a bit too general.)


Disobedience Archive (The Republic). Exhibition view. Photo Castello di Rivoli


Disobedience Archive (The Republic). Exhibition view. Photo Castello di Rivoli


Photo from La Stampa


Photo from La Stampa


Disobedience Archive (The Republic). Exhibition view. Photo Castello di Rivoli


Photo from La Stampa

Categories: New Media News

Vessels, a fleet of robots with unpredictable behaviour

Mon, 09/02/2013 - 13:49


Image courtesy LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial (Art and Industrial Creation Centre)/Paula Andrés


Image courtesy the artists

Sofian Audry, Stephen Kelly and Samuel St-Aubin started working on Vessels in 2010. The aquatic installation is a fleet of 50 autonomous robots that gradually build up their own micro system by interacting with each other and by collecting and interpreting data related to water and air quality, temperature, ambient light, sound, etc.

However, the robots do not simply process scientific readings, they also communicate through behaviours and interactions. For example, an increase in temperature sensed by one agent may cause it to act more aggressively, with erratic or irrational (random) movements. This change in behaviour will influence its neighbouring agents, who may respond with relative changes to their own behaviour. These agents will in turn influence their neighbours, thus creating a ripple effect of actions.

The ecosystem is thus generated over time by the robots themselves and by their particular environment.


Photo Beatriz Orviz, LABoral


Image courtesy LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial (Art and Industrial Creation Centre)/Paula Andrés

Samuel, Sofian and Stephen have just spent the Summer improving and researching Vessels as part of their artistic residence in Platform 0 at LABoral Centro de Arte.

Since i was curious about those luminous little robots in a white swimming pool, i asked the artists to talk to us about the work:

Hi Samuel, Sofian and Stephen! I read on Laboral's blog that your artistic residency is based on the Vessels project. So what will the residency consist of exactly? Are you going to make Vessels more sophisticated? Or build on it to make an entirely different project? Or investigate another aspect of the installation?

We started the Vessels project in 2010 at the Center for Art Tapes, where the concept and technical structure was initiated within two fairly brief 2-week residencies. Since then, we've spent time fine tuning various aspects of the work to better withstand real-world environments. For example, we had to abandon our original design with air propulsion because it was too energy-consuming and would easily catch in the wind. The version we are currently working on is the third prototype and works with water propulsion. We validated the final design of the electronic boards last winter during a short residency at the Perte de Signal art center.

The goal of the LABoral residency was to assemble the first large group of robots with our new technical improvements, to finalize the material/aesthetic design and to make a first working version of the software. Because we ran into all kinds of technical problems, we decided to put less effort on the material design and more on the software. Thus we spent a large portion of our time at LABoral developing the behaviour of the robot collective.


Vessels at Nocturne 2010 (Public Garden location) in Halifax, Canada. Photo credit: Mat Dunlap

Vessels is a fleet of 50 aquatic vehicles. That is a lot of robots. So first of all, why did you need to build so many robots? And how big are they exactly? i suspect that they will also need a large area to float around...

When we did our presentation in Halifax, we had about a dozen of robots and we felt it was hard for them to occupy an outdoor space, given their relatively small size (about 20-25 cm in diameter depending on the version). They looked kind of lost. By scaling up their population, we believe we can give a real presence to the installation in large natural environments such as lakes and ponds.

Also, we are interested in the kind of behaviors that can emerge from the interaction between a massive group of autonomous robots, which is something that has not been fully explored in the art world. A lot of work in robotic art has been done on singular robots or small assemblies of big robots but not so much with large groups of small, autonomous robotic agents. In the past decade, a lot of research in the scientific world has been carried out involving swarm robotics and multi-agent collaboration, with encouraging results. Behavioural diversity is something we're interested in exploring with Vessels, and more robots means more potential diversity within the 'population'.

Finally, we felt like 50 robots would give us more flexibility. For instance, we could show two groups of 25 robots at the same time in two different spots in a city, or even in different cities. Because the robots will react to their immediate environment, they will behave differently in the different contexts they are put in.


Image courtesy the artists


Image courtesy LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial (Art and Industrial Creation Centre)/Paula Andrés

Is Vessels a group of identical robots? Do they all start with the same set of sensors?

Almost. All the robots have more or less the same "body". They each have a pair of distance sensors, a compass, a directional IR communication system, a pair of underwater pumps for propulsion, a set of LEDs, an onboard real-time clock and some external flash memory for data logging. They will also be using the exact same software.

