For the past 12 years the Politecnico id Milano University has hosted the Generative Art International Conference. Organized by professors Celestino Soddu and Enrica Colabella, this is a small and friendly conference that allows for a great deal of informal interaction along with the presentation of papers and performances.
Participants come from all over the world and run the gamut representing diverse generative art interests including fine art, scientific research, innovative engineering, literary critical theory, intuitive studio practice, mathematics, education, music, industrial design, computer interface research, art theory and history, and more.
Last December's installment was no less diverse. For example, both Arne Eigenfeldt and Brigid Burke presented generative music systems for live performance. They also performed using those systems as part of the evening program. Eigenfeldt's Kinetic Engine uses a computational multi-agent approach where Burke's "An Enchanted Aisle" takes a more intuitive approach to improvisation. Daniel Bisig and Tatsuo Unemi reported on their continuing work applying performer-aware swarm simulation for realtime use on stage in dance performance.
Structure Synth is an open-source cross-platform system created by Mikael Hvidtfeldt Christensen. It uses a context free design grammar approach for generating complex, and usually surprising, 3D forms. Romain Clair presented work he has done with Nicolas Slimane using generative technologies to allow disabled people to create music and visual art.
Perhaps because it is hosted by an architecture department the Conference typically includes a number of architecture papers. Ebru Ulu presented her work using shape grammar models to generate Islamic geometric patterns. In a related but more metaphorical sense Mounjia Abdeltif explored fractal and symmetry aspects of Algerian heritage architecture. And Mirjana Devetakovic presented Fun3D, a software platform that allows the use of cellular automata in architectural design.
The above are just a few examples of the forty-plus research presentations from the 2009 conference. The conference also included poster sessions and nightly performances exercising generative techniques. All of the papers and performance documentation from this and the 11 preceding years are available for free access at generativeart.com.
A month-long celebration of radio and transmission art including performances, installations, broadcasts, commissioned works for CBC radio's Living Out Loud, workshops and the Radio Without Boundaries conference (May 27-29). Deep Wireless artists include Emmanuel Madan, Anna Friz, EC Woodley, Rebecca Singh, Erik Laar, Gregory Whitehead, Shannon Cochrane, Charles Stankievech, Götz Naleppa and Frank Kaspar. Performances are scheduled for May 1, 8, 27, 28 and 29 and interactive installations as well as NAISA Radio (a community radio station at the Artscape Wychwood Barns will be running throughout the month of May). Check the Deep Wireless NAISA website for schedule & updates.
'The dominant, continuing search for a noiseless channel has been, and will always be no more than a regrettable, ill-fated dogma.'
So reads the introduction to Rosa Menkman's Glitch Studies Manifesto, a text published earlier this year. There has been a renewed interest in glitch aesthetics over the last twelve months and this buzz can probably attributed to several causes: the appearance of datamoshing in mainstream pop music videos, the publication of Iman Moradi and Ant Scott's long-awaited Glitch: Designing Imperfection and a growing number of integrated AV performance showcases at festivals all over the world. Rosa Menkman has consolidated numerous facets of ephemeral glitch culture and stitched together an exciting document that is both an artistic call to arms and a move to patch "glitch studies" into several recent philosophical movements (eg. bending/breaking as metaphor for différance). As any manifesto should be, the text is charged with energy and numerous digs at the status quo (a personal favourite being one aimed at proprietary tools and software complacency where Menkman urges us to move away from "established action scripts"). An excerpt:
'Whenever I use a ‘normal’ transparent technology, I only see one aspect of the actual machine. I have learned to ignore the interface and all structural components, to be able to understand a message or use a technology as fast as possible. The glitches I trigger turn the technology back into the obfuscated box that it already was. They shroud its inner workings and the source of the output as a sublime black veil. I perceive glitches without knowing where they originate from. This gives me an opportunity to concentrate better on its form - to interpret its structures and to learn more from what I can actually see. They create an acousmatic videoscape in which I can finally perceive an output outside of my goggles of speed, transparency and usability.'
The entire text is available on Menkman's blog and it can also be downloaded as a PDF – which the author cheerfully invites interested parties to "read and destroy". Vimeo users should also note Menkman's group dedicated to noise artifacts.
It may be hard to remember now, but in a previous geologic era when CD supermarkets still dotted the North American continent, they customarily featured at least one waterfall rack of discs labeled as "world music": it was always a bit of a puzzling redundancy to begin with (where was music supposed to come from other than the world?), but essentially referred to any shade of indigenous and organic sound impervious to the workings of the post-industrial economies. Then, amid the hipster resurgence of the mid 1990s, the ordering logic of these sections tended to contradict this organicist aesthetic and to more closely reflect the tastes of that small, but cash-flush segment of society: the lounge-friendly percolations of Brazilian tropicalia, wispy French chansons and the like made significant inroads, along with the most polished and cosmopolitan pop of just about 'anywhere but here.' Nonetheless, it's the 'people close to the earth' world musical model that still lives on at the impulse buy CD counters of your local Starbucks, but this is rapidly being supplanted by a leaner, hungrier, and more explicitly electrified sound. Its rhythmic foundations differ wildly from place to place, as do its melodic content, tonal complexity, and vocal phrasing, but a few characteristics seem to distinguish the newer "world music" on a global scale. Lyrical and graphical content eschews rural folk traditions and pastoral reflection for engagement (sometimes critical, sometimes not) with the illicit extremes of hyper-urban reality. It doesn't shy away from using English and French patois in the place of (or alongside) the local tongue, or—more commonly—from making knowing references to Western popular culture. From a technical standpoint, it couldn't be made without studio manipulation and the automated, sequenced processes of electronic equipment. Steve 'Kode9' Goodman, a dubstep producer, label owner, and academic writer, is one of a few like-minded individuals who has compressed all these tendencies together into an overflowing container emblazoned with the words "global ghettotech," noting how the aggregate of new styles from South African kwaito to Rio's funk carioca all share the reality of being a "radically synthetic counter to 'world music.'"1
One of the reasons for this stylistic shift should be evident to anyone that has tracked the developmental progress of the third world: its new mega-cities are, more and more, resembling cyberpunk dystopias in the way that the high-tech menace of the security industry coexists with the improvisational, ramshackle living environments of these cities' teeming poor, with little transitional zoning between the two worlds. São Paulo (pictured above) stands out as a striking example of this trend: here is a metropolis whose downtown area hosts no less than 250 heliports, used by the city's richer inhabitants "to insulate themselves from the dangers of mingling with ordinary people […] looking around the skyline of the city, one really does feel as if one is in a futuristic megalopolis of the kind pictured in films such as Blade Runner or The Fifth Element, with ordinary people swarming through the dangerous streets down below, whilst the rich float around on a higher level, up in the air."2 To be sure, you no longer need to look to Tokyo or Hong Kong for a visualization of cyberpunk's classic themes of social control and technological piracy / subterfuge. This is not, however, the clean and cutesy "geisha-with-a-cell phone" exotica so beloved of nth-generation cyberpunk writers, but one where cell phones are used to coordinate spectacular riots across the network of São Paulo prisons. Informal employment is these regions is the rule rather than the exception, and thus improvisational tech practices like traquitana (a local form of recycling that, among other things, sees slum dwellers turning cast-off lamps into TV antennae) often provide a 'ghetto tech' of the plastic arts to complement the music reverberating through the sprawling habitats of corrugated metal.
