[Skylar Tibbits / Logic Matter, 60 unit working prototype / 2010]
FABRICATE is an International Peer Reviewed Conference, Publication and Exhibition hosted by the Bartlett School of Architecture to be held on 15-16 of April 2011 in London. It will bring together pioneers in design and making within architecture, construction, engineering, manufacturing, materials technology and computation. Discussion on key themes include: how digital fabrication technologies are enabling new creative and construction opportunities, the difficult gap that exists between digital modelling and its realisation, material performance and manipulation, off-site and on-site construction, interdisciplinary education, economic and sustainable contexts.
Tickets are now on sale and can be purchased here.
In addition to a stellar lineup of speakers, Fabricate will also feature a exhibition including work by: Gramazio & Kohler, Achim Menges, Enric Ruiz Geli, Simon Schleicher, Moritz Fleischmann, Oliver Tessmann, Mark Fahlbusch, Klaus Bollinger, Manfred Grohmann, Markus Schein, Hanno Stehling & Fabian Scheurer, Joe MacDonald, Tim Lucas, Chiara Tuffanelli, Cristiano Ceccato, Paul Madden & Geoff Crowther, Lucas Epp, Gerald Epp, Santiago Diaz, AL_A, Xavier De Kestelier, Skylar Tibbits, Wes McGee, Brandon Clifford, Parke MacDowell, Diana Tomova, Kendra Byrne, Nick Rebeck, Misha Smith, Vlad Tenu, Mette Ramsgard Thomsen, Karin Bech, Martin Tamke, Ermis Adamantidis, Marco Verde, Mark David Hosale, Jelle Feringa, Nat Chard, Asbjørn Søndergaard, Per Dombernowsky, Phil Ayres, Nick Puckett, Marta Male-alemany, Jeroen van Ameijde, Victor Viña, Peter Webb, Mick Pinner, William Trossell, Matthew Shaw and Peter Donders.
Clipped from a recent press release announcing Face to Facebook by Paolo Cirio:
In an attempt to free personal data as Facebook’s exclusive property we spent a few months downloading public information from one million profiles (including pictures). Immersing ourselves in the resulting database was a hallucinatory experience as we dove into hundreds of thousands of profile pictures and found ourselves intoxicated by the endless smiles, gazes and often leering expressions. After a few weeks we had to face the evidence. All that people wanted was to attract new people, have more relationships, to express and receive love through their digital traits. But they were trapped by Facebook owning their data and restricting their actions with primitive privacy rules. They wanted more than just their restricted circles of "friends" and they wanted it quickly and easily. Our mission was to give all these virtual identities a new shared place to expose themselves freely, breaking Facebook’s constraints and boring social rules.
…yielding lovelyfaces.com (screen capture above), a new—completely unauthorized—dating website that employs facial recognition software to sort and classify users.
Face to Facebook was executed by Cirio and Alessandro Ludovico (of Neural) and completes the Hacking Monopolism Triology (see Google Will Eat Itself and Amazon Noir) which has provoked important dialogues about agency and the shadow cast by the proprietary web. The above demo video and the project site provide additional information, be sure to read the statement as well (one can't help but love the line about "smiling in the eternal party" – it is pure poetry).
Earlier this month I attended parts of the transmediale 11 festival in Berlin, and I thought I would share some of the ideas and discussions I encountered during my festival meanderings, on subjects like freedom, power, knowledge, privacy and openness…all tied to the main theme of the festival itself: Response:ability. Here are some notes on some of what I saw and heard…
Mozilla’s Mark Surman, in his Marshall McLuhan lecture, focused on the idea of freedom as a framework for talking about the web. Mark has adapted Richard Stallman’s four freedoms (to run, study, redistribute and use software) to his own version of use, study, remix, share. He argued that this type of freedom, the freedom of open-endedness, of something never finished, is built into the fabric of the web itself, it is an inherent quality ‘baked in’. Or in other words, “the web sez ‘build me’”. Like Lego!
[photo: Benjamin Esham]
This open-endedness and the freedom to develop without asking permission is what fuels rapid innovation, benefiting grass roots organizations, global capital and anyone else who builds off of the tools and standards available for adaptation and reuse. We cannot take for granted these inherent freedoms, and Mark believes that we are now at an important point in time where decisions must be made about how all of this will continue to work and how freedom will continue to be built into the web. Using the example of the history of innovation and decision making in cinema, he pointed to one way in which Mozilla is trying to ensure continued web freedom: their Popcorn project which uses the native video handling of HTML5 to develop “hypervideo” tools to integrate video with content from just about any other web source. Mozilla also sponsored the first Open Web Award at transmediale this year, which went to the Evan Roth’s Graffiti Markup Language (GML) project.
I had the opportunity to interview Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern, whose ‘Wikipedia Art’ project was nominated for the transmediale award. I have transcribing and editing to do and will post the complete interview online when it is ready. Their project interested me because it takes as its source ‘material’ Wikipedia itself, it’s culture and the power structures that drive it. Through an intervention which took the form of a Wikipedia article and the ensuing discussion and documentation surrounding it Nathaniel and Scott have brought into question the mechanisms of knowledge production, the pursuit of truth and objectivity and the perceived authority of Wikipedia. Their project seemed to push a lot of buttons, provoking some heated debate of whether to keep the page in Wikipedia or not and whether it was in fact an act of vandalism. While Scott and Nathaniel are both proclaimed fans of Wikipedia, they hope that their project revealed the need for greater media literacy in the use of this resource.
Tackling the issues surrounding privacy online, Mushon Zer-Aviv presented a talk called “Getting Intimate with Invisible Audiences” in which he spoke about the privacy debate and the binary opposition it promotes between public and private poles of what should actually be a spectrum of more complex concepts, like confidentiality and intimacy. This binary opposition both dumbs down social interaction online and taints privacy with suspicion – if you have nothing to hide, why do you need to keep information private? He talked about Danah Boyd’s idea of the invisible audience as a characteristic of mediated publics and the way in which the resulting state of visibility can both assure the functioning of power in public spaces, and yet also become a means of publishing. In his conclusion, Mushon highlighted the importance of not only defining the protocols for interaction in these new mediated publics, but of defining the culture that will allow a broader spectrum of relationships to exist in them.
I highly recommend reading the details of his talk, which are available here: mushon.com/blog/2010/09/21/getting-intimate-with-invisible-audiences
At the sister festival, club transmediale (CTM) I went to see a performance called “Loud Luggage / Booming Baggage” by GX Jupitter-Larsen (The Haters). This performance is documented on his website as follows: “On Feb 2, GX Jupitter-Larsen squeezed an amplified toy shovel against an amplified suitcase. (#358).” I was with a friend, at the back of a small crowded room. My friend, who is taller than me, was trying to take a photo and I asked him if he could see anything. A woman nearby replied “You don’t need to see, it is a sound performance.” I thought this comment was interesting given the CTM festival theme of #LIVE!? and the many different and illusive things that ‘live’ can mean in electronic music and sound performances. In the stage performances of the Haters, the emphasis is more on the action taking place rather than on the creation of sound for it’s own sake, so in not being able to see anything I felt I was missing something integral. Hopefully I will have a future opportunity to both see and hear a Haters performance.
This field report was cross-posted to the Artengine blog.
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Our sixth VT Audio Edition has been released! Contributed by Montreal-based Shane Turner (aka Turner of Wheels), "Blotted" is undoubtedly the most energetic submission we've received for the project yet. Turner's mix chops up a selection of found vocal material and incorporates it into a series of cascading rhythm tracks that (at times) evokes comparisons to leftfield dubstep and some of the classic output released on Phthalo records. Jump through to the release page for more info and a download link.
note: This post is adapted from a talk that I intended to turn into an article for academic review. It was posted to my personal blog Complex Fields this past December. No citations here for now, will add later.
The Palm Pre is an interface I can speak of primarily as an object represented in use, since I’ve barely used the thing. (In fact, I recently downgraded my phone so that I don’t have email or web in my pocket.)
The Pre is an interface experience situated within some very particular rhetoric by its marketers and fans. As with many other mobile technologies, the creators of the Pre, its operating system and marketing campaigns set out to identify their product with the expansion of individual freedom through autonomy and self-determination.
As an interface, the Pre and its creators faced some very specific challenges in this effort, since Apple had beat them so soundly to the punch. As my colleague Lisa Nakamura points out, Steve Jobs performed a masterful display of agency through interface at the iPhone rollout.
The Pre’s answer to this represents a substantive departure, countering “boom” with “bing.”
My ability to speak about this device at all despite having barely used it is an indicator of how strong a presence interfaces can take as performed objects. While admitting to an incomplete analysis without attending to actual use, I’ll dive in here to describe how I see mobility understood and granted through this object’s representations and rhetorics.
The Pre - which I initially misunderstood as sharing the name of my favorite French poem - was heralded early on as Palm’s return to its former place as King of handheld interface design. In what looks now like a last-ditch effort, Palm brought on developer Jon Rubinstein, a key figure in the design of the original iPod. The Pre and its new operating system was Rubinstein’s first big contribution to the company; not long after the phone’s announcement, he was named CEO. Expectations were high, and Palm stock prices began to climb upon the Pre’s announcement in early 2009.
Among the standout features of the phone’s design was the operating system feature dubbed Synergy. This timely innovation marries one’s various contact lists and calendars across multiple social media platforms to create a single dashboard to access them all. One technology writer and market strategist described it as “the ability to integrate personal and business information into one cohesive view,” and compliments the Pre for “showing off how mobile is the intersection between business and personal lives.”
This, and the phone’s multitasking capability, is clearly the feature that Palm decided to push in its expensive rollout marketing campaign.
This portable interface promises power through mobility - while the subject, whom the script names “Anima” barely lifts a finger. The mobility promised is one of potential for movement between disparate social spheres, a promise of ease where the flaneurs of earlier modernities experienced only shock.
The problem of experiencing awkward social confluences is itself a sign of economic mobility. The need for smooth flow between social spaces in this case indicates not a changed polis as it did for Baudelaire or Benjamin, but rather an increase in one’s potential for movement – a change not in one’s shared environment but in an one’s prospects for moving through disparate environments. So the campaign needed to emphasize more than mere power through movement – the Pre’s marketers needed to display a sense of mastery over any space, and even a proclivity toward mastering new spaces. To this end, the language of flow, repetition, and rhythm pervade the whole campaign.
It’s not insignificant that the Pre’s function as buffer or lubricant for social mobility is visualized here through other bodies. The dancers “re-arrange themselves” for the main character, symbolizing in small part the actual people in her networks, and in large part the data streamed through her device. Anima’s fluent interface performance seems all the more powerful in contrast to the gargantuan task of choreographing such a huge group of dancers. Thus power is not only granted through the promise of mobility, but through picturing mobility as a relational phenomenon. Like the first violinist of a large orchestra, Anima’s autonomous movements seem all the more expert through contrast with the huge coordination behind her.
By employing a whole military consort in the production of this ad – and it is a group of students from a Beijing martial arts academy – the piece inadvertently also visualizes the ways in which digital mobilities depend on whole other networks of differing mobilities, people required to move in more and less regimented ways to produce the user’s expanded realm. I’m thinking here at least of the manufacturing and infrastructure laborers who support the networked consumer electronics industry – who probably, like the dancers here, differ from Anima in their skin color. But I’m also thinking of the global infrastructure necessary to any movement outside the proximal opportunities into which one is born.
In other words, the rhetoric around the Pre’s interface promises smooth navigation of bumps only possible for an economically mobile person, a person who moves. To desire this interface is to desire not just a solution to a problem, but to perhaps desire a problem that itself carries social and economic status. This was a significant marketing innovation, about as good as one could hope for in the battle with Apple. (And I should add - I totally bought it, I’ve been wanting one of these devices from the get-go.)
Pre’s choices in support of this mission were extremely smart. They knew they had to go all-out to even approach the iPhone in cache and presence. So they went with Modernista, the “high concept” ad agency perhaps known to most of you through their work on the Product Red campaign. The firm’s first smart choice in this direction was to hire director Tarsem Singh for the video spot. Tarsem has deep experience in shooting artful television ads, and like Michel Gondry and Neil Blomkamp, established an audience for later feature films through the creation of a unique commercial aesthetic. His two films, The Cell and The Fall, both feature female leads with uncanny psychic abilities; if you’ve seen them, the character of Anima will seem more familiar to you.
Tarsem specializes in the construction of non-places, dream-spaces that seem out of time or space, especially those that are rooted in individual subjective fantasy. Through costuming and art direction, these spaces often depend on the same sort of quasi-orientalist state-lessness conjured in the Palm ad. It’s the latest in a long line of travel fantasies for Western subjects. Especially interesting about this manifestation, however, is the decision on the part of Palm and Modernista to release a significant amount of behind-the-scenes footage from the commercial shoot. The ad company’s Youtube stream carries several short documentaries about location shooting in China, and Modernista ad workers even posted images from their travels on the company’s blog.
The result of all this is a second layer of experience for the brand’s true fans. Those who are sold on the Pre’s pitch as a sign of, and tool for, social mobility and control, can take a tour of Palm’s process, where the non-place of “Anima’s World” is replaced with the non-place of the self-contained tourist. Actress Tamara Hope is barely glimpsed in these quick, actively cropped scenes, escorted to the world of the shoot by a group of men close at hand. Since we barely even glimpse her face, we know she is safe in her own world, smoothly transferred across alien cityscapes.