Their only difference lies in the fact that each bot will eventually be equipped with a unique "environmental" sensor. Each robot has an external, pluggable "card" that we designed to take care of sound production and accommodate this unique sensor. For instance, one robot can be able to measure air temperature, while another one will know about the air pressure, another one about the pH of water, and so on. This sensor will give the robot its "personality", so to speak. They will react to their own sensor in a specific way and their reaction will influence the actions of other robots. The idea is that by putting the same group of robots in different settings (i.e. with different environmental conditions) they will produce a distinctive collective behavior.

But we're still a long way from that! In the version that we produced at LABoral, we don't yet have these environmental sensors. We focused more on establishing the software framework that will enable individual personalities AND group behaviors.


Samuel St-Aubin and Sofian Audry at work in LABoral


Image courtesy LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial (Art and Industrial Creation Centre)


Image courtesy LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial (Art and Industrial Creation Centre)


Photo courtesy of the artists

Each aquatic vehicle learns and develops a behavior through Reinforcement Learning and "Over an extended process of trial and error, RL makes it possible for computers to do things that they were not explicitly programmed to do."

If i understood correctly you do not have complete control over what the robots learn and how they evolve. So have they surprised you in the way they learn, interact, behave?

We've just begun to implement learning for individual robots in very simple tasks. We did some small experiments with Reinforcement Learning in which we were able to get a robot to learn how to go straight, which is not an easy task for these round-shaped robots (they tend to spin easily!) At this point we're taking baby steps with learning, so we have yet to see the implications of the entire population of robots with learned behaviours.

Since we wanted to build a first version that "worked" somehow, in terms of the robots going around the surface of water, being able to move straight, approaching one another, etc. we had to work at a much higher level. We thus let the learning stuff aside for a start and decided to work using an Artificial Intelligence approach that is currently very popular in the video game industry for the design of intelligent behaviors. This method, known as Behavior Trees, allows the design of complex, hierarchical behaviors. It makes it easy to design priorities for the robot and to allow it to try different strategies to achieve its goals (or fulfill its desires if you prefer). For example, in our current implementation, the robots move around freely, but when they hit an obstacle they interrupt their moving and try to avoid getting stuck. They also interrupt their behavior when they receive a message from another robot, which might change what they are doing at that moment.

Machine learning methods such as Reinforcement Learning and Genetic Programming are tricky, especially in the context of creating an artwork. They're optimization techniques, so they work well when one tries to solve a specific problem like 'how to navigate in a straight line'. But in an artistic context, the problems are blurry, so we have to invent new methodologies. For example, you can achieve interesting results by playing with the reward functions of the agents, such as what Sofian did last year at LABoral as part of the installation/performance n-Polytope by Chris Salter and collaborators. Also, the process of learning itself has sometimes a very interesting aesthetic value. So, the current focus of our research is how to use machine learning as a critical tool, helping the robots learn behaviours with respect to their environment that might eventually surprise us.


Image courtesy LABoral Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial (Art and Industrial Creation Centre)

The spectator plays a role in the work. Can you explain it how the public might be involved in and maybe even influence the installation?

Although the environment sensor of some of the robots might be influenced directly by the audience (e.g. if some of them have microphones or light detectors), the installation is not meant to be interactive per se. We see it more as a piece you experience through indirect, slow interaction, where the bots are simply added to our existing ecosystem, responding to it. We hope the audience will respond to it by projecting their own cultural references on the robots, that they will recognize themselves in them.

On another level, we'd like the audience to begin to ask themselves questions. Why are the robots grouping together? Why is this robot making that sound? Why are they so hectic now while they were calm a minute ago? How does that relate to the site they're currently swimming on?

Any upcoming project, exhibition, field of research you'd like to share with us?

Samuel will be attending the Bozar Electronic Art Festival (BEAF) in Brussels from September 25 to 29. Stephen just finished a major work titled Patch at Dalhousie University (Halifax, NS/CA) with robotic agents that react to the presence of students in classrooms. Sofian's underwater artificial life installation Plasmosis is still running at the marina of Carleton-sur-Mer until September 7th (QC/CA). We are also trying to organize another research residency next year for Vessels but we have no definite plan yet.

Thanks Sofian, Stephen and Samuel!

Categories: New Media News

Last Launch. Discovery, Endeavour, Atlantis

Tue, 08/27/2013 - 11:49

Last Launch. Discovery, Endeavour, Atlantis, by photographer Dan Winters.

