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A weekend of bio art and bio design at MU in Eindhoven (part 1)

13 hours 1 min ago

Agi Haines, Drones with Desires. Body of Matter – Body based bio art & design, MU Eindhoven, 2015. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

Kristin Neidlinger, Wearable garments that give you goosebumps when someone thinks about you. Kristin Neidlinger, Body of Matter – Body based bio art & design, MU Eindhoven, 2015. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

At the end of January, the MU art space in Eindhoven dedicated 2 days to bio art and bio design. The Body of Matter / BAD Award Special weekend invited the public to take part in talk, panels, workshops and performances and explore how the techniques and challenges of life sciences are embraced by contemporary artists and designers. The event followed the theme of the ongoing exhibition Body of Matter which explores (until tonight!) how biotechnology can modify the body and the perception we have of it. What will the ‘normal’ body look like in 5, 10, 20 years time? How will our identity and sense of self change with body modification? Should we impose limits to the way science is going to shape bodies, both on the inside and from the outside? Will science expand our understanding of ‘alive’ and ‘dead’? What role can aesthetics play in discussions about body enhancement?

The weekend was also an opportunity to reflect on the outcome of the Bio Art & Design award which, each year, offers artists and designers a total of 75 000 euros and the opportunity to collaborate with researchers and develop ambitious works that engage with life sciences.

My plan was to wrap up the whole event in one big post but the weekend was so dense in new ideas, food for thought and speculations that i had to write separate stories. First there was Maarten Vanden Eynde’s lecture which was so stimulating and smart that i decided to dedicate a full post to it. And now i’m going to split the rest of the weekend into two stories. Today, i’ll be sharing my notes from Friday. Tomorrow, i’ll post the ones i took on Saturday.

Body of Matter – Body based bio art and design. Video MU

William Myers presenting his book Bio Art. Body of Matter – MU Eindhoven, 2016. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

The first speaker who took the floor was the co-curator of the Body of Matter exhibition. William Myers is a teacher, a curator and an author. In 2014, he published ​Biodesign: Nature + Science + Creativity and a few months ago, he looked at the more artistic side of creative works that explore life sciences in his book Bio Art: Altered Realities (i reviewed it last year.) In this publication, Myers argues that bioart doesn’t just encompass the art that engages hands-on with living materials but it can also define works by artists who use more traditional media to respond to shifting definitions of identity, nature and life brought about by the latest advances in life sciences. To him, bioart includes thus art that uses biology as a medium and art that uses biology as a subject. A good example of this broadening of the definition of bioart is Vincent Fournier‘s ongoing series Post-Natural History. At first sight, the photos look like typical animal portraits. Until you realize that there is something off… The species are ‘newcomers’, they have been modified using synthetic biology either to enable them to conform to man’s own needs and desires, or to help them adjust to the biological changes our planet is going through: extreme temperatures, rising pollution levels, etc.

Emma Dorothy Conley presenting the MSA: The Microbiome Security Agency. Body of Matter – MU Eindhoven, 2016. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

Emma Dorothy Conley, MSA: The Microbiome Security Agency. Body of Matter – Body based bio art & design, MU Eindhoven, 2015. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

Emma Dorothy Conley, MSA: The Microbiome Security Agency. Body of Matter – Body based bio art & design, MU Eindhoven, 2015. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

I interviewed Emma Dorothy Conley a couple of months ago when her project MSA: The Microbiome Security Agency was announced as one of the winners of the BAD Award competition. Her presentation in Eindhoven refreshed my memory about all things MSA and microbiome. The human microbiome is the collection of microbes that colonize the human body and they do so in such quantity that they outnumber our own cells ten to one. They live inside our body and on our skin and because these bacteria can vary considerably based on our age, diet, habits, geographic location and overall health, scientists believe that they can be used as a unique identifier, much like fingerprints.

Because we shed bacterial cells wherever we go, we might soon see emerge the use of microbiome sequencing in criminal investigations or for commercial or surveillance purposes. Emma’s project explores how we can protect our bioprivacy from these intrusions. The most promising of the strategies she investigated seems to be an obscuration solution that we could spray on our body. The blend mixes all kinds of revolting ingredients such as fermented food and zoo poo to create additional noise and hide the bacterial information that your body carries.

Conley imagined that you could donate a sample of poo or other bacteria-rich bits to an MSA bank. The sample would be added to a pool of bacteria that would be used to make a solution that people would apply on their skin to make their bionome anonymous.

Lecture by Orion Maxted lecture Body of Matter – MU Eindhoven, 2016. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

Performance The Machine by Orion Maxted. Body of Matter – MU Eindhoven, 2016. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

Orion Maxted is a performance artist and curator who investigates theatre in relation to systems and algorithms. More specifically he tries to makes machines out of people.

An example of artworks that interest him in that respect is Douglas Gordon’s 1993 video 24 Hour Psycho which, as its title clearly indicates, is a video installation showing Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic slowed down so that it lasts for 24 hours. The piece contains the instruction to reproduce it in infinite variations: 24 hour Star Wars, 66 hour Jaws, etc. A work like that one made Maxted think about machines and about mass producing copies of an artwork.

Maxted works with improvisers whom he defines as ‘persons trained to process information in real time.’ He brings them together to ‘form a single thinking system.” Improvisation, according to him, is key to the process because it is full of algorithms, feedback process, etc.

He and his improvisers performed 2 works during the Body of Matter / BAD Award Special weekend. The first one was The Machine. Completely improvised using algorithms and patterns, the show explores our relationship to machines and the development of language. The actors reproduce and modify each other’s words and gestures according to an algorithm, creating a continually evolving feedback loop. The result is puzzling and entertaining, you sometimes wonder whether the human participants are obeying and serving the system or mischievously generating glitches.

The performance of the final evening worked in a similar fashion, except that it used systems biology computation to generate performance parameters for actors.

Miserable Machines. Lecture and performance by Špela Petrič. Body of Matter – MU Eindhoven, 2016. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

Špela Petrič, Miserable Machines: Soot-o-mat

Špela Petrič, Miserable Machines. Body of Matter – Body based bio art & design, MU Eindhoven, 2015. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

Špela Petrič, Miserable Machines. Body of Matter – Body based bio art & design, MU Eindhoven, 2015. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer

The elegant patterns of Špela Petrič‘s vases are drawn by mussels. More precisely by tiny muscles removed from the molluscs body and then attached to an electro-stimulated design apparatus. The muscles are kept ‘alive’ by being repeatedly washed with water and shocked so that each tiny spasm of energy they produce is used to scratch lines onto the object. Because the contractions happen only once every 20 minutes or so, the design process takes several hours. The work is both absurd and poignant. A creature is killed in service to the machine, the design, and the product. The work speaks of the commodification of life and the ruthless exploitation of living systems, but it also symbolizes us, the mass of humans actors entrapped in the machine of capitalism.

That’s it for part one! See you tomorrow same time, same place for my notes from Body of Matter / BAD Award Special Day 2.

My images from the Bioart weekend are on flickr.

Previously: Plastic trash, rotting rubber & wonky skeleton. Maarten Vanden Eynde’s lecture at the Body of Matter / BAD Award weekend, Matter of Life. Growing new Bio Art & Design.

Categories: New Media News

Plastic trash, rotting rubber & wonky skeleton. Maarten Vanden Eynde’s lecture at the Body of Matter / BAD Award weekend

Mon, 02/01/2016 - 10:23

Maarten Vanden Eynde, Homo Stupidus Stupidus

A few days ago, the MU art center in Eindhoven organized a Body of Matter / BAD Award weekend of talks, masterclasses, panels and performances. The event accompanied Body of Matter exhibition, an exhibition that looks at how biotechnology might in the near future modify the shape, functions and even our perception of the body. The show also offers the opportunity to discover the winners of Bio Art and Design Award which each years enables young artists and designers to develop collaborate with prominent Dutch science centers and develop ambitious projects related to the latest developments in art sciences.

A lot happened during that weekend and I’ll come back with more details about it later on. Today, i thought i should dedicate a full post to Maarten Vanden Eynde‘s brilliant lecture on the first evening. He talked about how the fish, the beaches and even ourselves are chocking on plastic, about King Leopold II of Belgium and his brutal exploitation of Congo, and about the Homo Sapiens, a species so presumptuous it gives itself the title of ‘doubly wise.’

Maarten Vanden Eynde, Homo Stupidus Stupidus, part of the Body of Matter exhibition. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer for MU Eindhoven

Vanden Eynde doesn’t define himself as a bioartist. What interests him is the Genetology (The Science of First Things), Eschatology (The Science of Last Things) and how these two relate. As a result, his work hovers between past and future. His talk zoomed in on the piece he is showing in the Body of Matter exhibition as well as on 3 other works related to the body and to the evolution of our planet:

Homo Stupidus Stupidus is a human skeleton taken apart and put back together as if the person who assembled the bones had no knowledge of human anatomy. The name of the piece refers to the mistakes done in attempting to reconstructing the skeleton but it also mocks the arrogance of our own species which define itself as Homo Sapiens Sapiens. Given the unethical way in which we behave towards the environment, other species or between ourselves, the title of Sapiens Sapiens is unquestionably inappropriate.

Maarten Vanden Eynde’s lecture during the Body of Matter special weekend, 22 January 2016. Photo by Hanneke Wetzer for MU Eindhoven

Vanden Eynde also took us through another of his work that is directly related to the body: The Invisible Hand, a rubber copy of the right hand of Leopold II of Belgium. The artist made it at night by climbing on the equestrian statue of king in Brussels.

The Invisible Hand, Art Brussels 2015, Belgium

The Invisible Hand (making-of), Brussels, Belgium

The Invisible Hand (making-of), Brussels, Belgium

From 1877 until his death in 1909, Leopold II, had an unprecedented influence on the current Democratic Republic of Congo. He was the founder and private owner of the Congo Free State, a territory he was eventually forced to cede to Belgium in 1908. The Congo Free State then became a Belgian colony under parliamentary control.

Although the king never set foot in the country, he changed, exploited and shaped it so fundamentally that the result is still visibly present today. The Invisible Hand refers thus to Adam Smith‘s 1759 theory of the same name. The concept could be summed up as follows: individuals’ efforts to pursue their own interest and profit may frequently benefit society and the entire economy more than if their actions had been directly intended to achieve the greater good. Of course few attained that more unwillingly than Leopold II whose reign is marked by the atrocities that Belgians committed in Congo. With the chief goal of ruthlessly exploiting the natural resources of the African country, Leopold II’s politics nevertheless instigated a local economic growth, but at a high price. More than 10 million people are estimated to have died as a consequence of Leopolds ‘Invisible Hand’.

Nsala looking at the severed hand and foot of his five-year-old daughter, Boali, a victim of the Anglo-Belgian India Rubber Company (A.B.I.R.) militia, 1904

The name ‘The Invisible Hand’ doesn’t just refer to Smith’s theory of an unobservable market force, it also alludes to the custom of chopping the hands of enslaved people who didn’t work hard enough.

The Invisible Hand (making-of), Ngel Ikwok, Kasai-Occidental, Democratic Republic of Congo

The Invisible Hand (making-of), Ngel Ikwok, Kasai-Occidental, Democratic Republic of Congo

The Invisible Hand, Art Brussels 2015, Belgium

But let’s get back to the artwork, Vanden Eynde went to the Democratic Republic of Congo with the copy of the hand of the ruler who had never traveled to his ‘own’ colony. The artist brought the mould to an abandoned rubber plantation in Kasai-Occidental and filled it up with natural rubber. Strangely enough, the rubber reacted to oxygen and decayed quite rapidly, the white rubber hand turned into a black one that smelled atrociously.

The hand traveled back to Belgium where it was presented inside an old Victorian vitrine at the art fair Art Brussels, completing the problematic circle of colonial treasure hunting in relation to historical fetishisation.

Plastic Reef, Manifesta9, Genk, Belgium, 2012

Hordaland Art Center, Bergen, Norway, 2013

Glendale College Art Gallery, Los Angeles, US, 2009

Fish caught in a plastic containers.Its teeth seem to fit the bitemarks on the plastic debris. Photo

Beach trash in Montevideo. Photo

Plastic flocks together with patches of sargassum seaweed floating in the North Atlantic Gyre. Photo

Next, the artist talked about Plastic Reef, a work that explores the longevity of plastic trash that floats around our oceans, litters our land, is buried underground and might very well outlive our species. Plastic doesn’t decompose, it shrinks down through friction and light into ever smaller pieces. These tiny plastic particles are called “mermaid tears” and in some parts of the ocean, their masses can be even greater than plankton. Some sea creatures mistake the particles for food, putting them directly into the food chain and thus potentially onto our plates.

Today there isn’t a single cubic meter of sea water that is free of plastic particles. By 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the sea and according to Captain Charles Moore, we can’t even see all of it because plastic is present up to 100 meters below the surface of the sea. Entire gyres have taken shape in our oceans in which plastic trash is being washed around by the currents and form what looks like islands of rubbish. The biggest water-based plastic trash aggregation, called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, is estimated to be about the size of Central Europe.

Al Jazeera, Micro-plastics fill world’s oceans

Peanut the turtle before being rescued from the plastic ring of a six-pack holder. Photo Missouri Department of Conservation, via The Dodo

The artist visited ocean gyres around the world and collected hundreds of kilos of plastic debris from each place. He then melted the trash to form a sculpture that grows in size and weight each time it is exhibited, reflecting how the material is relentlessly invading our planet and damaging its fauna and flora.

The trash became beautiful again and seemed to solve two problems at the same time: the plastic in the ocean and the disappearing of coral reefs world wide, the artist writes

1000 Miles Away From Home, Hordaland Art Center, Bergen, Norway, 2013

The final work that the artist presented are five snow globes that symbolize the five main oceanic gyres. The globes contain water and bits of plastic debris Vanden Eynde collected in the North and South Atlantic, the North and South Pacific and the Indian Ocean. The snow globe is like a time capsule for the future. When it is shaken the water creates a micro gyre making the plastic swirl around.

I really want one of those snow globes….

There’s only a few days left to visit the Body of Matter exhibition at MU in Eindhoven, it closes on 7 February 2016.

Categories: New Media News

Post-anthropocentric art. An interview with Maja Smrekar

Tue, 01/26/2016 - 09:54

Survival Kit for the Anthropocene (Trailer), co-designed with Andrej Strehovec, produced by Aksioma Institute, Ljubljana, Slovenia, 2015. Photo by Borut Peterlin

I first discovered Maja Smrekar‘s work at FIELDS. The exhibition was part of the Art+Communication Festival in Riga and turned out to be one of the most consistently excellent events i saw in 2014. During the show, Maja was presenting the Maya Yoghurt (aka Hu.M.C.C.), a dairy containing her own enzymes. What looked a first sight like some facetious art prank was in fact a thoughtful reflection on the impact of biotechnology over the food industry, a resolutely contemporary take on Marx’s critique of capitalist modes of production and a comment on the marketing of food trends.

Maja has also devised equipment enabling biological survival in apocalyptic situations, built an installation ‘infused’ with the serotonin of the both herself and her dog Byron and explored the problem of invasive species with the help of native and tropical crayfish.

Her multidisciplinary projects may seem to be fairly different from each other but they are all characterized by a rigorous research-based approach, a deep respect for nature and a keen understanding of the issues she explores.

The artist is now in Berlin, getting ready for a weekend of performance at the Freies Museum Berlin. She will be presenting K-9_topology: HYBRID FAMILY, a new piece which is part of a body of works that investigates the parallel evolution of man and dog as well as the cultural intersections between the human and the animal.

Maja has been on my radar since 2014 and i really don’t know what took me so long to ask her for an interview.

Maja Smrekar and Manuel Vason collaboration, K-9_topology: Hybrid Family, Berlin 2016, produced by Zavod Praksa, Ljubljana, Slovenia, 2015/2016

Hi Maja! You graduated from the Sculpture Department of Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Ljubljana, Slovenia. How did you go from what sounds like a ‘traditional’ art education to complex pieces developed in collaboration with scientists?

Some 15 years ago, in my early twenties, my interests have been dwelling in the phenomenology of perception of space, concept of life and all that jazz. At that time, i was interested in those phenomenons from a modernistic perspective, and this led me to think about different relationships in space, whether these would be colours and shapes or a (human) subject within. Eventually I started to research the 20th century references. And of course came to the concepts of Marcel Duchamp, Joseph Beuys, Louise Bourgeois, even the pre-assemblage phase of Picasso and Braque have been quite influential. These references allowed me to grasp how to perceive space in a very multidisciplinary way. I have also been doing lots of live video editing in clubs, running a radio show on contemporary art, working as an art director in a video game company, composing a futuristic FPS demo … I was interested in movies, scenography and costumography, especially experimental theatre, being influenced by philosophies of Antonin Artaud and Adolphe Appia, Russian constructivism … seen some live works of Marina Abramović, Robert Wilson, Jan Fabre, Marko Peljhan, Matew Barney etc. At that time, i was collaborating in different theatre performances and actually finished my bachelor diploma writing about the phenomenon of perception on live act in different space arrangements, based on my own work. Involving into all these different media was intentional since i wanted to get as much experience as possible by building my own artistic evolution in order to eventually find my own artistic thought.

After finishing my diploma within the Department of Sculpture at the Academy of Fine Art and Design in Ljubljana, i applied for the Master at the Video and New Media department. We had to do a lot of practical work, which had to be interactive and connected with technology. Hence I executed some collaborations with students at the Faculty of Computer and Information Science. That’s how it started.

Besides, being from Ljubljana with its strong tradition of avant-garde, contemporary thinking and very ambitious projects developed in the art & science field, has as well made its strong influence towards my artistic path. Even when i was young and naive, i knew i wanted to be executing multidisciplinary projects. So I have been training myself towards a specific direction from the very beginning.

Basically sculpture was my first entrance into the interdisciplinary. For me it was the way of thinking about the phenomenology of life in the widest possible sense, since space can be a body, an animal, a petri dish, a molecule, hardware, software, online, offline, nature, culture, public, private, mental, fictional, light, sound, smell, ideology, etc.

Špela Petrič & Maja Smrekar, Circadian Drift, 2012. Production: Kapelica Gallery, Ljubljana

Špela Petrič & Maja Smrekar, Circadian Drift, 2012. Production: Kapelica Gallery, Ljubljana

You were talking about Ljubljana and its strong tradition of art&science project. Is this situation the result of some official support, like governmental funding and official programmes? Or is it because there is a community in Ljubljana that grew around something they are independently genuinely interested in?

For sure both. In Slovenia, there have always been strong avant-garde movements, especially in the 20s, 60s and 80s (of the 20th century), as well as at this very moment. There are countries that have been supporting this kind of art better, but neither is Slovenia the very last in supporting the so-called intermedia art. Although we have to fight to keep it since, like in every administrative system, cases of huge misunderstandings of the field and production dynamics are occurring, to say the least. Consequently there is less money but the sensibility within the art scene is very much present.

I’m also interested in the way your collaborations with scientists unfold. What are the dynamics of these interactions? Do you mostly ask them a question or give them something to develop for you and then sit back and wait till they’ve developed what you need for your work? Or do you a have a more hands-on approach and participate directly in the scientific process?

I always want to participate directly, since I want to get to know the medium as much as possible. I’m not a scientist, and therefore i would not delusion myself that i could have the same knowledge for the field that scientists have. And vice versa: scientists who want to become artists have a long way ahead in order to be able to execute mature artistic works. However, it´s all about the interdisciplinarity and the exchange of inspirational knowledge between both parties. Some of my collaborators from the field of natural sciences very much enjoyed my working approach they would not otherwise been able to engage in, within the framework of the institution they´ve been working for.

However, it is not always possible to be fully involved because of the legislation. Nevertheless, since my work is very much research-based, I have to get to know the medium in order to be able to develop a fruitful artistic concept. This kind of approach is a part of my professional ethics.

You kind of touched upon this in your previous answers but what can scientists get from a collaboration with an artist? It often seems that an artist needs the scientist more than a scientist needs the artist…

I guess this would be a question to ask scientists. They are usually so focused on their research, that if they were not interested in collaboration, they wouldn’t do it, I´m sure. Sometimes it is even problematic for them to organise the collaboration around their work, especially when the collaboration is not directly related to their usual work within a specific institution. So there must be some added value for them.

The main point i have in common with scientists i’ve been fruitfully collaborating with, is the ultimate passion for the research, accompanied with this almost childlike curiosity for the field we are dwelling on. It´s a win-win combination, if you have that in common with your collaborators. These are my experiences.

Of course; I also met scientists who would probably not have enjoyed working with me. Mental and intellectual transfer need to occur, especially in cases when the official institutional agreements have not been established, which has been, unfortunately, happening all too often.