It would be unusual if music coming out of such environments didn't pulsate with extreme urgency and with a desire for immediate gratification in the face of constant, gripping uncertainty. Steve Goodman insists, though, that rather than being cowed by fear, slum populations do the only other thing they can with it- producing a "…sonic ecology of dread: fear activated deliberately to be transduced and enjoyed in a musical context."3 At the same time, it's difficult to ignore the fact that certain styles falling under Goodman's definition of this music owe their propagation to organizations that make modern slum life such a violent undertaking. In São Paulo, for example, the massively popular baile funk parties are funded by cartels like the Comando Vermelho and the PCC ['First Command of the Capital'] as part of their own ongoing P.R. campaign. The most hardcore fringe of the funk carioca movement –known locally as proibidão, 'prohibited'– features MCs like Renatinho and Alemão openly paying tribute to the organizations' leaders, generally raising their stock in the impoverished favelas while slinging verbal lead at the military police and other natural enemies. Proibidão tracks, in terms of production technique, are representative of much of Goodman's global ghettotech, in the sense that they can hold their own with the most digitally-scrubbed Euro-dance platters. The dominant vocals, for example, take advantage of dramatic filter sweeps, chopping / panning effects and even the dreaded AutoTune effect so widely employed by established electronic dance music styles. Unsurprisingly, samples of overhead helicopters and automatic weapon fire often punctuate the mix.
The starring role of a criminal underground in making this music available provides a moral quandary for its more 'conscious' consumers, as it did with American gangsta rap. However, making music in the world's peripheral communities is not just a matter of downloading some freeware and getting to work: variables such as the shaky supply of electricity and potable water, equally unreliable access to public transportation and the constant extraneous noise of the slums all conspire to make this process significantly more difficult. Not to belittle its very real social problems, but the South London where dubstep holds court can hardly be equated with the ultra-congested slums of Lagos or Cite-Soleil (in Port au Prince, Haiti)- while the need for formal rehearsal space may have been alleviated by the increasing compactness of music equipment, the sheer compression of human bodies into a slum like Cite-Soleil makes the clearing out of any space a challenge, let alone one where high-tech music can be adequately recorded and performed. This is where groups like the PCC can pick up the slack, offering both the means of recording and performing in exchange for helping to form their 'cultural base'.
Now then, there is the question of whether organizations like the PCC would have any clout whatsoever if not for the draconian drug laws (primarily in the U.S.), and the subsequent overreach of the D.E.A., that help sustain the underground economy. Really, we can spend all day pitying the poor souls who have to rely on drug gangs to provide them with their means of entertainment, but it's unwise to do so without acknowledging first-world complicity in creating their current state of affairs. A music critic no less than Simon Reynolds falls into this trap, and offers a prime example of global ghettotech's ability to draw out colonialist attitudes thinly veiled by (borrowing Goodman's term) "sono-political correctness." In a puzzling dual adoration and condemnation of British ghettotech ambassador M.I.A. (pictured above), Reynolds is "turned off" by her live show's "stencil-sprayed projection imagery of grenades, tanks, and so forth,"4 but nonetheless firmly under the spell of her "exotic" physical attractiveness. While Reynolds may be justified in raising an eyebrow over the singer's playing up of tenuous connections to Sri Lankan rebel royalty, Reynolds also suspects M.I.A.'s use of the heroic 'third world vs. first world struggle' as being insincere, claiming that the Sri Lankan Civil War of the past 30 years was a purely ethnic conflict along the lines of the Rwandan genocide. Reynolds doesn't seem to know much about the conflicts he's addressing, as the Tutsi / Hutu ethnic distinctions in modern Rwanda are, in fact, the invention of its Belgian colonizers, who eventually issued 'ethnic identity cards' in the 1930s to cement these artificial divisions. All that aside, though, there is something awkward and inconsistent about championing universal access to technology, further championing indigenous populations' ability to "make it their own," and then standing aghast when they "make it their own" in a way that deviates from the 'champion's' wishes. Taking a somewhat more nuanced approach is ghettotech booster DJ Rupture, saying of the inflammatory ghettotech presentation that
