INTERSPECIFICS is an artist collective from Mexico City (founded 2013), experimenting in the intersection between art and science (Bio-Art/ Bio-Technology). Their creative practice revolves around a collection of experimental research and methodological tools they named “Ontological Machines”, which involve exploring the communication pathways between non-human actors and developed systems, such as machines, algorithms and bio-organisms. Their body of work focuses on the use of sound and AI to deconstruct bioelectrical data and chemical signals of various living organisms as generative instruments for inter-species communication, pushing our understanding of the boundaries of human nature and its counterpart, the non-human.
An exhibition presented by INTERSPECIFICS of two installation-based sets of hardware they define as ‘ontological machines’. The methodological classification serves as a framework to explore the complex expressions of reality, where the systems/ mechanisms exists as communication tools which breaks down the patterns of bio-mechanisms using electromagnetic signals and artificial intelligence.
“Micro-rhythms is a bio-driven installation where small variations in voltage inside microbial cells generate combining arrays of light patterns. A pattern recognition algorithm detects matching sequences and turns them in to sound. The algorithm written in Python uses three Raspberry Pi cameras with Open Computer Vision to track light changes creating a real-time graphic score for an octophonic audio system to be played with SuperCollider. The cells are fuelled using soil samples from every place where the piece is presented, growing harmless bacteria that clean their environment and produce the micro signal that detonates all the processes in the piece. Understood as an interspecies system, the installation amplifies the microvoltage produced by these microscopic organisms and transduces their oscillations into pure electronic signals with which they create an audiovisual system that evokes the origins of coded languages.”
“A machine that can observe and learn from a microorganism and uses the data arising from its behavioural patterns as a source of composition for an audiovisual score. This project is focused on the creation of an artificial intelligence that has the ability to identify repeated coordinated actions inside biological cultures. The AI stores and transforms these actions in to events to which it assigns different musical and visual gestures creating an auto-generative composition according to the decision making logic it produces through time. To accomplish this we will development an analog signal collector and transmission device able to perform its own biological maintenance and an audiovisual platform allowing the expression of these biological signals. The resulting composition will be transmitted live via a server channel where the coevolution process can be monitored in real time. Inspired by research centres such as SETI (Search for extraterrestrial intelligence), Speculative Communications is part a research space for non anthropocentric communication and part a non-human intelligence auto-generative system.”
The artistic approach of generating communications through audio-visual means between non-human organisms is novel to me. The gathering and processing of data using machine learning algorithms and artificial intelligence and the real-time generation of light and sound through the signals serves as a new way for us to understand these forms. The choice of output may be biased to us as humans but do these non-human forms see a need to communicate? Nevertheless, I think INTERSPECIFICS’ paradigm of work is experimental and innovative, the methodological approach focused on their point of interest in Bio-technology (bacteria, plants, slime molds) and creating a communicative link between humans and non-humans through ‘machines’ – a culmination of scientific knowledge and computer systems.
Clay and the Collective Body (2009) was an inaugural IHME project commissioned by the Pro Arte Foundation, Helsinki, Finland. The work began with a giant cube of 100 tonnes of soft clay within a white dome and the citizens of Helsinki were invited to play and sculpt with the material in any manner. There were no inhibitions or restrictions in terms of interactions and forms over the ten days of collective creation. Participants either worked individually or collaboratively with the soft clay creating structures both small and large in a warm, damp and lit interior space.
Clay and the Collective body demonstrates the concept of process as art, as of social practice, where the organised activity or system generates interaction and a collective consciousness. The theory of ‘social sculpture’ was coined by Joseph Beuys, where the role of an artist and ‘social healer’ is inextricable. Everything is art and everyone can make art. The idea of collectiveness and collaboration in Gormley’s work connected art with society, which shifts the role of the artist to the audience. The role of the artist is changed from a producer of physical works to a concocter of social activity with an artistic purpose.
This project also generates a community of ‘makers’, where one gets to be physically involved with the material through touch. The process was primitive and ritualistic, where the makers get down and dirty with a common goal within the time frame and space. Bringing people together in the same space and communicate through interactions and creation was a transcendent experience that brought back the foundations of social and human relationships. Using the primal process as social practice highlighted art’s ability to create a shared collective and the universal understanding of human behaviour.
