Monday, February 23, 2009

Networked Vision: Reflections/Self Critique

Networked Vision
Originally uploaded by Rubin 110
Saturday night I exhibited a piece at Stimulus, a False Profit party at CellSPACE. The event was fantastic.

The piece was an installation I named very literally "Networked Vision," an interactive installation/sculpture with projected live video.

Description. The sculpture was made of e-waste cables and branches suspended from the ceiling. On top of it was a projector and my laptop, running a Max/Jitter patch I made. In amongst the cables were 4 web-cams and 2 infrared proximity sensors, and I was also using the built in web-cam on my laptop.
If nothing was moving around the sculpture, then the live video from the laptop cam, pointed at the projection wall, would be projected, creating video feedback. The program would switch through the different web-cams, analyzing the video for motion (amount of change from one frame to the next). If there was motion above a certain calibrated threshold, that web-cam's video would be projected until there was not motion in front of it. Then the program would go back to showing the video feedback and "looking" through the cams for motion.
There was also a DJ Stock ticker, imitating the tickers for trading floors, but with DJs instead of stocks, and a music analyzing patch plus a random number generator making their stock rise and fall. I thought this was funny, and possibly my favorite part, but I was annoyed when parts of it didn't work. Like at the end of the night it was supposed to say "ALL TRADING IS CLOSED THANK YOU GOOD NIGHT" but it didn't.
One proximity sensor triggered a message in the stock ticker (which never worked), the other controlled saturation, so the video was only in color when someone was in front of the sensor. This worked well and pleased me. The sculpture would rotate about 20 to 50 degrees when bumped, which I didn't anticipate but I liked the way it worked out.

My goals with this piece (design challenges) were first to make something fast (I had 2 weeks to make it), that I could set up and take down quickly and easily. Check.
I wanted people to be able to see pretty immediately that they were affecting the sculpture and how, but not so immediately that it was boring. This did not go as well as I would like, partially due to logistical constraints (the computer couldn't analyze all the video streams at once, therefore the switching). I think the video feedback added little to the piece and that it would have been better to let people see that the video input was switching, allowing them to more easily "get" it.

Aesthetics/concepts: I have been interested by the way cables look for a while, it was fun to experiment with them. They have such undulating organic forms while being very coldly technological. I like to work with reused materials, and e-waste and obsolescence being the technological issue that it is, in my mind the medium added a lot to the narrative. The branches were there as contrasting texture and form and conceptually relate to the intertwining of technology and the organic.
A lot of why I made this was to experiment with machine vision, but technical art needs to be related to human themes and not "wallow in gaudy baubles." The narrative in my mind was that the sculpture was the body of this networked (it wasn't... next time) cyborg creature, aware (via motion sensing), but not yet to the point of agency, broadcasting the nonsense data of the stock exchange (partially as a demonstration of it as a portal to the internet... but no one trades real stocks on Saturday night). When not stimulated it would lapse into "staring" at itself, creating the infinity of feedback. The e-waste aspect of the materials reminds of the social and ecological costs of this kind of technology.
It is also about interactivity as "relational form." The installation is not complete without people there. I narcissistically loiter around these pieces to watch what they inspire people to do. I am sad when people don't "get it," which is a failed communication on my part. I am delighted when people have fun with these things. Mostly I want people to play and experiment, working with each other to trigger different combinations of input and thereby different results. If this is my standard for success, I'd give this installation a 7/10.

For next time, I won't use the video feedback. The ease of participant understanding is more important than the "staring at itself" story. What's more I think the video looked best when it was in black and white and the motion video tracers (which were layered under the normal video) would show in color.
The video had some delay, which some people liked playing with. As a technical shortcoming, at least it had an aesthetic quality.
Also, having a networked component would be, you know, appropriate. Downloading stocks, uploading video, and being responsive to text messages would all make me pleased, and seem achievable.

Thanks to Andrew for helping like the rockstar he is. Thanks to Alvin for fetching bike rim, tools, pizza. Thanks to Rosco Petracula for consulting services. Thanks to False Profit for showing the work!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Genetic Hybirds, Stemcells, and Elective Surgery

Biotech, especially stem cell experiments, simultaneously excites and disturbs me.
In the hands of scientists, life is technology, as in the National Geographic article "Animal-Human Hybrids Spark Controvesy." In the hands of artists, a medium, like the Biological Arts Department at SymbioticA. In the marketplace, I believe there will be a niche for elective body modifications. Would I get breast implants? No. But would I get gill implants? Maybe.

Of course I have a lot qualms about all of this. The main argument in support of biotech is that medical research must be furthered to save lives; the obvious counterpoint is that this is a fantastic Pandora's box. And yet along with the rest of technology it seems so inevtiable, so unstoppable, so incredible, that I would be tempted to participate in its advancement.

What scientists would do (have done, are doing...) with human-animal hybrids is a question of ethics, not so different than the ethical questions of animal testing, but without the convenient divide between humans and animals. But as long as biotech is in the lab, it remains contained and controllable.

What the market would do is what actually worries me. Genetically modified corn designed to resist pests is only a global issue once it is widely planted. Patents and copyrights on molecules and GMOs is already a convoluted problem. Fertility treatments, already well established in our culture, are a huge market.

I don't know what will happen, and until I have gills, I won't be holding my breath.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Artists I found interesting today

There were a few.

George Maciunas
of Fluxus has a lovely "Fluxmanifesto" which calls for a democratization of art and the end of the divide between art and life:

“To establish artist’s nonprofessional, nonparasitic, nonelite status in society, he must demonstrate own dispensibility, he must demonstrate self-sufficiency of the audience, he must demonstrate that anything can substitute art and anyone can do it. Therefore, this substitute art-amusement must be simple, amusing, concerned with insignificances, have no commodity or institutional value. It must be unlimited, obtainable
by all and eventually produced by all.”

Fluxus in general is inspiring to me.

One of their publications, "An Anthology of Chance Operations" is worth looking at, and available as a pdf here.

Their "performance scores," or instructions for people to carry out thereby creating the art, are interactive in an interesting way. In my mind they relate to SF0, flash-mobs and other contemporary popular art/pranks/games.

Minerva Cuevas operates out of Mexico City, with a solidly social-activist intent for her art. Her Mejor Vida Corp. (Better Life Corporation) will send you cheaper barcode stickers for a grocery chain near you, including San Francisco Safeway.

Locally, False Profit, LLC does what it can to provide "Better living through better corporations." Mostly through providing really, really good music.

Y0UNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES is Seoul-based online art. Dakota was most interesting to me of those I looked at.

It seems very post-modern in its narrative, disconnected style. Animated literature is a very good idea and this was effective in that its simple aesthetic was jarring, time-based, and with its use of music created an experience for the viewer.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer
uses physical computing, multimedia, video surveillance and "relational architecture" to make interactive, technology-based art.

I first became aware of his art at the SFMOMA. His "Microphones" piece was my favorite, and relates the most to the work I am experimenting with myself.

Other work I found interesting was his "Relational Architecture" series, including "Pulse Park" which translated participant's pulses into light in Madison Square.

The idea of Relational Architecture is clearly related to Relational Aesthetics, articulated by Nicolas Bourriaud, current curator of contemporary art at the Tate Britain: