Strange hand “choreographies” + mobile phones

Screen Portraits by Anna Pinkas:

"Each video in this series was shot on the New York City subway and captures a passenger’s interaction with his/her phone. The video has been edited frame-by-frame to call attention to the strange hand “choreographies” that our constant use of handheld screens has engendered."

Why do I blog this? An intriguing project that's related to my "Curious Rituals" project. I like the focus on the hands themselves and the way the movement is represented. It allows to highlight specific gestural aptitudes related with digital artifacts such as phones.

It's also intriguing to stumble across this roughly at the same time as Facebook's "Photos of hands holding various phones, to be used in any presentation of your designs." (which are far less inspiring).

Serge Delaunay’s technological (GTX) futures

This morning I've been to the Collection de l'Art Brut (Outsider Art) in Lausanne, for the "vehicles" exhibition. It's a new series, addressing means of transport with over 200 pieces by forty-two authors:

"Vehicles of the most rudimentary kind or of a more technical nature, and whether intended for travel by air, land or water, have always fascinated mankind. Incorporating a link with the childhood world with which Art Brut creators tend to remain attached, vehicles also embody an idea of power, both physically and sexually, as if to prolong human aptitudes."

It's brilliant and the pieces that caught my attention were the one by Serge Delaunay:

"Delaunay uses black felt pen on large sheets of paper. Colour is rare. Cars and spaceships are his favourite subjects. He is fascinated by science, especially astronomy and mechanics, and buys science magazines every week. He adds texts and captions to his drawings. The initials GTX, often under his signature, refer to the automotive industry too. "

Serge Delaunay 1 Serge Delaunay 2

Two examples: (Copyright Collection de L'Art Brut)

Serge Delaunay 3

See also some this one that reflects his interested towards technological futures:

Why do I blog this? I'm very curious by Outside Art and the way these pieces exemplify some alternative and curious vision of our reality. Delaunay's vision of technological artifacts such as car, TVs and robots are utterly stunning.

“Dissident Futures” exhibit at YBCA in SF

One of the best art/design exhibit I've seen lately is called "Dissident Futures" and it's currently at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. Curated by Betti-Sue Hertz, YBCA’s Director of Visual Art, it's described on their website as "an investigation into possible alternative futures, particularly those that question or overturn conventional notions of innovation in biological, social, environmental, and technological structures." The exhibit is made of a wide range of pieces based on photography, painting, installation, performance, sculpture, video and film. Operating as an echo of the innovation-focus of the Bay Area, each of these corresponds to three main topics:

  • the utopian: "scenarios in which the best possible outcomes are achieved for the greatest number of people"
  • the speculative: "consistently pushing beyond the known, even beyond existing systems of logic to locate potentialities that may seem impossible, unreal, or fantastical at the moment."
  • the pragmatic: "groundwork for what the future will look like in the real world"

Some of the projects described there caught my attention for different reasons.

Paul Laffoley's diagrams (dataviz?) feature planes of higher consciousness or act as a mediation aids; they can be seen as utopian worldviews with a strikingly curious spin:

Some of the best piece IMHO are the ones from Basim Magdy, an Egyptian artist living in Switzerland. His fabulous series of pictures (called "Investigating the Color Spectrum of a Post-Apocalyptic Future Landscape") correspond to a stunning representation of how what Science-Fiction should be in my opinion: entanglements between the real and the fictional, between the actual and the virtual... with a peculiar and magical aesthetic. Trevor Paglen's work was also impressive and among similar lines.

Also, Magdy's series of paintings offer a compelling representation of the future with a representations that may look tongue-in-cheek at first glance... and far more serious when observed longer. I found Katie Peterson's Moonlight Sonata very subtle: "For this work Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata was translated into morse code and sent to the moon via E.M.E. Returning to earth fragmented by the moon's surface, it has been re-translated into a new score, the gaps and absences becoming intervals and rests. In the exhibition space the new 'moon–altered' score plays on a self-playing grand piano."... which leads to these beautiful framed morse scores:

Peter Coffin's video of flying fruits was also fantastic. This short film made of fruits flying through a black void has a mesmerizing effect... an impressive representation of how the ordinary can become intriguing and original when observed with a different viewpoint.

The series of pieces by Future Cities Lab were quite convincing, especially the colonisation of the now defunct part of Bay Bridge with suspended habitations/gardens/aquaponic farms:

Finally, Revital Cohen and Tuur van Balen's 75 Watts project was also revealing in the sense that it ironically frames mass-manufacturing products: "Engineering logic has reduced the factory labourer to a man-machine, through scientific management of every single movement. By shifting the purpose of the labourer's actions from the efficient production of objects to the performance of choreographed acts, mechanical movement is reinterpreted into the most human form of motion: dance. What is the value of this artefact that only exists to support the performance of its own creation? And as the product dictates the movement, does it become the subject, rendering the worker the object?"

Why do I blog this? I see this show as part of a much larger series of exhibit focused on "the future"... with an interesting and aesthetically-convincing series of weak signals about the possible, the potential and the virtual. The pieces presented here look far more intriguing than what Scifi produces and better frame the discussion about tomorrow's paths. I'm definitely looking forward to reading the book which is planned to be published by the end of the year.

Art/tech scene

Art piece by Sylvie Fleury
An interesting quote seen in this NYT article I saw today:

“I’ve been a bit disappointed by the disconnect between New York City’s art world and technology space,” he wrote in an e-mail later. “It’s extremely rare to see start-up people at gallery openings, for instance.”

There are all sorts of plausible explanations: the tech industry is relatively new (especially in New York); its members are young, busy and most did not plod through four years’ worth of liberal arts syllabuses.

But as many in the art world point out, there is no reason new-media moguls cannot get a remedial art education now.

Why do I blog this? This remark about NYC would totally stand here in the Geneva/Lausanne area. Apart from certain exceptions, I generally feel the same disconnection. Although it’s hard to see what groups we are talking about here (tech moguls, developers, designers, new media artists), I don’t see many connections betweens these different people. When we started Lift a while back, we had intuition that it would be valuable to foster such a mix, and we were right. However, it’s kind of hard, for various reasons. Three of them bother me a lot:

  • The importance of silos here in French-speaking Switzerland (and the francophone countries of Europe I would say): with so many “sub-communities” trying to exist, there is a tendency from people to differentiate themselves from others and not try to be part of a community. For instance, the debate about the difference between interaction designers and new media artists can be problematic for that matter. So… if it’s already hard to bring these two together, how can we expect start-up people to go to art exhibit! That being said, I’m sure there are exceptions.
  • The idea that technology is for technicians and that it’s some sort of dirty thing that art should not really bother about.
  • The fact that art related with digital technologies (video games, new media art pieces…) is part of popular culture, and hence less important than more noble realms of art such as theatre pieces, opera, contemporary dance or literature. Spending time in California for the laboratory activities (and having fun), this looks utterly weird and passé.

These new aestheticians were a bit too literal, weren’t they?

Why do I blog this? Probably because this encounter with a weird table, whose shape has been generated by a computer program, seem to exemplify the excess or the mere simplicity of adopting this approach in design/art. We’ll probably see more and more things like that.

Perhaps this signal can also be connected with some of the insights Regine brought up in her interview with Jeremy Hutchison. This artist contacted a bunch of manufacturers around the world asking them to produce an item which had to be imperfect, come with an intentional error. In this blogpost, i was fascinated by this part:

I got a frantic call in the middle of the night: Waleed was at the customs port. The authorities had seized the ball. When he explained than an Englishman had ordered a ball with errors, all hell broke loose. They said it was illegal to fabricate incorrect products, and they would revoke his company’s trading licence. I explained that this product wasn’t incorrect since it was exactly what I’d ordered. Days passed: nothing. Lost in the bureaucracy of Pakistani customs, I eventually got through to the high commissioner in Islamabad.