The process facilitates conversations between the people from various backgrounds within the unified environment. The work produced results beyond the physical sculptures, and of a social nature as well. The ritualistic experience removed capitalistic realities from the space where the only activities to fill the space and the time were creating and interacting. The final exhibition of the created forms were presented as a result of the process.
The previous critique by Ben Davis questioned social practice art’s role in activism as compared to real-live social and political movements. Clay and the collective body creates a beautiful balance serving a higher social purpose while being politically neutral, where the collective consciousness is built organically within the time and space. The social practice aspect of this work is ephemeral, which is interesting take on socially engaged art. It raises the question of how time-based social practice art is and does its impact go beyond the people involved and its time frame?
Throughout the tour of the carefully curated Minimalism exhibition, works that caught my eye were works by Lee Ufan and Nobuo Sekine, with both artists having led the Mono-Ha movement in East Asia.
Mono-Ha “Object school” was an Eastern school of thought, which represented a group of 20th century Japanese artists. The core of the movement was the focus and appreciation of the nature of the materials, letting the object speak for itself which ties in the idea of “not-making”. As of minimalism, they rejected western notions of representation, focusing on the relationships of materials and perceptions rather than on expression or intervention.
The beginnings of Mono-Ha can be found in an article by Lee Ufan (1970-1971): “Sonzai to mu wo koete Sekine Nobuo ron (Beyond Being and Nothingness) – A Thesis on Sekine Nobuo.”
Link to article: https://monoskop.org/images/a/ab/Ufan_Lee_1970-71_2013_Beyond_Being_and_Nothingness_On_Sekine_Nobuo.pdf
An avant-garde painter and sculptor based in Japan, his art ideology revolves around an Eastern appreciation of the material as a rejection to the Eurocentric thought of 1960s post-war Japan. His works juxtaposes the raw and natural against the industrial materials, choreographed in mostly unaltered, ephemeral states.
(I did not document the actual work used in the Minimalism exhibition, so I chose similar works from Lee Ufan’s series of “arrangements”. The work by Lee Ufan in the Minimalism exhibition was a choreography of large rocks and metal sheets alternating each other in a circle.)
In the Relatum series, his sculptural works are composed of untouched stone and industrial metal pieces. He refers to his sculptures as kōzō,“living structures”, which deviates from traditional expression and towards the detached act of arranging or mediating. The detachment is in line with the Mono-ha’s engagement in “not making” and to focus on “the world as it is”.
The notion of encounter between the natural and industrial in his works can be adapted into our interactive work, where we explore the relation between industrial reflective and refractive materials and light, a natural element. We are exploring the behaviours of light with man-made objects in space through interactive arrangements. The role of the sculptor is now passed onto the viewer, where the “encounters” of light and object are determined by their actions.
While the actual work was not in the Minimalism exhibition, Phase – Mother Earth by Nobuo Sekine was featured in photograph documentation as one of the key works in the Mono-Ha movement. This work involves the excavation of a cylindrical volume of earth from the ground, and placing it next to the space produced. The work was considered a “thought experiment” where Nobuo Sekine challenged the laws and different phases of space. He brings to light the reality of the negative space – Can emptiness be considered as matter and thus, material?
The idea of defining an object using its negative is really interesting and in the eyes of minimalism, strips and defines the essence of the “thing” to its absence. Can objects be defined by the intangible, such as their absences (negative space) and shadows (as opposed to light)? In our narrative project, we would like to discover more about the implication of objects and scenario through their overlooked forms – their shadows. How real can the narrative be when it is replaced by its suggested existence? We would like to explore alternative and abstracted forms in a “sculpted space” where malleable reality is hinted through the manipulations of shadow, sound and space.
Mono-Ha goes beyond the idea of “not making” but taps on the relations between the nature of materials, be it tangible or intangible. The concepts are highly relevant to both our interactive and narrative projects in our theoretical concerns and execution. Our overarching exploration of the experiencing of the intangible in both our projects can draw inspiration from the Mono-Ha movements and Minimalism and we hope to be successful in highlighting the profound ideas based in these schools of thought in our works.