"…if you want to talk politics, follow the money. If you want to talk politics in music, follow the distribution- see who benefits from what. Imagine a 'socially-conscious' funk carioca hit…owned by a Westerner who profits from it while the artist gets underpaid. The song appears to be good & politically just, but it is simply an extension of an old colonial relationship. So examining lyrics won't answer any questions of power."5
As important as the question of this music's political allegiances, though, is the degree to which its creators accept the term: is "global ghettotech" a term that's only going to have currency in those places where it isn't made? Admittedly, the term suffers from the same over-simplification as the original "world music." For one, the global ghettotech map of the ghetto-ized globe is a little incomplete. Extremely populous mainland China is conspicuously absent, owing perhaps to poor documentation of a party / dance infrastructure at which its own local strain of bass culture can be observed- unless we count phenomena like the hotel-sized karaoke 'clubs' of cities like Shenzhen. Meanwhile, by Mike Davis' own admission in Planet of Slums, "the fastest-growing slums are in the Russian Federation (especially ex-"socialist company towns" dependent on a single, now-closed industry) and the former Soviet republics"6. The lucrative black market weapons trade in these post-Soviet territories also, in an odd way, waters the global ghettotech tree, providing musical sponsors like the PCC / Comando Vermelho axis with potent arsenals of large-caliber arms, even anti-aircraft weapons. Electronic dance culture took an unexpected and largely ignored detour into the Balkans –another region thrown into socio-economic chaos upon the Soviet collapse- in the 1990s. Here, again, it partially owed its propagation to criminal elements: Serbia's notorious paramilitary leader Željko 'Arkan' Ražnatović almost certainly helped fund Belgrade's nightclubs with the profits reaped from his war profiteering, and his marriage to Serbian pop mega-star Ceca is now the stuff of local legend. The gauche, unstylish qualities of period Serbian dance music ('Turbo Folk') didn't make it any less modern, and it was no less prone to risky re-appropriation than dance styles further West on the continent (one Turbo smash, Ivan Gavrilovic' sports car anthem '200 na Sat', cheerfully swipes the distinctive synth sequence from 2 Unlimited's 'No Limit.') Balkan scholar Alexei Monroe's assessment of Turbo Folk unintentionally lends itself to the tech-music of other music styles coming from beyond the affluent first world. Monroe says of Turbo Folk that its
"…reprocessing of Western forms has taken to the extreme their repressive potential. As with any reprocessing operation, there are always some side effects from the hardcore residue or toxic excess. However, in this case, these side-effects - the production of a siege mentality and constant antagonism combined with militant optimism and nostalgia - are what the reprocessors actually seek to produce."7
Taken out of context, Monroe could just as easily be describing the Nigerian funk-and-fury Afro-beat of the Kuti clan, or the cyborg swagger of Kingston dancehall 'warlord' Bounty Killer. While still focusing on Serbia, Monroe also keenly describes how the first world tends to erroneously view large swathes of ghettotech as alien curiosity- not noticing how closely such music cleaves to the West's now omnipresent 'postmodern' aesthetic:
"This hyper-hedonistic visual overload is not something we can safely confine to 'them,' the perverse Balkan primitives. It is an only slightly intensified version of the sensory bombardment of the Western infosphere, which is just as prone to fuse tacky 'retro' images with state-of-the-art graphics."8
Indeed, Monroe raises an interesting question as to who is more naïve: is it the third world re-appropriators themselves? Or, is it the denizens of the first world's entertainment economy, whose sarcastic enjoyment of, say, a Bollywood re-make of Michael Jackson's Thriller video betrays their own incredulity towards third-world resourcefulness (e.g. 'wow, how could they have ever known about Thriller in this backwards country?') With such naiveté already in full swing, no form of global ghettotech is totally immune from being more of a narcissistic consumer phenomenon, fueled by comic irony and constant disposable novelty, than it is a tool for encouraging radical, anarchic heterogeneity. The fact that journalists from São Paulo are now interviewing artists in New York about the phenomenon, rather than the other way around, hints at the fact that, in the eyes of non-Western observers, global ghettotech may be just a stentorian and hard-edged upgrade of "world music," and one whose DJ proselytizers are sommeliers catering to a fairly exclusive audience: DJ Rupture, on the receiving end of one such interview, avers that "the exposure and interest [in global ghettotech] is overrated. 'Global ghettotech' club nights are a minority, it is just a few individuals in a few cities doing it."9
Thinkers like Steve Goodman (pictured above) may also be a little too restrictive in their insistence that the tech-assisted music of the peripheral world can encompass only electronic dance music, and that its assumed mortal foe, rock music, has a "fetishization of midrange frequencies" that must stand in opposition to dance sound systems' "waves of bass […] radiat[ing] through the body of the crowd, creating a vectorial force field not just heard but felt across the collective affective sensorium."10 I don't think I'm being too mischievous when I say that Goodman's politics of affect could apply just as easily to the pagan bass ceremonies of doom metallers Sunn O))) as to the lo-freq, danceable paranoia of dubstep. Modern music critics who dismiss so-called "rockists" out of hand are missing the fact that, with the obstinate global popularity of extreme heavy metal, one form of tech-aided populist music has been thriving for well nigh on decades. It has successfully weathered a storm of institutional repression and critical censure, and, like the previously mentioned forms of electronic dance music, has absorbed accusations of deliberately dumbing down the folk. Sure, the electronically amplified instruments in metal are predominantly guitars (see my earlier piece, "Lemurs Over Laptopia," for an extension of this argument) rather than samplers and beatboxes, and the emotional tenor of the music favors catharsis through violence a little more than it encourages easy-going sensual enjoyment. Yet the visceral quality of grindcore, death metal et. Al. connected with a slum-based audience that otherwise had a distrust of 'bourgeois' rock and already had locally-produced styles like samba to fulfill rock's social function as escapist entertainment (note the nearly 3,500 Brazilian metal bands listed at the Metal Archives site.) Also, it is too easy to write off this culture as a mere capitulation to European style: more groups like Japan's penultimate doom / sludge act Corrupted are solidifying international cult hero status, roaring out their lyrics in the Spanish language of the barrios and favelas with which they sympathize, and using the photographic evidence of destitute and conflict-ravaged regions in the Americas to further drive home their point. Lastly, the cassette-trading and correspondence networks that solidified punk and metal in the mega-slums are at least comparable to the intercontinental back-and-forth volleying of rhythms, samples and local 'soundmarks'.
If the hopeless ambiguity of the term 'global ghettotech' is all we have to go by, then it truly is a successor to the hopelessly ambiguous World Music 1.0. Yet if we look beyond the music's characteristic of being 'radically synthetic,' and see it as being radically reflective of contemporary geopolitics, then things become decidedly more interesting. From the policy decisions that allow the slum archipelago to expand at such an exponential rate, to the encouragement of the universalization of music-making technology, to the lurid overload of the lyrical content, there is little about global ghettotech that doesn't involve real, ever-intensifying reciprocity between first and third worlds- a reciprocity that, ironically, proves to be very "organic" indeed in the way that it eventually makes binary modes of thinking more difficult to sustain. Much of the old world music was seen as a terminus point beyond which the target cultures would never develop, whereas global ghettotech –for all its flaws- refuses to exist solely in an echo chamber, or to be recuperated as a commodity without at least being allowed to comment on why it exists in the first place.
(1) Steve Goodman, Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect and the Ecology of Fear, p. 196. MIT Press, Cambridge, 2010.
LiWoLi 2010 is an open lab focusing on Free /Open Source Software (FLOSS), Open Hardware and open contents in digital art and culture. This event will offer workshops, lectures, presentations and performances. For anyone interested in these subjects, participation in the entire program is free. The 2010 Liwoli edition will take place in Linz, Austria and it will focus on DIT, i.e. the Art of "doing it together".
Liwoli is seeking contributions within the field of Free and Open Source Software (FLOSS), open hardware, art & culture, learning & teaching developed by groups, collective, multiple entities that have realized projects "successfully" or even "less successfully" and want to make their tools and works freely available and distribute them. The three main categories are Free and Open Source Tools, Free and Open Source Software – Sharing, Learning and Teaching, Hack Reality.
Online submission is open until March 19th.
In an exciting effort to cultivate new perspectives on the media arts landscape, Artengine (Ottawa) and Vague Terrain (Toronto) are collaborating on a residency for an emerging critic or cultural journalist from the Ottawa-Gatineau area. For one year the selected participant will pen a monthly cross-post to the Vague Terrain and Artengine blogs. The residency kicks off on May 6th with a paid trip to the 2010 Elektra Festival in Montréal to post reviews and more from one of North America's premiere digital culture events.
Applicants must be based in the Ottawa-Gatineau area, and are requested to send a resume and letter describing their interest in the electronic and media arts as well as what they would bring to the respective online publications. You may also submit links to previous online writings.
The successful applicant will receive a $1,200.00 stipend; one trip (Ottawa-Montreal) including travel, accommodation and per diem during the festival; and one festival pass to all Elektra events. The resident will also receive workshops from the Ottawa Art Gallery during their 2011 critical writing series Articulation.
Applicants must be available for travel to Montréal from May 5th to 9th, 2010.
Please submit letters and CV in PDF form to email@example.com
The deadline for submission is Monday April 5th. The successful applicant will be notified by April 15th, 2010. For questions or further information please contact Artengine's artistic director Ryan Stec at the email address listed above.
Artengine is non-profit artist-run centre that foster democratic and innovative approach to creative expression with technology. Based in Ottawa-Gatineau, Artengine runs a modular media and electronics laboratory, produces the biennial Electric Fields festival and operates an artist-run server providing online tools to artists and cultural organizations.
About Vague Terrain
Vague Terrain is a web based digital arts publication that showcases the creative practice of a variety of artists, musicians and scholars. Vague Terrain produces three to four journal issues a year and these themed publications often emerge from the expertise and network of niche guest curators (who have recently included Joshua Noble, Kim Cascone and Paul Prudence). Content consists of curated visual, audio and written works, and over the last two years the journal has been complimented with an increasingly active blog produced by a team of international contributors.
[detail of p. 8 from standard test pages for early fax transmission]
Our common processes and protocols for digitization rely on a finite corpus of sample images, movies, objects and texts. Before consumers had access to such common formats as JPEG image compression or Quicktime videos, researchers stared at a few choice test subjects for hours and hours, until these images became mere indicators of fidelity, devoid of content.
For new viewers, these dead images, more index than symbol, are as arbitrary and puzzling as any meme. Like image macros, they point more to previous viewings than to the strange referents they contain. Yet the referents hang around like ghosts, and make me wonder how our formats would differ if other images had happened to be lying around the labs.
If you hold to the blunt criticism that digital life carries more information than context, then these test images are the ur-symbols of our data-cult. I find it pleasurable and useful to reach back and look at these objects out of their original research setting, to let questions of content and context rush back in.
If lena.tif is the most famous of these test subjects, other common test subjects in image compression reveal how poorly-suited the "Lena" TIFF is to demonstrating real-world fidelity problems. Right up there with lena.tif in popularity, if not in infamy, are these three images. Like Lena, each are typically provided at 512x512px, 72dpi, in uncompressed TIFF format. Compared to Lena, they present clearer technical problems to solve.
[from left: baboon.tif, goldhill.tif, peppers.tif]
Looking at these three - often found in the same directory online - we see both a range of technical challenges and a range of hoped-for applications for digital imaging.
Baboon.tif (actually a mandrill) and peppers.tif offer some obvious opportunity for color correction and testing through contrast, though it could be asked - how would most people know exactly how blue the mandrill should be? In fact, those who set standards for compression formats rely on more than subjective judgment of an individual image. Standards bodies such as the Joint Photographic Experts Group have released other test images that contain embedded data, hidden characters and markers to be sent and received through the encoding process, as in steganography.
Baboon.tif brings some texture challenges, and goldhill.tif (a photograph of a street in Dorset) some opportunities for comparing the same algorithm on plants and architecture. There's also some good opportunity in goldhill.tif for establishing clear aerial perspective and depth of field. Peppers.tif provides us with our only reflective surfaces in the early sets.
So a set of desires from imagery emerges here, both in form and content. What might we want from digital images? Apparently we would want, in addition to faithful rendering of exposed human skin, easy depiction of clearly marked and identifiable color, the rendering of deep space and diverse surface textures, glosses. We might also see here some imagined future uses for digital photography - education(baboon), tourism(goldhill), and sales(peppers).
