The jury for the Life 5.0 competition in Madrid – Daniel Canogar, Chris Csikszentmihalyi, Machiko Kusahara, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Sally Jane Norman and Nell Tenhaaf – reviewed 33 artworks that utilise artificial life concepts and techniques. These pieces were pre-selected from a group of 57 submissions received from 18 countries. The Telefonica Foundation will give out the following awards:
FIRST PRIZE (5,000 Euros)
Erwin Driessens / Maria Verstappen
Tickle Salon combines a remarkable technical achievement with an elegant concept, a touching interface, and edgy irony – but most importantly, anyone would want the device in their bedroom. The device is reminiscent of the tattooing torture machine in Kafka’s “Penal Colony”, but its function is pleasure rather than pain. A “user” experiences the piece by stripping and lying on a massage table. A light metal ball, which can move in three dimensions, probes and traces the contours of the reclining human’s nude body. The pressure of metal on skin is always light, thanks to a simple reactive sensor. At the same time, this mechanism builds a 3D model of the user, allowing it to achieve subtle caresses, lingering strokes, and tickles. This two-way feedback gives a convincing sense that the machine feels the person while the person feels the machine. The process of watching a body’s image being synthesized – curve by curve – is only slightly less pleasurable than being prodded by the machine. The artists jokingly posit that the problem with human stroking is that we eventually tire; certainly, the 100-year history of vibrator technologies validates their hypothesis. And while fully functional, the work is both preposterous and quixotic – intimacy without empathy, unsleeping affection on demand.
SHARED SECOND & THIRD PRIZE (2,500 Euros each)
Mariela Cádiz / Kent Clelland
Spain / USA
Levántate is an intimate installation that invites the visitor to a metaphyisical meditation. As the visitor enters the dark room, he is encountered with a ghostly view of a human body being projected horizontally from the ceiling. A white sculpture in the shape of a coffin operates as a screen where the winkling image of a reclining body in a continuos process of digital rotting is reflected. The iconography of the visualized woman body refers to those technological methods of diagnosis used to allow a scientific vision of the human body or to the images obtained from thermodynamic energy fields. The audio component of the installation is an algorythm musical composition under constant transformation consisting of voices digitally decomposed. A microphone placed in the room records the whispers and sounds generated by the visitors contemplating the installation. These verbal resonances are recycled through an interactive system of accoustic feedback, being in this way incorporated both into the musical composition of the installation and into the projected image. All technologies seem to hold inside a secret desire for inmortality. Clonation, genetical engineering and life assisted medical technologies are good examples of how the precise limits between life and death are being blurred.
With “Levántate”, Mariela Cádiz and Kent Clelland have created a suggestive reflection on the vanishing of these limits. While watching the installation, the public surround the coffin like participants in a ritual. The name of the installation, “Levántate”, obviously refers to the biblical episode of Lazar’s ressurrection, only that this time it is a technological miracle. This work receives also the PUBLIC CHOICE award, as it was the most voted piece in the presentation of the nomminees.
The Relative Velocity Inscription Device
In 1929, social scientist Charles B. Davenport published “Race Crossing in Jamaica”, a three-year research project examining the “problem of race crossing”. It was the period when the new science of human genetics was strongly biologically determined to develop into eugenics. Today, this new science enables us to map every gene in human DNA. An individual can be identified by a set of DNA, a non-materialistic set of information, rather than by one’s physical body, thanks to contemporary DNA separation technologies. Based on the above-mentioned history and using the latest technologies, artist Paul Vanouse presents the “race of race” with his Relative Velocity Inscription Device. Genes responsible for skin color are extracted from a Jamaican descended “biracial” family (Vanouse’s own family!), and run a race in genetic separation gel. Whose gene will win: his “brown” mom, his “white” dad, his quadroon sister, or himself? Here, the gene becomes each person’s avatar, represented by an image of a runner racing on the screen. Viewers can observe progress made by the runners (i.e. the genes) in real time as they are separated in the gel. The combination of a serious-looking scientific experiment and game-like interface, and of historical context combined with a personal approach, visualizes the absurdity of eugenics and reminds us of the social issues subtending genetic engineering technologies in an ironic and critical way.
HONORARY MENTIONS (alphabetical order)
Laura Beloff / Erich Berger
Finland / Austria
Spinne is a networked audio installation where four sculptures shaped like giant spiders, built of transparent plastic spheres, loudspeakers, and metallic legs, are connected to one another and to the World Wide Web server via prominent cables. The virtual counterparts to these embodied spiders are four “web spiders”, whose predatory hunt for key words on the internet is manifest in the exhibition space as shaking of the cables, triggered by a motor which responds to web search activity. The physical installation assumes further dramatic force as subwoofer and cable vibrations impart movement to tiny spider replicas made of glass beads and false eyelashes, placed on top of each loudspeaker membrane. The spinning dance performed by these beady little creatures weaves into a constantly evolving soundscape.
All installation components are deliberately made visible – computer, network connections, amplifiers, etc -, and key words prompting web spider activity can be modified by visitors, to enhance their engagement in the underlying processes. This piece, which belongs to a line of art works exploiting links between real and virtual networked space, builds a strong poetic mesh through the use of recursive symbols centred on the image of the web-spinning spider.
Marnix de Nijs / Edwin Van der Heide
Spatial Sounds (100db at 100km/H)
Spatial Sounds is a device than combines both atracction and rejection. A loudspeaker placed on a rotating arm holds a number of sensors constantly scanning the presence of the public in the room like a radar. This information is processed by a computer that sends sound effects back to the loudspeaker, and in turn these sound effects react in real time to the presence and movements of the public in the room. Some sort of flirtation is established this way between machine and public: the more they play with the installation, the more active the installation becomes. But if the public interacts in excess with the system, the system goes wild and as an overexcited child it begins to rotate at a maddening speed that can reach 100 km/h. A deafening sound and the airflow created by the centrifugal movement of the loudspeaker make the public step away. The public look absolutely scared yet fascinated at a device that seems to be out of control and that could seriosuly harm any one that would dare come too close to it.
In “Spatial Sounds” the overload of the system is used aesthetically because of its dramatic quality, as opposed to our need to control the risks of the technological systems we use. This reminds us of the engaging attraction we feel towards our technologies and how physically and emotionally vulnerable we are to those powerful devices that are everywhere and have been created by us.
Eduardo Fuentesal Escudero, Pedro Diaz del Arco (Sculptor Zeta Cluster)
John Conway’s Game of Life algorithm is used as both the user interface and the generator for an evolving soundscape in Dadatron. A 32 X 32 cellular automata (CA) array can be manipulated by the viewer, which then launches the evolution of this virtual musical ecosystem according to programmed rules. It is a transparent, easy to use and fun encounter with time and chance. As in all CA’s, the rules concern the behaviour of an individual cell in relation to its nearest neighbours. Here, viewer input in the form of clicking on cells initiates the CA’s emergent activity. Subsequently, each changing array of 4 X 4 cells calls up a sequence from a predetermined database of sounds so that the overall array at any given moment generates a composition of randomly combined audio elements. Dadatron is an engaging interactive installation, as well as an instrument for musical composition in the spirit of Dadaist anti-logic. Rather than inventing a new driving concept, the merit of the work resides in the way that it combines existing tools to build a system.
Turn All Things
Taiwan / USA
Turn All Things is an exploration into creating films with computer. But while many commercial systems exist which allow a person to edit quickly on the computer, Liu’s system allows the computer to actually do the editing itself, based on a simple automatic vision system. After filming a variety of landscape settings, Liu puts the video into the computer as a regular series of contiguous frames. Then, rather than play one frame after another, the computer uses algorithms and image processing, searching for its own ideas of continuity. For example, it may scan the entire database of footage taken over the coastline of Nova Scotia, and find two images of seagulls in mid-flap, facing left. Noting the similarity – even if they are different seagulls filmed hours apart, one over land and the other over water – the algorithm will then put these frames together. The resulting effects can be surprising and rich. A viewer is left with a documentary of a world filmed by an alien eye, a film made by something that clearly sees nature, time, and composition differently than we do. Perhaps it is our fault that the resulting films are not necessarily beautiful: but rather than malign the system one immediately wants access to it, to enter a dialog with this uncanny editor and try making films with it.
What makes us feel that something we see on the screen is “alive”? What are the moments when we see signs of emotions in artificial creatures? Is a sense of life-likeness derived from a visually realistic representation, or from something else? Avec Détermination is a series of pieces one can interact with on the Internet. Figure and behaviour of these artificial creatures are algorithmically determined. Simple looking creatures struggle to achieve their goals given by the program, such as standing, while users may interfere with the cause of their movements. The creatures are determined to pursue their goal of life – but are they determined by the algorithm, or determined by their own will? The title of the piece has a double meaning; so does the interaction we have with this piece as we drag the creatures around in their small world, almost empathizing with them, yet driven by curiosity. According to the artist, the creatures represent his feelings when depressed. Knowing they are entirely algorithmic, their forms and behaviour still trigger strange “human” reactions in the viewers, as we project our own experience and feelings onto them. In this way, abstract and simple forms trigger rich imaginative and interpretative response. Alife art often helps us to rediscover ourselves: this piece makes us reflect on our own life.
Smart Studio, Interactive Institute / Servo
The Responsive Field of Lattice Archipelogics
Sweden / USA
This installation is designed to activate and express relationships linking subjects to a responsive environment, using sensor technologies and light and sound output devices. Visitors explore a plastic lattice embedded with various sensors and sonic and lighting equipment, which react to their movements to generate constantly changing scenarios in “sentient space”.
Architecture is designed to evolve as a responsive entity endowed with life of its own, an ability to interact but also to act autonomously: the installation develops a kind of memory by storing experienced movement patterns, and this memory or dream state continues to animate it, triggering sound and lighting events in the absence of visitors. The algorithms used to drive this activity are based on positive feedback processes, leading to sedimentation and crystallisation of data patterns, and on negative feedback processes leading to the erosion or disappearance of other patterns. Lattice Archipelogics counts among current research undertakings which aim to integrate artificial life principles into “intelligent environments”, where hybridised physical and digital spaces trigger new kinds of engagement and more vivid relationships to technology implemented as an active, responsive force to its human makers.
The idea conveyed by this robotic work is of a fleshless phantom body that haunts the viewer who approaches it. Carnevale (without flesh) detects the presence of a person near it and starts to move toward her/him, which is not an aggressive gesture per se, but one that seems somewhat ominous because a video camera visible inside the structure is pointed at the viewer. Along with a small video projector, the camera is sandwiched between metal cut-out shapes of a young girl that suggest an illustration from an old-fashioned school primer. This image represents the artist as a young girl. In parallel, Carnevale stores “life experience” through machinic devices for seeing and remembering. But it is a lifeless machine in the end, and so inevitably its attempts at conveying the power of memory can only seem frail, ephemeral and rather distant. The camera captures the viewer in the space at random intervals, combines this information with previously stored images, and projects the result on the wall as Carnevale moves around. The image may be stored in memory or not, so that a random accumulating database of encounters is experienced by the string of viewers who interact with the piece.
INCENTIVE FOR NEW PRODUCTIONS (5,000 Euros each)
Mario Aguirre Arvizu
Mosqueado is a piece consisting of a big screen that receives the image of a swarm of flies having a landscape at the background. As the viewers walk through the projection scope, the image they make on the screen is invaded by the swarm. All attempts of the viewer to get rid of the flies are in vain, as the flies follow every movement of the viewer. From the internet virtual visitors can help the viewers on site to drive the flies away or even to kill them, and each of these actions changes the background landscape. If the flies are driven away, they fly towards the landscape and if they die there, images of plants and trees start to crop up. If, on the contrary, the virtual visitors decide to kill them, there is no change in the landscape, if it was already arid, or it becomes arid, if there was any existing vegetation. Each fly is an artificial life creature that can reproduce itself and develop behaviours as it contacts the projected image of the visitors, and similarly the vegetation at the background grows when it contacts the flies.
mmmm… Banco de Ideas
Muerte Artificial (Virus Amazonas)
Muerte Artificial is an activist project that draws attention to the flipside of our epoch’s devotion to technology – its simultaneous plunder of the natural world. The artists, mmmm…, who have staged a variety of performative interventions, now take their politics to the Internet, where they hope to create a virus that quickly infects your computer, erodes the image on your screen, and then disappears. The erosion of your beloved desktop is based on a recorded deforestation of the Amazonian rainforest, with pixels on your system falling like trees to the axe. In this end, the virus leaves no mark, and many users will simply blink and continue their accounting while, as they say, Rome burns. This technological extension of street theater seems like a powerful antidote to the ubiquitous ads that plaster the Internet: one could easily imagine the meme of the virus spreading, with users trying to find out what the pattern signifies, and pausing to think about their global complicity in this local problem. The use of a virus reminds us both of Ebola (the result of overpopulation and deforestation in Africa), and the fact that the biodiversity of the Amazon might yield countless new medicines and compounds, if we don’t destroy it first.
A videotape of the ten winners will be produced and distributed to non-profit art centers, libraries and academic institutions. For this, please contact Ana Parga firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information, pictures, and videos on the Vida-Life Art and A-life awards, please visit http://www.vidalife.org