The Notion of Place, Mobility and Interactive environments
The definition of place to a person is a subjective one. Without personal, cultural or societal identity and meaning attached to the place, it is merely a location. Public art escapes the constrains of the museum, where art is autonomous and self-referential, making it permanent to its geographical surroundings. Institutionalised art is”transportable, placeless and nomadic”, the anti-thesis to the concept of site-specificity. Site-specific art, whether “assimilative” or “interruptive”, is not without its environmental context, with its purpose and meaning being shaped and defined by the localised place.
In my opinion, modern interactive works lose the permanence of site-specific art due to the mobility and transportability of new technologies. Most experiences are transient and short-lived but documented to be then relived on a screen, limiting its impact. While such works can be reproduced, but there is little motivation in recreating the works in the same location.
To me, effective site-specific works are those that are deeply ingrained in its place and adds to its meaning, be it being superficially beautiful, socially amusing or culturally relevant. According to Kwon (1997) in One Place after Another: Notes on Site-specificity (1997), “the space of art was no longer perceived as a blank slate, a tabula rasa, but a real place”.
Tom Na H-iu by Mariko Mori (2010)
Tom Na H-iu is an ancient Celtic site of spiritual transmigration of life and death and monumental standing stones are built in many places all over the world for their symbolisation. Mori took inspiration from it and created a 15- feet glass sculpture in the middle of a pond, surrounded by a bamboo forest in Teshima Island, Japan.
The stone-shaped glass is connected to the Kamioka Observatory in Hida, Japan, through a computer. It glows interactively when it receives data of neutrinos generated by supernova explosions (the death of stars). The breathing-like work connects elements of the universe (nature, space, life and death) creating a spirituality for viewers to experience the living place.
Storm House by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller (2010)
Storm House is experiential installation that redefines the space and environment of an art work. Defined inside a traditional Japanese house in Teshima, viewers can experience a storm with in through the interplay of light, water, shadows, sounds, movement of objects and vibrations. The experience mimics reality to a point where it is undistinguishable between a real or constructed storm. There is a metafictional quality to the work, where the art emphasises its’ construction and the way it is meant to be build that allows the viewer that they are in a “fictional” world.
Being set in and amongst other residential houses on an island, it transport the viewer to another geographical narrative that could be either a fresh or familiar experience.
Echigo-Tsumari Art Field
Echigo-Tsumari is the stage for an art triennale, where public art works are positioned across the art fields and rural land in Niigata, Tokyo. Having attended the triennale myself last year, I feel that the artworks co-exists within nature and achieves its vision to reconnect art and nature. Known as the “The village of Earth art festival'”, it uses site-specific public art to connect the visitors to its place and vice versa, communicating the latent values of the region to the world in a bid to revitalise it.
Project DREAM evokes the states of rest and disturbance by immersing the viewer in a spatial experience. The choice of the bed within a dark space creates a sense of comfort, where the viewer is isolated from the outside world. Time is given for the viewer to be left alone and projections of collected dreams are played. It allows a sense of rest but at the same time, suspense due to the context of the work. An alarm of certain time is set, without the knowledge of the viewer, for him to be awaken from the state of rest.
This work explores interstice between sleep and reality, revealing the state of mind where rest is disrupted into a state of wakefulness. Collecting dreams and projecting them in real-time was another concept of interactivity we wanted to explore. Viewers have to choice to enter their dream any time, be it for the novelty of reading their own dreams or allowing the subsequent viewers to read theirs. This interactivity changes each experience, though subtle, where each participant contributes to the making of our work.
In project DREAM, there is a difference between the role of the person experiencing our work and the person outside. The viewer has a choice to go into the work or to enter a dream or do both. The viewer experience the work in our space is a pure observer of the experience. However, when the participants decide to enter a dream, there is feedback when it is projected and inputted into our work. Though limited, the work is constantly changing with the intellectual contribution of the viewers. The characteristics of the interface isolates you from the real world of experience but at the same time, evokes familiarity with a bed that is usually as associated with sleeping and rest. The structure of the interface may seem linear in the experience, where the set alarm will go off after the projection is played, however, there is subtle feedback through the collection and displaying of dreams which creates a continuous chain where the dream of the previous user is viewed by the next.
We were inspired by the work Sea of Time’98 by Tatsuo Miyajima, a site-specific work in a “Kadoya” house on Naoshima island. A water pool is built inside the house and LED devices showing 1-9 are scattered in the water. The “time” on the LED counters were set by local residents.
We wanted to explore a time-based installation for the viewer to experience the space constructed. In the early stages of our work, we wanted to collect alarm timings from the students who are to be awaken routinely due to their responsibilities. However, we shifted our focus to collecting dreams as we wanted to focus on a singular immersive experience and collecting a constantly updating narrative.
The sense of serenity found in Sea of Time inspired the sense of rest we were trying to create with our work. The concept of collecting dreams was inspired by Marina Abramovic’s Dream House, mentioned in previous OSS posts.
PROCESS – The viewer’s experience
When the viewer enters the space, he is faced with a space with a mattress where he can sit or lie down. Unknown to him, an alarm of three minutes is set. A blue LCD clock which displays the time and date is within the space. After the door is closed, a projection of an inventory of collected dreams from previous users is projected on the black walls of space, where the text appears letter by letter. After two to three minutes, the alarm is triggered and the LED lights around the room turns on sporadically. The alarm and lights intensify as time passes till it goes off, and the lights are left permanently on, indicating the end of the experience.
How the system works: Our project consists of two concurrent Arduino systems, one controlling the LCD clock, alarm and LED lights and the other controlling the projection using a light sensor. Processing is also used to collect dreams and for the projection as a response to the viewer entering the space.
Using the above tutorial, I built an alarm clock using the LCD screen with a RTC DS3231 unit. We had some problems with the libraries used, but we figured it out with help from Wen Lei. Initially we wanted to use 4 digit 7 segment displays for our alarm clock but we decided on the LCD display as it could display a larger range of information. When the code is uploaded, the LCD screen displays ‘sweet dreams…’.
Cecilia connected the LED strips with the system, so that the LED will be triggered when the alarm goes off.
To set an alarm, values of the hour and minutes need to be manually keyed in. This is done in real time after the viewer has entered the space. For the alarm to speed up, the values of delay() is decreased accordingly.
For the LED to be turned on permanently after the alarm goes off, I set a long time interval.
Arduino Light Sensor and Processing
When the door of the room is closed, a light sensor triggers the projection to play. This is done by connecting arduino to processing through a light sensor (http://wiring.org.co/learning/topics/lightprocessing.html). A light sensor is placed at the entrance to sense the light value that will trigger different states of projection.
The sensorValue() was used to determine the different states, such as door open, door close and when the led lights are flashing when the alarms are triggered.
Processing thus reads the different states, written as 1, 2 and 3 to produce different responses on the projection. We want the projection to play the projection when the door state is 2 (when the door is closed). When the LED lights are turned on by the alarms, the projection should stop.
Processing: Projecting text from an outer source in real-time
Initially, my processing code could only encompass displaying text from a string that has to be keyed into processing and it could not be very long. However, as we intended to collect dreams from our viewers, I decided to have the dreams to be input into a txt file and connected it to processing. This enables the projection to be different and updated with new dreams each time the txt file is updated.
By combining this code with the processing code connected to the light sensor, the projection can display the dreams collected in the txt file when the door of the space is closed.
To improve the effect of inputting a text, I tried developing a text input file for the viewers to enter their dreams. With the help of Wen Lei, we tried to save the text input into the txt file but the effect was limited so I decide against it and would have the viewers enter their dreams directly into the txt file.
Cecilia and I both worked on the LCD alarm clock, where I was in charge of the LCD screen and Cecilia worked with the LED lights. We both designed and built the setup and space. I worked on the processing with the help of Wen Lei on the light sensor and projection systems. Cecilia worked on initial experiments with sound sensor and heart rate sensor.
FEEDBACK AND IMPROVEMENTS
The effect of the alarms and lights could have been intensified to create a greater sense of disturbance. We could do this by adding more buzzers or connecting a speaker and installing brighter LED lights. To improve the interactivity in our work, we could add a button so that the viewer can turn the alarm off by themselves.
Project DREAM allowed me to understand how interactive interfaces works and how coding and systems can be used to create an experience. While project DREAM is on a more subtle side of interactivity, the spatial experience created was in line with what we intended at the start of the project. We had problems finding a frame to construct our space, so we decided to build one ourselves and I was glad that we did as it defined the look and experience of our work heavily, Building a setup and its intertwined systems was complicated and difficult and I have learnt a lot about arduino and processing language as tools for interactive art.
“Project DREAM” is an interactive media project, where the stages of sleep and activity of dreaming is recreated in a digital environment to explore the ‘interstice’ between reality and your unconscious. The personal experience is confined to a single user at a time, where he would be connected to a heart-rate sensor as an indicator of his comfort or “state of rest”. The participant enters a dark room, which consists of a chair and a wall of alarm clocks. When he is calm and seated, indicated by a consistent heart rate, it triggers the set timers on the alarm clocks as well as a projection of written “dreams”. The dreams shown are recollections of dreams from other participants, where they are collected and viewed as story. When the alarms go off, the environment and room reacts, mimicking the process of being woken up, where the lights flicker and the “dream” ends.
According to Manovich in The Language of New Media, he states that new media works are bounded by five general principles. Digital works can be characterised by numerical representation, modularity, automation, variability and transcoding. “Numerical Representation” refers to the backbone of digital code in new media projects, where it involves sampling. An algorithmic pattern of code is constructed using units through systems that reads and manipulates such units to produce a desired outcome. In our project, mathematical code serves as building blocks that shapes the processes through open-source tools, such as processing and arduino.
New Media works have “modularity”, a whole composed of parts of a fractal nature. Each system have different components that work together and the systems function connectively as a whole. The foundation of computer programming is built upon this principle, where it allows for autonomy of individual parts as well as the functionality between them as a system. “Project DREAM” involves different systems that are interconnected, relying on the inputs and outputs that triggers one another. However, each system is wired and can exist on their own.
An unique difference between new media works and traditional artworks is “variability”, where new media works can exist in “different, potentially infinite versions”. With the involvement of human interaction, unpredictability serves as a variable in digital works. In “project DREAM”, each experience within the work is different as the freedom of interaction and responses trigger different outcomes. The input of the various dreams produce different experiences for each viewer, where the variables in our work is “space” and “time”. The duration and the environment (projection and light) changes according the how a viewer decides to interact with the space.
Lastly, Manovich argues that new media is composed of two distinct layers, “cultural layer” and “computer layer”. The complex relationship between the two layers is explored in new media works through “transcoding”, where systems of organisation of culture is integrated with interfaces in computing. New media works blend two seemingly contradicting components, media and data through computerisation. “Project DREAM” is exploring an organic and visceral concept through digital and objectified ways. The concept of sleep and dreaming is portrayed in a simplified and “non-human” manner that would not have been possible before the existence of new media and coding.
Concepts Exploring the concept of interstice as dreams – metaphorical gaps between reality
Dreams occur during our sleep, where we are unconscious and not in control of what we see. They are often forgotten and seemed to serve no concrete purpose as compared to our conscious reality. Dreams cannot be recalled to its full detail and experience without conscious effort. While its narrative holds no limits, be it a joyful or horrific experience, it serves as an escape from our routine daily life.
Dream as a movie – physical record of dreams
The visual representation of dreams through story telling Idea: Exhibiting a ‘dream’ of participants
The sleeping viewer serves as the input for interaction where emotional conditions (heart-rate, sweat glands, temperature, movement, etc) are measured to reflect the dream he is experiencing. As a response to the inputs, lights and projection can be used as indications of the emotional narrative of the dream, where it can be “experienced” by the viewer and be a form of story-telling to the watching viewers.
Inspiration of set-up:
“Dream House” by Marina Abramovic is an experiential work where participants are live in a house overnight and sleep in conditions that facilitates dreaming. Their dreams are physically recorded in “dream books” the following morning.
Issues and further questions:
– Condition: how can we make sure the viewer is asleep?
– Duration: how long will the work take if it involved dreaming and deep sleep of a single participant?
– Interaction is pretty one-way, where the inputs result in a certain outcome.
– The limitation of input by the viewer: Can the inputs be measured and have various outcomes?
– In what way can we link different inputs to different outcomes? For example, does a fast heart rate indicate the emotion of fear and what light can be used to evoke the emotion?