Available on Amazon USA and UK

Publisher University of Texas Press writes: Americans have been driven to explore beyond the horizon ever since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock. In the twentieth century, that drive took us to the moon and inspired dreams of setting foot on other planets and voyaging among the stars. The vehicle we built to launch those far journeys was the space shuttle--Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour. This fleet of reusable spacecraft was designed to be our taxi to earth orbit, where we would board spaceships heading for strange new worlds. While the shuttle program never accomplished that goal, its 135 missions sent more than 350 people on a courageous journey into the unknown.

Last Launch is a stunning photographic tribute to America's space shuttle program. Dan Winters was one of only a handful of photographers to whom NASA gave close-range access to photograph the last launches of Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour. Positioning automatically controlled cameras at strategic points around the launch pad--some as close as seven hundred feet--he recorded images of take-offs that capture the incredible power and transcendent beauty of the blast that sends the shuttle hurtling into space. Winters also takes us on a visual tour of the shuttle as a marvel of technology--from the crew spaces with their complex instrumentation, to the massive engines that propelled the shuttle, to the enormous vehicle assembly building where the shuttles were prepared for flight.


Space Shuttle main engine (SSME) on engine stand, forward view

Dan Winters has a passion that's completely alien to me: he is fascinated by the NASA space program. U.S. space exploration never made me dream nor even bat an eyelid. Yet, when i read a 3 line-long review of his book in a free men's magazine in London, i knew i needed to get a review copy. Because i might not be into astronauts and giant leaps for mankind but photography is something i respond to. And Last Launch is all about that: jaw dropping images of engineering marvels and explosive lift off. Even the black and sepia archive photos (not by Winters) that illustrate the introduction texts are magnificent.

Speaking of introduction! The photo book starts with a series of essays. One by the photographer who tells of a long love for space adventures that started as a kid watching the Apollo 11 launch broacast live on the family's new tv set on July 16, 1969. The second essay was written by Al Reinert, director and producer of For All Mankind, a 1989 Award-winning documentary about NASA's Apollo program. The film maker charts the successful and unsuccessful episodes that make the history of the transport system that propels Earth-bound humans into low orbit. Some of the anecdotes he shares are dramatic, others are slightly laughable such as the Coke-Pepsi taste test that took place on board of the Challenger in 1985 to determine which beverage taste more like itself in zero gravity. Coke won, Reinert explains, because they manufactured a zero-gravity soda can. Pepsi didn't bother.

A third text is the rather short and moving account by former astronaut Mark Kelly of the few moments before the take off of STS-134 (one of the very last missions of NASA's Space Shuttle program) on May 16, 2011.


Production photo: Dan Winters checking camera settings, focus, exposure, etc. (image via SPD)

A final text at the back of the book brings an answer to the question i've been asking myself while flipping through the pages. How does he make it? How can he get so close to the spectacular liftoffs?

Dan Winters was one of only a handful of photographers to whom NASA gave close-range access to photograph the last launches of Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour. "Close-range" shouldn't be taken too literally though. When they launch, space shuttles are surrounded by an evacuation zone that stretched up to three miles (almost 5 km) in all directions.

The cameras had to be remotely activated. The day before lift-off, Winters places them, up to 9 at a time, around the launchpad, the closest located 700 feet (213 m) from the shuttle itself. Winters calculates the type of photo to shoot according to shuttle's path, he sets the frame, checks the focus point, attaches to the cameras custom-made electronic triggers that are sensitive to sound and fire at five frames per second in response to the rockets igniting. He also has to use sandbags to minimize camera shake, and cover the equipment with plastic to protect it from the rain.

If there's one person who might finally get me interested in the NASA adventures, it's Dan Winters. Pity the Space Shuttle was retired from service two years ago.


Endeavour on her pad. May 15, 2011


Endeavour SRB start


Fire cloud generated by Discovery solid rocket boosters (SRB)


Discovery SRB exhaust trail at ground elapsed time (GET) 2:00


Discovery airlock with view into payload bay


Discovery main engine start. February 24, 2011, 4:53:24 PM EST


Discovery Flight Deck, (aft view with robotic arm controls), Cape Canaveral, 2011


Space Shuttle main engine (SSME) nozzle interior


Atlantis goes into her roll program


Atlantis being moved from her hangar to the VAB. May 17, 2011


Atlantis forward section detail


Vacuum-packed M&Ms


Advanced Crew Escape Suit (ACES)


Control console, Mission Control, Houston


Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at Kennedy Space Center


Extra Vehicular Activity (EVA) glove liner

More photos on Dan WInters' website, at My Modern Met and Time.

Categories: New Media News

The Poo Printer

Mon, 08/26/2013 - 11:16

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....


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Categories: New Media News