She was very apologetic, and explained that 20kg of heroin had recently passed under the radar at Sialkot customs. So everyone was feeling a bit paranoid. She issued a document stating that “the sculpture/artwork looks like a football but in fact is not a football and primarily this object is not for using as a football but is an artwork.” But it was too late: someone had destroyed the ball, and it disappeared without a trace. I never quite found out who.

The intentional creation of failed object and the influence they can have on people or organization’s behavior is always a fascinating research avenue.

Janet Cardiff Sound Art


Just a quick note on some material in this hard-to-find catalogue resume of Janet Cardiff‘s work.

It’s called Janet Cardiff: A Survey of Works, with George Bures Miller

Cardiff is well-known for her early-days “sound walks” where participants were given a Walkman or similar device to listen to as they walked about. Stories were told or experiences recounted in the audio track. The idea is simple, but from what I understand (never had the pleasure..) it was the story that made the experience engaging.

I first came across Cardiff’s work while doing sort of informal background research for the PDPal project where we were trying to understand interaction in the wild — away from desks and keyboard and all that.

What I find curious about her work is the way it augments reality before people even really thought about all this augmented reality stuff — but, it does not fetishize little tiny screens and orientation sensing and GPS and all that. It uses our earballs rather than our eyeballs — and somehow that makes it all much less fiddly. Although — if you look carefully at the bottom image you’ll see an image from a project in which one does use a screen — from a small DV camera which is playing a movie for you as you go along.

Janet Cardiff

Parenthetically, I think Cardiff had one of the best augmented reality projects with her telescopes. I’ve only seen this as documentation when I saw Cardiff talk in Berlin at Transmediale 08. There should be more documentation of this somewhere, but the effect was to look through the telescope and see a scene in a back alley that was the back alley — only with a suspicious set of activities being committed — perhaps a crime. The illusion was in the registration but the story was in the sequence of events that one saw, effectively the story. So much augmented reality augments nothing except coupons and crap like that. There is no compelling story in much augmented reality, but I don’t follow it closely so maybe things have changed.


Continue reading Janet Cardiff Sound Art

An Artist Statement To Remember

Spacesuit by Michael T. Rea

I just need to jot this down so I don’t lose it.

Mike Rea is an artist. This is his artist’s statement which brings together this wonderful relationship between fiction, underachievement, flaws, and failures. Lovely.

Standing on the shoulders of other people’s dreams could perhaps be the most pathetic of all dreams. The intent of my work is to create something short of its outcome. My goal is to create the idea of an object that remains a dream. The objects I create are based on fictions, rather than realities. I have always been interested in the ephemeral worlds established in film, or even in popular culture. Fictions or established hearsay allow for a flawed interpretation, which leads to a flawed result. The sublime is unattainable, and not an option. I further amplify this experience by only using my memory to construct my images. Failure is imminent. I find humor allows me to enjoy this experience, and I in turn build humor into the worlds established by my work. I have chosen to depict these states with unfinished wood, and other materials which convey a sense of the temporal. I find the beauty in life lies in between moments. My work offers a sense of what could be and what could never be simultaneously.

Continue reading An Artist Statement To Remember

Grafikdemo by Niklas Roy


While in Basel a few weeks ago, Nicolas and Cris and I stole off for a few moments to check out this typically expensive art and technology exhibition in the docks region of the city. I forget the name of it, and also did not have any paper money so I didn’t get an exhibition catalog. Nicolas has a more complete description of the project on his recent post about Grafikdemo by Niklas Roy.

