EDUARDO KAC — TELEPORTING AN UNKNOWN STATE

‘Teleporting An Unknown State’ by Eduardo Kac

“My work hinges, to a great extent, on hybridity and ambiguity. While through the first I integrate elements often considerate disparate, by means of the second I articulate the tension and multiplicity of meanings inherent in the work. ” — Kac

Artist Overview

Eduardo Kac, is known for pioneering the synthesis of telematics and biology in his artworks. His approach is similar to that of Telematic Artist Stelarc’s exploration of integration of machine and the body, however further ‘extremized’ to an unprecedented skin deep level – Kac pioneered ‘Transgenic Art’ in 2001 when he created an ‘Artist Gene’ and his  infamous fluorescent Rabbit tilted ‘Alba’.

His works are based on the fundamental philosophy of communication between ‘entities’ – biological, digital and machine. Through different works he expresses different communication functions and the phenomena of their underlying complexity and fluidity, brought about by the post digital age. Kac is also concerned about the implications of these functions on culture, experience and our psyche. His works range from radical and ‘grotesque’ works such as ‘A-positive’ (Figure 1) where a human and robot were hooked up intravenously, to more nuanced telepresence works such as ‘Rara Avis’ (Figure 2) where participants viewed a digital aviary from the POV of a Tele-robotic Macaw.

Figure 1

Figure 2

In his early works, he employed a deliberate and direct interference of tech within the body or biological system. Contrastingly, In today’s context of hyperreality, alteration, interference and mutation occur on a psychological level. Albeit different, the impact is equally profound given the rise of alternative and multi realities.

‘Teleporting an Unknown State (1994 – 1996)’ is a piece that bridges the ideas of both physical and psychological ‘interference’, and still holds relevance today – it creepily foreshadowed the profound veracity of the shared hyperreality we are ‘plugged’ into in our contemporary digital age.

Pictures

source: http://www.ekac.org/index.html

Explanation—ARTIST’s STATEMENT

“Through the collaborative action of anonymous individuals around the world, photons from distant countries and cities are teleported into the gallery and are used to give birth to a fragile and small plant. It is the participants’ shared responsibility that ensures that the plant grows as long as the show is open.”

Reflection

‘Teleporting An Unknown State’  (1994-1996), explores the idea of using the internet, a circuit of different entities via mobile phones, computers and personal devices, to support sustenance to a living organism. It was a collaborative interaction that required remote users to transmit lights from their ‘cities’ to a projector, which then converged the lights emitted from the received input (videos and images) onto the plant. The seed of the plant was placed in soil on a pedestal in a pitch black room with the only light source being that of the suspended video projector. The biological process of photosynthesis was an integral aspect of the work.

The work was displayed as an installation where viewers could see the growth process of the plant and only the cone of light being emitted from the projector — “The circularity of the hole and the projector’s lens flushed with it were evocative of the sun breaking through darkness.” Kac.

The work essentially prophesied the sheer power and affect the interconnected web and IOTs (Internet of Things) has over us today. ‘Teleporting An Unknown State’ treated it as a life-giving entity and it has indeed become a source of sustenance for many complex human relationships and attributes although in a non literal way. Its conception and reception was probably novel in its time and participants were eager and curious to witness this obscure notion of ‘hacking’ a biological process. The seductive idea of being bestowed upon the power to provide life, coupled with the convenience to do so via their personal devices, certainly had to be enticing. However the very act of using the Internet as an intermediary device to produce ‘artificial sunlight’ to trigger a naturally occurring phenomena, foreshadowed the replacement of physical reality with virtuality as we know it today.

This underscores the inherent contemporary human instinct to compress physical experiences into digital and virtual ones. Our ‘instincts’ supersede any critical or conscious attention to the medium we use. We do not particularly care if the way it is transmitted is ‘artificial’ or real, as we have increasingly become conditioned to engage whichever option that favours the factors we rank important in this digital age — convenience, efficiency and immediacy. Kac triggers an intuitive satisfaction in us, by allowing us to sustain the life of a plant and harness the ‘magic’ of the phenomena of photosynthesis.  This emphasises the potency of the ‘Interconnected Web’ to act as an extension of our capabilities and executor of our desires and fantasies. Not only has it enhanced our abilities to materialise them but it also short circuits the process through which we  attain them.