Others images pop up from time to time, and some companies work from their own batch of recognizable and abstract imagers. Other common characters include the Cameraman, a fishing boat, and someone called Zelda.
[from left: cameraman.tif, boat.tif, zelda.tif]
If we look back a step in technological history, we find the eight standard test images [PDF link] for fax technology, which also provide both a range of technical problems and a revealing survey of hoped-for applications.
[from left: CCIT p.8, CCIT p.7, CCIT p.2]
Looking at these fax subjects, we're also reminded of the origins of image compression in communication theory - and how all our visible digital stimuli have roots in the encoding and transmission of audio data. Just as in the longer media histories of McLuhan and Ong, the ear precedes the eye in the story of digitization.
Today we may throw around the metaphor of image as information with abandon, but the language is not figurative in these cases. In this purest form of the analogy, we see how the understanding of images as information can literally drain the subject away. When I imagine these images proliferating through labs, machines, academic papers, and conference screens, I'm struck by how freely they fly, wholly unencumbered by intellectual property issues, wrung free of aura or content, the purest form of visual data. Yet assembled again into a collection, their mysterious content and context rushes back, through the pleasure of the wunderkammer, and the arbitrary nature of science's subjects.
In the next installment of the series, we'll look at the test subjects for 3D modeling - and learn how many ways one can slice a Buddha. Eventually we'll look at examples from video and text as well, before moving to the recent return of proprietary approaches to test images, in facial recognition and data-mining.
[Standby public launch / photo: Liisa Tervinen ]
A series of six urban screen projects were recently installed in Madrid’s Plaza de Las Letras as the output of the Medialab Prado sponsored Open Up workshop. The projects were developed in-situ over the course of two weeks by international teams of collaborators (including myself) and were designed specifically for the plaza’s three-story digital LED facade.
Employing a range of elements including live motion capture, social network-sniffing, virtual ecosystems, games and public testimonials, the projects attempted to activate a somewhat quiet plot of urban space and engage its evolving identity as a recently-created place.
A range of technical and practical issues had to be confronted—some of the most persistent relating to pedestrian movement (or lack thereof) in the plaza, the relatively low resolution (192 x 157) of the facade/display and issues related to neighborhood or municipal disturbance (a seventh project focused on city surveillance initiatives was apparently halted by local authorities).
[Chris Sugrue programming video-tracking system / photo: Liisa Tervinen]
Ultimately the projects succeeded in making questions related to interaction and the social impact of technology visible and immediately relevant, while manifesting the open-source and collaborative goals of Medialab-Prado, whose mission is the creation of “a structure where both research and production are processes permeable to user participation.
A brief summary of the six developed projects:
Editor's note: Check out photo documentation of the projects here.
[Paul Sermon / Telematic Vision / 1993-]
The fifth and final DOCAM Summit took place two weeks ago in Montreal. Over five years the project, spearheaded by the Daniel Langlois Foundation, brought together researchers and practitioners from a variety of disciplines to investigate the issues inherent to the documentation and conservation of media arts heritage. The project produced a great collection of tools and resources that are now freely available on the DOCAM website to artists, curators, conservators, archivists and anyone else concerned by the future of artworks with technological components.
Many themes and discussions emerged during the single day of the Summit that I was able to attend – we were exposed to a wide swath of interrelated issues and topics that are central to the research axes of DOCAM: conservation, documentation, cataloguing, terminology, pedagogy and the history of technology. I thought I would bring to your attention two projects that reflect a new and important area of inquiry in preserving media arts: the documentation of audience experience and its relationship to artistic intent. Two documentary case studies were presented which highlight the importance of recording visitors’ subjective impressions of their interactions with a work. Rolf Wolfensberger of the Museum of Communication of Berne presented a case study of Paul Sermon’s work Telematic Vision (1993-) and Katja Kwastek, formerly of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Media Art Research, presented a case study of Tmema’s (Golan Levin and Zachary Lieberman) The Manual Input Workstation (2004-2006). The methodology used for capturing the audience experience of these two works was developed by Lizzie Muller and Caitlin Jones during their earlier work for the Daniel Langlois Foundation on a documentary case study of David Rokeby’s Giver of Names, and includes techniques such as observational videos, video-cued recall interviews and questionnaires. Information about how audiences interact with a work has seldom been included in the official documentary record of a work, yet the identity and authenticity of a work is often closely tied to the nature of the interactions that occur. The information gathered from audience members provides valuable context for conservators who wish to preserve and possibly re-present the work at a future date. To read more about the role of documented audience experience in preserving new media art, see Lizzie Muller’s publication Towards an oral history of new media art. You can also browse through the documentary collections for these and other artworks in the Publications section of the Daniel Langlois Foundation website here.