Dreams as a construct of random brain waves
Idea: The viewer are in control of the narrative of the work by arranging a sequence of brain waves (alpha, beta, delta, theta)
Input: Buttons of to send brain waves
Output: images, light and soundIssues:
– The interaction is too simple.
– How can the output be best represented as a dream instead of a performance.
After discussing with my partner, we decided to explore the state of mind between sleeping and waking. We intend to explore interstice in a subtle manner, focusing on the gap between consciousness and unconsciousness.
Characteristics of sleep:
Comforting, calm, rest between the busyness of reality
Idea: Creating a space that recreates the experience of sleeping and dreaming only to be disturbed by reality (alarms that disrupt rest). We want to use time and disruption as a physical representation of the moment one is awaken by reality. The space would response according to its conditions.
Components: 1. Wall of alarm clocks – Triggered by participant entering room
2. Projection of “dream” – Triggered by movement/ heart rate/ touch sensor
3. Lights – Triggered by sounds of alarms
The concept of Open Source was reintroduced in response to the limitations of traditional proprietary models, where intellectual-property rights have been regarded as incentive for innovation because it translates into commercial gain and power.
Open source challenges the basis of Copyright, where the exclusive access to technologies and knowledge is known to drive innovation. It instead offers openness that allows for “communal creation, revision, criticism and adaptability” (Vaidhyanathan, 2005, pg. 26). Copyright and the protection of knowledge serve an double-edged sword, while protecting intellectual property, they build an unhealthy culture of controlling innovation processes and technologies. However, the open source concept is constructed on an opposing principle, aiming to offer an alternative to the guarded system of production. The sharing model of cultural production is beneficial to rising and expanding industries and their markets, especially in the creative and artistic fields. According to Benkler. Y (2009), “Peer production” involves free software projects that are not dependent on traditional hierarchies and guild-lines to aid production and sharing. Peer production generates fast, efficient and reliable communication to produce innovative and useful tools and expressions, to integrate and improve the industry as a whole. It allows a collaborative effort, enabling different groups to have access to open resources for their projects and to share the information they produce.
So how does the open-source culture affect the fields that involve artistic creation and production? In creative and cultural field, an act of creation is seen as an social act. Traditional proprietary modes of artistic creation have protected the traditional works of art of artists from plagiarism. As the field of art moves towards digital world, the open source model is able to cultivate a community of artists with free-sharing tools and resources to work with the digital medium. Creators will have a greater outreach of audience and critique to their works or development of tools that benefits others in production. The open-source model of peer production that allows for sharing, revision and peer review has potential to aid new and upcoming creative industries in creation and production.
For reference, I looked into some phone docks made of clear materials/glass and ceramic as I wanted a clean and sleek finish for my phone dock.
I started by sketching basic and rough sketches of possible phone docks. Inspired by the smoothness and simplicity of perfume bottles, in particularly the bottle of Chance Eau de Parfum Chanel.
I adopted the circular volume for the body of the phone dock, with an insertion at the top for the phone and speakers by the side. After consultation, I realised the design was too simplistic and clunky.
FINAL DESIGN SKETCHES
Retaining the circular form, I added some volume at the back of the design to add weight and create balance. The side profile is morphed into a streamlined tear drop shape. Instead of inserting the phone from the top, I have given a frontal platform for the phone to be placed. The backing will be slanted at an angle backwards for the phone to lie upon.
The front of the phone dock will have a circular volume where the protruded platform will have rounded corners.
The circumference of the circle will be rounded to mimic the roundedness of glass surfaces. The white areas are the slanted surfaces.
The volume of the phone dock will curved towards a flat bottom, such that the phone dock can stand on its own.
For the model of the phone dock, I decided to construct it in two parts – the frontal platform and the backing.
Measuring the slanted angle for phone to lie on
The width of the platform was subsequently reduce to create the teardrop side.
Making of the backing – sanding down the foam
The front and back are fitted together using foam glue.
I would like to construct the phone dock with either glass or ceramic to give a clean and minimal look.
The finish of the model could have been done better – perhaps I should have used or made effective sanding tools.
Could have included the speakers and buttons (charging portI into the model)