Art & Artificial Life International Competition
The jury for the Vida 8.0 competition in Madrid – Chris Csikszentmihalyi (USA), Daniel García Andújar (Spain), Daniel Canogar (España), José Carlos Mariátegui (Peru), Fiona Raby (UK) and Sally Jane Norman (France / New Zealand) – reviewed 69 artworks that utilise artificial life concepts and techniques, received from 23 countries. The Telefonica Foundation in Spain will give out the following awards:
FIRST PRIZE (10.000 euros):
Martin Howse, Jonathan Kemp
The desert of Southern California is a surreal wasteland of military bombing ranges and toxic waste, beautiful vistas and endangered species, and now three peculiar artificial life entities. UK Artists Martin Howse and Jonathan Kemp built these stark, semi-official looking devices at a research station run by the Center for Land Use Interpretation. In this arid landscape, Howse and Kemp hacked out what might be confused for remote meteorological stations, but are actually far more ambiguous devices. They harvest and store solar power, communicate with each other through wireless, listen to military jets, birds, and the wind, and constantly modify their own code. Their small computer displays tells us nothing — we have no way of entering their processing or conversation. They are functionally inscrutable, while nonetheless communicating a sort of technical authority. While their location is available as GPS coordinates it’s hard to imagine what one would gain by visiting them, and knowing the American Southwest they would probably be peppered with bullet holes anyway. Quixotic as they appear, they nonetheless present a challenge to our self-importance, as oblivious to our curiosity as are the desert tortoises or cacti that share their space.
SECOND PRIZE (7.000 euros):
Michelle Teran & Jeff Mann
LIVEFORM: TELEKINETICS (LF:TK)
Alemania / Canadá
Corkscrews whirl and spin, toasters with arms made from knives and forks wave rhythmically in the air, tea-strainers open and close their mouths in harmonic accompaniment. A joyful gathering of everyday kitchen equipment, appear to dance together to the beat of the music. But on the surface what looks like just ‘too much’ happiness and fun becomes sobering. It is disturbing to realise how easily a whole value system which promotes functionality, seamless productivity and efficiency, from the world of business communications machinery has been absorbed and accepted as the ‘normal’ tools, behaviours and etiquette for network communications within our personal and social lives. LiveForm:Telekinetics clearly shows us how our communications with the people we care for and love are being limited by the tools we have uncritically accepted. The enchanted objects celebrate through the social mediums of music and play, new communication languages, new networked social experiences, and the creative social processes in the production of the objects themselves, reminding us what it is we have been missing all this time.
THIRD PRIZE (3.000 euros):
Divine Methods/Hidden Motives
The British author Rudyard Kipling once wrote a poem about newly ubiquitous machines driven by steam, comparing their vigorous, predictable repetition to religious notions of predestination. The poem describes one such mechanism, then surmises that ‘John Calvin might have forged the same.’ In Divine Methods / Hidden Motives, Olofsen creates a minimal but strong set of associations through a robotic art work. A single lit candle, held by a robotic arm, is mounted high on the interior wall of a church. The robot is constantly moving in snake-like contortions impossible for a human arm, turning inside-out with bursts of violent speed, yet no matter how twisted or rapid the movement, the candle it holds remains perfectly upright, always lit. An atheist could make an argument that the project represents the contortions that a believer has to make to keep their faith alive. A believer might argue that the piece demonstrates unbending faith in the face of worldly distractions. Lastly, a materialist could argue that it’s just a robot with a candle in a church. In this sense, the piece functions as a sort of catalyst for belief, reflecting the viewer’s perspective, but the weakest argument of the three would undoubtedly be the materialist’s.
Guillem Bayo Salvadó
In Guillem Bayo’s Heartbeat, the screen shows a naked heart against a cold white background: a heart with no body, sitting in a puddle of blood. As we approach the screen, the heart suddenly starts to beat. Perfect studio lighting turns this blood-stained organ into a scenic production. In its presentation in Madrid, it could only be seen from a shop window on a busy street. This public display of an organ is reminiscent of Renaissance anatomical theatres, performances in which the skin was laid open to display the innards to a fascinated albeit horrified audience. Heartbeat is representative of the new digital anatomical theatre. Here the heart revives with the heat of our presence; it needs our gaze to regain its pulse. This work poses interesting questions about the artificial life – and death – of our electronic devices and the conversion of the human body into an object of public display in the digital era.
Fernando David Orellana
8520 S.W.27th Place
A group of pseudo-animalistic robots symbolise human decision-making and its inevitably limited consequences in our highly constrained existence. Six two-headed, visually identical robots are programmed with sets of behaviours that determine their trajectories in individual laboratory/ incubator-type transparent tubular housing that imposes a single, rigidly linear back-and-forth movement. Infrared sensors installed at one end wall and piloted by a random number generator control this movement: backwards, forwards, or hesitant quasi-immobility. Empathy is elicited at several levels: pulsing head-lights on the robots convey the effort of decision-making, and the range of movement types amongst the six identical creatures parodies our sense of individuality. A whimsical feature of the work is the fact that these two-headed robot-rodents are actually reconfigured Gemmy Corporation Dancing Hamster toys. The frivolous play of automated leisure objects is thus woven into the darker absurdity of this theatre of artificial life, which stages the futility of our irreversible decision-making as we scurry endlessly back and forth.
The natural appearance and disappearance of luminous forms in certain nocturnal atmospheric conditions form the basis of this interactive installation, which blends real-time particle systems that exhibit autonomous drifting movement with pre-recorded motion capture sequences created by dancers. The resultant mix of identifiably human features and abstract malleability gives these Will-O’-the-Wisps a haunting power. Like fireflies or wild animals, the particles flee and scatter if the spectator-interactors move too close to the screen on which they are projected, or move too frenetically. But those who stand still can observe the emergence of semi-anthropomorphic shapes that flicker and crackle with luminous and sonic energies and eerily recognizable gestures. The space resonates with traces of night animal movements: barely distinguishable noises of crickets, goat bells, and wandering livestock form a sonic wilderness that is generated and mixed live as a function of displayed particle flow and positions. These ghosts that dance in response to humans and that move us with their movements haunt the mists of our imagination, extending the poetics of the real-life supernatural into the supernatural realms of artificial life.
Rafael Suárez Ziegelmaier
CONSTRUCCIONES / NEO-BIO (CONSTRUCTS / NEO-BIO)
This stop-motion animated film draws from design and sculpture in a collage-like exploration of the production of moving creatures, an endeavour involving the use of a series of materials in our immediate surroundings that often go unnoticed. The film values not only the final product and composition of such moving images, but the process whereby these creatures are conceived and the mirroring of everyday contexts that enable us to identify with them in some way, rather than regarding them to be entirely foreign. The core idea is to explore creation in a scenario characteristic of today’s urban and chaotic world, in an approach that relates creatures’ morphology to their surrounding environment.
Lee Shang Ping, Adrian David Cheok, Teh Keng Soon James
This piece creates physical links between an office-based chicken robot and its real-life backyard counterpart. The live chicken is dressed in a jacket fitted with vibrators and receivers that relay signals sent by the fluffy chicken robot when caressed by its office-bound human owner, who can thus engage with and monitor the response of the backyard pet via a webcam. This work is presented as a humanistic response to the cruelty of the environment humans tend to offer poultry – battery farmed and slaughtered for consumption or stigmatised and collectively massacred with the advent of avian influenza. Poultry Internet combines haptics and internet technologies to inject a redeeming element of individualisation and personal care into the everyday life of a fowl. It may seem ironic that the web-cammed chicken with its vibrating jacket apparently goes on strutting and pecking in the exactly same way, regardless of its owner’s caresses, but Poultry Internet’s true therapeutic value no doubt lies with its guilt-ridden human makers and spectators.
COUCH POTATO FARM
Right in the heart of our living spaces while slumped inertly on the sofa, adverts, news broadcasts and reality TV compete for attention and recognition. But maybe it is not on its surface the drama of life can be found. Hidden between the red, blue and green constituents of the image a thriving ecosystem feeds off the TV’s electromagnetic energy spawning a species of organisms described as ‘potatoes’. These in turn provide food for more mobile creatures that mate, reproduce and fight over the scarce resources. As the creatures evolve, they distort the TV signal in more complex and disturbing ways making their presence felt by their human cohabiters. John Senior compares our passive consumption of television with the lives of these ‘potato plants’ ‘living out our everyday lives eating mating and expiring under the constant exposure to television pictures, covert video surveillance, and an ever increasing exposure to electromagnetic radiation’. In the context of a gallery space this work becomes formalised, but could well be set within the manufactured circuits of brand new televisions and surveillance systems that are increasingly investing our domestic worlds.
Naoko Tosa & Seigow Matsuoka
Computing Inspiration: i.plot.
Language is a code emitted in a conventional and arbitrary system of spoken or written signs to formulate ideas about the world and convey them to the rest of society. An organized whole, it is the result of a covenant among the community of speakers that entails no relationship between discourse and object. Japanese artist Naoko Tosa plunges into the complex intricacies of linguistic and narrative communication, a field difficult to explore outside strictly scientific or academic research. From different formats and approaches, ‘Computing Inspiration: i.plot’ addresses the possibility of interaction between computers and human beings to father a new narrative conceit. This project addresses the idea of a ‘narrative of the future’, with a look at how computers may bring humour, wisdom and inspiration to art forms such as literature, interactive writing or interactive cinema.
INCENTIVE FOR FURTHER PRODUCTIONS (8.000 euros)
LLEGASTE CON LA BRISA – 2 (YOU CAME WITH THE BREEZE – 2)
The creation of new life forms with machines, long a human aspiration, is linked to phenomena, myth and religion. Ever since the earliest optical illusions, the production of artificial creatures has been intrinsic to cinematic experience. This installation intends a critical view of machines and their association with genetic engineering. Two machines, face to face, symbolize the artificial generation of organisms by producing huge ephemeral receptacles reminiscent of uterine sacs. Images of organisms struggling to survive are projected inside each receptacle. From time to time, these sacs containing moving images combine to create a new, genetically modified hybrid, characteristic of such ‘genetic imagery’. Visitors will witness the birth of these monsters, which at the same time are non-existent luminous spirits, illusions formed in the collective imagination, which has in turn been transposed to cinema.
INCENTIVE FOR FURTHER PRODUCTIONS (6.000 Euros)
Balanza de cocina que se pesa a sí misma (Kitchen scales that weights itself)
Spain / U.K.
What would happen if objects were to grow indifferent to interaction with their users? With this question the author positions us in the terrain of symbolic speculation and experience with the world of the objects that surround us and form a part of our everyday lives. Roger Ibars’ explorations generate a relationship poetics that wonder how these everyday objects might behave autonomously, seeking self-fulfilment, if they failed to receive due attention from their users. In the midst of a critique of interactive design and real product development, the proposal consists in the construction of simple kitchen scales that flip over to weigh themselves. In this new ‘case of machine emancipation’ from its creators, we see that its quest for independence adopts the form of a desire for ‘self knowledge’. This attitude contrasts sharply with Hall’s well-known example, in which machines freed themselves of human domination by trying by every possible means to control their creators.
INCENTIVE FOR FURTHER PRODUCTIONS (3.000 Euros)
CALOR, HUMEDAD, VAPOR. TURNER EN EL SIGLO XXI
(HEAT, HUMIDITY, STEAM. TURNER IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY)
As an artist, J.M.W. Turner captured many of the interconnections existing between art, nature and the environment created by human beings. The project ‘Calor, Humedad, Valor. Turner en el Siglo XXI’ proposes the construction of a mock-up where these natural and architectural elements would meld to generate a new sort of ecosystem under laboratory conditions. This system would be altered by user interaction in the form of variations in environmental light and humidity. Gradually, after multiple interactions, it, like its natural counterparts, would tend to self-regulate. This metaphor for the planet’s vital force and its alteration at human discretion will generate a virtual ecosystem where natural elements inter-relate with others that have been artificially modified. The intention is to foster greater awareness of the impact of human action on the planet through variations in urban and natural morphology.
INCENTIVE FOR FURTHER PRODUCTIONS (3.000 Euros)
TheFabricadecosasbonitas or Factory of Pretty Things plans to take 20 robot-demonstrators to the next G8 summit, to be held in Edinburgh in the summer of 2007. This project is a clear allusion to a controversial news article published in early 2005 on the Pentagon’s intention to send ‘robot soldiers’ to Iraq in March of that year. It took many years to separate the genus Homo from animals, but many fewer to witness the evolution of human beings into machines. The ANA or autonomous non-violent agent project satirizes about the terrible consequences of dehumanizing armed conflict and mechanically systematizing the solution of political disputes. Human identity wobbles in the face of progress when progress and peril appear arm in arm. Given the amount of cynicism we seem able to assume, robots can replace people in some of their tasks, including killing. They might even become the actors in the new millennium’s protest movements.