Four months ago I posted an innocent feeler on twitter to see if any of our connections on that network would be interested in contributing to the Vague Terrain blog. The tweet (and a subsequent blog post) were widely circulated and we received a wave of interest and the following artists/researchers have emerged as our newfound blogging team. While we dialed back the "two posts a month" clause, we have been pleasantly surprised by the volume of material we've been receiving. These folks are doing a great job of providing a window into issues and events connected to their various creative practices – we are extremely grateful for their contributions. Listed below are brief bios of our diverse team, please note the links to their portfolios, blogs and online media.
Thomas Bey William Bailey is a multi-disciplinary artist and cultural researcher, whose work has manifested itself as books, articles, music releases, sound installations, experimental radio shows, and completely undocumented or personal creative actions / interventions. His work tends towards either 'atomizing' life (e.g. making recordings of asthmatic breath and incomprehensible sleep-talking, strobing videos limited to only a couple visual elements) or illuminating its hyper-complexity with intense noise, etc. Many of these ideas are further fleshed out in Bailey's first book-length survey of his influences and allies, Micro Bionic, published in 2009 on Creation Books. [blog]
Marco Donnarumma (aka TheSAD) is an independent new media artist, teacher, composer, performer and bass player currently based in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK. His works take life in multiple forms such as audiovisual live performances, electronic/electro-acoustic compositions, multimedia installations and interactive sceneries. Past appearances include the Venice Biennale, the Rome White Night at Palazzo delle Esposizioni and the Live!iXem Festival in Italy; the NEMO Festival at Le Cube and Visionsonic #1 in Paris. He works as FLOSS developer as well as MA Professor of Sound Design for Sensitive Environment with FLOSS at LABA – Brescia Academy of Fine Arts, Italy. [blog]
Philip Galanter is an artist, theorist, and Assistant Professor in the Department of Visualization at Texas A&M University. His activities include the artistic exploration of complex systems, and the development of art theory bridging the gap between the cultures of science and the humanities. Philip creates generative hardware systems of his own design, video and sound art installations, digital fine art prints, and light-box transparencies. His work has been shown in the United States, Canada, the Netherlands, and Peru.
Kevin Hamilton is an Associate Professor and Chair of New Media at the School of Art and Design, University of Illinois. His research as an artist and scholar includes writing and publication, cross-disciplinary collaboration, networked media production, and the creation of artworks for public and gallery settings. Kevin is currently completing a commissioned artwork on a forgotten cybernetics lab, and writing on the role of the console operator in Cold War nuclear iconography. [archive, previous website/projects]
Corina MacDonald is a writer, researcher, DJ and data maven working in community radio, electronic music, media art documentation and digital heritage. Under the alias of Cyan she hosts modular_systems on alternating Sundays at CKUT FM 90.3 (ckut.ca). Corina recently joined the Vague Terrain editorial team.
Abinadi Meza is a sound artist currently based in Texas. He is a graduate of SCI-Arc (Southern California Institute of Architecture) and University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. His work has been presented at venues including the Institute of Contemporary Arts, Dunaújváros, Hungary; FILE Festival, São Paulo; Biennale of Electronic Arts, Perth; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin and La Casa Encendida, Madrid.
Ben Baker-Smith has a B.A. in Visual Arts and Cinema Studies from Oberlin College. He is currently working as a video post-production engineer and web designer in Chicago, IL. [blog, flickr photostream, vimeo]