K-9_topology: Ecce Canis. Photo by Borut Peterlin

Maya Yoghurt

Maya Yoghurt. Design by Boris Balant / HUMAN1ST

The last time i saw you, you were making yogurt using human lactic acid. I also saw a piece in Ljubljana where you showed a furry installation that allowed visitors to experience the smell of the serotonin isolated from your own platelets and the ones of your (very cute) dog. Now you seem to be investigating invasive species. Is there anything that, for you, binds all these projects together?

In general, for the last few years, i’ve been exploring two main topics: one is the sixth species extinction, the other focuses on the research of the parallel evolution between the relationship wolf-human-dog.

At the first glance, these two topics don’t seem to have much in common, however, I find the connection within the perspective of the old artistic questions: Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

I don’t believe in ecology as it has been applied into the ideology of the first world. System is getting more and more rigid regarding sustainability. We are forced to worry about putting the trash into the correct trash can while in the third world, there is so much trash that it has even created an artificial island! The ideology is obviously working in the name of different marketing tactics. I also don’t believe that this is a problem that should be approached globally, since every little biotope is a very complex unique specific system. It is not something that could be generalised. Globalistic approach is only connected with the liberal capitalism approach – ecology as ideology, not even close within the reality of ecology as a scientific field of biology as a science.

On the other hand, we have been severely exhausting our resources of oil and gas, food and water. Homo sapiens is the biggest invasive species on the planet at the moment, the predator dwelling on the survival niches of many organisms, not at all embedding within the ecosystem dynamics, but erasing more and more species.

The other problem (which also covers one of the key parameters for the establishment of the invasive species) is that the human population has been growing exponentially. When i think about the ongoing refugee crisis i’m feeling overwhelmed: on the one hand, we have been (re)producing so much since there is so many of us already; on the other hand, we are emotionally not able to take care of each other anymore. I think that at this moment, the most humanistic and responsible thing to do would be that we stop reproducing for a while. I know this is easy to say but not even near as easy to apply, since reproducing has been imprinted all over our genetic code, as it is in every species for that matter. Not to mention the emotional and cultural dynamics connected with the need to reproduce. It is my personal frustration around the issue being a female who will in a few years not be able to biologically reproduce anymore. I’m also wondering whether it would really be ethical towards my child to introduce her / him into the world I just described. Nevertheless, it is difficult to surpass the powerful myth of motherhood and family as an ultimate individual capital with all its social pressures which have been very much present in the collective memory and emotions.

Dwelling on that, one of my next works will connect the two topics i’ve been researching for the last few years: in my fourth project within the K-9_topology series, I am suggesting to inoculate in-vitro my eggs with dog sperm in order to eventually make a new species which would have better chances to survive in the very unpredictable nature of the future. Since wolves decided in the past they wanted to stay with humans, dogs and humans have been evolving together, among other selection pressures, by a diet of starch and meat. Humans and dogs have adapted to a common biological niche by physiologically starting to be able to digest starch. Wolves still cannot digest starch. The hybrid i propose would be a herbivorous werewolf, able to digest starch as the most viable polysaccharide on Earth, but it would at the same time be able to survive by treating nature more humanely than humans do. Without ideology. This is the poetics within which the two fields of research connect.

People are going to be so shocked!

You think so? It would be only in-vitro. :)

But can you do it? Are there laws? Is it ethical? Would you have to kill it after a while?

Technologically, it could, of course, only be a proof of concept, since the cell would theoretically divide twice, maybe three times. After the inoculation, I would immediately sink it within the liquid nitrogen into cryosleep. To exist in suspense. Until the legislation is open enough and until biomedicine has evolved enough to make it possible to impregnate a human and maybe also a dog.

The inoculation of human and canine material is not legal in EU, even if both parties agree. So much on owning our own bodies. So here´s another huge problem, since I am not interested into executing the project as an illegal action. From this perspective the concept, among others, raises some biopolitical questions about why only the rich and hence privileged individuals, such as Walt Disney for example, who froze his head in order to be reanimated in the future, would be able to execute such „edgy“ actions? Are only the rich able to be the owners and not just the inhabitants of their bodies? This is, of course, a rhetorical question.

BioBASE, produced by Aksioma Institute, Ljubljana, Slovenia, 2014. Photo by Janez Janša

BioBASE, co-designed with Andrej Strehovec, produced by Aksioma Institute, Ljubljana, Slovenia, 2014. Photo by Janez Janša

In BIOBASE, you built an experimental chamber to monitor what would happen if/when a native crayfish and an invasive red crayfish meet. So what happened during this experiment? Did one eat the others? What were the conclusions of the work?

In Slovenia (ironically at the Schengen border), there is a thermal lake (up to 32 degree celsius). It’s a kind of a tropical ecosystem niche in the central European climate, a potential one where the tropical crayfish could survive. The subtropical Australian red claw crayfish arrived to the lake from a few hundred meters away, where an entrepreneur had started an exotic crayfish farm a few years ago. Apparently, they are a delicious so he wanted to sell the crayfish over the Italian and Croatian food market. When he started running the farm, an environmental agency came to inspect the parameters which should satisfy the regulations. It turned out that the filter system was just a bit to rarely spaced, however he was told that since these were tropical species, they would never survive in the cold water environment such as the continental climate of that area in Slovenia, if ever they escaped anyway. However, the fertilized eggs somehow got through the filtration system into a little creek, a few hundred meters from the thermal lake and eventually floated to the lake which led to a huge, exponentially growing population of the red claw crayfish. Less than a kilometre away, there is the river Sava that eventually joins the Danube. What if the crayfish adjusted to the colder climate and migrated to the nearby river? BioBASE was exhibited as a closed, controlled experiment basically exploring that question.

The conclusions were interesting. In one tank there were six invasive, tropical red claw crayfish Cherax quadricarinatus. In the other one, six indigenous ones, now protected Astacus astacus. Both in separate tanks, each with an optimum temperature to their physiology.

Since crayfish are dominant and territorial, both species obviously wanted to explore the other tank. For the first week, the tropical ones would go to the colder water but they would stay there for about maximum six days and then go back. They got too cold. At the beginning of the following week however, the indigenous ones which are bigger, yet slower but used to harsher environment, went to the tropical tank and stayed there for 10 days, until the end of the experiment.

The experiment actually showed us that since the indigenous crayfish felt comfortable in the warmer tank, it might mean that the cold river nearby might not be as cold as it used to be. Recently it has even been officially announced by scientists that all of the waters all over the world became a few degrees warmer.

Survival Kit for the Anthropocene (Trailer), co-designed with Andrej Strehovec, produced by Aksioma Institute, Ljubljana, Slovenia, 2015. Photo by Borut Peterlin

Survival Kit for the Anthropocene (Trailer), co-designed with Andrej Strehovec, produced by Aksioma Institute, Ljubljana, Slovenia, 2015. Photo by Borut Peterlin

I find it difficult to make up my mind about invasive species. On the one hand, i love animals and think they should all be protected. On the other hand, i remember growing up with red squirrels in the garden and i haven’t seen any for ages now, they’ve been replaced by invasive grey squirrels so i wish these bastards had never set foot in Europe! Do you ever feel that you need to take a stand in your work about invasive species? And decide whether invasive species are ‘wrong’ or ‘right’?

Human emotional transfer towards the local environment connected with invasive species interests me a lot. The squirrels are a great example and there are many very similar cases. At the beginning, when i knew very little about the topic, i read an article about the harlequin ladybug. There used to be indigenous seven-spot ladybirds in Slovenia and all over Europe, including United Kingdom. I had a strong emotional transfer towards them, since they were charismatic bugs, used as local heroes helping farmers and gardeners as biological control agents in a battle against aphids (their main prey) as well as a national symbol. I was so overwhelmed discovering they have been almost extinct in Europe, because of the harlequin ladybug, i decided to make a project out of the issue. Conversely, I discovered they have outcompeted many native species all over North America. The project ended up focusing on the crayfish, a phenomenon in the area of my birth town.

For the first 5 months, i was having interviews with Dr. Al Vrezec, a biologist working at the Department of Freshwater and Terrestrial Ecosystems at the National Institute of Biology in Ljubljana, Slovenia. I invited him to be a key collaborator. Every week, we would meet for a few hours. I would arrive with fresh questions and we’d discuss the topic. I wanted to grasp what it means when a certain species is getting extinct, not just for the sake of my own emotional transfer, but above all, objectively, why and how is it happening, and last but not least, why is it such a huge issue?

There have always been this kind of phenomenons, since some animals bring non indigenous organisms to another biotope where they don’t have natural predators, and therefore have conditions to exponentially grow in population which also means they eventually need more and more space. They dwell into the ecosystem niche of indigenous species and usually erase them which consequently makes the whole ecosystem crash. The global traffic in the seas for example creates big problems for ecosystems, since big tankers and even small boats carry ballast water which needs to be evacuated in the harbour. Small not indigenous organisms get out that way. Another example is when people buy exotic species in the pet shop and at some point, decide they don’t want, or can´t take care of them anymore so they ‘let them free’.

The problem of the current species extinction is that it remains fairly under the radar, since it´s quite a complex issue of interdependence to fully grasp. If a big ecosystem crashes, for example, the first organisms that adapt are the very simple ones. The more „simple“ an organism, the faster it will adjust to fast and radical environmental changes.

There have already been five distinct extinctions in history of the planet Earth. Each time, the most simple, hence the lowest organisms at the trophic level, survived. More complex organisms need far more evolutionary time to adapt. If the most simple organisms are the first to adapt and mutate that means that viruses will adapt quickly too. You might see new diseases developing much faster and we would be too slow to react. Not to mentions sever allergy reactions. If you take off one element, then everything else around it crashes. It’s like an economy bubble burst.

The other thing, as already mentioned before, is that humans are growing in population very fast, and therefore we are slowly but surely facing the end of food resources. Add climate change on top of that.

I have been having a vision of this Mad Max scenario coming up in the near future! The invasive nature outgrowing the huge old wheels of liberal capitalism system till no return is possible. I think that the revolution we are going to experience in the future is going to come out of nature. This is what is going to disable the liberal capitalism machine, not the internet, real estate, energy, watter – market bubbles.

To tell you the truth, i don’t see the happy ending for this planet as it is. Well, I can actually see a happy ending for this planet but it would involve the extinction of many species. Most probably also humans. That’s why i decided to propose the herbivorous werewolf project.

To finally answer your question, i am not putting myself on any side, i’m just the nihilistic observer of the beginning of the end of a specific biological as well as cultural era.

Any upcoming project, event or research you want to share with us?

I have been finishing the third project within the K-9_topology series in Berlin, titled Hybrid Family. The whole process has been a kind of an embodiment of a becoming – animal discourse with an impact on perspective of the refugee crises and the lack of space (this being told cynically), the myths of motherhood, home and domesticity. Since mid October, I have been living in quite an isolation with my dogs. By submitting myself to a special diet and physiological training, I have consequently succeeded to train my pituitary gland to accumulate prolactin hormone to produce some milk within my breasts, with which I will be feeding a new member of my hybrid family, an Icelandic Spitz called Ada (Lovelace), at the performance starting 29th January. The name combines with (Lord) Byron, my older family member Scottish Border Collie, as they are both my beloved inspiration embodiment of art and science as well as of the post-anthropocentric kinship.

For the last months all three of us have significantly deepen our relationship within our hybrid family, with the aim of raising thoughts on the traditional perspective of motherhood. Social welfare systems have, for example, been very much protecting families with children, married couples as well as single parents, much less a childless and/or single (bi – homo – trans – hetero – sexual) individuals.

More on the background of the project: http://majasmrekar.org/blog

Thanks Maja!

Maja’s works is currently part of the exhibition GLOBALE: Exo-Evolution at ZKM in Karlsruhe, Germany. She also has a one year sound installation on the stairs of Kino Šiška Centre for Urban Culture in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

She is also going to spend the weekend at the Freies Museum Berlin performing K-9_topology: HYBRID FAMILY (the studio visit will take place from 29 January to 2 February, by appointment.) The event was co-curated by Jens Hauser and Jurij Krpan and developed with the artistic collaboration of Manuel Vason. It is a co-production between Kapelica Gallery, Praksa (Ljubljana), Freies Museum Berlin.

Maja Smrekar and Manuel Vason collaboration, K-9_topology: Hybrid Family, Berlin 2016, produced by Zavod Praksa, Ljubljana, Slovenia, 2015/2016

Categories: New Media News

VOLVO 240 Transformed into 4 Drones

Mon, 01/25/2016 - 10:07

Zuzanna Janin, VOLVO240 Transformed into 4 Drones, 2014. Photo: lokal_30 Gallery Warsaw

Zuzanna Janin, VOLVO240 Transformed into 4 Drones, 2014. Photo: lokal_30 Gallery Warsaw

Just what the title says, really. Here’s what the official description of this work by Polish artist Zuzanna Janin says:

This sculptural installation VOLVO240 Transformed Into 4 Drones comprising four elements is the artist’s latest work, in which the old family Volvo 240 is changed into four smaller vehicles of various types: drones recalling military equipment used for killing, but also for observation, navigation and surveillance, vehicles used to save lives. The artist once again sensitises us to the “in-between” zone – on the boundary of the era described by technological achievements and accelerated cultural changes, in the era of control and of uncontrolled observation of the world around us.

Janin is represented by the lokal_30 Gallery in Warsaw. I visited the gallery a few weeks ago when they had a solo show of video art pioneer Józef Robakowski. Part of the exhibition showed 1980s recordings of rather vigorous music concerts, especially of the punk group Moskwa. Robakowski got to know the members of the group, made promotional photos for them that were quite edgy and radical at the time but still look like the kind of images that fashion photographers attempt to shoot nowadays. He also did music videos for the band. These videos are raw and fascinating. Because it might have been tricky to shoot a punk video in the streets of Poland at the time, the artist shot them directly from TV footage by placing his camera right in front of the screen.

Józef Robakowski, Moskwa, 1986

Józef Robakowski, Moskwa performing

I was planning to write about Robakowski’s show and Polish punk from the ’80s but then i spotted the car turned drones in the catalogue from the gallery and there was no turning back: i had to publish the photos of Janin’s sculpture on the blog.

Categories: New Media News

Jon Satrom, conversation with a bug maker and tamer

Thu, 01/21/2016 - 11:24

Jon Satrom. Screenshot from the SAIC Alumni profile video

Jon Satrom, Doc1

I’ll never forget the first time i first saw one of Jon Satrom‘s Prepared Desktop performances. It was at the access festival in Pau, France. Beach balls, dinosaurs, little rainbows and rogue folders jumped onto the screen. Failure notifications kept invading the view and files seemed to never fully download. It was very fast, very witty and very funny but it was also everything you hope will never start happening to your own computer. I felt like the performance was slapping me in the face with my worst ‘user experiences’ nightmares. I saw one of his performances again last year at a brilliant symposium in Paris called refrag. I was equally baffled by Satrom’s interventions and i vowed to 1. never ever lend him my laptop. 2. interview him to hopefully learn why and how he could abuse with such ease technologies that are supposed to be fiercely protected.

jon.satrom is a dirty-new-media artist slash organiser. He is also a programmer and a lecturer at the department of Film, Video, New Media and Animation and at the one of Contemporary Practices at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. With his performances, apps and other works, Satrom is opening the black box of the operating system we daily use. He is even inviting each of us to join the glitch party. Together with Ben Syverson, he created the sOS or Satromizer Operating System, the world’s first ‘100% problem-based operating system’ which you can download to turn your laptop, iPad and phone into a neverending glitch party. I hope you will enjoy our online exchanges as much as i did:

Jon Satrom, Velocanim_RBW_X DEMO

Example footage from the Satromizer for iPhone, ‘the world’s first multitouch glitch tool’

Hi Jon! You sometimes define yourself as a dirty new media artist? Why dirty?

GLI.TC/H 2112, Chicago US. Photo: Antonio Roberts

I like mobilizing the term “Dirty New Media” because there’s a self-awareness to it. It seems like–at the turn of the century–the term “New” Media began to gentrify the various networked-neighbourhoods of: net.art, software art and other dynamic cybercultures. Areas of digital expression/dissent/engagement that I found to be super inspiring and exciting were crystalizing and becoming codified. A “Dirty” New Media starts with the fact that, by using media in the first place (old && new), we are already compromised by the systems/conventions/resolutions of the media. Tagging these genres as simply “New” places one in an uncritical masturbatory state of expectation for the “next”.

I feel that the term “Dirty New Media” is rooted in approaches by collectives and initiatives I’ve witnessed in Chicago like, Deadtech, dai5ychain, EN3MY, Beige and criticalartware who were working in the 00’s. The term seems to rally folks with the disposition of misusing hardware, software and systems, creatively creating problems and challenging–often corrupt–control structures. These dispositions and energies are/were not new, “Dirty New Media” is/was just our way of articulating them amongst the broken promises of the millennium.

Groups like PaperRad and Beige were using the term “dirt style” to describe cultural and technical dumpster-diving–which gently poked at issues of obsolescence, pop-trends and nostalgia. I began using it after jonCates brought it to the language of r4wb1t5–a collaborative event series that we started in 2005: “(A) r4WB1t5 micro festival is a new platform or framework for (A)narchistic forms of decentralized mini or micro festivals to self-organize around themes + theorypractices of raw bits of digital art + dirty new media.” Jake Elliott (who was also involved with r4wb1t5) gave a talk at HOPE (Hackers on Planet Earth) called Dirty New Media – Art, Activism, and Computer Counter-Cultures in 2008. I’m happy it’s caught on in certain circles and folks have found it to be useful. (i.e. the Dirty New Media Round Robin in Chicago US: organized by Nick Briz; and Dirty New Media in Birmingham UK: curated by Antonio Roberts.)

Jon Satrom performing at the Festival acces)s( in Pau, France. Photo: Nicolas Maigret, Disnovation – Festival acces)s(

For me, r4wb1t5 was an eloquent articulation of what Chicago could bring to the sterile hype of technology and the solidifying “New Media Art” genera. Chicago is a loud, improvisational and industrious city. Threads of activism, organizing, jazz and blues are deeply intertwingled with DIY initiatives and a collaborative ethos. Dirty New Media recognizes that the entire system is unstable. It’s raw, honest, and celebrates the rough-edges, the raw bits, the exposed wires and glitches inherent to the systems that rule major aspects of our lives.

Portrait Jon Satrom. Photo: Ben Syverson, GLI.TC/H 2112

You are an artist but you’re also an educator, i think you give glitch art classes? How can one learn glitch? Is it just a question of learning how to code or does one need a certain state of mind?

Yes, I like to do workshops when and where I can and–in general–I love sharing tricks and techniques with anyone who’s interested. I was both excited and hesitant to propose a glitch curriculum at SAIC in 2006. My hesitation came from the inevitable institutionalization and canonization of what I perceive as dynamic uncontrollable moments. These things excite me, and I was worried of flattening them.

One must capture and/or articulate glitch techniques to make glitch teachable, however, that process also has the potential of pacifying the glitch. In an effort to avoid turning glitch into a filter or benign aesthetic, I decided to stress approaches over outputs. Since the class started running in 2007, I’ve wrapped some of those approaches into a sort of “glitch ethos”. My hesitations have evaporated and I’ve learned that glitch affords everyone–even the “glitch artist”–the opportunity to push themselves into uncomfortable situations.

Through open-ended assignments and prompts, I try to encourage students to consider the systems that govern their lives and to observe and (responsibly) take advantage of the instability of those systems. One doesn’t need to learn how to code to glitch something, though, I do believe that learning to code or learning about code heightens criticality, deepens literacy, and extends one’s potential.

Glitches lurch out any codified system. Glitching requires a certain state of mind and I find it incredibly rewarding to develop participatory contexts and situations that help folks discover, explore and sustain it. Glitching allows us confront our fears about the unknown power of technology. They provide avenues to question the norms that have been constructed to empower and disenfranchise us. By embracing a radically inclusive definition of the glitch, students have helped me come to see it as an aspect of our contemporary condition. Glitches resonate.

Could you point us to the work of some of your current or past glitch students?

Earlier this year, I was a part of the Chicago contingent of the REFRAG symposium (w/ Nick Briz and jonCates) we organized in Paris (w/ Benjamin Gaulon, Shawné Michaelain Holloway, Marie Lechner, Nicolas Maigret, and Ivan Twohig). The symposium was a partnership between SAIC and Parsons Paris and I had the chance to pull together student work from the SAIC Glitch class (2007-2014). The gallery component of REFRAG featured work by: Melissa Barron, Kevin Carey, Joe Chiocchi, Theo Darst, Sam Goldstein, Nunzia Faes, David Musgrave, Paula Pinho Martins Nacif, Bryan Peterson, Olivia Rogers, Sarah Rooney and James Theophilos. It was pretty great to see all of that work on display at the Parsons Paris gallery.

Olivia Rogers, I am Made of Chalk- GLitch remix

Kevin Carey, Ghost Dimension. Theodore Darst, OK I’M Going Outside. Bryan Peterson, Emoji Glitch. REFRAG exhibition at Parsons Paris gallery, 2015. Photo: Benjamin Gaulon

Yolkalizer exhibited at reFRag Festival in Paris in 2015 (Jon Satrom doc)

reFRag Festival in Paris, 2015 (Jon Satrom doc)

REFRAG exhibition at Parsons Paris gallery, 2015. Photo: Benjamin Gaulon

As a teacher and as an organizer, I strive to create safe contexts for folks to come together and experiment with tools, methods, materials and ideas. I like developing classroom/studio dynamics where the individuals gathering have the chance to impact the trajectory of the group. I’ve been fortunate to have worked with Ben Babbitt, James Connolly, Alex Halbert, Morgan Higby Flowers, William Robertson, Anna Russett, and Alfredo Salazar-Caro and many others (eep!) when they were undergraduate students and with Nick Briz, Kyle Evans, Peter Kusek, Keven Kalay, Andy Ortmann, and Peter Speer–in little bits–as graduate students. Some collaborations that were hatched in the studios (and greatly expanded upon outside the institution) are: Square Square, Dither Doom, Cracked Ray Tube and DMoDA. In some instances, conversations began prior to convening in the studio; and often, conversations continue well beyond.

Jon “VJ Satrom”, Select Media Fest 2003

You graduated from SAIC in 2003. What was the glitch art scene at the time? Who inspired you?

I wasn’t aware of a unified “glitch art scene” at the time. Studying and working at SAIC with talented artists and educators like jonCates, Ben Chang, Nic Collins, Shawn Decker, Rob Drinkwater and Kerry Richardson helped articulate my interests and opened my eyes to tools, methodologies and other artists doing inspiring projects. Chicago was a great place to be at the turn of the century. Spaces like Camp Gay, Buddy and Deadtech regularly hosted performances and happenings engaging with playful/glitchy/kludgy approaches, including events like the 2002 Beige Cassette Jockey World Championship and releases like the 2001 Deadtech DeCSS Anniversary Album Circumvention Device.

In 2002, I helped start criticalartware with jonCates, Blithe Riley, Christian Ryan, and Ben Syverson and we built a platform to hyperweave New Media Art with early Video Art. Around that time, I also began performing circuit bent video with Thomas Wincek for his IDM project Emotional Joystick. In addition to playing with hardcore-break folks, I also started performing noise with Jason Soliday and got the chance to extend my realtime tool-kit with I ♥ Presets (Jason Soliday and Rob Ray).

In 2004, I traveled with jonCates and Ben Syverson (as criticalartware) to present at ISEA. I remember meticulously recreating the ISEA logo in order to glitch it as a part of the presentation. From Helsinki FN, we traveled to participate in the ReadMe Festival in Aarhus DK. I feel like ReadMe Software Art & Cultures and the Dorkbot City Camp was a formative experience. I’ve written a bit more about that trip, inspirations, influences (including: JODI, WIMP and TOPLAP) and early work with I ♥ Presets on my (woefully neglected) blog. Shortly after my time at SAIC, I also got to know and work with a few great folks–who were at around after I graduated and before I started teaching there: Mark Beasley, Jake Elliott, Nicholas O’Brien, Tamas Kamenski and Chris Reilly.

It wasn’t until I joined the databenders Yahoo Group and Flickr that I began to find other folks referring to their work as “glitch” (~2004?). Tagging systems like del.icio.us and Flickr allowed content to guide early social network interaction. Through those systems, I was introduced to folks like: Benjamin Berg, Antonio Roberts, Daniel Temkin among others; and through searching around I found and began to cross virtual paths with Nick Briz, Arcangel Constantini, Ted Davis, Benjamin Gaulon, Gijs Gieskes, Karl Klomp, Anton Marini, Shay Moradi, Evan Meaney, Rosa Menkman, Dimitri Lima, Ant Scott and many others who’ve since been involved with GLI.TC/H

Ben Syverson, Satromizer

Do you have your own glitch art style? An aesthetic or an approach maybe that makes a glitch work definitely a Satrom glitch work? (if that question makes sense)

Thanks to Ben Syverson, in some circles, “satromizing” has (humorously) become synonymous with glitching. But, I guess, it’s more of an approach than an aesthetic. In 2001, Ben packaged some glitchy techniques and processes I was using into an After Effects Plugin as a sort of algorithmic remix. He called it the “Satromizer”. Over the years, we’ve turned that piece into a project and ported it to Perl, iOS, HTML5 and making it one of the core components of the Pox suite of artware tools (including the Satromizer OS). Satromizing, doing it the wrong way, creative problem creating, and inspiruption are some ways I can articulate my practice. I try not to take things too seriously.

I don’t feel that it’s healthy to claim uniqueness, especially with a process that relies so much on the magic of chance and hiccups within technologies developed by others. There’s something exciting about witnessing something out in the open–like a glitch–and honing your skills to capture and play with it. There’s also something absurd about spending the amount of time and effort on what I do, so I also like to make fun of it to make me feel OK.

Often, I like my work to look similar to the system that it’s operating within. In design, architecture, IT and many other disciplines, a job is well done when the user doesn’t notice the work done. I often spend a lot of time making certain aspects of my work un-seeable; naturally embedded in the systems where they exist; cloaked in their context in order to break from it. By operating as a UI/UX chamelion, I try to playfully lull folks into experiencing the unexpected. I perk up during awkward silences. I’m invigorated by loud bursts of noise. And I really love when confetti machines go off at the wrong time.

GLI.TC/H 2112 “accidental” confetti cannon going off. Photo: Ben Syverson

Is there anything in and on a computer that you can’t or just wouldn’t glitch?

I’m writing this while I’m waiting for an appointment at one of the Apple Stores in Chicago… Nothing is clicking, literally… I think my trackpad is messed up. That may point to an answer to your question (pun intended).

On one hand, I desire a working tool to make broken things. I think the most terrifying glitches are the ones that are silent, absent, and/or nonexistent due to non-recoverable hardware and software failures. On the other hand, using something that’s broken can breed unexpected results and/or force you to use the tool in a new way. For example, I have a couple bricked laptops that I love intentionally knocking off podiums during lectures. Glitch can be transformational. A hard fault can jolt an object into a new state of functionality.

I feel that one should be able to glitch anything and everything. It should be a fundamental right but it’s being eroded. For example, after a recent upgrade, I was trying to minimally modify a core part of OS X and found out that Apple now restricts the root user from the owner of the machine. Traditionally, owners and utilities could leverage root to override permissions (a sort of God-mode for your box). Apple’s System Integrity Protection is a new proprietary meta-root user that controls low level aspects of the machine. This action by Apple makes me want to glitch SIP, but that’s probably a bad idea…

Things I’d like to glitch but shouldn’t: The kernel of my computer, the kernel of your computer, my brain.
Things I’d like to glitch but can’t: Capitalism, hegemony, history, reality.

GLI.TC/H 2011 Birmingham, UK. Photo: Pete Ashton

Often folks are appalled to hear that the machine I perform with is also my work machine. I’ve had situations where I do a performance at night and open my computer the next morning with a client and they shriek! It’s a multi-use tool and space. In the past, I tried creating different users for different performances, but, due to licensing issues, organizational shortcomings, preset management and laziness, I’ve resorted to using my default environment. It allows me to capture and be inspired (or pissed off) by glitches I experience in my everyday. I think there’s something honest and a bit vulnerable about that.

(Update: My laptop wasn’t messed up… After giving up on my appointment and jiggling my laptop’s innards around a bit, it started working. I have no idea what was wrong.)

Jon Satrom, Windows Rainbows & Dinos 2010.02.11

Why is it important to break, corrupt, create accidents when technology is supposed to be about working flawlessly, to avoid failure and surprises? What can a glitch bring to our life as a user?

A glitch is a moment that breaks one from a flow and provides an opportunity to see the systems at play. Technology has gotten away with a lot by telling us that it’s suppose to be flawless, perfect, make our lives easier. Does it? Absolutely not… One can’t discount the myriad of conveniences we now have via many modern technologies, but, we do need to be broken from a flow every once in a while–especially now, when flows are coagulating into new regimes.

Jon Satrom, x-+ø, 2013

The notion of avoiding failure and surprises, to me, sounds dry and lifeless. Of course that’s expected in mission-critical systems of healthcare, transportation and war–but that’s not where most of us operate (individually). Even Apple’s new TOS states that users should expect these things:



I feel that by glitching things, we are able to exercise our digital agency in spaces that continue to be locked down. The open-ended back-doors that were once left by developers considering alternative conventions and methods are being replaced by the walled gardens of App Stores and proprietary APIs. Machines once heralded by their makers as personal production environments (Think: Rip. Mix. Burn.) are being reduced to “smart” communication devices for consumption and surveillance. Sometimes glitches can point to fulcrums of power, expose embedded agendas and reveal updated ethics.

GLI.TC/H 2111, Birmingham, UK. Photo: Pete Ashton

In fact, Mac OS X–which is the context of much of my work–is now actively censoring glitches. It’s similar to the choice of manufactures made to mute static on TVs with blue. One could take it as an offense to Glitch Art. The iPhone Satromizer no longer “works”. Many of my scripts, widgets and bits continue to become rendered obsolete due to updates and patches “fixing” bugs and situations I found useful.

Jon Satrom, 092k12intuit02, 2012

You teach, do performances and develop apps. So that’s your rent and bills sorted but have you ever thought of putting your work on the contemporary art market? Selling it, showing it in ‘traditional’ white space galleries? Would that even make sense to you?

I’ve participated in a few white-cube shows in (mostly) independent and DIY spaces detached from an Art market. The processes that have formed for me could potentially support a gallery module, however, I’m fortunate to be making enough of a living by occasionally teaching and doing independent projects for non-profits and arts organizations around Chicago.

My work typically consists of a bunch of widgets, scripts, gestures and messy bits that culminate into realtime performances designed for a particular contexts. The performances are usually documented as videos. The documentation and detritus created are available online (admittedly in a disorganized way) and (if they continue working) they occasionally become folded into further projects.

Much of my work is fueled by panic, fear and frustration. And, frankly, as a white American male, I don’t feel my struggles are very significant. Also, working within an unstable medium, I can’t guarantee things will continue functioning. The market demands certain things and, as someone who was brought up to value hard and honest work above all, I haven’t seen an equation I can latch onto… yet.

I don’t get jazzed about glitches printed out (2D, 3D, nor nD). They’re fossilized. They’re static. I guess I place more value–personally–on the moments that happen than the artifacts produced by those moments. So far, performing, teaching and gathering folks has proven more fruitful. That said, I wouldn’t dismiss the exploration of the Art market. I welcome the opportunity to glitch the language and conventions of any context.

I have the impression that people are more and more open and appreciative of glitches. When it comes to art at least. Do you see glitches seeping into mainstream culture as well?

It’s a mechanic that drives narratives in games and movies, it’s a filter for nearly any type of media and it encompasses multiple genres from glitch-hop music to Glitch Art. I believe glitches provide a way of relating to our contemporary condition–and because of that–we see it everywhere.

It’s recognizable to folks because nearly everyone has experienced the promise of digital perfection broken: from perpetual beta to forced obsolescence; from product defects to stolen elections. We are constantly reminded that we are compromised by the technology we buy and are increasingly being used by the systems we use. To witness someone leveraging the glitch–opposed to being acted upon by the glitch–is often a triumphant human moment!

Notes from a Prepared Desktop performance, 2010

Any upcoming project, event or research you want to share with us?

I’ve been working with some microfiche film from an 1960s IBM Mainframe and a modified reader for a new project called MicroMonotaur. I’m continuing to develop Prepared Desktop performances. I ♥ Presets is convening in Chicago in February for a rare performance. Ben Syverson and I are planning a complete redesign of our project Pox as well as a new release of the Satromizer dubbed Satromizer Pro in Q1. We’re also wanting to organize another PoxCon. Nick Briz and I just wrapped up our pilot season of D.R.E.A.M. (Data Rules Everything Around Me), a roughly-monthly conversation series devoted to openly discussing topics around digital agency. I’m considering starting a teacherless community classroom at my studio (currently, its working title is XtraCredit). And, I’m in the process of trying to put together a little European tour around April.

My website is desperately in need of an update. I have loads of garbage to upload and a system sketched out to interlink it. Locally, I’m getting my footing after a recent OS upgrade. OSX 10.11.2 is particularly frustrating due to a number of things that are not not working and I’m still hunting for any upgrade glitches. I am excited to get everything in its place. My goal is to have a laptop running 3 Mac OS versions, 1 Windows, and 1 Ubuntu. In 2016, I’m planning on switching my day-to-day computer use to Linux. Hopefully, with everything “working”, I won’t lose the frustration that often drives my work… I doubt it…

Thanks Jon!

Image on the homepage: satromized portrait of Jon Satrom by Ben Syverson.
Related stories: Glitch Moment/ums – From tech accident to artistic expression and Interview with Benjamin Gaulon aka RECYCLISM.

Categories: New Media News

GAMERZ. “Playing is a serious business” (Part 2)

Wed, 01/20/2016 - 09:37

For a proper intro to the event, please check out: GAMERZ Part 1. Playing is a serious business.

Second and last chapter of my report from the GAMERZ festival, one of the very few French festivals that doesn’t play it safe nor stiff with a programme that endorses the unexpected, a laid-back atmosphere, a few famous names but also an impressive line-up of fresh talents. Plus, it’s in Aix-en-Provence so as the French say “y’a pas photo!” (which means something like ‘it’s a no-brainer.’)

The first part of my report from the festival covered the artworks dealing directly with gaming. From the games inspired by Stanley Kubrick to the installation that virtually kills you as soon as you enter the (physical) exhibition space.

This second part of my notes cover the works that remain playful and ingenious but that experiment with the interfaces, languages, tensions and dynamics of technologies:

Balint Bolygo, Trace II, 2012. Photo by Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

Balint Bolygo, Trace II, 2012. Photo by Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

Balint Bolygo, Trace II, 2012. Photo by Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

Balint Bolygo, Trace II, 2012. Photo by Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

Balint Bolygo‘s Trace II is a mechanical 3D scanner that slowly draws a 3D mapping of objects placed on it -in this case a cast of the artist’s head- and translates the undulations onto a rotating cylindrical surface. The device functions like a mechanical computer reduced to its bare essentials: the code or program is a 3D plaster object, the mechanical parts are the hardware and the screen takes the form of paper and pen.

Trace II’s topographical mappings evoke images generated by high technologies such as MRI scans, 3D scanning, etc. The difference is that this kinetic sculpture is an open structure where the workings are visible and easy to read, allowing the viewer to reconnect with the process behind the image production. This transparency in the mechanism and process is so unexpected nowadays that it becomes strangely fascinating.

The sculptural device has a darker edge to it. It not only alludes to contemporary high tech but it also recalls pseudoscientific concepts such as phrenology, physiognomy, and craniometry.

Line Kernel, PerlinRocks, 2015

PerlinRocks is a small factory that manufactures small rocks. The 3D printer slowly and tirelessly prints little rocks in compostable plastic. Each of its creation is slightly different from the other, just like the rocks you find in nature. For some reason, i was incredibly moved by this quiet mass-production of small artificial artefacts that will eventually dissolve into nature itself.

The work uses Perlin Noise, an algorithm that was originally developed for the movie Tron back in 1983 to add video noise to the 3D layers. Now used in creative coding applications and games, the algorithm is often used to recreate natural shapes in 3D.

The artist writes:
The name of the piece could be “this is not a sculpture (but an algorithm)” as a reference that the emphasis of the piece is not about showing the result, because it could take many different form, but the fact that behind any generative work there is an algorithm, and here I took Perlin Noise, one of the most versatile, well known, and most used Algorithm, a algorithm so great that we could from times to times swear that it is actually the algorithm that orchestrate some parts of the nature around us


Cheng Guo, Mouth Factory. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

Cheng Guo, Mouth Factory, 2012. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

Cheng Guo, Mouth Factory. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

Cheng Guo, Mouth Factory-5 Sequences that demonstrate a different application of the apparatuses

Mouth Factory is a set of machines designed to be operated by the mouth. By wearing one of the instruments, you become a piece of the instrument yourself. There’s a ‘tongue extruder’ which squeezes out Play-Doh at the push of the tongue, a drill operated by chewing, a vacuum forming tool that allows you to mould objects by inhaling, a lathe to spin and cut a piece of wood, etc.

As a comment on human enhancement, Mouth Factory is investigating news modes of production. The aesthetic of the devices is quite striking. Each of them recalls dental braces, only even more oppressive and distorting for the features. Besides, if used regularly, the instruments will leave their mark by gradually modifying the features of the human face.

Paul Destieu, Archive d’une frappe. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

Paul Destieu, Archive d’une frappe. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

Paul Destieu, Archive d’une frappe. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

Archive d’une frappe (Archive of a hit) is part of a research exploring the materialization of sound and musical forms.

The work visualizes and make tangible the unfolding of a given gesture performed by a musician playing a drum. Once captured, synthetized and 3D printed, the hit on the musical instrument is extracted as a physical counter-form both from the interpreter and the drumstick.

Scott Sinclair and Pierre-Erick Lefebvre, The Superusers, Anaglyph 3D performance, 2015. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

Scott Sinclair and Pierre-Erick Lefebvre / The Superusers, Anaglyph 3D performance, 2015. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

The Superusers had a spectacularly hypnotizing multi-screen installation to be viewed with 3D glasses. The work attempts to capture the thrill and science-fiction nostalgia of early 3D films whilst also embracing the failures of the technology.

Each screen shows the creation, propagation, and destruction of a separate digital cosmos. Faceless satellites gracefully dance and sing atop an alien landscape in a disturbed sense of synaesthesia. These objects are then pushed through a flowering of ‘trailspace’ where they meet and bind to highly mutated versions of themselves, starting them on a path to overpopulation and Designed-To-Fail ruin. Like a self-sabotaging assembly line, depictions of smooth geometry continually commit suicide in their failed in their efforts to surpass the complexity of natural forms.

Jonah Brucker-Cohen, Alerting Infrastructure!, 2003. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

I can’t believe Alerting Infrastructure! is almost 13 years old. The pneumatic jackhammer is hanging by a wall, getting into action and drilling each time someone visits the festival website.

The amount of structural damage to the building directly correlates to the amount of exposure and attention the web site gets, thus exposing the physical structure’s temporal existence……This way visitors to the physical space can get a sense of how many online visitors have come and gone and experience their presence as the walls slowly deteriorate.

Lucien Gaudion, O, 2015. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

Lucien Gaudion, O, 2015. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

Point O, a title which refers to the point of origin within a geometrical space, aims to reveal the architectural tension of the space. Two loudspeakers are suspended by metal cables at the centre of a room which constitutes the Point O. Micro piezoelectric materials capture the vibrations of the loudspeakers into the taut cables and turn them into audio signals within the loudspeakers, generating audio feedbacks.

More photos from the festival:

The Vasarely Foundation, one of the main exhibition space of the festival. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

Inside the Vasarely Foundation, one of the main exhibition space of the festival. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

Gamerz festival. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

Emilie Gervais, *So Happy I Could Die (Lady Gaga cover)*, site web interactif, XIV. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

Emilie Gervais, *So Happy I Could Die (Lady Gaga cover)*, site web interactif, XIV. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

Gamerz festival 2015. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

Emmanuelle Grangier, Link Human / Robot, performance, vernissage du Festival GAMERZ 11, 6 novembre 2015. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

Nao, Monkey TURN, performance, GAMERZ 11 opening, 6 novembre 2015. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

Nao, Monkey TURN, performance, GAMERZ 11 opening, 6 novembre 2015. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

Philippe Boisnard and Arnaud Courcelle, Shape_of_Memory, 2015. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

Philippe Boisnard and Arnaud Courcelle, Shape_of_Memory, 2015. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

My photos are here. And these are the ones made by the festival photographer.
Previously: GAMERZ Part 1. Playing is a serious business.

Categories: New Media News

A People’s Art History of the United States. 250 Years of Activist Art and Artists Working in Social Justice Movements

Mon, 01/18/2016 - 08:21

A People’s Art History of the United States. 250 Years of Activist Art and Artists Working in Social Justice Movements, by artist and author Nicolas Lampert.

It’s on amazon USA and UK.