These short films invite fans like myself, seduced by the Pre’s promise of smooth, self-contained management through interface use, to imagine a world of creative mobility, traveling wherever art demands. And of course these scenes of safe mobility are produced through contrast with the less mobile locals, ox-driving or bicycle-riding Chinese who travel at slower speeds to create the illusion of speed for the globetrotting creatives. The picture we get of life in China, of happy children carrying on an ancient tradition, of farmers on dirt roads, is a far cry from the picture we might get from visiting the Pre’s spaces of production, south in Taiwan.
The website for Chi Mei industries describes its work environment in terms of mobile citizenship, rather than in terms of timeless national identity, and so would probably be a poor contrast for Palm’s purposes anyway. Though depictions of the less mobile will work as contrasting material for the mobile elite, better to deal with the seemingly immobile, so as to make the mobile appear to be moving all the faster. We are also spared the reminder of the labor conditions that make such movement possible.
As you may know, reception of the “Flow” campaign was mixed, and you probably know by now that the Pre could not save Palm. The company was recently purchased by HP, with some analysts suggesting that there was really no value left in the company anyway. Market shares this year put Palm way behind in the smartphone market. But still, shortly after the ad rollout, we see results like these, in which the campaign seems to have succeeded in creating interest and desire.
The ads, and the device, certainly created attention in the consumer electronics community, where the character of “Anima” was quickly dubbed “creepy girl,” inspiring a meme-storm of parodies.
'The Palm Pre girl is the first human we’ve seen who is way down in the uncanny valley.' - from the blog Geek Woman Speaks
What are we to make of this mixed reception? The smartphone definitely delivered on its design promises. Fans love the thing, and it’s more likely that a high price and an association with service provider Sprint were to blame for the its lack of commercial success. Modernista executive creative director Gary Koepke claimed to have been very pleased with the campaign’s reception, stating that “…we knew it would be polarizing people to have a woman not shout at them and tell an interesting story.” We might look at the polarized reception of the campaign through the lens of advertising critics such as crazy George Parker, who’s been proclaiming a consumer revolt against high-concept ad campaigns.
But it might also be worth considering this split through a lens of relational mobilities. To my eyes, Modernista tried to correct or adjust the campaign through a couple of late ads in which Anima never turns her back to us, and always maintains eye contact. Their testing must have determined that Anima was not occupied enough with us as viewers. Why might this be a problem? Television viewers have been comfortable watching women operate technology from a distance for decades.
Perhaps, in this case, our status as onlookers made us feel creepy, given the degree to which Anima seemed immersed in a world of her own social control. Anima’s role in the ads is something of a stationary flaneuse, a spatial mover who lets her fingers do the walking. The creeped-out audience may have also been dismayed by the control she commanded, especially as a woman at the helm – thus this blogger’s comparison of Anima to Star Trek’s Borg Queen.
So for chumps like me, caught up in the sublime order of commanding super-human complexity with ease and fluency, the Pre’s promise of mobility offered a route to pursue, an object to purchase and a network to traverse. For those not caught up in the hype, perhaps this seemed like an impossible route to follow. Or perhaps, like those alienated by abstract art, Anima’s haters would prefer not to be made so aware of the structures of command.
As in the avant-garde’s traditional relationship to “low” or popular culture, the relationship between Anima’s fans and detractors is dynamic. They set each other apart and create energy, propelling one another forward in different directions. In this regard, Modernista’s campaign was a success on multiple levels. Fans like myself could vicariously identify with users and perhaps identify as mobile through “getting” a high-concept and difficult campaign. The Pre’s true users could move to identify with a condition of easy social mobility, marked by the need for integration of disparate worlds, but also perhaps by the relational distance of identifying with the avant garde or the creepy, the uncanny. It’s not insignificant that Modernista also designed an opening animation for the phone upon initial startup by a new customer. Here, the new user sees Anima’s landscape from her perspective, and moves into the seat of control.
Thus I would argue that the Pre campaign functions much as modern art has for the last hundred years, establishing possibilities for social and economic mobility in relation to lesser mobilities, through the creation of disparate classes of users and non-users, fans and detractors. And where the center of the old avant-garde was the picture, the 2-dimensional plane, the center of this one is the interface, or what some designers refer to as a 5-dimensional experience.
I’ll conclude here with one other Anima-hater video from Youtube, but one which I offer as a teaser for my other work on representations of interface: