The so-called Centennial Light has been burning for 113 years. It graces the ceiling of the Livermore-Pleasanton Fire station (in California), has its own live cam and is often cited as evidence for the existence of planned obsolescence in later-produced light bulbs. It also provides me with a fairly simple way to ease into the concept of 'disnovation'...
A few months ago, the festival accès)s( in Pau (France) invited the audience to take a critical look at the idea of a techno-driven progress, at a propaganda machine that promise that new 'advances' in information and communication technologies will solve our problems and fulfill the dreams we don't even know we had. All we need to do is update, upgrade and replace our devices.
The problem is that this quest for the new, this confusion between 'innovation' and 'progress', has been seeping into other areas of the public sphere: politics, economy, eduction and art. This global phenomenon has contributed to institute techno-sciences as the core of modern dogma and the consommation / innovation pair as the driving force for the economics.
This 'Disnovation' (a term coined by Gregory Chatonsky), this techno-capitalist innovation that feeds on our fear of obsolescence raises a series of questions:
Are the continuous flight towards novelty and the negation of preceding values a human obligation, an intuitive tendency, an end in itself, a salutary value?
Is innovation the expression of an ideal whose purposes are dictated by mere economic and industrial choices?
How can artists become tacit actors for the spreading and popularization of innovations?
How does this context result as counter-relief in hijacked, critical, poetic, alternative practices?
A performance by Yann Leguay at Disnovation Exhibition @ accès)s( Festival & Bel Ordinaire, 2014. Photo by Nicolas Maigret
Julian Oliver, The Transparency Grenade at Disnovation Exhibition @ accès)s( Festival & Bel Ordinaire, 2014. Photo by Nicolas Maigret
The curators of accès)s(, artists Nicolas Maigret and Bertrand Grimault, invited artists and thinkers who question, comment on, fight or reveal this culture of disnovation. The festival was a breath of fresh air in my peregrination of media art events which often seem to celebrate far more than they challenge technology. The programme of exhibition, talks and performances Grimault and Maigret devised was by far one of the most exciting moments of the year 2015 for me. Sorry, i meant 2014. I am, as often, a bit behind schedule with my reviews.
I did blog about some of the works on show a few months ago but allow me to add a couple more key pieces in the exhibition:
RYBN, The Algorithmic Trading Freak Show, 2014 at Disnovation Exhibition @ accès)s( Festival & Bel Ordinaire, 2014. Photo by Nicolas Maigret
RYBN.ORG has spent the past few years studying obsolete trading algorithms. These automated traders execute pre-programmed instructions based on forecasts that become obsolete as soon as conditions change (in times of crisis, for example.) Some traders actually believe they might have as much chance of getting it right if they based their operations on blindfolded monkeys playing darts.
RYBN.ORG dissected and analysed the mechanics of these algorithms. Then, they selected the wackiest and ogranised them into a kind of cabinet of curiosities.
Nicolas Floc'h, Grand Troc Chili, 2008. View at Disnovation Exhibition @ accès)s( Festival & Bel Ordinaire, 2014. Photos by Nicolas Maigret
Nicolas Floc'h was showing a brilliant project called Grand Troc Chili. He invited people living in an underprivileged community in Chile to a 'workshop of desires' and asked them to use discarded material and craft the objects they most needed but couldn't afford to buy. The pieces were then exhibited the objects made and even offered for barter: anyone interested in buying the sculpture made during the workshop could trade it for the actual object, which was then given to its author.
Disnovation Exhibition @ accès)s( Festival & Bel Ordinaire, 2014. Photo by Nicolas Maigret
Clémence de la Tour du Pin worked with professional perfumers to capture the smell of «the brand new». Visitors of the show could take away a little sample of liquid that has the typical smell you detect as you enter a computer store.
General view of the Disnovation exhibition. Photo by Nicolas Maigret
Sloan Leblanc, Hoover contre Kaisui, 1997 at Disnovation Exhibition @ accès)s( Festival & Bel Ordinaire, 2014. Photo by Nicolas Maigret
Hoover contre Kaisui are two vacuum cleaners, one from a U.S. brand, the other French. They intermittently powered up and fought each other above the head of the visitors.
In his video Anomalies construites, Julien Prévieux highlights the tension hidden within Google Sketchup. The 3D modeling computer program allows users to create 3D buildings inside Google Earth. The software is free. Is building architectural or civil engineering structures a form of creative leisure? Or is it a camouflaged (albeit entertaining) way to work unpaid for the corporation?
Publisher Gestalten writes: 3D printers will soon be found in more and more workshops, offices, and homes. With them, we will be able to print out small pieces of furniture, prototypes, replacement parts, and even a new toothbrush on-site at any time. Consequently, new production methods and business models are developing--along with a new visual language of multidimensional formal explorations. Today, 3D objects and complex forms can already be printed out that were previously impossible to achieve with traditional methods.
Printing Things is an inspirational and understandable exploration of the creative potential of 3D printing. The book not only introduces outstanding projects, key experts, and the newest technologies, but it also delves into the complex topics that these paradigm-shifting technologies bring up, such as how to handle copyrights and seamless manufacturing.
I've no idea why i waited so long to get my hands on Printing Things. Visions and Essentials for 3D Printing but i've just finished reading it and it is brilliant. Which shouldn't surprise anyone who knows the work of the authors of the book. Dries Verbruggen and Claire Warnier are Unfold, a duo of designers who have worked, experimented and provoked debates with their 3D printing experiments.
In 2011 already, the duo walked around the Salone del Mobile in Milan with their mobile Kiosk, making 3D scans of the new objects presented at the fair. They then started to appropriate, sample, remix, improve, up/downscale or copy new objects 3d-printed on the spot.
And because the members of Unfold believe that 'there can be no revolution without disruption', i'd say that it was a brilliant idea to let them edit a book that sums up and illustrates the opportunities and challenges offered by 3D technology.
Printing Things starts with a few pages that explain very clearly and briefly what 3D printing is and how it works. Then come a series of essays that explore issues such as the empowerment that the technology gives to people and the responsibility that comes with it, the right to copy and create derivative content, the way 3D printing affects the figure and role of the designer, the decentralization of production, the peculiar aesthetic characteristics of the technology, the compatibility with craftsmanship, etc.
After these first 50 pages of reflections and ideas, you get almost 200 pages of pure Gestalten paper entertainment: photos and short texts that highlight the best of what artists, designers, architects, and even experts in prosthetics are 3D creating today.
The boyfriend has been a 3D printing maniac for a couple of year. My involvement with the technology is much more distant but we both really enjoyed reading this book. I particularly appreciated the way the 'case studies' and the introductory texts cleverly balance the down to earth practicalities of 3D printing and the near future scenarios the technology might give rise to.
I'm going to leave you with some of the projects i've (re)discovered in the book:
Axel Brechensbauer 3Dprinted a cheerful-looking UAV that would playing loud 'clown music' and spray 'terrorists' with a cloud of Oxycontin, a pain-relief drug that also induces feelings of euphoria, relaxation and reduced anxiety. I used to think that a weapon could never be more devious than a predator drone....
The OpenReflex is the first open source 3D printed analog camera with a mirror Viewfinder and a finger activated mechanic shutter. All the pieces can be printed and assembled at home using a RepRap-like ABS 3D-printer.
Jesse Howard designed household appliances for a not so distant future that will see people being increasingly involved in making, repairing, and customizing their own products. Each appliance is constructed from 3D-printed and CNC manufactured components based on OpenStructures, standard components, and parts salvaged from discarded appliances.
Amanda Ghassaei created a technique for converting digital audio files into 3D-printable, 33rpm records that play on ordinary turntables. Though the audio quality is low, the audio output is still easily recognizable.
This Growth Modeling Device scans an onion plant, 3D prints a plastic model of it and then displays it on conveyor belt. The process is repeated every twenty-four hours. The result charts the growth of the plant in little plastic models.
Finally! I found some time to type down my notes from the DocLab: Interactive Conference, a one-day event that looked at how artists, film makers, designers and entrepreneurs are exploring digital behaviour and redefining the documentary genre in the digital age.
IDFA DocLab is part of IDFA, the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam. I didn't have the time to see any of the 'traditional' documentaries (alas!) but i did get to try some smart interactive and/or immersive virtual reality works in the exhibition. I'll probably publish tomorrow my thoughts on that show and the conference notes below might provide a good introduction to it.
Entrance to De Brakke Grond. DocLab: Interactive Conference. Photo by Nichon Glerum
The audience at the Immersive Reality Conference. Photo by Nichon Glerum
Picnic at the Immersive Reality Conference. Photo by Nichon Glerum
The Interactive Conference surprised me. In the best possible way. I was expecting to be entertained by the artists' talks and bored by anyone else who stepped on stage before or after them but it turned out that i didn't have one dull moment that day (I did sneak out of the auditorium as the 'Financiers Round' was starting though.)
There was a genuine sense of excitement and wonder in the room. Virtual reality and other new media are about to break into the mainstream and most speakers still have the feeling that they are experimenting and pioneering new ways to engage audiences.
I've already told you about James George's talk at the conference. The following notes are far drier and don't cover everything i heard that day. I'm not even going to mention every single contribution to the event. I've just picked up my favourite moments:
Monique Simard, president and CEO of the Development Corporation of Cultural Enterprise for Quebec (SODEC) noted that people consume culture in different ways than in the past. Nowadays, i's much less television that entertains us than mobile phones. Yet, while TV channels still invest in developing new creative content, mobile phone companies hardly invest in content. There has to be a re-balance of the financing of culture.
Juha van 't Zelfde, artistic director at the Lighthouse in Brighton, talked about How the web lost its innocence. An incomplete index. He shared his observations about the dark side of the internet and illustrated the collateral damage of technological innovation through 5 artworks:
Holly Herndon, Home
1. Total Surveillance
Holly Herndon's video, Home. Directed by Metahaven. The musician spends most of her time on her laptop. So much that it feels like home. The NSA scandal has altered the relationship she had with her computer and her song is a musical response to the NSA agent, it is a love letter as much as a break-up song.
2. Predatory Capitalism. Apple, google monetizing on anything.
Random Darknet Shopper, by Mediengruppe Bitnik, is an automated online shopping bot which uses a budget of $100 in Bitcoins per week to randomly buy an item on Darknet.
Mediengruppe Bitnik, Random Darknet Shopper, 2014
3. Non-state Terror. Metahaven looked at the political use of memes by both state and non-state actors and at the weird propaganda tools found on social media.
Example: The mocked-up Grand Theft Auto-style trailer that features virtual fighters shouting "Allahu Akbar!" as they attack U.S. troops.
4. State Terror Terminal Beach looks at the non-sensical experience of drone attacks. From afar, they might look like a video game but they are traumatizing generations of children in other countries.
Their work BLIND DATA, for example, recombines images and sounds sourced from youtube and other platforms, subtracting them from the flux of communication as a way of "decommissioning" an increasingly weaponized infotainment complex and contributing to a more general disactivation of the ideologies and affectologies of vision, knowledge and power that underpin drone warfare.
5. Disconnecting People
That's the paradox of the web. It was imagined as a platform for democratic ideals and has turned into an infrastructure of total surveillance.
The Shirt on Your Back: Video, texts and photos that document Guardian the human cost of the shirt you are wearing.
While The Guardian's interactive NSA Files: Decoded was linear, The Seven Digital Deadly Sins is not. The short series asks what pride, greed, gluttony and other deadly sins would become in our digital era. The work is based on video interviews but it also features voting polls asking you whether or not you condone the digital deadly sin exposed.
Why? The Guardian feels the need to reinvent itself because the traditional newspaper industry is dead.
How? By adding to their own pool of journalists and photographers, a multimedia desk of filmmakers, designers, developers, etc.
Jan Rothuizen at DocLab: Interactive Conference. Photo by Nichon Glerum
Visual artist Jan Rothuizen draws by hand huge maps of locations as different from each other as the worst hotel in Amsterdam and a refugee camp for Syrian Kurds. These maps are less about topography than about presenting a whole narrative in a very open way. It's non-linear and non-scripted, it's layered and you're the one who has to retrieve all the clues in the drawings and weave the whole story.
He showed DEEP 360, an experiment that uses early non-3D spherical camera prototypes to create immersive cinema. One of the works in the series is The Polar Sea, the first 360 documentary shot in the Arctic. The work follows the film crew as they are sailing through the Northwest Passage and experiencing the effects of climate change.
Deep 360 founder Thomas Wallner launches a camera-equipped drone to film an online companion piece to the TV documentary The Polar Sea. Photo The Canadian Press/HO-TVO (via)
According to Wallner, the arrival of the Samsung's VR headset that uses the new Galaxy Note 4 as its main display will further mass market virtual reality. However, he also firmly believes that a technology that can't tell a story is doomed to fail.
Lady In The Lake - Trailer
He gave the example of 1947 MGM' film Lady in the Lake which attempted to create a cinematic version of Chandler's first-person narrative style of Philip Marlowe novels. The audience could only see what the detective did. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer promoted the film as 'the most revolutionary style of film since the introduction of the talkies.' It didn't meet with much critical success.
For Wallner, it's tricky to simply try to replicate a classic cinematographic experience in virtual reality. In cinema, we create an empathic relationship with the characters but it's difficult to find this relationship when you are wearing VR goggles and are at the center of the experience. Therefore we need to find new kinds of languages to tell the stories.
He also pointed to the fact that cinema, as we know it now, is part of a continuum and tomorrow's cinema still has to be invented.
Panel about virtual reality. Photo by Nichon Glerum
Next there was a panel about virtual reality. Panels tend to be a bit bland. Not this one. Here's what i learnt from panelists Danfung Dennis (a film maker who founded a company that combines advanced 3D graphics with high-res video to create immersive video applications), creative developer Brian Chirls, Thomas Wallner, one of the developers at BeAnotherLab and media artist Oscar Raby:
- many developers approach VR from a game perspective or a cinema perspective. This involves peculiar expectations about what the experience should be like. But we need to see VR as an open field to explore as its own unique medium.
- it's too early to actually make mistake. We are at a stage where we have a lot to learn from every experiment.
- there is a fear that big studios (like Pixar) are going to use VR to make more spectacular versions of Marvel comics, instead of investigating new possibilities. Independent creators can't compete in money and power so they should create their own art forms and make the best of existing shortcomings in the technology instead of trying to perfect a technology (you need lots of money to do that.)
- the political applications of VR: using VR as a tool for propaganda and brainwashing, to replicate the existing status quo and ideas.
- VR can be used to understand other conscious beings like animals, VR can connect us to other beings in emotional, empathic ways and thus could be a tool to make us feel more connected to the other.
- we don't know yet how the VR content will be distributed but it is possible that it will be distributed through a model similar to the one of the Apple store. Which reminds us of the web that was created as an open, distributed platform. And not as a network that depends on a central authority.
Someone in the audience asked the panel if the only way to make VR was to be incredibly well funded. BeAnotherLab is an example that you don't necessarily need a big investment to start. They worked without funding for 3 years. The panelists advised to start with a computer and a head mounted display. Some are really affordable now. E.g. Google Cardboard.
One of my favourite talks of the day was by Dries Verbruggen from Unfold. It's always uplifting to see that a designer whose work you're admiring turns up to be a fantastic speaker. Verbruggen 'loves the fluidity of the digital but not the rigidity of the screen' and it's only fitting that his studio would work a lot with 3D printing.
Kiosk, for example, is a cart to 3D print in the street. Pick an object you covet and Kiosk can copy or customize it on the spot. During the Salone del Mobile Unfold made 3D scans of the new objects presented at the fair and started to appropriate, sample, remix, improve, up/downscale or copy new objects 3d-printed on the spot.
The performative work echoes a Tate debate that discussed when 3D printing was ok. Unfold did not 3D replicate to offend or steal but to start a discussion. And as Verbruggen concluded, Unfold might not steal other designers' works but others are doing it already and they are selling designers' ideas on 3D platforms.
Kyle McDonald at DocLab 2014. Photo by Nichon Glerum
Kyle McDonald gave the final keynote. The media artist showed his works and the trouble some of them got him into. I'm sure you know most of his works (if not, this is the place to go!) I particularly like his Social Roulette, an app that give you one in 6 chances to delete your Facebook account. Facebook was not amused.
The day ended with an amazing kale mustard with pretzels (that didn't look like pretzel but whatever). Photo by Nichon Glerum
James George at the DocLab Interactive Conference. Photo by Nichon Glerum
The conference (ridiculously interesting and accompanied by an exhibition i wish i could see all over again but more about all that next week) looked at how practitioners redefine the documentary genre in the digital age. In his talk, artist James George presented artistic projects that demonstrate how fast computational photography is evolving. Most of the project he commented on were new to me but more importantly, once they were stitched together, they formed a picture of how innovations are changing our relation to the essence, authorship and even definition of the image. Here are the notes i took during his fast and efficient slideshow of artistic works:
In 2006, Penelope Umbrico searched for 'sunset' on Flickr back. She then printed the 541,795 matches and assembled them into one wall-size collage of photographs. She said. "I take the sheer quantity of images online as a collective archive that represents us - a constantly changing auto-portrait."
With 9 Eyes ongoing work, Jon Rafman shows that you don't need to be a photographer to create photos. The artist spent hours pouring over google street view to spot the inadvertently eerie or poetic sights captured by the nine lenses of the Google Street View camera cars.
Clement Valle fortuitously discovered broken images on Google Earth. The glitches are the result of the constant and automated data collection handled by computer algorithms. In these "competing visual inputs", the 3D modellings of Earth's surfaces fail to align with the corresponding aerial photography.
Google Earth is a database disguised as a photographic representation. These uncanny images focus our attention on that process itself, and the network of algorithms, computers, storage systems, automated cameras, maps, pilots, engineers, photographers, surveyors and map-makers that generate them.
Teehan+Lax Labs, Google Street View Hyperlapse
Teehan and Lax created a tool that taps into Street View imagery and pulls it together to create an animated tour. Pick the start and end points on Google Maps and Hyperlapse stitches together a rolling scene of Street View imagery as if you were driving the GSV car.
Living Death Camp, by Forensic Architecture and ScanLAB, combines terrestrial laser scanning with ground penetrating radar to dissect the layers of life and evidence at two concentration camp sites in former Yugoslavia.
But how about the camera? When is the camera of the future going to emerge? What is it going to be like? It will probably be more similar to a database than to an image. In his keynote speech concluding the Vimeo Festival + Awards in 2010, Bruce Sterling described his prediction of the future of imaging technology. For him a camera of the future may function as follows: "It simply absorbs every photon that touches it from any angle. And then in order to take a picture I simply tell the system to calculate what that picture would have looked like from that angle at that moment. I just send it as a computational problem out in to the cloud wirelessly."
In mid-2005, New York City MTA commissioned a weapon manufacturer to make a futuristic anti-terror surveillance system. The images were to be fed directly into computers, watched by algorithm and alerts would be sent automatically when danger was detected. However, the system was plagued by "an array of technical setbacks", the system failed all the tests and the whole project ended in lawsuits. Thousands of security cameras in the New York subway stations now sit unused.
One month later after Sterling's talk, Microsoft released Kinect. The video game controller uses a depth sensing camera and computer vision software to sense the movements and position of the player. Visualizations of space as seen through Kinect's sensors can be computed from any angle using 3D software. James George and Collaboration with Alexander Porter decided to explore the artistic use of the surveillance and kinect technologies. "We soldered together an inverter and motorcycle batteries to run the laptop and Kinect sensor on the go. We attached a Canon 5D DSLR to the sensor and plugged it in to a laptop. The entire kit went into a backpack.
We spent an evening in the New York Union Square subway capturing high resolution stills and and archiving depth data of pedestrians. We wrote an openFrameworks application to combine the data, allowing us to place fragments of the two dimensional images into three dimensional space, navigate through the resulting environment and render the output."
The OS image capture system, which uses the Microsoft Kinect camera paired with a DSLR video camera, creates 3D models of the subjects in video that can be re-photographed from any angle virtually.
James George, Jonathan Minard, and Alexander Porter, CLOUDS
George and Porter later worked with Jonathan Minard and used the technology again for CLOUDS, an interview series with artists and programmers discussing the way digital culture is changing creative practices.
New and old media collide in Sophie Kahn's work. The artist uses a precise 3D laser scanner designed for static object to create sculptures of human heads and bodies. Because a body is always in flux, the technology receives conflicting spatial co-ordinates and generates irregular results.
MLF worked with a 94-camera high resolution scanning rig, to create the full body scan of an old lady and explore what filmmaking for the virtual-reality environment could be like.
Introducing the Source Filmmaker
Source Filmmakers, produced by Valve, is a tool to create movies inside the Source game engine. George finds their work relevant to his own practice because although Valve comes from a video game culture, they investigate the same ideas.
Beyond: Two Souls, by Quantic Dream, is an interactive drama action-adventure video game for PlayStation 3. At some point in the game, character Jodie Holmes (played by Ellen Page) is taking a shower. All in a perfectly politically correct fashion.
After the release of the game, nude images of Jodie Holmes leaked online, and were published by several gaming blogs. The "nude photos" were a result of hacking into the files of a debug version of the game and manipulating the camera. The game's publisher, Sony Entertainment, got these posts taken down. "The images are from an illegally hacked console and are very damaging for Ellen Page," the rep reportedly told one site. "It's not actually her body. I would really appreciate if you can take the story down to end the cycle of discussion around this."
But if the nude images were "not actually her body," how could they be "very damaging" to the actress? Whether or not the answer to this question is a convincing one, the little scandal shows the kind of challenge that filmmaker will have to face when dealing with this kind of hyper realistic technology.
Selfiecity by Lev Manovich and Moritz Stefaner analyzes 3,200 selfies taken in several metropoles around the world and looks at them under theoretic, artistic and quantitative lenses.
DocLab Immersive Reality is accompanied by an exhibition featuring Virtual Reality projects, web documentaries, apps and interactive artworks. The show remains open until the end of the month at The Flemish Arts Centre De Brakke Grond in Amsterdam.