Vague Terrain 22: Mobile Performance


[Mark Amerika / Immobilite, still]

This edition of VagueTerrain showcases an intimate and phenomenological mobile art aesthetic unfolding in networked mobile performance and media art projects that utilise the potential of the latest smartphones, transforming and repurposing the device into a new collaborative medium for expression.

Many mobile cinematic projects in the past valued poor image quality and low-resolution video on their phones for its immediacy, blurriness and pixelated imperfection – with low resolution holding its own beauty, value, and unique aesthetic. The aesthetic of this emerging mobile moving image medium, as with the early video cameras, has been one of rapidly improving image quality and developing photo and video editing applications. Yet in exchange what is gained is an immediacy and empowerment through the simplicity of use of the device. Due to its portability and close relationship to the body, the videophone has an inherent embodied expressivity. Observing users of multimedia phones, there is an inversion of what is considered ‘quality’ image construction or filmmaking taking place: the limitations of the tool and pixelated resolution become an asset rather than a hindrance to image-making. It is the very messiness of the medium that makes it visceral; the tension of imperfection of image quality that lends a rawness and gives it an authenticity or ‘liveness’.

Several artists and filmmakers, following from Lev Manovich, are now finding new ways to create generative narrative using databases, custom software or apps that take advantage of mobile media - the field is expanding exponentially. Conceptual aspects of the ‘database’, along with visual methods for tagging and categorising media in the network fuel ambient narrative constructions and performance projects. Generative elements are incorporated through custom iPhone and iPad tools, made by artists using specialised programming environments and open source or other artistic technologies. New forms of narrative are being explored, such as that experienced through the work of Mark Amerika, made by structured improvisational mobile cinema activities as in Mobile Phone Video Art Classics (2008) or Immobilité (2009), or Dean Terry’s mo.vid.1 (2005), Steve Hawley’s Speech Marks (2004) and Giselle Beiguelman’s sometimes always, sometimes never (2005). These works have set the tone for newly evolving projects. Amerika, Terry, Kozel and my own media art research, MINDtouch, point to the increasing use of gesture which is becoming a key aspect of the mobile video modality. The mobile device encourages movement, often resulting in blurry, abstracted patterns, and a ‘splattering’ effect from gesture. It inspires a playful,  expressive, performative exploration. 

BBC Screens commissions large interactive screens projects, for example artist Kasia Molga’s project for Glastonbury 2010 which takes mobile sms' from the audience to create an interactive mobile / digital painting; the V+A had a weekend of open source creativity as part of their digital art exhibition Decode in 2010/2011 which showcased artists who made innovative performative or interactive projects with Nokia's open source platform the N900. Others like Mark Amerika have made structured improvisational mobile cinema works like Immobilité , and still others are now taking over the iPhone platform and making art apps. One artist last year showed work supported by Nokia and elementary schools, where he taught students drawing and animation using the iPhone touch and now the iPad. Last year the artist David Hockney exhibited work made entirely on the iPhone touch and the iPad; visitors could watch him create in real time. In the summer of 2010 in London a project called Media Sandbox provided a workshop that taught theatre directors and actors how to make new creative and participatory theatre using mobile and pervasive devices.

As the curator of this journal issue, I also want to mention my own recently completed PhD project, MINDtouch was a participatory media art work that was designed for "Social Mobile VJing" using for media phones. MINDtouch explored embodied, non-verbal interaction using wearable biosensing devices and mobile phones as the ‘interfaces’ to connect bodies, in a weave of layered media during social events. It sought to uncover how bodily sensations, perceptions, and interactions could be meaningfully utilised and expressed visually. Participatory, mobile media social events enabled telematic presence and liveness, aided by the embodied physiological sensors, to intensify the interaction and engagement. Presence of participants was transformed into a digital video collage, allowing them to ‘touch’ and ‘play’ with others, remotely, through the network.

This edition of Vague Terrain will present these and other ground-breaking projects that are taking mobile art and mobile media into new directions. In this issue the focus is then new artworks that use either mobile video or other mobile applications in performance or other performative pieces, or have a performative aspect in their mobile video art, with the exception of one artist. Featured here are many diverse artists, including the London-based artist Kasia Molga mentioned above, who uses interactive live data feeds and SMS to create digital paintings and other interactive digital works. Filmmaker Max Schleser developed his own new, artistic approach to mobile documentary making called 'mobile-metary' and the resulting projects made this way. A dancer/choreographer team made of of Susan Kozel, Mia Keinanen, Leena Rouhiainen, Samu Mielonen, and Anne Koutonen with many others, made two main projects exploring Twitter and choreography called Inutweet, and we will focus on their most recent project called alone or not.

I interviewed well-known VJ and video artist Mark Amerika about his work and Immobilité in particular. I talked to Whit MacLaughlin who is the Artistic Director of the theatre group New Paradise Laboratories, who make theatre using mobile devices and web interactivity, especially in its production Extremely Public Displays of Privacy?. Another interesting piece was the result of the emobile-art European Art residency - The Third Woman mobile art project; I spoke to two of the artists who were involved in the mobile film and site-specific performance aspects of the project, Martin Rieser and Anna Dumitriu. In my recent travels, I met Dutch artist/coder Sander Veenhof, who makes mobile Augmented Reality works that are highly engaging and participatory, I felt his work was so exciting and cutting edge that he needed to be featured here too. Another filmmaker, Pete Gomes, who started making films using traditional celluloid and still works on more traditional film projects in collaborations, but has moved much of his of own abstract and personal projects to the mobile format, experimenting with the latest mobile film apps to emulate the old celluloid look. Through my MobileFest contacts in Brazil I was referred to the work of Giuliano Chiaradia, who collaborated with several dancer/actors to co-create unique mobile performance video pieces for a project called 5#Calls. Lastly, I have always been interested in the research by Will Pearson who has been developing mobile comics and developed a mobile visual narrative project and downloadable iPhone app called Sobras.

Finally, I've also included an overview of my own recent works, such as MINDtouch, using mobile video and sensing devices in performance and participatory installation.

Camille Baker, London
June 2012

Electricity is Magic Gallery - Call for Works

Culled from a press release that recently showed up in our inbox.

As we plan our 2012 Electricity is Magic season, we invite submissions from individual artists, collectives, or curators to submit proposals for the EiM Gallery. Our space is non-traditional, and as such, we have some unique parameters for artists to contend with. Our presentation spaces are as follows:

  • The Blue Wall. appx. 5m x 2.5m, appropriate for any wall-based works. These works should probably look good on blue.
  • The Scrim. appx. .7m x 1m, hole in a wall between two rooms, covered with a scrim. This space will be used primarily for video works. The Scrim is viewable from both sides, a fact which should be considered when proposing works.
  • The Dining Room. our dining room comes completely empty, and is appx. 4m x 3m. This space can be used for a large sculptural work, installations, performances, audio work, etc.
  • The Backyard. we have a small, unkempt, mostly concrete-covered backyard, which, legend has it, has a pond hidden somewhere underneath the concrete and planks of wood. There is a large brick wall at the back of the yard, and four steps leading down from the house. This space is appropriate for installations, performances, sculptures, etc.
  • The Basement. We have a large, poorly-lit, unfinished basement. This space is appropriate for installations, performances, sculptures, audio work, etc.

When applying, please include:

  • A description of the proposed piece(s), including proposed presentation space
  • Bio/C.V.
  • Appropriate links, including website, images, publications, etc.
  • If the work you are proposing a new piece, any appropriate diagrams, etc.
  • Dimensions, durations and technical requirements of the proposed piece.
  • If the work has been presented previously, please include details as to where and when.

Submissions are ongoing. Please apply via email to submissions@electricityismagic.com.

Vague Terrain 21: Electric Speed

Electric speed is curated by Kate Armstrong and Malcolm Levy for Revised Projects and the New Forms Media Society.

Our interest in working with the form of the urban screen for Electric Speed relates in one part to the catalyst of the McLuhan in Europe 2011 initiative1 in which artists and curators have taken the centennial year of media theorist Marshall McLuhan’s birth as an opportunity to consider the transformative impacts of his ideas specifically in the context of media art. The other component that spurred the development of this exhibition was an interest in partnering with the Surrey Art Gallery to present work specifically geared to the unique context of the Surrey Urban Screen, as it is the largest urban screen in Canada and the only one that is devoted to the presentation of art.2

The variegated ways of approaching speed as a subject, mode, effect or relation that we see in these artists’ projects provide entry points for considering the impact of Marshall McLuhan’s thinking on the subject of accelerated culture. Most importantly, though, Electric Speed presents new works from a group of Canadian artists whose tactics and practices exist within and respond to the state of global media culture. Electric Speed will be exhibited at the Surrey Art Gallery from December 2, 2011 through March 31, 2012, before travelling to other urban screen venues internationally. With this exhibition, we’ve tried to investigate these themes as well as enable the production of vibrant work that responds to the pervasive, variable form of the urban screen, itself an important defining feature of the series.

If urban screens are defined as the “various kinds of dynamic digital displays and interfaces in urban space such as LED signs, plasma screens, projection boards, information terminals but also intelligent architectural surfaces”3, it becomes immediately clear how deeply they have infiltrated the urban environment, and it must be noted that the commercial aspects of this ubiquitous form are fundamental to their existence.

The urban screen as a form typically fluctuates, a bit uneasily, between two poles: Not purely commercial and rarely purely cultural, a common tactic of the urban screen is to deliver culture in interstitial spaces or timeslots, for example showing video or media art in the last minute of each hour or working with public transit authorities to show animation or experimental video on the television screens in trains or subways.

However variable or restricted these sites are, these tactics produce unique if not immense opportunities for delivering art in new ways and new spaces, for example allowing it to be shown simultaneously in 15 cities across the U.K.4, engaging huge audiences in major public squares5, reaching people such as commuters in situ, or allowing architectural surfaces to operate cinematically or socially so that groups of people can gather in public space to interact with a large-scale, shared image.

In response to these complex and multivalent conditions, an international network of artists, curators and theorists has emerged for the purpose of discussing and examining the role of the urban screen and to creating discourse among “artists, curators, cultural managers, architects, government institutions, screen operators as well as theoreticians” so as to rethink “the relationship between architecture and public space in the digital age”6 and to consider the implications of ongoing tensions between commercial and artistic concerns as well as the restrictions that arise from questions of ownership and control in relation to the public context. Whether through the cultural bureaucracy of a municipality7 or a multi-national corporation such as Clear Channel8, screens are regulated, and ultimately cause an examination of what is and is not public.

For us, the networked, global form of the public screen manifestly raises questions about simultaneity, relationships between public and private, issues of centralization and control, as well as causing an examination of the ways in which cultural and commercial spheres intersect - all issues that pierce through and overlay the theme of “electric speed”.

This project might be characterized as an invitation to the six artists - Melissa Mongiat and Mouna Andraos, Jeremy Bailey, Jillian Mcdonald, Jon Sasaki, and Will Gill - to test the formal qualities of the public screen as a medium, because on some level the urban screen implicitly suggests an investigation of the contemporary media environment itself. With all the opportunities and restrictions of the screen, and the attendant factors which are explored in these works as well as in these essays and interviews, it remains for us an active question: Do the formal and contextual constraints that lie at the heart of the urban screen prevent it from functioning as a meaningful cultural space? Or on the other hand, is it even possible to imagine a meaningful investigation of global urban culture or media that takes place anywhere but there?

Kate Armstrong & Malcolm Levy, Vancouver
January 2012

References

1. A primarily European project initiated by Stephen Kovats and Michelle Kasprzak to create “a conversation that spans art, communications, and technology.” http://www.mcluhan2011.eu
2. Architecturally the Surrey Urban Screen is in fact more of a façade than a screen, as it possesses a unique exterior with a set of illuminated, irregular windows that challenge it as a traditional projection surface.
3. Mirjam Struppek is the founder of the International Urban Screens Association, http://www.urbanscreens.org/about.html
4. The BBC Big Screens initiative is a collaboration between the BBC, LOCOG and UK local authorities in which screens become focal points in the city for sports, news, events and content arising from partnerships with arts organizations.
5. Initiatives to present cultural projects operate in connection with sites such as New York’s Times Square, the large-scale urban screen in Federation Square in Melbourne, and the Collegium Hungaricum in Berlin.
6. Mirjam Struppek, http://www.urbanscreens.org/about.html
7. Where public art must be in dialogue with community and the specific requirements and constraints presented by the site in question.
8. Clear Channel is a global media and entertainment company that owns and operates approximately one million screens in 45 countries across 5 continents.

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