I just wanted to share a thought I had about the project which is the curious way it was manufactured. Interior to the display cabinet of this lovely old Commodore is a physical object — a lattice frame colored in a green florescent paint of some kind that made it look like it was the old fashioned style of CAD rendering where everything was green basically (I think) because people were using green CRTs (for those too young to remember — that’s cathode *ray tube, which now sounds quite archaic). The object can turn and tumble across the x, y and z axis by using the keys on the number pad of the CBM. It’s quite nice. It’s both an homage to an earlier day and a joke, of course, in a way. Nice project.
Continue reading Grafikdemo by Niklas Roy

Stuart's *Fragments of Possible Worlds* / Reperceiving The Future

Saturday October 03, 17.27.54

Just a fragment of a post — something that’s been sitting in drafts for a few months now for some reason. I guess I was trying to find something to put alongside of it, but it sits well by itself.

It’s from a post by Laboratory cousin Stuart Candy and its got some suggestive little nuggets — particularly appealing to me is “reperceiving.” This is the way he is describing what artists and futurists do as their vocations — “enabling new perceptions.”

Stuart Candy Reperceiving Detroit

" Called “Fragments of Possible Worlds: The Art and Design of Experiential Scenarios”, my presentation encouraged the audience, mostly Cranbrook students and faculty, to consider the resemblance between the role of the artist and that of the futurist. What the two have in common, as I see it, is the vocation of enabling new perceptions. Compared to the artist, whose self-understanding frequently seems to include a studied refusal of the constraints to which many other kinds of work are subject (viz. “artistic licence”), the futurist’s role may be somewhat more circumscribed, especially in a consulting setting, by the client’s needs. But the general role is fundamentally similar. And, while there is a conscious turn towards public and political engagement in my recent work, compared to the more narrowly targeted, strategic use of foresight as used in organisational settings, this common ground shared by art and futures is well captured by the elegant phrase of Royal Dutch/Shell scenario planning pioneer Pierre Wack: “the gentle art of reperceiving”."

Why do I blog this? I like this way of describing the work of creating new visions of possible worlds as reperceiving, or helping people to reimagine what the world could be like. Finding new ways of describing the work we do here in the Laboratory is quite helpful. Related is this diagram by James Auger that I recently came across on Nicolas’ blog in which he describes Auger’s diagram showing how paths to the future can be mapped out in a specific way. This might be a side, side project — to create a visualization that describes this action of re-imagining and reperceiving.

Continue reading Stuart's *Fragments of Possible Worlds* / Reperceiving The Future

Digital Blur Book Launched

…and apparently available only in the UK presently. John Marshall and I have a manifesto-y essay towards the end of this.

Marshall and Bleecker, in their essay, propose the term “undisciplinary” for the type of work prevalent in this book. That is, creative practice which straddles ground and relationships between art, architecture, design and technology and where different idioms of distinct and disciplinary practices can be brought together. This is clearly evident in the processes and projects of the practitioners’ work here. Marshall and Bleecker view these kinds of projects and experiences as beyond disciplinary practice resulting in a multitude of disciplines “engaging in a pile-up, a knot of jumbled ideas and perspectives.” To Marshall and Bleecker, “undisciplinarity is as much a way of doing work as it is a departure from ways of doing work.” They claim it is a way of working and an approach to creating and circulating culture that can go its own way, without worrying about working outside of what histories-of-disciplines say is “proper” work. In other words, it is “undisciplined”. In this culture of practice, they continue, one cannot be wrong, nor have practice elders tell you how to do what you want to do and this is a good thing because it means new knowledge is created all at once rather than incremental contributions made to a body of existing knowledge. These new ways of working make necessary new practices, new unexpected processes and projects come to be, almost by definition. This is important because we need more playful and habitable worlds that the old forms of knowledge production are ill-equipped to produce. For Marshall and Bleecker, it is an epistemological shift that offers new ways of fixing the problems the old disciplinary and extra-disciplinary practices created in the first place. The creative practitioners contained within the pages of this book clearly meet the “undisciplinary” criteria suggested by Marshall and Bleecker in that they certainly do not need to be told how or what to do; they do not adhere to conventional disciplinary boundaries nor do they pay heed to procedural steps and rules. However, they know what’s good, and what’s bad and they instinctively know what the boundaries are and where the limits of the disciplines lie.

Continue reading Digital Blur Book Launched