Publisher The New Press writes: Called “important” by renowned art critic Lucy Lippard, A People’s Art History of the United States introduces us to key works of American radical art alongside dramatic retellings of the histories that inspired them. Richly illustrated with more than two hundred black-and-white images, this book by acclaimed artist and author Nicolas Lampert is the go-to resource for everyone who wants to know what activist art can and does do for our society.

Spanning the abolitionist movement, early labor movements, women’s suffrage, the civil rights movement, and up to the present antiglobalization movement and beyond, A People’s Art History of the United States is a wonderful read as well as a brilliant tool kit for today’s artists and activists to adapt past tactics to the present, utilizing art and media as a form of civil disobedience.

Asco, Decoy Gang War Victim, 1974. Photo: Harry Gamboa Jr.

Danny Lyon, Poster—Is He Protecting You? Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee poster, about 1963

The book tells the history of artistic and popular resistance and recounts events that have changed society from the bottom up. Some of these events were initiated by activists who used visual tactics. Others by trained artists who joined a cause and anchored their art within an existing movement.

Each chapter zooms in on a specific political combat and explains with great details the tactics employed at the time by the activists. The tactics that triumphed but also the ones that flopped. Because it singles out specific political struggles instead of providing us with an all-encompassing survey of activism art, the book is also as an inspiring call to action for more artists to respond to contemporary crises and for more activists to use art in their interventions.

Nicolas Lampert is a talented writer and his book will take you on a memorable ride. One that goes from clergymen supporting the abolition of slavery to The Yes Men challenging unethical corporations. From women fighting for the right to have a say in politics to artists campaigning for museums and galleries to exhibit more women and people of color.

A People’s Art History of the United States is an invigorating book. It reminds us of the real impact that visual art can have on society, especially when it forgoes established art institutions, and roots itself in the communities and movements that push for social change. A book like this one is opportune and necessary at any moment in history and particularly in ours.

Stories, struggles and images discovered in the book:

Description of the slave ship Brookes, 1788

In the late 1700s, abolitionists in England and USA used lithographs and illustrations in their fight against slavery. Their strategies differ though. In the USA, slavery was part of fabric of life and the campaigns there were more about moral persuasion. England had very few slaves on its soil so slavery was a more abstract concept for citizens.

In 1787, a young English clergyman called Thomas Clarkson started to investigate conditions of slave transport. He interviewed sailors, obtained equipment used on slave-ships, such as iron handcuffs, leg-shackles, thumbscrews, branding irons and even got seamen to testify before the Parliament. But it was an image that had the biggest political influence: the architectural rendering of the slave ship Brookes. Based on a detailed plan of a slave ship, he had an image drawn of chained black figures loaded on the ship, a view no English man could see when slave ships were docked in the harbours. The striking image was combined with texts that detailed the men’s ordeal, creating a sense of empathy for African slaves. London abolitionists had it printed on thousands of posters, and, in the years that followed, the diagram circulated in broadsheets, pamphlets and books in Scotland, France and the United States.

The graphic agitation produced results: the House of Commons passed the law against slave trade in 1792.

Richard Throssel, Interior of the Best Indian Kitchen on the Crow Reservation, 1910 (via Met museum)

Edward S. Curtis, Sioux chiefs, 1905

Another chapter looks at widely circulated historical photos that shouldn’t be taken at face value. The text brings side by side the works of white photographer Edward S. Curtis and the one of his contemporary, the lesser-known Native photographer Richard Throssel (Cree.)

Curtis portrayed Native people as untouched by white society, even though, at a time he was working, the reservation system and forced acculturation were firmly in place. Many of the scenes in his photos are staged, they erase any intrusion of modernity and perpetuate the ‘noble savage’ myth that people who bought his photos were so fond of. His images correspond more to what you would see in a Hollywood western film than to the reality of reservations.

Throssel, on the other hand, had been formally adopted by the Crow and his images of the tribe are the ones of an insider to the culture. This, of course, gave him additional credibility. He did produce staged image as well though. But with another objective, the one to discourage traditional living habits that were thought to be one of the main causes of diseases. Although they belong to a federal campaign to address the spread of diseases, his images responded to immediate needs and acted as a form of community activism. By showing Natives into more modern settings, they also offer a more realistic portrait of the Crows than the ones made for white tourists.

These two examples of approaches show the importance of looking at social conditions, politics, funding and motives behind images.

Jesse Washington, an African-American mentally handicapped teenager lynched in Waco, Texas, on May 15, 1916. He was accused of raping and murdering the wife of his white employer. Photo via DarkVictory’s fascinating flickr account

Another chapter zooms in on the personality of civil rights activist, author and editor W.E.B. Du Bois. The first African American to earn a doctorate at the University of Harvard, Du Bois was also one of the co-founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909.

Du Bois fought against a society characterized by segregation. At the time, the black working class was seen as a threat to the economic well-being of white working class and its members were demonized as being rapists.

This climate led to race terrorism, and in particular to lynch mobs that threatened African Americans, Jews, gay people, immigrants, catholics, radicals, labour organizers, etc. Some 4,742 people were lynched in US between 1882 and 1968. The vast majority of them were black.

Du Bois aimed to change the situation through the NAACP publication The Crisis. Progressive ideas were not only communicated through articles but also by photos showing successful African American businessmen, college graduates and other images aimed at uplifting the spirit of African Americans. The publication also printed horrific drawings and photos of African Americans being lynched. The images were accompanied by eyewitness accounts that aimed to provoke the federal government to eradicate the crime.

Du Bois also organized public actions such as large scale parades, silent demos, and the boycott of D.W. Griffith’s film The Birth of a Nation which portrayed black men (some played by white actors in blackface) as half-wits and sexual predators.

Lynching flag flying at NAACP headquarters, ca. 1938. NAACP Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Along with the anti-lynching campaign, in 1920 the NAACP began flying a flag with the words “a man was lynched yesterday” from the windows of its headquarters in New York city when a lynching occurred. Threatened to lose its lease, the NAACP had to discontinue the practice in 1938.

Suzanne Lacy, Three Weeks in May exposed the extent of re- ported rapes in Los Angeles during a three-week performance in May, 1977

ASCO, First Supper (After a Major Riot), 1974. Photo: Harry Gamboa Jr.

John Fekner, Groundwork: The Anti-Nuke Port Stencil Project, 1988. Image via justseeds

Iraq Veterans Against the War, Operation First Casualty, San Francisco, 2008

Miné Okubo, Waiting in lines, Tanforan Assembly Center, San Bruno, California], 1942. Part of Citizen 13660, a collection of 189 drawings and accompanying text chronicling the artist experience in Japanese American internment camps during World War II

Emory Douglas, Minister of Culture and revolutionary artist for the Black Panther Party, March 9 1969: ‘All Power to the People’

Emory Douglas, poster from The Black Panther, December 19, 1970, (copyright 2013 Emory Douglas/Artists Rights Society [ARS], New York

Categories: New Media News

GAMERZ Part 1: Playing is a serious business

Wed, 01/13/2016 - 09:20

Pippin Barr, Let’s play : the Shining and The junior mint. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

Pippin Barr, Let’s play : the Shining

In his influential 1938 book Homo Ludens, cultural theorist Johan Huizinga argued that play is an essential condition to the development of cultures. This year’s edition of GAMERZ in Aix en Provence not only demonstrated that there is indeed nothing trivial about play but the event also explored how our relationship to play has changed with the advances of technology. And, more interestingly, it invited visitors to join artists whose work investigates how the digital age is changing man, whether we’re talking about Huizinga’s homo ludens, the working man (Homo Faber) or more generally the modern man (Homo sapiens.)

With this premise, the festival could either have dived into the amusement arcade extravaganza with an arty pretense or taken the dry and austere road of turning play into a series of humourless exhibits relying on deep theory (don’t look at me like that, the French are really good at organizing this type of hyper analytical events.) GAMERZ combined the best of both worlds with a series of performances, discussions and an exhibition that could clearly be enjoyed by the most art-phobic but that also critically investigated how the dialectic, gestures, dynamics and instruments of gaming have infiltrated many aspects of our life. From education to art, from fashion to warfare, from language to advertising, etc.

One of the interesting phenomenons about game is that techniques and experiments that were pioneered by artists, users and hackers feed into the R&D labs. And vice-versa, with innovations about interfaces, control systems and interactions bouncing back and forth between these two worlds and eventually seeping into mainstream consumption and culture.

As curator Quentin Destieu writes in his introductory essay for the festival:

These new interfaces are available for everyone, and have inspired new generations of artists who use these mass technologies with fun and spontaneity. The artists are therefore involved in creating the “Digital homo ludens”, a new human species that turns these products into creation tools.

There was a lot to like and blog about in this 11th edition of GAMERZ. I’ll start by focusing on the artworks that focus more literally on this theme of the digital homo ludens: the video games, many of which you will be able to play online by clicking on the links i’ve provided below:

Pippin Barr, Let’s play : the Shining and The junior mint. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

Pippin Barr, Let’s play : the Shining

Pippin Barr at Festival GAMERZ 11

Pippin Barr was THE discovery of the festival for me. Let’s Play: The Shining is a game adaptation of Stanley Kubrick’s movie of the same name. The film is broken down into its most iconic scenes: the carpeted corridors that lead the tricycle to the creepy twins, Jack hacking through the door with an axe, the blood elevator, the hedge maze, etc

The graphic and animations are retro Atari-style but the feeling of uneasiness that characterizes the film remains. You’ve got to play the game to understand how brilliant it is.

The other Barr work shown at the festival was The Junior Mint, it’s an homage to Seinfeld and i won’t write anything and pretend i get all its wittiness because i’ve never seen that tv series. You can play it by clicking over here. As for me, i’m partial to a bit of curse from the Olympian gods so i’ll just go back to playing Ancient Greek Punishment. It wasn’t presented at GAMERZ but i discovered it while clicking around the website of this brilliant artist.

Robin Moretti and Yohan Dumas, Blockbuster, 2015

Blockbuster combines data journalism and Hollywood cinema to examine the conflict in Iraq. The artwork used data found on Wikileaks Iraq to chart on a Google map the improvised explosive devices that blew up in the country since 2004. Each explosion is marked by a little red dot. When you click on one of those red dots, a video of explosion from a movie is played.

The title of the piece goes back to the original meaning of the word blockbuster. A blockbuster bomb was one of the largest bombs used in WWII by the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force and the explosive power of its blast was such that it could destroy an entire street or large building.

The project attempts to open up journalistic data to the broad public, in a ludic yet critical way that questions media representation of conflicts and individual perception of war.

Molleindustria and Jim Munroe, Unmanned, 2012

Molleindustria and Jim Munroe, Unmanned, 2012. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

The Unmanned video game puts you in the boots of an UAV pilot. Which is rather ironic considering that drone warfare has often been compared to video game playing. The soldier sits behind a screen, pressing buttons, shooting targets and generally not being taken very seriously. Yet piloting drones comes with its own responsibilities and traumas.

Your character is a father, a husband and a drone pilot with a seemingly unspectacular life. During the day you participate to UAV attacks. In the evening, you go back home to your suburban life. Throughout the game sessions, you collect medals for rather absurd “achievements” (well, in theory because i never managed to get even one medal.) You get rewarded when you don’t shed blood while shaving, for example. On the other hand, if you’re working and shoot without authorization a target wearing a turban, your only punition is to fill in forms.

Unmanned reveals the conflicts that rage inside a pilot’s mind. How is it possible to dissociate your professional life from your private one? A dilemma particularly discernible when the soldier is at home, playing first-person shooter games with his son. How does finding yourself so far away from the battlefield affect the life of the people around you? Who do you share your concerns and trauma with when even your own family doesn’t value what you’re doing for a living?

Unmanned was written by science fiction author Jim Munroe and politically-engaged game studio Molleindustria.

Bastien Vacherand, Syndrome de la turret, 2015. Photo Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

The installation Syndrome de la turret consists of a 3D-printed automatic machine gun from the Half-Life 2 video game and a CCTV screen where the visitor virtually triggers his own death. The system detects your presence as you enter the room, turns it into an on-screen character and automatically kills it with a machine gun.

As for the sculpture, it counts 54 different parts that were printed using a small desktop 3D printer and then assembled and glued to form the full scale model. The size of the physical weapon reflects the one in the game. It is therefore 1.65 m high. When the artist installed it in the exhibition space, it stood there for a couple of minutes and then it just crumbled. The artist decided to leave it as it was, with bits and pieces scattered across the floor. The broken machine gun reflects the tensions inherent to the video game medium but also the fact that any object found in video game has its own logic and respond to other laws of physics than the ones that govern our tangible world.

Turret Syndrome proposes to bypass the video game space and the opportunity of a virtual tour by restraining interaction to a simple triggering action with a violent and baneful ending.

Labomedia, La Course de cri pédo-nazi

The premise of La Course de cri pédo-nazi (Paedo-nazi shouting race) made me laugh out loud: Internet is only used by two kinds of people – paedophiles and Nazis. To play, you pick up your cute but ambiguous side: team Kitler or team Pedobear and shout as stridently as you can to prove that you hold the truth and conquer the Internet.

Above the characters is the Microsoft Internet logo as it appeared on every Windows Desk in the late nineties, a time when it became so widely used it put other web browsers such as Netscape put out of business. As the artists wittily note: Not to mention that Microsoft had the brilliant idea to name its web browser “Internet Explorer”. If you cannot make the difference between the Web and the Internet, now you know who is to be blamed.

Dolls in the Kitchen, culinary performance for the opening night of GAMERZ. Photos Luce Moreau for GAMERZ

My photos are here. And these are the ones made by Luce Moreau, the festival photographer.

Categories: New Media News

Famous Deaths. Step inside a mortuary chest and experience of the final moments of JFK. Or Gaddafi

Mon, 01/11/2016 - 11:17

Famous Deaths, IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum

Would you like to know or even experience what John F. Kennedy felt right before he was shot in Dallas, Texas on 22 November 1963? What Whitney Houston experienced moments before she accidentally drowned in her bathtub in 2012? Or what the last moments of Muammar Gaddafi or Lady Diana were like?

Famous Deaths, JFK. Image courtesy of the artists

With their project Famous Deaths, Frederik Duerinck and Marcel Brakel are using the power of scent to evoke these final minutes. JFK, for example, might have smelt the autumn wind, the leather of the limousine seats, the perfume of his wife sitting next to him, the exhaust fumes of the vehicles…. Until the scent of blood, brains and gunpowder overtook his senses and life.

The installation takes the form of mortuary chests. Lay down inside one of them and immerse yourself in a fragrance documentary of the last minutes of some of the most famous, most tragic deaths in recent history.

These might seem like macabre experiences to revive and share but judging from the success the project had when i discovered it at the DocLab Expo: Seamless Reality (an exhibition organized by at DocLab and De Brakke Grond in the framework of IDFA in Amsterdam), the project has a lot of potential: as a form of immersive entertainment of course but also as an innovative field of research. In fact, the project started out of a fascination for the strength of smell in communication. Smell, as we know, is a powerful catalyst of memories and emotions. Yet, its potential is under-exploited in communication, design and story-telling.

I never managed to get inside a mortuary chest while i was at DocLab back in November. All spots seemed to have been booked in a matter of minutes that day. So i decided to go for the next best thing: an interview with Marcel and Frederick:

Famous Deaths, IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum

Hi Marcel and Frederik! How did you document and recreate the smells and sounds of the last moments of these people’s death? Did you work with scientists? Archivists?

We did all of the research to recreate the events ourselves via internet and film research. For instance with the Whitney Huston scenario we got access to police reports and police photos of the death scene. Out of this picture(s) we could extract a lot of information on the kind of smells that where present in her room, the exact kind of cigarettes she smoked, the brand of perfume she used. Interesting details. She used olive oil as a bathing cream. In the pictures you see a gravy bowl used for the olive oil standing in the bathtub. We tried to be as precise and as close to reality as possible but in the end we had to take some poetic freedom to recreate the scenarios. And of course sometimes we compressed the chain of event in time to speed up things a little.

For the smells we worked with specialists and smell designers. Some smells and perfumes we could just buy from the shelf, other smells where custom created.

Famous Deaths (Whitney Huston.) Image courtesy of the artists

Famous Deaths (Muammar Khadaffi.) Image courtesy of the artists

Sense of Smell, view inside the book. Image courtesy of the artists

Sense of Smell

Neither of you appears to be ancient. So why did you decide to investigate death, instead of any other and more cheerful smell manifestations?

Writing the Sense of Smell book we worked with 5 different themes to get more focus in the research. One of the theme subjects was Taboo. For instance people have a troubling relationship with their body odor. It confronts us with the fact that we are a biochemical systems, a system that is in constant change and in a way is already in a state of decay. Fruit produces smell caused by the amount of fermentation within the fruit. The level of decay determines the level of sweetness and the level of smell. We smell a fish to determine the level of freshness but in fact we are checking the level of decay because we don’t want to get sick eating it. In that way smell confronts us with (our own) mortality and is closely connection with death.

One of the other themes we investigated was Time. Smell is closely connected to our memory system. We can use smell as a time traveling tool to access hidden memories. At the same time, historic events are always kind of abstract to us, they are vague and unclear to us. You can envision a picture of a bread in your head but it is hard to access the smell of that bread. But if you think of a bread and at the same time smell a bread, the smell kind of projects this virtual image of a bread into the here and now. In this way Smell is a very powerful tool to create embodiment, a kind of analogue virtual reality time travel machine. So within Famous Deaths all of these ideas came together

Famous Deaths. Image courtesy of the artists

Why did you chose to work with smell and sound and not images? Why not the 3 of them together? How do you think using the 3 together would have altered the experience?

The idea to use smell for storytelling is not new and there are numerous experiments with it especially in combination with images, but we wanted to do something different. Within the project we choose historic media events that are already present in your mind. The sounds and smells are giving access to these very personalized memories. In that way, we create a dreamlike film experience within your own head. I find it much more interesting to make use of this internal in-brain projection (screen). The experience becomes much more intimate and personal in this way. For a few minutes you become the historic character in first person perspective and you get confronted with your own mortality. I think using images would have created more distance to the story.

Famous Deaths, IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum

I was reading an interview with you in which you mentioned that “A “scent printer” developed within the project will be used to create the sound/scent experience of “Famous Deaths.” Have you developed this scent printer?

Actually designing a printer was our first step into the project. To do a smell project you first have to have a device to control it. We made lots of prototypes and in the end we created a modular machine to control 32 different smells in a very fast and precise way. But when we finished it we didn’t have a clue about what kind of project we should create with it. The printer has a lot of potential to create all kinds of projects with. We are planning on using the machine to do scientific research with Universities in Holland, but we would also love to redesign the printer into a wearable version.

You’ve been presenting the installation for over a year now, what has the reaction of the public been like? Is the way they react to the death of Gaddafi very different from the way they react to the one of Whitney Houston?

All scenarios are very different from each other. Whitney Huston’s story is very sad and vulnerable. Gaddafi is very violent and action-packed. JFK has more contrast in smell design. Before people enter the installation they all know: in the end, everybody will die. But they don’t know the exact moment. That moment always comes as a surprise.

People sometimes also experience strange side effects. At the Gaddafi scenario we use the smell of a metal car burning. Some people get the impression the installation is heated at such a moment witch is not the case. Some people experience their sense of space changing or have the feeling to float within the installation.

Famous Deaths, IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum

Famous Deaths, IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum

You are a filmmaker and Marcel van Brakel is a theater director. How does this work feed into your own career?

As a theatre and filmmaker we are interested in creating immersive experiences. With smell we discovered a very powerful extra language tool. You can use it to enhance an experience or story, or to give a story a poetic context or contrast.

As a theatre maker I’m used to create experiences in a 360 context. But because of Famous deaths i feel we navigate more and more towards designing intimate embodied and individual media experiences. Virtual reality techniques and smell are excellent tools for that.

What’s next for Famous Deaths and Sense of Smell?

For the moment Famous Deaths is still getting lots of attention and is booked for more and more international shows. In January we will attend the Smart Fipa Festival in France and we will go to SXSW in Texas. After that we will take the installation with us to tour North and South America.

We are also working on a side project: “Synaptic Theatre” to make use of the brain as a kind of media player. In the project we want to create storytelling within the brain by direct stimulation of the brain.

In the project we will create theatrical experiences in combination with real time hormonal or electromagnetic neuro simulation of the audience or user(s). Within the project we will work together with scientists and are going to combine scientific research with design research in several smaller and bigger projects.

We are also setting up a 360 degrees Lab to do Virtual Reality projects to experiment with new ways of immersive interactive storytelling. In some of these we will also work with smell, touch and taste.

Famous Deaths, IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum

Thanks Marcel and Frederik!

Famous Deaths is part of Sense of Smell, an international co-creation and research project designed by Communication and Multimedia Design (CMD) Breda at the AVANS University of Applied science, the Netherlands, and part of the European network VIVID.

Previously: ‘DocLab Expo: Seamless Reality’ explores the future of storytelling.
Also part of the IDFA DocLab events: Swatting, vintage VR and virtual museum for stolen art. My notes from DocLab: Interactive Conference 2015 and Sheriff Software: the games that allow you to play traffic cop for real.

I posted my photos of the DocLab exhibition and conference on flickr.

Categories: New Media News

A Moroccan hand-crafted copy of a Mercedes-Benz V12 engine

Wed, 01/06/2016 - 04:20

Eric van Hove, V12 Laraki Gear Box, 2015. View of the exhibition Eppur si muove . Art and technology, a shared sphere, Mudam Luxembourg. Photo: Rémi Villaggi, Metz / Mudam Luxembourg

There is a truly amazing exhibition at the MUDAM in Luxembourg at the moment and it’s called Eppur Si Muove. Art and Technology, A shared Sphere. Organized in partnership with the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris, the show looks at the many links that exist between visual arts and sciences. Contemporary artworks mix with machines and objects that have shaped the history of science. Each of the artefacts on show has amazing stories to tell. Hopefully, i’ll find some time to write about them before Eppur Si Muove closes its doors on 17 January.

Right now, i’d like to talk about one of the works i discovered in the show. It is so stunning that it manages to outshine Damian Ortega’s dismantled Vespa that is hanging nearby.

V12 Laraki, Oil Pump, 2013. Cow bone, wood glue, Chinese superglue, recycled copper, resin, dye, tin, lemon wood, paint and yellow copper. Photo Copperfield Gallery

V12 Laraki, Intake manifold (2013) Yellow copper, tin, nickelled silver. Photo Copperfield Gallery

The story starts in 2004 when Moroccan entrepreneur and designer Abdeslam Laraki had the idea of building a supercar that would be 100% Moroccan made. His Laraki Fulgura looked like an Italian luxury sport car but lacked the engine. Thinking manufacturing it in his country would be too demanding, Laraki simply imported a Mercedes V12 engine.

Artist Eric van Hove took up where Laraki left. His V12 Laraki project is a perfect copy of a Mercedes-Benz 6.2L V12 engine. Except that each of its 465 components was handcrafted by Moroccan artisans who used 53 materials traditional to the country. The artist bought a Mercedes engine, his team disassembled it and faithfully replicated each piece using brass, marble, bone, mother of pearl, malachite, agate, precious woods, ammonite fossils, terracotta enamel, and other local materials. Then they assembled the engine using 660 casted copper bolts and the 465 exquisitely reproduced parts.

Millions of highly skilled artisans work in Morocco, most of them are making a livelihood by repeatedly fabricating small trinkets that will please the tourists. For this work, Van Hove gave the craftsmen he collaborated with total control over their own section of the engine:

As the conductor initiating it, I unify the performers, set the tempo, execute clear preparations and beats, and shape the sound of the ensemble, but we work collectively somehow and each of these craftsmen is unique and influences what is happening, the artist told Ibraaz.

Each work is signed and authored by the artist of course but also by the craftsmen.

V12 Laraki reverses the industrial process. Instead of replacing hand-crafted objects by mechanization and automation, the work goes back to craftsmanship, using traditional, popular and almost forgotten techniques to reproduce one of the icons of Western engineering.

Interestingly, the adventure didn’t stop there. The work was so mutually satisfying for both Van Hove and the artisans that the artist moved his workshop from Brussels to an area outside Marrakech and hired some of men who worked on the V12 project to create more ambitious projects together.

V12 Laraki: Alternator, 2013. Yellow copper, red copper, nickel silver, mahogany wood, cedar wood, cow bone, sand stone, cotton, ram’s horn, cowskin, tin, chinese superglue and cow horn. Photo Copperfield Gallery

V12 Laraki: Alternator, 2013. Exploded view of above. Photo Copperfield Gallery

V12 Laraki: Air Filter, 2013. Yellow copper, nickeled silver, tin, Middle Atlas white cedar wood, red copper, cow bone, recycled aluminum, rolling bearing and cowskin. Photo Copperfield Gallery

V12 Laraki: Air Filter, 2013. Exploded view of above. Photo Copperfield Gallery

As installed, copper & nickelled silver inlaid boxes, each bearing the names of the craftsmen and artist. Photo Copperfield Gallery

For background, story, concept, techniques, challenges and anecdotes about the work, check out this video interview with Eric Van Hove:

Eppur Si Muove. Art and Technology, A shared Sphere at the MUDAM in Luxembourg. Hurry up, the show closes on 17 January 2016.

Categories: New Media News

Book review: Future War

Mon, 01/04/2016 - 11:38

Future War, by Christopher Coker, Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

It’s on amazon UK and USA.

Publisher Polity writes: Will tomorrow’s wars be dominated by autonomous drones, land robots and warriors wired into a cybernetic network which can read their thoughts? Will war be fought with greater or lesser humanity? Will it be played out in cyberspace and further afield in Low Earth Orbit? Or will it be fought more intensely still in the sprawling cities of the developing world, the grim black holes of social exclusion on our increasingly unequal planet? Will the Great Powers reinvent conflict between themselves or is war destined to become much ‘smaller’ both in terms of its actors and the beliefs for which they will be willing to kill?

In this illuminating new book Christopher Coker takes us on an incredible journey into the future of warfare. Focusing on contemporary trends that are changing the nature and dynamics of armed conflict, he shows how conflict will continue to evolve in ways that are unlikely to render our century any less bloody than the last. With insights from philosophy, cutting-edge scientific research and popular culture, Future War is a compelling and thought-provoking meditation on the shape of war to come.

Illustration by Alvim Corréa, from the 1906 French edition of H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds”

“Peace is an armistice in a war that is continuously going on,” wrote Greek philosopher and historian Thucydides. Coker delves into sociology, psychology, anthropology, history, philosophy, science and literature (in particular science fiction) to remind us that even though battles often rage far away from our own territories, none of us in the Western world can claim to live in peace. Therefore, it would be wise if our societies could develop a critical understanding of war.

The future of war is both fascinating and disheartening. It is made of mood hacking, cloned animals carrying missions as living bombs, false memories implanted in soldiers brains, quantum computing, helmets that turn thoughts into quantifiable information, liquid body armour, etc. Our weapons are many, they are in constant transformation and crucially, they have become ridiculously potent: a single jet bomber, Coker writes, has half a million times the killing capacity of a Roman legion.

But the future of combats might not even be where we expect it to be. There are chances that whole outlook of war will slip away from the usual suspects and battlefields. Wars of the future might no longer be the monopoly of the states but be carried out by new actors that range from big corporations to terrorists or mafias who will attack pipelines, close supply roads or fight for religious, or criminal reasons. Or maybe just one psychopath trillionaire with a grudge against the whole humanity will suffice to wipe us all from the surface of the earth.

Maybe war will look like a competition between machines that handle tactical warfare better than humans. Or maybe the war will be raged in space with lasers that target communication satellites and bring a superpower to its knees, killing no one but sparking catastrophic economic damages (no phone conversations or credit card transaction, mayhem at the stock market and in supermarket supply chain, etc.) Chances are that the battleground might actually be confined to cyber space, a space with its own rules and ethics, with new players, and lack of transparency and accountability.

At some point while reading the book, i almost gave up. It was getting a bit too bleak. Fortunately, Coker is an engaging narrator with a healthy criticism of technological promises. He reminds us that we often fail to grasp the use to which our inventions can be put. Coker illustrates the idea with the plane. Planes were not designed to throw bombs at troupes underneath. In war, they were used for transport and reconnaissance. But in 1911, an Italian pilot flew over Libya on a monoplane and had the idea of tossing over grenades as he approached a Turkish camp. At the time, the world reacted with outrage, it was regarded as a gross violation of the gentlemanly art of war. Quickly enough though, aerial warfare came to play an essential role in strategy.

The ancestor of the flamethrower. Unknown – Codex Skylitzes Matritensis, Bibliteca Nacional de Madrid, Vitr. 26-2, Bild-Nr. 77, f 34 v. b. (taken from Pászthory, p. 31)

On the other hand, inventions that were to change the world didn’t turn out to be such game changers after all. Think of manned spaceflights beyond the Earth orbit. They were much celebrated decades ago but the last mission took place in 1972. Add to the picture the fact that potentially revolutionary inventions sometimes take longer than expected to catch on. Some of the the inventions that changed the face of battles have been conceived long before they were widely adopted. Flame-throwers, for example, first appeared in the 9th Century but were not used much on the battlefield before WWI. As for drones, they first flew at the time of the Vietnam War. Add to that, the unexpected but potentially highly disruptive black swans.

Interestingly, the author also suggests that future ‘may slow down’ at some point. Apparently the cost of circuit fabrication plants doubles every 4 years so the fast-pace innovation we’ve been experiencing over the past few decades might get prohibitively costly.

Cyberdyne Inc. employees wearing Hybrid Assistive Limb, or HAL, robotic suits are seen in 2009. The gear received safety certification Wednesday by a quality assurance organization. Photo AFP-JIJI, via Japan Times

Future War doesn’t deliver easy to digest answers but it stimulates your brain, invites you to questions everything you might read about DARPA megalomania and asks you to consider issues such as our ability to design a conscience into our machines, the cultural impact of conflicts where there’s no human hero to celebrate, the ebbing away of governments power and the rising role taken up by citizens, corporations or future ISIS-like groups in micro and in global conflicts.

But ultimately, what i found most interesting about this book is the way it extend way beyond the military and talks about the future in general and our tendency to be gullible and uncritical regarding the promises of technology. It shows us that the future is incredibly hard to predict and that science fictions writers routinely get it more right than technology developers and other innovation evangelists.

Categories: New Media News

A Subjective Atlas of Modern Architecture

Thu, 12/24/2015 - 09:30

Nicolas Grospierre, Multi-function Hall, House of Culture, Lubartow, Poland, 2002. From the series Void

This year, like each and every year at this time, i’m doing my best to publish something outstanding but as un-christmassy as possible.

My let’s-pretend-it’s-not-that-time-of-the-year-again post will feature a few photos from Nicolas Grospierre‘s portfolio. I met him last month while i was spending a few days in Warsaw. If you’re looking for the new Berlin, Warsaw is your place. Wait till you see the street art in Warsaw story i’m preparing! But i digress. Grospierre is one of the very few photographers who can portray architectural relics of former communist countries without falling into the judgmental, the over-hyped and the easy. Maybe that’s because he is an artist with a background in Political Science and Sociology. Or maybe it’s because he is a French who has been living in Poland for many years. All that i know is that Grospierre has a rare talent for producing images that deliver a sharp and unexpected commentary on utopias that have lost their spark and on architectures that fascinate less for their intrinsic elegance than for the collective memories that still inhabit them.

Nicolas Grospierre and Olga Mokrzycka, Mausoleum. Installation at the Palace of Culture in Warsaw

I wanted to share some of the works i discovered in his book Open-Ended but i couldn’t find online the images i wanted to use for this post. In particular the ones that illustrate Mausoleum, an intriguing project which reproduced on a life-size scale the private collection of stuffed animals accumulated by a hunting enthusiast who shot and stuffed them all by himself. Grospierre and Olga Mokrzycka discovered this collection of 700 animals in a huge and otherwise empty underground commercial complex in Tblisi, Georgia. Grospierre and Mokrzycka later turned the images into a 15 metre long photographic frieze that they hung on the walls of a forgotten underground club-lounge below the Tribune at the foot of the Palace of Culture in Warsaw, where the Communist dignitaries used to preside over military parades.

Open-Ended was published a couple of years ago but Grospierre has a new book in the works based on his relentlessly fascinating A Subjective Atlas of Modern Architecture tumbr account. There’s a show and a talk scheduled at the Architectural Association in London for next year. Keep your eyes peeled for those two events.

And now for some more photos with little to no comment:

Nicolas Grospierre, Hydroklinika, 2003

Nicolas Grospierre, Balneological Hospital, Druskinninkai, Lithuania, 2003

Indoor swimming pool, at Balneological Sanatorium in Druskininkai, Lithuania, 2003

Nicolas Grospierre, Hydroklinika, 2004

Nicolas Grospierre, Hydroklinika, 2004

Nicolas Grospierre, Hydroklinika, 2004

Grospierre documented the gloriously bizarre remains of the health spa in the town Druskinnikai in Lithuania, just before it was destroyed to make way to a water-amusement park.

Built in 1976-81 by architects Romualdas and Ausra Silinskas, the swanky complex offered thermal baths, mud baths, underground pool, etc. Its architecture followed a ternary plan, with each element repeated three times. Many of the photographs thus appear to show the same place several times while they were actually documenting three different parts of the building.

Nicolas Grospierre, Ciech building, Warsaw, 2010. From the series The Glass Trap

Nicolas Grospierre, Detailed view of the installation, Warsaw, 2010. From the series The Glass Trap

Nicolas Grospierre, view of the installation, Warsaw, 2010. From the series The Glass Trap

Grospierre juggles the conceptual and the documentary in both his photo and installation works. The Glass Trap project is a site specific work that brought an island of luxuriant life into an otherwise desolate, absurdly ugly and abandoned 1980’s office building. Grospierre installed a winter garden inside the lobby and let it thrive for a few days before the building was destroyed.

The glass cube was not only filled with plants but also with mirrors that gave the illusion that the green space was infinite.

Nicolas Grospierre, Europejski Hotel lobby, Warsaw, Poland, 2005

Nicolas Grospierre, Institute of Cybernetics, Saint-Petersburg, Russia, 2007

Nicolas Grospierre, Recreation hall, “Kadr” House of culture, Warsaw, Poland. 2008

Nicolas Grospierre, Chiburiekarnia, Bakhchysarai, Crimea, 2006. From the series Void

Nicolas Grospierre, Beach platform, Ministry of the interior Sanatorium, Alupka, Crimea, Ukraine, 2012

Nicolas Grospierre, Housing Estates, Sankt Petersburg, Russia, 2010

Nicolas Grospierre, Cinema, Evpatoria, Crimea, 2005

Nicolas Grospierr, Housing estate, Warsaw, Poland, 2003

And i’ll just add this one. It’s not in Eastern Europe but in Liège, my home town. I used to walk by that building, completely unaware that there was anything remarkable about it:

Nicolas Grospierre, Thin skyscraper, Liège, Belgium, 2011

Check out his tumblr: A Subjective Atlas of Modern Interiors and the hypnotizing A Subjective Atlas of Modern Architecture.
Also in Warsaw: Zofia Rydet, the old lady who wanted to photograph the inside of every single house in Poland.

Categories: New Media News

The Influencers. Internet doesn’t exist

Mon, 12/21/2015 - 10:50

The Influencers 2015 (teaser)

Final post and attempt to wrap up The Influencers, an art & activism festival curated by researcher and producer Bani Brusadin and by artists Eva & Franco Mattes a.k.a. 0100101110101101.ORG.

The 11th edition of this festival of unconventional and radical art was anchored into the most banal manifestations of our networked society, one that is made of surveillance, social bullying, communication guerrilla and disintegration of the space of free speech and ideas that internet was meant to be.

As i mentioned the other day, the videos of the talks are on vimeo but i thought i should whip up a post that would present the festival a bit more thoroughly.

Poster by Fabio Paris from LINK Center for The Influencers 2015

First, the poster! The Influencers are good at posters. The one for this edition of the festival has an interesting story. It was made by Fabio Paris from LINK Center for the Arts of the Information Age who used a font that produces images unreadable by machines. Called ZXX, the font was created by designer and former South Korean secret service employee Sang Mun. You can download the font over here.

Now off to some random notes taken during the festival conference:

Excellences & Perfections: Amalia Ulman at The Influencers 2015

Amalia Ulman gave a BRILLIANT performative lecture. I wasn’t prepared to like it as much as i did. Somehow, her work Excellences & Perfections seemed a bit like ‘enfoncer des portes ouvertes’ (a French expression to means ‘stating the obvious’) to me. But the conclusions she drew from it are very smart and entertaining. Excellences & Perfections played with the idea of online deception and was entirely performed on instagram. Ulman played the role of a girl who’s cute like Korean girls are when they do kawaii overload, all pink ribbons, soft light and innocence. Next, the girl’s quest for perfection goes out of control. She gets fillers, a nose job, breast implants – all documented in selfies and rigorously fake. Then, in August 2014, she has a meltdown, goes to rehab, apologizes to her followers.

Piling on the clichés, the latte, the namasté and the fake surgery bandage, Ulman showed how easy it is to manipulate an audience.

The second part of the artist’s presentation was about ‘The Future Ahead’, a video – essay about Justin Bieber’s growth from cherubic prepubescent boy to hetero-normative white male (the text and videos are online.)

Dragan Espenschied at The Influencers 2015

Dragan Espenschied gets the award for funniest talk and best evar tshirt. Espenschied is a media artist, home computer folk musician and digital culture researcher and conservator who heads of the Digital Art Conservation Program at Rhizome. His talk looked at the species that disappear from our online life. Like scroll bars (a loss he deplores) and surfing the web! We don’t do that anymore. We use google, facebook and other systems that track our online moves and monetize them.

If you need proof of that, try and participate to one of the Trail Blazers sessions Espenschied hosts together with Olia Lialina and Theo Seemann.

Trail Blazers is a ‘live web surfing event’, where you have to go from one webpage to another (such as from the twitter account of Snowden to the NSA homepage) by clicking from link to link and without ever using the keyboard. Easier said than done. They had a session in Barcelona as part of The Influencers programme. Photos:

Metahaven, from the video Home they made for Holly Herndon

Daniel van der Velden, one of the founders of Metahaven, gave an outstanding presentation as well (hopefully the video of his talk will soon materialize on vimeo.) Packed with witty observations and food for thought. He talked about planes that disappear in an age of ubiquitous surveillance, the geopolitical game of Russia regarding transparency (surely it’s not a coincidence if they are protecting Edward Snowden and broadcasted Julian Assange TV show), and how everyone has the power to turn pieces of visual culture into a political weapon.

Metahaven is a Dutch design studio with an impressive portfolio. I’m not going to list all their exploits. I’ll just quickly point you to a couple of them: in 2010, they researched and designed a new image for WikiLeaks, while investigating the politics and aesthetics of transparency. One of the outcome of their researches is Black Transparency. The Right to Know in the Age of Mass Surveillance, a book that examines transparency’s intersections with design, architecture, and pop culture, as well as its ability to unravel the circuitry of modern power.

Metahaven was also behind Holly Herndon’s music video HOME, the one in which she speaks to the NSA agent watching her while branding logos of the surveillance agency rain over her.

Franco Bifo Berardi on “futurability” at The Influencers 2015. Part 1, part 2 is over here

The absolute, most amazing talk of the festival was Franco “Bifo” Berardi‘s. The cultural agitator, media activist and philosopher talked about the concept of futurability, the multiplicity of futures, breaking the wall of power and changing the course of history, power as a structure imposed on the present and limiting the possibilities of the future, our impotence (and the one of Obama), our reduction of time to work, enslavement of the human mind, robotization, etc. It’s a hell of a ride but do me a favour and check out the 2 videos of his talk.

The Influencers also screened documentaries. Citizenfour which doesn’t need any introduction. And The Yes Men Are Revolting. That one probably doesn’t need any intro either but whether or not you have seen their last documentary, you could watch the video of Andy Bichlbaum’s talk. It’s a good one, perfect as a consolation prize for anyone who couldn’t make it to Barcelona in October and attend The Influencers.

The Yes Men at The Influencers 2015 (part 1. Part 2 is here)

The Influencers is part of Masters and Servers, a European adventure focused on a new generation of digital interventionism that is behind some of the most interesting publications, festivals and exhibitions of the moment. Think Aksioma, AND festival, Link Art Center, The Pirate Book, Networked Disruption, etc.

Previously: The Influencers: Former MI5 spy Annie Machon on why we live in a dystopia that even Orwell couldn’t have envisioned and !Mediengruppe Bitnik’s talk at The Influencers festival.

Categories: New Media News

!Mediengruppe Bitnik’s talk at The Influencers festival

Fri, 12/18/2015 - 10:31

Oh great! A mere 30 seconds after i had finished painfully and belatedly writing down my notes from the presentation that !Mediengruppe Bitnik gave at The Influencers festival in Barcelona in October, i found out that the video of their talk is ready for you to enjoy ‘from the comfort of your own home’ on vimeo. There:

!Mediengruppe Bitnik at The Influencers 2015 (part 1 of 2)

!Mediengruppe Bitnik at The Influencers 2015 (part 2 of 2)

!Mediengruppe Bitnik speaking at The Influencers festival

So yes, !Mediengruppe Bitnik! Love these guys. I didn’t realize how much at first. I knew several of their works. The parcel for Assange, the architectural bug at HeK in Basel, the bot that shops on the darknet. I just didn’t realize these works were from the same 2 people. Oh the shame!

And although i thought i knew these works, it was good to hear the artists talk about them, giving some insights about their motivations, the little stories behind the controversies, the lessons they’ve learnt in the process, etc.

!Mediengruppe Bitnik are Carmen Weisskopf and Domagoj Smoljo, a duo of contemporary artists who work with public spaces, especially the online one and the way it affects the physical world.

So if you prefer to read a text than watch the videos above or if would like to have the links to their works on hand, then my notes might be handy after all:

!Mediengruppe Bitnik, Opera Calling, 2007

Opera Calling, Hidden Bugs in the Opera House broadcast live Opera Performances

a href=”https://wwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww.bitnik.org/o/”>Opera Calling, First bug found by Zurich Opera

Installation of Telephone Machine at Cabaret Voltaire, Zürich

In 2007, the duo placed audiobugs in secret locations inside the auditorium of the Zurich Opera. During several weeks, the audio bugs transmitted live the performances to randomly selected phone land-lines in Zurich. As soon as the listener would hang up, the telephone machine automatically called another random number.

The opera is a very old art form. It is one that is often regarded as being a bit elitist too. The artists were looking for a way to open this closed system to more people without them having to go to the opera themselves.

The intervention is an echo of early forms of radio broadcasts. On January 13, 1910, the first public radio broadcast was an experimental transmission of a live Metropolitan Opera House performance. And even earlier than that, Europe had the Théâtrophone (“the theatre phone”), a telephonic distribution system that allowed subscribers to listen to opera and theatre performances over the telephone lines.

!Mediengruppe Bitnik wanted to bring back this very early form of radio but this time as a home-delivery service that no one had asked for.

In total over 90 hours of opera performances were retransmitted to 4363 households.

The Zurich Opera wasn’t too happy with the initiative and didn’t know how to deal with it. First, they accused the artists of copy right infringement and asked them to pay a broadcasting fee. Next, they wanted to sue for libel because the singers complained that the quality of the sound over the phone made them sound bad. The opera house even threatened to call the military if the opera house wasn’t debugged within 48 hours.

The opera house is an extremely well funded institution in the canton of Zurich where 85% of the art funding is dedicated to the opera house. Bitnik’s intervention might, at first sight, look like little more than a bit of artistic fun and wit but it led to some interesting local conversations:

There followed a debate in the media over cultural ownership and cultural subsidies. Eventually the Zurich Opera decided to tolerate «Opera Calling» as a temporary enhancement of their performance repertoire.

Scan image of the parcel

16.01.2013 12:38, At the post office. queuing up

16.01.2013 20:45, Another person. Parcel is still at ‘Mount Pleasant’ Post Office.

17.01.2013 16:39, battery time: over 30hours – battery status: critical – hopefully 6 hours left

17.01.2013 18:44, Free Nabeel Rajab

17.01.2013 18:56, Justice For Aaron Swartz

Bitnik also discussed their brilliant 32-hour ‘live mail art piece’ Delivery for Mr. Assange.

Julian Assange has been living at the Ecuadorian embassy in London since June 2012. Although he was granted political asylum by Ecuador to avoid extradition to Sweden, the WikiLeaks founder cannot leave the premises for fear of being arrested by UK authorities.

The Ecuadorian Embassy is thus at the core of a diplomatic crisis. Interestingly, the embassy is located in one of the most photographed and touristic areas of London: it’s in Knightsbridge, just behind Harrod’s. Yet, there is very little visual documentation showing the kind of ‘war zone’ in the immediate vicinity of the Embassy. The artists wondered how they could engage with this situation. They realized that the one thing that was going through this kind war zone on a daily basis was the postal system and they thought they’d use it to send a parcel to Assange and thus enter the embassy. Royal Mail was to be their Trojan Horse! However, they were unsure of the success of their idea:

Will the parcel be opened on the way? And by whom? Which route will it take? And of course, will it reach its recipient?

!Mediengruppe Bitnik posted the parcel addressed to Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy on the 16th of January 2013. The box had a hole through which a camera was documenting its journey through the postal system at the rate of one photo every 15 seconds. The images captured were transferred to Bitnik website and their Twitter account. Anyone could follow the parcel status online in real time. Over the 32 hours it took for the package to go from postal office to warehouses, to vans, to parcels to Assange, the Twitter feed detailing its every moves attracted thousands of followers.

The duo commented that they liked this moment when they lost all control over their piece. There was however a stressful detail: the battery life. The artists had no idea how long the parcel would take to reach its destination but fingers crossed, the battery would last long enough.

The parcel eventually made it to the Embassy. But it stayed unopened on a table for a few hours. People there were aware of its origin and history but were not sure how to deal with it.

The experiment ended up well, with Assange using little messages on cardboard to thank Ecuador and to express on camera his support to other people imprisoned because they had acted in defence of transparency and freedom of speech.

Exhibition view «Delivery for Mr. Assange» at Helmhaus Zurich. Photo: Mancia/Bodmer, FBMstudio. Exhibition: Feb 14 – Apr 06 2014, Helmhaus Zurich

Bitnik later exhibited the work in a Zurich gallery. Faced with the challenge of transforming an online performance into a white wall show, they decided to rebuild the Assange’s work space at the embassy. It’s fairly small. 20 square meter with heavy and fairly impractical embassy furniture and also many books and objects related to hacker culture. Which makes for an interesting mix.

Hungarian High Quality Passport Scan. Ordered by Random Darknet Shopper (10 Dec 14) for 0.07124536 Bitcoins. The Hungarian Passport scan arrived as digital image. A scan (photography) of a passport in low quality

From the description: «All passport is real, valid, colored, scanned passports for online verification…»

Sprite Stash Can. Ordered by Random Darknet Shopper (26 Nov 14) for 0.05930238 Bitcoins

NIKE Air Yeezy 2. Ordered by Random Darknet Shopper (5 Nov 14) for 0.22061418 Bitcoins

Next, Bitnik talked about their most famous live Mail Art piece: The Random Darknet Shopper, an online bot with a budget of $100 in Bitcoins per week. Each time, the work is exhibited, the bot uses its budget to randomly purchase one item in the deep web. Next, the order is mailed directly to the exhibition space where it is unpacked, displayed and part of a landscape of traded goods from the Darknet.

Once again, Bitnik enjoyed losing control over the performance. The Random Darknet Shopper is a piece of automated work that comes with its own questions about anonymity, trust and responsibility. Who is answerable for what the bot is buying? Is it the gallery that receives the goods? The artists who programmed the bot? Or is it just the bot? The financial system now relies on algorithms to do the trading and in that case, the question of the responsibility becomes an even more tangible one.

!Mediengruppe Bitnik, Chelsea’s Wall

On the opening night of The Influencers festival, Bitnik also premiered their work Chelsea’s Wall in which they toured the streets of Barcelona to project onto the walls of the city the tweets that Chelsea Manning is dictating over the phone from prison.

!Mediengruppe Bitnik didn’t talk about H3333333K but since it’s one of my favourite works from them, i’m going to add a couple of photos of that one. The work translates a glitch onto the façade of the House of Electronic Arts Basel:

H3333333K at House of Electronic Arts in Basel

H3333333K at House of Electronic Arts in Basel

H3333333K at House of Electronic Arts in Basel

Previously: The Influencers: Former MI5 spy Annie Machon on why we live in a dystopia that even Orwell couldn’t have envisioned.

Categories: New Media News

Burden of Proof: The Construction of Visual Evidence

Wed, 12/16/2015 - 11:02

Rodolphe A. Reiss, Demonstration of the Bertillon metric photography system with a man posing as a corpse. Copyright and courtesy of R.A. Reiss, coll. IPSC

Photography extract from Decoding video testimony, Miranshah, Pakistan, March 30, 2012. Forensic Architecture in collaboration with SITA Research

Now that i’m home and properly idle for a full month, i can finally write about all the exhibitions and events i’ve attended in October and November. Starting today with the show Burden of Proof: The Construction of Visual Evidence at The Photographers’ Gallery in London.

I have a predilection for the morbid, the criminal and the distressing. When i’m not reading art/activism/architecture books for the blog, i’m reading crime books. And when i’m not watching video artworks, i spend my evenings with crime TV series (not American ones, eh!) Burden of Proof brought me the best of both world. The thrill of being surrounded by images of corpses, the pretense of visiting a cultural show.

Richard Helmer, superimposition of Joseph Mengele’s photo portrait and of the skull, 1985. Photograph: Richard Helmer. Photo courtesy of Maja Helmer

The exhibition presents eleven case studies spanning the period from the invention of ‘metric’ photography of crime scenes in the 19th century to the reconstruction of a drone attack in Pakistan in 2012 using digital and satellite technologies. These offer an analysis of the historical and geopolitical contexts in which the images appeared, as well as their purpose, production process and dissemination.

While charting some of the most salient historical instances in which photography has been used as evidence of criminal activity or violent acts, Burden of Proof investigates the reliability of the images and interrogates its role in truth-seeking scientific and historical discourse.

The ambiguity of photography has been much debated. Photography, as we know well, is an instrument for revealing, documenting and exposing. But it can also be used to hide, stage or doctor evidence. It is a medium of transparency and opacity, at the service of both truth and propaganda. The exhibition at the Photographers’ Gallery reminds us that, despite its evidential limitations, photography plays a role too important in society and in the service of justice to be unequivocally dismissed.

But let’s look at the cases studies, i’ve selected only a few of them and will, for once, follow the curators’ decision to present them chronologically. Almost none of the photos were made by artists but their (unintentionally) aesthetic qualities are nevertheless indisputable. I, for one, was amazed by the way the bodies in Bertillon’s photos laid on the ground like cut flowers:

Alphonse Bertillon, Murder of Monsieur Canon, boulevard de Clichy, 9 December 1914. Archives de la Préfecture de police de Paris

Alphonse Bertillon’s Murder of Madame Langlois, 5 April 1905. Photograph: Archives de la Prefecture de po/Archives de la préfecture de police

Alphonse Bertillon, Assassinat de monsieur André, boulevard de la Villette, Paris, 3 octobre 1910, Préfecture de police de Paris, Service de l’Identité judiciaire. © Archives de la Préfecture de police de Paris.

Alphonse Bertillon was a French police officer and and biometrics researcher who invented or perfected several methods of identifying criminals and solving crimes. The most famous and widely-used today is the mug shot. Sherlock Holmes, apparently, was a fan of the French criminologist.

In the early 20th century, Bertillon developed metric photography, a scientific protocol to document crime scenes. He used an overhead camera with a high tripod and wide angel-lenses that captured an ‘objective’ diving, bird’s-eye view of victims at the places of their deaths. The images were then mounted on cardboard featuring precise measurements. The final document records succinctly and visually all the material elements present at the scene of the crime: the position of the corpse and of any weapon, objects and clues nearby, foot prints, etc.

Metric photography was important not only for police work but it also played a part during trials where the images were used to make an impact on the judges but could also incite the accused to confess.

Rodolphe A. Reiss, Demonstration of the Bertillon metric photography system. Copyright and courtesy of R.A. Reiss.

Rodolphe A. Reiss, handkerchief used to strangle Madame Ducret. Beaumaroche, France, September 1907. Collection de l’Institut de police scientifique de l’Université de Lausanne © R. A. REISS, coll. IPSC

Rodolphe A. Reiss, 25 novembre 1915. Fingerprints on oil cloth, Jost Grand-Chêne robbery case in Lausanne, Vaud, on November 25, 1915

Rodolphe A. Reiss was one of Bertillon’s disciples. He wasn’t a policeman but a chemist and photographer and his work led him to be appointed to the world’s first chair of forensic science in Lausanne in 1906. Reiss was more interested in objects than in people. His method consisted in taking a general view of the crime scene, then in gradually would zooming in and producing photographic close ups that revealed marks, prints and other details that could then be used in forensic analysis.

Just like Bertillon, Reiss had faith in photography, he wrote that ‘A good photograph will often advantageously replace the longest of prosecution speeches.’

The photos shown at the Photographers’ Gallery sometimes look so abstract that i first took them for contemporary artworks.

Stanisław Rytchardovich Budkiewicz, Polish, b. 1887 in Łódź. Higher education, VKP(b) member, brigade commissar (political officer), attached to Army Intelligence, officially scientific secretary for the preparation of the Soviet Military Encyclopaedia. Domiciled in Moscow, Pushkin Square 6, Apartment 15. Arrested 9 June 1937. Sentenced to death 21 September 1937. Executed the same day. Rehabilitated 1956. © Central Archives of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB), Moscow; Archives of International Association Memorial, Moscow

Alekseï Grigorievitch Jeltikov and Marfa Ilinitchna Riazantseva. © Central Archives of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB), Moscow; Archives of International Association Memorial, Moscow

From August 1937 to November 1938, nearly 750,000 Soviet citizens were sentenced and shot in the neck, that’s almost 50,000 executions per month. The executions constitute the largest massacre ever committed by a state against its own people and were part of a regime of repression that historians call the Great Terror.

The Politburo of the Communist Party headed by Stalin made official records of the victims before their execution. They were photographed in front and side view against a neutral background, in conformity with the mugshot norms laid down by Bertillon. Ironically, the shots are now used as evidence not of the crimes of the accused, but of those committed by the Stalinist regime.

The defendants before the screenings of the film Nazi Concentration and Prison Camps, 29 November 1945

Courtroom during the screening of Nazi Concentration and Prison Camps, 29 November 1945

On November 29th, 1945, at the hearing of 21 Nazi war criminals in Nuremberg, the prosecution screened a film showing the horrific scenes encountered inside German concentration camps at the liberation. To ensure that the footage would be seen as proof against the Nazis, the Allied cameramen were issued highly specific instructions about how they were to film.

During the trial in Nuremberg, the courtroom was rearranged as a cinema theater, with the screen taking the position normally occupied by the judges, and lighting illuminating the defendants’ faces so that jurors could observe their reactions.

It was the first court case that used a film (titled Nazi Concentration and Prison Camps) as a piece of evidence demonstrating crimes against Humanity.

Richard Helmer, superimposition of Joseph Mengele’s photo portrait and of the skull, 1985. Photograph: Richard Helmer. Photo courtesy of Maja Helmer

Richard Helmer, superimposition of Joseph Mengele’s photo portrait and of the skull, 1985. Photograph: Richard Helmer. Photo courtesy of Maja Helmer

Thomas Keenan and Eyal Weizman, Mengele’s Skull, 2012

Helmer prepares the skull. Photo Eric Stover, via Forensic Architecture

Nicknamed the “Angel of Death”, Josef Mengele was a doctor in Auschwitz famous for his role in performing experiments on twins and on selecting who among the arriving prisoners would be sent to the gas chambers and who to the camp. He left Auschwitz shortly before the arrival of the liberating Red Army troops and fled to South America, where he managed to elude capture for the rest of his life.

He drowned while swimming off the Brazilian coast in 1979 and was buried under a false name in the cemetery of a small town outside São Paulo. It is only in 1985 that his remains were found, disinterred and analysed for identification.

The technology to extract DNA from bones wasn’t fully developed until the early 1990s so, as part of the investigation to ascertain that these were indeed the remains of the war criminal, German photographer and pathologist Richard Helmer developed a technique which superimposed archive photos of the Nazi over a video feed of the exhumed skull. In the resulting images Mengele’s face emerges out of and dissolves back into his skull, like a ghost, a spectral presence haunting the living. A few years later, DNA testing confirmed that the remains found in Brazil were indeed Mengele’s.

Susan Meiselas, Grace A-South, Koreme, North of Iraq, June 1992

Topographic survey with scale and orientation of the grave A South, level 2, established by James Briscoe, and member of the team Middle East Watch and Physicians for Human Rights, May-June 1992

In 1988, the Iraqi government and army proceeded to destroy thousands of Kurdish villages located in Iraqi Kurdistan. Using a similar pattern throughout the campaign, the Iraqi army first attacked a village then captured its inhabitants and set to systematically demolish their dwellings. The Kurdish village of Koreme serves as a case study of this campaign, showing how the destruction strategies were implemented. In 1992, Middle East Watch and a team of forensic experts exhumed the four mass graves in Koreme.

The images and drawings shown in the exhibition document the forensic archaeological and anthropological investigations used to identify the mass graves. Susan Meiselas, from Magnum Photos, documented the exhumation work. Meanwhile, the content and disposition of the graves were detailed by drawings made by James Briscoe. On the basis of these images and of the experts report, Human Rights Watch and Physicians for Human Rights concluded that these executions constite, at a minimum, crimes against humanity and may even form the basis for a case of genocide.

Fazal Sheikh, al-Türi cemetery, al-‘Araqïb, 9 October 2011. The graves at the center of the cemetery are the oldest ones, they were there before the creation of the State of Israel

al-Türi cemetery, detail n°14 enlarged 5033, RAF series Palestine Survey, 5 janvier 1945. A British Survey of Palestine, 1947

Forensic Architecture was involved in several of the case studies presented in the exhibition. This research laboratory uses various disciplines such as archaeology, engineering and media analysis to investigate the consequences of societal conflicts and human rights violations.

Between December 1944 and May 1945, the UK Royal Air Force surveyed and photographed Palestine from the air. These aerial images provide a precise mapping of the Palestinian territory before the creation of the State of Israel and document the violences against Bedouins. Forensic Architecture examined the archive images and looked for historical evidence of ancient cemeteries which would lend legitimacy to the claims of Palestinian Bedouin families whose ancestors lived in the Negev prior to the existence of the State of Israel and were expelled from their lands in the wake of the 1947 partition plan. Given the low resolution of the images, the graves are little more than tiny, blurry evidence that lie at what Weizman calls the threshold of detectability. By reading such traces out of the image, state representatives and the authors of the Regavim report showed themselves to be committed to an active form of ‘not seeing,’ writes Eyal Weizman.

Le Saint Suaire de Turin, negative image. Enlargements by Paul Vignon from photographs taken by Giuseppe Enrie (1931-1933)

If there are photos i was not expecting to ever see at The Photographers’ Gallery it was those of the Shroud of Turin. Even though it has been long established that the piece of linen cloth is not the burial shroud of Jesus of Nazareth, catholics still pack coaches and fly in droves to admire the ‘image of Christ after crucifixion’ when it is exhibited once every few years in Turin.

The shroud is little more than a historical curiosity but it still deserves a place in the gallery as being perhaps the first forensic photograph, even though it was later revealed to be a fake dating back to the 13th or 14th Century.

Burden of Proof: The Construction of Visual Evidence is a stunning and relentlessly engaging show. Don’t miss that one, fellow fans of the macabre!

A few phone pics of the exhibition:

There is more details about each case study in this PDF.

Burden of Proof: The Construction of Visual Evidence remains open until 10 January 2016, at The Photographers’ Gallery, in London.

Categories: New Media News

‘DocLab Expo: Seamless Reality’ explores the future of storytelling

Fri, 12/11/2015 - 10:33

DocLab Expo: Seamless Reality, IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum

The DocLab Expo: Seamless Reality exhibition takes place each year in Amsterdam in the framework of IDFA, the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam. The event showcases thirty installations, virtual reality environments, experiments with artificial intelligence, and other interactive projects that explore the future of documentary storytelling.

Karim Ben Khelifa, The Enemy. DocLab Expo: Seamless Reality, IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum

The show is part of the Seamless Reality program set up by IDFA DocLab, a festival program for ‘undefined art and unexpected experiences’. Organized by DocLab in collaboration with Flemish art center De Brakke Grond, the DocLab Expo: Seamless Reality is an exhibition that shouldn’t interest me (i’m normally not into VR.) Except that it does. Mostly because:

1. Most of the works exhibited challenge the concept of ‘interactivity’ far more efficiently than many of the projects i see at some of the media art festivals i visit each year. Because their focus is on story-telling (rather than, say, subverting or expanding the limits of technology), they tend to me more compelling too. On the other hand, these experimental works make an innovative use of technology and thus tend to feel constrained by the label ‘documentary’. They fall somewhere between media art and documentary making. And that’s what makes them cutting-edge and engaging.

2. DocLab Expo is a free exhibition and it offers a great mix of socially-engaged works that deal with issues ranging from factory labour to activism in Pakistan and experiences that see visitors engage in unconventional activities such as eating meat ice cream, entering a mortuary chest to experience the death of JFK, or being offended by a talking CCTV camera.

3. I saw that DocLab provided visitors with cleaning cloths to sanitize the VR goggles. I don’t want to sound like a hygiene freak (that’s called mysophobia says wikipedia) but try and stay poised when the person who was watching the documentary before you hands you foundation-covered goggles to slip on your head. So they might not be super eco-friendly these little cleaning cloths but they come in handy in such settings!

Here’s a subjective tour of the exhibition and i’ll try to keep it short-ish to make up for boring you stiff with my interminable notes from the DocLab: Interactive Conference the other day:

Kyle McDonald, Exhausting a Crowd. Netherlands. DocLab Expo: Seamless Reality, IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum

Kyle McDonald, Exhausting a Crowd. Netherlands

In 1974, George Perec sat in Saint-Sulpice Square in Paris and started to write down the activity around him. Not the remarkable and the curious, but all the mundane things that usually pass unnoticed. The experimental literary work, called An Attempt at Exhausting a Place, has inspired one of Kyle McDonald‘s latest artworks.

Nothing truly notable happens in the video of Exhausting a Crowd. You see people going about their daily life in a public place. What gets your attention though is that the work allows observers to attach a “tags” to the people in the crowd, either as speech bubbles with imaginary conversations or thoughts or annotations that comment on the surrounding scene. Some of the notes are witty, others are touching or just plain silly. Although the faces of passerby are too small and blurry to allow you to identify anyone in the crowd, Exhausting a Crowd shows the potential for a new type of hyper-detailed surveillance that combines automation and the participation of citizens.

The version commissioned by DocLab showed images from different locations in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and elsewhere in The Netherlands.

Koert van Mensvoort, Bistro in Vitro. DocLab Expo: Seamless Reality, IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum

Koert van Mensvoort, Bistro in Vitro. DocLab Expo: Seamless Reality, IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum

Koert van Mensvoort, Bistro in Vitro. DocLab Expo: Seamless Reality, IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum

Bistro in Vitro is a fictional restaurant specializing in lab-grown meat dishes and inviting us to reflect upon the many ways we might consume it in the future: knitted, see through, tickling your throat, sourced from celebs, etc. Or in the form of an ice cream.

At DocLab, an In Vitro van was offering visitors flavours of speculative meat ice creams that ranged from ‘The Ice Queen’ containing DNA from the Dutch royal family to ‘The Dragon’, a fire-breathing blend of meat that tastes of mythological beast.

Ultimately, philosopher and scientist Koert van Mensvoort and his organization Next Nature Network are using Bistro In Vitro to explore the blurring of boundaries between nature and technology, between what is “born” and what is “made.” If you’re curious about their research, check out The In Vitro Meat Cookbook.

Bert Hana, Rebuild Fukushima. DocLab Expo: Seamless Reality, IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum

Bert Hana, Rebuild Fukushima

Dagmar van Wersch and Bert Hana have used Google Street View to explore the Fukushima nuclear disaster zone and scan some of its buildings. Using the images they found on the platform, they created construction kits of the houses and invited visitors of DocLab to reconstruct the Japanese houses in Amsterdam by folding the paper kits into 3D buildings. Rebuild Fukishima combines these 3D paper kits with audio interviews of former inhabitants of the area who share their memory of the disaster and give us an idea of what it means to be unable to return home.

Ziv Schneider & Laura Chen, RecoVR Mosul: A Collective Reconstruction. DocLab Expo: Seamless Reality, IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum

Ziv Schneider & Laura Chen, RecoVR Mosul: A Collective Reconstruction. DocLab Expo: Seamless Reality, IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum

Ziv Schneider & Laura Chen, RecoVR Mosul: A Collective Reconstruction. DocLab Expo: Seamless Reality, IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum

The unfortunate Mosul Museum has not only been badly looted during the 2003 Iraq War, it was further ransacked last year by ISIL. The video of the militants using sledgehammers to destroy historic sites and artifacts toured and shocked the world. RecoVR: Mosul, a Collective Reconstruction crowd sources images from people who had previously visited the museum to digitally reconstruct these artifacts in a virtual reality installation. The DocLab exhibition showed both a series of small 3D printed reproductions of the statues (such as the Lion of Mosul) and the VR environment. The work was created at Economist Media Labs in New York, and in collaboration with Project Mosul, a volunteer group that crowdsourced images of the destroyed Mosul artifacts.

View of the exhibition DocLab Expo: Seamless Reality. DocLab Expo: Seamless Reality, IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum

Anghad Bhalla & Ted Biggs, The Deeper They Bury Me

The Deeper They Bury Me brings you closer to Herman Wallace, a political prisoner in Louisiana State Penitentiary, a.k.a. Angola Prison, since 1972. One of the Angola Three men, Wallace has spent more than 41 years in prison and was released October 1, 2013, 3 days before he died of cancer.

He was sent to Angola prison in 1971 for armed robbery and convicted a year later of stabbing a prison guard together with Albert Woodfox. It is very likely that they didn’t commit the crime but were framed because of their political convictions.

The very moving documentary plays a bit like a video game and allows you to look around the solitary confinement cell where Wallace spent 4 decades of his life but also to discover the imaginary home he was asked to design by artist Jackie Sumell. Animations depict his dreams. Archive footage allow us to hear him talk about his strategies for survival, the emotional strains of spending 23 hours per day in a cell, the lack of privacy, the infrastructure of U.S. prison buildings, etc. There is a lot to explore in this work but you’re allowed to wander around Wallace’s world for no longer than 20 minutes, the maximum amount of time a prisoner can spend on the phone each day.

The Deeper They Bury Me also illustrates the American penal system, with its cruel practice of extended solitary confinement, the high incarceration rate and the disproportionate number of coloured people sent behind bars.

Brett Gaylor, Do Not Track

Do Not Track combines short video interviews with privacy activists and interactive elements to reveal who is tracking us online and how private information extrapolated from our Internet activities is being collected, used and monetized.

Spending time on the platform watching the videos quickly gets pretty upsetting. The narrator’s identity as well as the content and language of the videos are determined by your own data: your IP address, your Facebook activity, your browsing habits, etc. Our post-Snowden age suddenly gets tangible.

Ross Goodwin, word.camera. DocLab Expo: Seamless Reality, IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum

Ross Goodwin, word.camera. DocLab Expo: Seamless Reality, IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum

Ross Goodwin, word.camera. DocLab Expo: Seamless Reality, IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum

The relentlessly amusing word.camera is a talking surveillance camera that can zoom on a person’s face in the crowd, ‘read’ it and say out loud what it “sees.”

Karim Ben Khelifa, The Enemy. DocLab Expo: Seamless Reality, IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum

The Enemy is an immersive installation which brings face to face combatants from opposite sides. Wearing the VR goggles, you stand in the same room as them and are a witness to their dreams, fears and reasons to fight. With this work, war photographer Karim Ben Khelifa wanted people to feel closer to conflicts and its protagonists but also to try and understand what motivates human beings to engage in violence and to show that, very often, people fighting each other have more in common than they would admit.

Jan Rothuizen, Drawing Room. DocLab Expo: Seamless Reality, IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum

Jan Rothuizen, Drawing Room. DocLab Expo: Seamless Reality, IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum

Jan Rothuizen, Drawing Room

Jan Rothuizen, who gave a fantastically interesting talk last year at the DocLab conference, created what is probably the first ever “drawn reality.” Having spent some time in the tower room on the roof of De Bijenkorf, the oldest department store in Amsterdam, the artist translated his experience into a 360º virtual reality drawing complete with the sharp witty annotations that characterize his work.

Loïc Suty, The Unknown Photographer

DocLab Expo: Seamless Reality, IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum

Eefje Blankevoort & Dana Lixenberg, Imperial Courts at DocLab Expo: Seamless Reality, IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam. Photo Nichon Glerum

Also part of the IDFA DocLab events: Swatting, vintage VR and virtual museum for stolen art. My notes from DocLab: Interactive Conference 2015 and Sheriff Software: the games that allow you to play traffic cop for real.

I posted my photos of the DocLab exhibition and conference on flickr.

Categories: New Media News

MSA: The Microbiome Security Agency

Wed, 12/09/2015 - 09:48

Emma Dorothy Conley is an artist, designer and also a producer at the Center For Genomic Gastronomy. Concerned by newspaper stories about the microbiome and how we shed bits of it wherever we go, she decided to investigate the future of microbiome privacy.

The microbiome is a unique collection or community of microbes that live inside and outside our bodies (and pretty much everywhere else on our planet.) Your own microbiome functions as a record that reveals information about the people you’ve met, the places you’ve been to and the food you’ve eaten. In the future, microbial residues collected at crime scene could even help track down criminals. “All you need is an extensive database than currently exists,” explains Jack Gilbert, a microbiologist at Argonne National Laboratory.

Of course, the idea that the microscopic organisms that cover our body might one day be used to identify us raises a series of privacy and ethical concerns. The Microbiome Security Agency proposes to create a toolkit of DIY biological information manipulation tactics that would enable us to protect and secure our own data.

The Microbiome Security Agency (The MSA) investigates the future of microbiome privacy issues and prepares citizens for a future where our personal information is at risk through our biological datasets.

The MSA is one of the winning works of this year’s edition of the Bio Art & Design Award. The international competition invites young artists and designers to collaborate with Dutch science centers in order to develop thought-provoking art and design projects that engage directly with life sciences. The winning projects are currently part of Body of Matter, an exhibition that interrogates our ideas about the body.

The website of the MSA is packed with super useful and interesting information but i still wanted to ask Emma a few questions about the work:

MSA: Microbiome Security Agency, Body of Matter, Installation view, MU, Eindhoven. Photo courtesy of the artist

Hi Emma! What inspired you to work on the Microbiome Security Agency? Did you read any news stories related to the human microbiota and loss of privacy, for example?

Microbiome research is quite prevalent in popular science news, so ​over the last few years I’ve ​
been​ seeing lots of articles every week about emerging research in the field. There were lots ​of articles ​that discussed the uniqueness of an individual’s composition of bacteria, however I​ never found​ anyone pointing ​exactly ​to emerging privacy issues. It seemed like a gap in the conversation that needed to be investigated farther.

People love to read and talk about poop, so pieces on the topic of fecal transplants ​were constantly popping up,​ and​ being shared​ ​and debated online. In fecal transplantation for medical purposes, the donor has a healthy composition of gut bacteria, while the recipient doesn’t. We know our compositions of gut bacteria are fairly unique to us, so​ I started to wonder​, what ​does it mean​​ to give away or take on elements of someone else’s microbiome?

​Investigating this idea of ​”​unique​ness,”​ I started looking up different​ papers on the subject and different​ research groups that take bacteria samples from the general public in exchange for a report of their microbi​al makeup. I thought maybe I’d send in ​a fecal sample and see what my composition looked like​ and how it changed over time​. ​While reading ​the marketing material​ from these microbiome research groups​, I started to seriously question the collect​ion and databasing process​es that these groups use​. The company UBiome, ​for example, ​advertises, “Sequence your microbiome through citizen science!”

In exchange for a ​payment and sending in your fecal sample, ​along with ​loads of personal information about your daily habits, diet, ​and demographics, you receive a report of your ​microbial composition, with little to no actionable information. Is this citizen science? And what do they do with all of this personal information—and personal biological information?​ ​That’s where the project began.

Can you tell us about the MSA DIY toolkit? Which kind of tactics will it provide citizens with? And how affordable and easy to use will it be for everyone?

We set out to ​find a do-it-yourself means for manipulating your microbiome in an effort to protect the information it might reveal. This is very tricky. For many health reasons, you really don’t want to change ​a healthy microbiome very much. ​Your bacteria ​help ​in lots of important bodily processes. It’s widely thought, for example, that the overuse of antibiotics has led to​ many current health issues plaguing the western world. So, instead of a toolkit for DIY microbiome manipulation, we created a system that asks citizens to support each other by investing in their microbiological privacy together. The MSA created ​a ​Community Bacteria Bank. Individuals invest in the bank by donating bacteria-rich samples​ (pretty much anything)​. These samples are processed into an “obscuration solution” to be applied to the skin—anonymizing the pre-existing bacteria. The Community Bacteria Bank functions as a working prototype, testing out ​one possible ​future scenario​ ​or ​system,​ along with​ products and processes,​ for securing our microbiological data.

Leading up to the creation of the bank, we decided to organize the project into two​ research​
categories: destroying and obscuring. Destroying eliminates important information, while obscuring adds noise and anonymizes important information.

In our destroying experiment​s​ we treated fecal samples with household cleaning products, attempting to ​eliminate the​ traces of​ DNA of the bacteria from these samples. Three people donated six fecal samples each, which were treated with:

1. Microwaving
2. Alcohol
3. Peroxide
4. Aceton
5. Ammonia
6. Bleach

Eliminating the DNA would mean that the bacteria would be unidentifiable. We found that it was actually quite difficult to destroy all the DNA from these samples. It was often lessened​ by the cleaning product​, but in equal parts, so the composition was still clear. Peroxide was the most successful, so if you need to destroy a fecal sample in a hurry, it’s your best bet.

From there we moved on to​​​ obscuring the DNA of skin bacteria​, which turned out to be a​ much​ more ​successful approach. In this experiment, we wanted to create an “Obscuration Solution” that could be applied to the skin microbiome to add noise and make your own bacteria unidentifiable. We wanted to create a bizarre, fake microbiome that would hide your own.

To do this, we collected samples of bacteria-rich items from all over and blended them together. We randomly selected different foods, feces, soils, etc. containing what we knew would be a diverse selection of microorganisms​:​

> red ruffed lemur feces
> greater rhea feces
> white-faced saki feces
> kefir
> epoisse cheese
> kombucha 1
> kombucha 2
> natto
> compost
> kimchi
> soil
> seaweed

Samples of the blended mix were sent to the lab and the DNA from the bacteria was sequenced and amplified, resulting in a synthetic DNA mix resembling a completely new and unique ecosystem of bacteria. This DNA solution was placed in different mediums that could be applied to the skin: a powder, a mist, and a gel.

What’s with the fecal sampling? Why would people try to collect fecal matter at the zoo?​ ​and why the zoo, why not from our pets? or from a public park?

Pets, parks, ​zoo animals, ​everything is good! The beautiful thing about bacteria is that they are just about everywhere. We collected fecal samples from a zoo for two reasons: ​the ​gut ​microbiome contains a diverse selection of bacteria, so you get a dense, varied ​assortment in just a small fecal sample​.​ Gut bacteria compositions also change based on what we eat and where we live, so stool samples from exotic zoo animals can add a lot of diversity to the blended mix.

What were the biggest challenges you encountered while developing the project?

In terms of the research, one challenge​ was performing a difficult experiment in tracking and tracing the changes of the skin microbiome over time. Could we begin to put stories together about where someone ha​s​ been and who they​’ve been around by comparing their makeup of bacteria to those people and places? We tried sampling the skin microbiome as well as different environments by using tape to grab bacteria off different surfaces. We haven’t been successful in proving or disproving traceability yet, but I think it is very important research and I hope there is a lab or research group interested in doing a full study.

Bacteria Bank. How It Work: AOMs

In terms of the project, realizing that a DIY solution was not (and rarely is) as good as a do-it-together solution was one of the biggest challenges and revelations. We wanted to design something that empowered individual’s to help themselves and to help each other. We wanted to find a clever solution that loudly out-smarted an unfavorable system, rather than​ encouraging others to​ silently hid​e​ in the shadows of that system. The Community Bacteria Bank was designed to do this. It houses the diverse​ bacteria​ samples donated by the public, but it also ​includes satellite-objects, called AOMs, that function like ATMs. These AOMs are designed to be temporary receptacles on the street. Citizens can donate a small bacteria-rich sample at an AOM, but they can also received a dose of the “Obscuration Solution” in the form of a mist, powder or gel. When applied to the skin, this “Obscuration Solution” adds a layer of DNA (not bacteria, just DNA) that obscures the bacteria on the user’s skin.​ The idea is that if we all donate samples to the mix, it becomes very diverse and adds a lot of noise to the Obscuration Solutions. If we all use the same Obscuration Solutions, our skin microbiomes will all look the same and our microbiological information will be secure.​

MSA: Microbiome Security Agency, Body of Matter, Installation view, MU, Eindhoven. Photo courtesy of the artist

MSA: Microbiome Security Agency, Body of Matter, Installation view, MU, Eindhoven. Photo courtesy of the artist

MSA: Microbiome Security Agency, Body of Matter, Installation view, MU, Eindhoven. Photo courtesy of the artist

MSA: Microbiome Security Agency, Body of Matter, Installation view, MU, Eindhoven. Photo courtesy of the artist

I’m also curious about your collaboration with Guus Roeselers and his research team. How hands-on did you manage to be with the scientific protocols and process? Were you allowed to get inside the labs and work along with the scientists?

I was very lucky to work with Dr. Guus Roeselers. ​In addition to being extremely knowledgeable in regards to the science, he is incredibly creative​ and interested in important cultural and ethical questions. He was always willing to​ imagine and​ explore different futures scenarios, regardless of whether they were controversial or even likely. ​For many reasons, it ​was not possible for me to work in the lab at TNO​.​ In some ways​,​ ​this ​​was very fitting given the idea of the project.​ I prepared many of the samples at my home or in my studio: an average citizen, creating an “​Obscuration ​S​olution” to protect the average citizen. The samples were processed and sequenced and the DNA was amplified by technicians in the lab​, but Guus and I designed and executed all other aspect​s using effective and safe at-home practices.​

The masks and outfits you were on the homepage of the project are quite striking. Can you tell us something about them?

The MSA​ has​ agents​ who​ run the organization. They help in collect​ing ​bacteria-rich samples,​ and​ also manage the AOMs and maintain the bank. They show citizens how to collect and donate samples and explain how the Obscuration Solutions work. MSA Agents wear shimmering, colorful uniforms and large white masks to protect their faces and protect their samples​ and solutions​. The uniforms are designed to be bold and noticeable ​to reinforce the idea that this is a project about​ empowerment​, inspiration ​and fun, rather than fear​fulness.​ ​

Our goal is to create more options for individuals, to test out possible futures, and to challenge the notion that we should fear those with power rather than be empowered ourselves. The MSA is interested in a proactive approach to ​building a future we want to inhabit, by creating options to work with​,​in a complex world​​ filled with unknowns and promise.

MSA: Microbiome Security Agency, Body of Matter, Installation view, MU, Eindhoven. Photo courtesy of the artist

Thanks Emma!

MSA: Microbiome Security Agency is part of Body of Matter. Body based bio art & design which opens at MU in Eindhoven on 27 November. The show will be running until 7 February 2016. Also part of the exhibition: The Art of Deception by Isaac Monté and Drones with Desires.
Related story: Matter of Life. Growing new Bio Art & Design.

Categories: New Media News

Swatting, vintage VR and virtual museum for stolen art. My notes from DocLab: Interactive Conference 2015

Mon, 12/07/2015 - 09:07

Another year, another intense and satisfying DocLab: Interactive Conference in Amsterdam. The event is a one-day meeting for filmmakers, producers, artists, designers, entrepreneurs and anyone else interested in exploring how digital technologies and new forms of interactivity are shaping the future of documentary storytelling. The conference is one of the highlights of the Seamless Reality program set up by IDFA DocLab, a festival program for ‘undefined art and unexpected experiences’ within the IDFA, the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam.

The audience of the DocLab Conference in de Brakke Grond (part of the IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam.) Photo Nichon Glerum

Just like last year, the conference took place at De Brakke Grond (the Flemish Cultural Center in Amsterdam), had an amazing line-up and sold out almost immediately.

I was expecting a same old same old feeling, thinking that there’s only so much you can do with virtual reality but i was wrong. Story tellers using VR and other new technologies learn very fast from their mistakes and have established by now that simply applying what worked in video onto VR isn’t going to cut the mustard. For a star, as Jessica Brillhart said in her opening keynote, “there is no frame in VR.”

But what the event demonstrated once again is that VR is on a thrilling and promising track when it’s left in the hands of story tellers who want to “populate VR world with something else than porn and games”, as Gabo Arora neatly put it.

Something that i should add is that the DocLab: Interactive Conference doesn’t lazily celebrate White Male Supremacy and that’s a rare feast in the tech & creativity world. I didn’t count but at least half of the speakers were women and a fair number of the people who took the stage were people of colour (what’s the PC way to say it nowadays?)

But back to the content! The conference is a super intense 7 hour marathon where i’m getting hit in the face non stop by ideas, images and concepts that i wasn’t expecting. My notes below are going to highlight only the moments i found most interesting. I’m also not following the order in which the speakers came on stage. But it’s not total freestyling either, it’s more of a infantile ‘let’s start with what really got me really REALLY excited’:

Thomas Wallner at the DocLab Conference in de Brakke Grond (part of the IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam.) Photo Nichon Glerum

Thomas Wallner always gives a smart, entertaining presentation. Last year, he talked about the pitfalls of using VR to replicate classic cinematographic experience. This year, he showed us how he used a balloon to propel a camera on the upper stratosphere and make the highest ever 360 degree shot.

His company, Deep Inc has also just released together with ARTE an app for broadcasters to help them distribute 360 degree film to their audiences.

Illustration of the Cineorama balloon simulation, at the 1900 Paris Exposition

Illustration of the camera mechanism for the Cineorama balloon simulation, 1900 Paris Exposition

Wallner also introduced us to the ancestor of VR. It seems that the first patent for a cinema that surrounds viewers with moving images dates back to 1897. The Cineorama, as it was called, premiered at the 1900 Paris Exposition, where ten synchronized projectors projected onto ten screens arranged in a 360° circle. In the center, a large viewing platform shaped like a hot air balloon. The film simulated a ride in a hot air balloon over Paris. Cineorama closed after only three days for safety reasons, due to the extreme heat from the projectors’ lights.

Ross Goodwin at the DocLab Conference in de Brakke Grond (part of the IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam.) Photo Nichon Glerum

Ross Goodwin is a creative technologist whose work explores how artificial intelligence can augment creativity and push storytelling further. Goodwin thinks that nowadays artificial intelligence is as much a design problem as a computational one. Artificial is not perfect, it can be a bit glitchy but so are we as humans. Besides, the type of mistakes that machines make are very different from the ones that humans makes.

Asking if a machines can think is like asking if a submarine can swim.

While on stage, the artist demoed word.camera, a talking surveillance camera that can zoom on a person’s face in the crowd, ‘read’ it and say out loud what it “sees.”

Once the camera is in the room, it is impossible to ignore its presence like we would do with the CCTV we got so accustomed to. This experiment in how machines “perceive” humans is both creepy and playful. On the one hand, it hints at a very near future when surveillance systems will be paired with artificial intelligence and watch over us with penetrating but unpredictable eyes. On the other hand, its glitches and social awkwardness highlight the limitations of technology.

Karim Ben Khelifa at the DocLab Conference in de Brakke Grond (part of the IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam.) Photo Nichon Glerum

Karim Ben Khelifa, The Enemy at the DocLab exhibition in de Brakke Grond (part of the IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam.) Photo Nichon Glerum

Karim Ben Khelifa, an award-winning photojournalist who has covered conflicts in the Middle East talked about his work The Enemy and his experience as an artist-in-residence at the Open Documentary Lab at the MIT in Cambridge.

After working for 18 years as a war correspondent, Ben Khelifa got frustrated with photography. He felt that, instead of making an impact on the real world, his photos didn’t seem to make any difference. So he started to investigate how VR could be used to give more power to his images, raise compassion in viewers and create new experiences because…

We make sense of the world through stories but remember it by experiences

I’ll talk about the result of his research at MIT, The Enemy, in my next post which will look at the works exhibited in the DocLab exhibition. But in a nutshell, The Enemy is an immersive installation which brings face to face combatants from opposite sides. Wearing the VR goggles, you feel like you’re in the room with them and get to witness what they have to say about their dreams, motivations and who they are. The artist is still working on the installation, planning to use artificial intelligence and the latest technologies in virtual reality in order to make it multi-users. He also wants to eventually send the work back to the fighters.

Angelo Vermeulen at the DocLab Conference in de Brakke Grond (part of the IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam.) Photo Nichon Glerum

Angelo Vermeulen, Seeker

Angelo Vermeulen, Seeker

Angelo Vermeulen‘s work is about what he calls ‘entangled reality’ rather than virtual reality. During his talk, he told us about works that involve recycling e-waste to make hybrid art installations, Mars simulation in Hawaii to study the effects of long-term isolation over group dynamics, and using art as a vehicle to explore the world.

Vermeulen is getting increasingly interested in co-creation process. In 2012, he launched Seeker, a DIY spaceship model which people are invited to co-create by experimenting with technological, ecological and social systems that enable long-term survival on board. The project uses spaceship as a metaphor for reinventing the entire world. Seeker is touring around the world and each time, a new crew is invited to use, abuse, hack and transform the previous model of Seeker spaceship.

The Hive Mind at the DocLab Conference in de Brakke Grond (part of the IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam.) Photo Nichon Glerum

The Hive Mind at the DocLab Conference in de Brakke Grond (part of the IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam.) Photo Nichon Glerum

Loren Carpenter Experiment at SIGGRAPH ’91 (video Zachary Murray)

At lunch, the crowd was invited to take part in a Breakout game experiment. Everyone grabbed the ping pong paddle that had been left under their seat as the video game appeared on the screen. By flipping their paddle to the red or the green side, people could direct the white dot bouncing up and down on the screen. But your paddle only counts for one vote in the game and you need to be in the majority of green or red to see the dot following the direction you had chosen.

The game was inspired by Rachel and Loren Carpenter‘s 1991 experiment at Siggraph where the crowd similarly collaborated on a game of Pong.

Michelle Kasprzak at the DocLab Conference in de Brakke Grond (part of the IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam.) Photo Nichon Glerum

Elaborating upon the Hive Mind experiment, curator Michelle Kasprzak looked at hive mind behaviour online and how online technologies can be sources of good (by giving a voice to minorities for example) or the origin of ruined lives, harmful hoaxes, misunderstanding and hatred. Kasprzak gave several examples of how photos, games and behaviours can be misinterpreted, used to deceive and get out of hands.

A good example of misunderstanding that spreads fast and furious are the photos published in the press that show refugees from Syria clutching their smartphone. Some people reacted by claiming that this was proof that the refugees aren’t poor and don’t need any help. In reality, smartphones are a lifeline for people who’ve lost everything, are far away from their home and still want to connect with their loved ones or simply know in which direction they should walk.

Kasprzak also talked about an online craze called swatting. I had never heard of that one before. It’s the kind of very awful, very stupid joke that i like. Swatting consists in reporting fake hostage situations, shootings and other violent crimes so that an emergency response is dispatched to the house of another gamer. The name comes from SWAT teams, police units in the U.S. that use specialized or military equipment and tactics.

A third example given by Kasprzak involves Veerender Jubbal, a Canadian Sikh man who posted a selfie on 5 August of this year. He was holding an iPad and getting ready for a date. The photograph was photoshopped to add a vest with wires around his torso and the ipad became a copy of the Quran. He was then ‘identified’ including by major press outlets as being one of the terrorists responsible for the Paris attacks.

As Kasprzak concluded, technologies such as surveillance and VR have been on the horizon for a number of years but they are only starting to show their potential now.

Liv Schneider at the DocLab Conference in de Brakke Grond (part of the IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam.) Photo Nichon Glerum

Designer and self-defined investigative librarian Liv Schneider has built 3 museums this year! Mostly virtual ones but they are pretty interesting.

Released for Google Cardboard, The Museum of Stolen Art is a virtual space for pieces reported stolen in FBI and Interpol art crime databases. The goals of the museum are to give visibility to art that is otherwise impossible to see on a museum wall, and also to familiarize the public with stolen items in order to assist in the their recovery. Another goal is to bring attention to the subject of cultural theft, especially as a result of war and conflict.

She believes that VR has the power to retain objects and experiences that would otherwise be lost, dissolved or inaccessible to the broader public. Schneider also collaborated with Laura Chen to develop RecoVR: Mosul, a Collective Reconstruction, a VR environment that used crowd-sourced imagery to bring back the historical statues and artefacts destroyed by ISIS when they raided the Mosul Museum last year.

Jason Spingarn Koff interviews Errol Morris at the DocLab Conference in de Brakke Grond (part of the IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam.) Photo Nichon Glerum

Errol Morris at the DocLab Conference in de Brakke Grond (part of the IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam.) Photo Nichon Glerum

Filmmaker and journalist Jason Spingarn Koff interviewed award-winning film director Errol Morris on stage. Morris has made a number of tremendously interesting documentaries. The two that were directly mentioned during the conference were The Thin Blue Line and Standard Operating Procedure.

Released in 1988, The Thin Blue Line, has a real, social impact on the life of its main protagonist, Randall Dale Adams, a man sentenced to life in prison for a murder he did not commit. Prior to directing the film, Morris worked as a private detective (which might explains why he declared during the conversation at DocLab that he considers “life as a crime scene.”) The evidence that his investigation gathered and presented in the film had a significant impact on obtaining Adams’ acquittal approximately a year after the film’s release.

The other film mentioned is Standard Operating Procedure, a 2008 documentary film which explores the meaning of the photographs taken by U.S. military police at the Abu Ghraib prison in 2003. One of the things that the film attempted to demonstrate is that a photo is only a piece of reality taken out of its context. Morris admitted being puzzled by VR but he also believes that VR has the power to show the context, to work from several angles and display a larger part of the reality that is relevant to a photo.

Morris is not only an award-winning documentary maker, he is also an inventor. He created a system called Interrotron that used a curtain and a teleprompter-like device that gives the illusion that the person on the screen is looking directly both at Morris and at the camera, giving the viewer the feeling that the interviewee is talking right to them.

William Uricchio from MIT Open Documentary Lab at the DocLab Conference in de Brakke Grond (part of the IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam.) Photo Nichon Glerum

In his work at the MIT Open Documentary Lab, William Uricchio looks at the spaces where journalism and documentary cross. Both are reality-based but while journalism is embedded into society and even has a specific political place, we tend to think of documentary in terms of films. If one wants to caricature, he said, journalism is about facts and documentary about truth. Journalism is often limited by these facts. It is also more conservative in its use of technology. Journalism uses the internet as a place to put words. On the other hand, documentary has been experimenting for years with technology and new forms of storytelling and is emphatically ahead of the curve. Even though some newspapers such as The Guardian and The New York Times try to innovate and work with documentary makers. Documentary needs journalism as well because newspapers have the larger audience.

Uricchio identified key conditions to make interactive documentary and journalism intersect:
– cross platforms by collaborating with like-minded organisations specialized in audio, video, documentary or journalism,
– allow the story to drive the form. Some stories benefit from being told using a linear structure. Others need more experimentation,
– experiment and learn. We are at an experimental stage and we’re probably not going to see standardization settle in (like we saw with television) and we will stay in this revolutionary phase,
– avoid pouring over the logic of massmedia,
– welcome dialogue. One thing that documentary does very well is shape conversation and that dimension is very important now that audiences can talk back.

More details can be found in the MIT Open Documentary Lab report that maps the convergence between interactive and participatory documentary practices and digital journalism. This way!

Ove Rishøj Jensen presents the results of a survey about the financial background and expenses of projects that have been selected by DocLab over the years. Photo Nichon Glerum

Uricchio was then joined on stage by conference moderator Ove Rishøj Jensen from the European Documentary Network to discuss the results of a survey conducted by EDN with DocLab about business model of the projects selected for the DocLab competition over the past 3 years. They received usable answers from 17 of these projects. The conclusions are that:
– the makers are investing a lot to develop projects that are not generating much sales.
– either you manage to get good funding, or you work for free. There doesn’t seem to be any middle ground.

Kathleen Lingo at the DocLab Conference in de Brakke Grond (part of the IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam.) Photo Nichon Glerum

Kathleen Lingo talked about NYTVR, the New York Times’s venture into bringing VR to 1 million people. The publication sent a pair of VR cardboard glasses to 1 million of their subscribers and are now regularly adding content onto their op-docs platform. Lingo believes that the platform has so far been a success and that VR can speak to the larger human experience.

Future Predictions panel with Loc Dao, Kat Cizek, Marianne Levy-Leblond and Kyle McDonald at the DocLab Conference in de Brakke Grond (part of the IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam.) Photo Nichon Glerum

Towards the end of the day, Loc Dao, Kat Cizek, Marianne Levy-Leblond and Kyle McDonald were gathered on stage for a Future Predictions panel. Each of them had one minute to tell us one thing that is likely to happen in the future. Kyle McDonald showed this slide that hinted at how complicated our devices’ interactions with each other and with us might become one day:

Kyle McDonald’s slide (with credit to Omer Shapira)

Reem Haddad and Dima Shaibani present Life on Hold at the DocLab Conference in de Brakke Grond (part of the IDFA International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam.) Photo Nichon Glerum

Life on Hold- Haifa Promo

The last talk i would like to mention is the one by Reem Haddad and Dima Shaibani from Al Jazeera. The duo presented Life on Hold, an interactive web doc that travels to Lebanon to uncover the lives and struggles of Syrian refugees. The work tells the story of 10 people, from a 7 year old to a 70 year old. It’s not about information and facts but about empathy, about connecting visitors with the characters and make them see that beyond the label ‘refugees’ there are regular people like you and i. That’s something that gets a bit lost in strategy and politics.

The webdoc features A Wall of Memory that invite visitors of Life on Hold to leave a note for the refugees. Surprisingly, none of them were hateful (as it often happens online.)

The website received many visits from North Africa and the Middle East but people from these parts of the world left very few comments. It seems that web users there are more used to consume media than to actively participate in debates online. But maybe their silence is also due to the fact that the content was optimized for laptop and not mobile phones (most users in the Middle East access media through their mobile phone.)

Veerle Devreese from De Brakke Grond and Caspar Sonnen from DocLab, closing the event

Previously: Sheriff Software: the games that allow you to play traffic cop for real, My notes from DocLab: Interactive Conference 2014.

Categories: New Media News

The Pirate Book, ‘cultural content outside the boundaries of local economies, politics, or laws’

Tue, 12/01/2015 - 13:06

The Pirate Book, A compilation of stories about sharing, distributing, and experiencing cultural content outside the boundaries of local economies, politics, or laws. By Nicolas Maigret and Maria Roszkowska.

Despite being the nation that ostensibly spearheads the war on piracy, the United States was at its inception a “pirate nation” given its refusal to observe the rights of foreign authors. In the absence of international copyright treaties, the first American governments actively encouraged the piracy of the classics of British literature in order to promote literacy. The grievances of authors such as Charles Dickens fell upon deaf ears, that is until American literature itself came into its own and authors such
as Mark Twain convinced the government to reinforce copyright legislation.

The paragraph above is copy/pasted from the book. It is symptomatic of a publication that informs, challenges any bias and assumptions you might have about piracy and does so with wit and intelligence. It also shows the spirit of The Pirate Book, a work more concerned with contemporary cultural practices around the world than with the legal subtleties of copyright infringement.

Sonidero in Mexico City

Music distribution from mobile phone to mobile phone in West Africa

The pirate book is an impeccably curated collection of essays and photos by artists, researchers, militants and bootleggers who share their experiences and anecdotes of piracy and anti-piracy practices through history and across cultures.

The first part of the book, the Historical Perspective, brings side by side key moments of the history of piracy with their contemporary counterpart. I’m not going to list them all (you can quickly check them for yourself as the book is both print on demand and free download) but here is just one example:

Above: Pirate Bus in Regent’s Park, during the General Strike, 1926
In London, independent bus operators appeared in the mid of 19th century, following the tourism boom that accompanied the Great Exhibition of 1851. Their vehicles were soon popularly termed
“pirate” buses

The contemporary correspondent of the London buses are the Google private shuttle buses, viewed as symptoms of the ruthless gentrification of San Francisco driven by the tech sector. Activists also denounced the unpaid use of public bus stops by private companies, which leads to delays and traffic congestion.

TV detector van, UK, 1963

Another entertaining chapter lists the strategies that cultural industries have adopted in their fight against piracy: educational flyers, hologram stickers, game alterations, false TV signal detectors (vehicles equipped with very conspicuous antenna that were supposed to be able to detect which households had not paid their TV licence), torrent poisoning, etc. I’m quite fond of the rather baroque way the publishers of the game Leisure Suit Larry Goes Looking for Love (in Several Wrong Places) adopted to protect the copies from piracy:

Leisure Suit Larry Goes Looking for Love (in Several Wrong Places), 1988

In order to be able to launch the game, players were required to posses a physical copy of the instruction manual. When the game started up, it presented the player with a photo of a random woman. The player had then to look through the physical instruction manual, match her image with a telephone number and input it into the game.

I found the last part of the book particularly compelling. It counts a series of essays that explore local practices of piracy in Brazil, Cuba, Mexico, China, India, and Mali and other countries where piracy is the only affordable way for many people to access culture, entertainment and education. The stories i was less familiar with came from Mexico City and from a city in India called Malegaon:

El Paquete hard drive, a pouch that protects the disc and a USB cable

Cuba’s isolation by the US embargo made audio-visual piracy vital not only for citizens but also for the government itself who needed content for its official television channels as well as books and academic publications for universities. Most Cubans don’t have access to internet and when they do it is neither fast nor safe from governmental scrutiny. But what they do have is El Paquete Semanal, a terabyte of music, movies, soap operas, mobile phone apps and even a classifieds section similar to Craigslist. Every week, unidentified curators compile a selection of content which subscribers upload on a hard drive that can be plugged directly into a TV.

Supermen of Malegaon, the documentary, 2008

In India, the city of Malegaon has built a parallel cinema industry that creates spoof movies of Bollywood blockbusters. These cheaply shot and edited films echo their own local context and rely on an infrastructure enabled by media piracy and the proliferation of video rentals.

The final chapter, written from Ernesto Van Der Sar founder of TorrentFreak.com, argues through an analysis of music and film sales that the music industry is doing better than ever before but systematically blames piracy as soon as a new film or record doesn’t sell well.

That’s it! A quick and very incomplete overview of The Pirate Book. I’d recommend that book to anyone who can’t make up their mind about piracy, to your mother who thinks pirates are a bunch of ruffians who prevent Celine Dion from making a living, and to anyone who’s simply interested in contemporary popular culture and in non-western perspectives on DIY and inventiveness.

Views inside the book:

The book is an extension of Maigret’s installation and performance The Pirate Cinema, A Cinematic Collage Generated by P2P Users which uncovers in real time the hidden activity and the geography of peer-to-peer file sharing but also the aesthetic dimension of P2P architectures.
As befits the theme of the book, the authors invite readers to copy the texts of this book and do with them as he/she pleases.

The Pirate Book was published by Aksioma – Institute for Contemporary Art, Ljubljana Co-published by Pavillon Vendôme Art Center, Clichy.
Produced by Aksioma, Pavillon Vendôme, Kunsthal Aarhus and Abandon Normal Devices.

Categories: New Media News

Zofia Rydet, the old lady who wanted to photograph the inside of every single house in Poland

Thu, 11/26/2015 - 08:24

Zofia Rydet was 67 years old when she set herself the herculean task of photographing the inside of every single house in Poland. From 1978 until her death in 1997, she would frantically travel by bus or foot over the country, have people sit in their interior, straight in front of her, and shoot them using a wide-angle lens and flash.

As if the self-assigned task of portraying individuals and families at home in Poland wasn’t formidable enough, Rydet also added numerous sub-categories of photos to the series. Some focused on tv sets inside the home, others on kitchen windows seen from the inside, photos and objects celebrating Pope John Paul II, women on doorsteps, disappearing professions, etc. Rydet gave a title to her obsessive catalogue of people and objects, she called it Sociological Record.

The artist was interested in the ties that connected people with objects and architecture, as well as the way individual aesthetic preferences, political and religious views manifested themselves through the arrangement of private space. “The house … is a reflection of the society, civilisation, and culture, from which it originates, there are no two similar people or two similar houses,” Rydet used to say.

When Rydet died in 1997, the series counted some 16,000 negatives, most of them had never been printed. As a result, only a modest portion of her work has been exhibited. The Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw has developed these negatives, made a selection of them and exhibited the photos in what is probably the most popular show in town at the moment. Zofia Rydet. Record, 1978-1990 not only presents works never seen before, it also follows Rydet’s own ideas and suggestions on how to set up an exhibition of her works.

The curators of the show, Sebastian Cichocki and Karol Hordziej, dropped the first half of the title of the series because they believed that the work pertains less to the scientific study of social behavior or society and more the tradition of intuitive artistic atlases and catalogues.

What i found most fascinating in this exhibition is that it’s both always the same and always different It’s row after row of Polish interiors (or of women on doorsteps) but it never feels too repetitive nor trivial. Not let’s give the floor to the images…

Zofia Rydet photographs Stanisa Solocha. Photo Maciej Plewiński / Forum

View of the exhibition space

Pre-Record, 1956-1977

Tadeusz Rydet, Zofia Rydet during one of her outdoor trips 1978-1990

Zofia Rydet: Record 1978–1990 was curated by Sebastian Cichocki and Karol Hordziej. The show remains open at the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw until 10 January, 2016.

Categories: New Media News