In retrospect, Kac’s ‘Teleporting An Unknown State’ then begs us to be critically aware of the extent to which IOTs have grown today. There are now a multitude of mobile applications available for people to own and grow virtual plants, pets and even humans. With the emergence of Artificial Intelligence, Kac’s simple idea of a virtual intermediary interface, has morphed into a multi faceted one that engages all our senses at once. The line has been further blurred, and our interaction has become fully immersive. Rather than being fully conscious of our ability to simply take a picture to ‘light up’ a detached physical plant, we have synthesised the extended capabilities of the ‘net’ in our subconscious psyche and our biological instincts. We have adapted to respond to Virtuality as veraciously and as sensitively as we do to Physical Reality. In Japan (2017), the company Gatebox created the World’s first Virtual Home Robot, a holographic character equipped with facial and vocal recognition. Users would be able to communicate with this virtual character via their Mobile Devices. Some men in Japan have even adopted this virtual entity as their significant other. Fundamentally, here too a natural process (of cultivating love and human interaction) has been ‘digitised’, making it an eerie contemporary recreation of Kac’s ‘Teleporting An Unknown State’. Essentially, communication between living and non living entities has shifted from being just dialogical to natural and emotional.

This extreme progression in just 20 years from function to full immersion, then raises significant questions about our future progression. Acknowledging the increasingly blurred distinction between physicality and hyperreality, will human communication be fully abstract eventually? or will ‘virtuality’ adapt to be able to operate instinctively and reactively with intuition?

Is the ultimate goal to virtualise every aspect of the human condition and capabilities?

It indeed is a seductive idea that promises immortality in the digital scape —instead of simply sustaining a plant, we now have the potential power to sustain and alter our own lives, not just in one reality but simultaneously in multi realities. However, would we want to irreversibly plug the most intimate and emotional aspects of ourselves into the connected ‘net’ in return for this ‘Utopia’?

Dialogue with Time — Reflection

1.Experience

Initially, before experiencing the session, I was honestly sceptical of the potential take away I would gain, based on previous experiences of such exhibitions where the educational content was not translated convincingly to the participants. However, “Dialogue with Time” proved to be the exact opposite of that and it was via their technique of Role Play, that we as participants were able to empathise with The Central cause of ‘Ageing’. While role playing as elderly, manoeuvring through intentionally modified tasks to mimic their struggle with simple daily tasks, I was able to gain insight into this otherwise foreign demographic.

The first sharing segment where we identified with pictures we felt depicted the idea of ‘Happy Ageing’ best, it gave us a chance to consider in that moment, what we ourselves would want our future to look like. Often we are so engrossed and obsessed with living our contemporary lives (which is inherent and natural of course), that in hindsight, we fail to consider the implications and changes we will have to brace ourselves for as we age. I picked a card with a couple in embrace and in old age. To me, ‘Happy ageing’ was simple: being able to grow up and live life to the fullest with the people you love.

In retrospect, it puts into perspective how despite that might seem like an achievable ideal, in reality many senior citizens face the pain of living in loneliness once their spouses pass away. It is hard for us to imagine a life of loneliness when we are so used to being surrounded by people, in our youth. However that sharing session, struck a chord and urged me to empathise with the fear, unpredictability, and unease many of the elderly would have to grapple with.

The sharing by our senior citizen guide gave us further insight into her own growing process and how she coped with both physical and mental changes brought about by ageing. It is rare that we have a chance to sit down with and talk to someone of age unless we live with our grandparents. Hence for me it was a meaningful opportunity to remind myself that ageing was a significant and important that issue that deserves attention.

2.Role-Play

The main benefit would be its effectiveness in contextualising and providing us with a clear parameter to think in. It coerces us to be focused on our thoughts and it is confrontational in its treatment of the issue at heart.

For the central segment with interactive stations. We were directly challenged to complete simple tasks, imposed with the same limitations elderly face. For example, hand tremors where we had to unlock a door while resting our hands in a shaking loop. The confrontational and direct approach of the stations conveyed the sense of seriousness and urgency of the issue. Instead of being interpretative in its presentation and treating us a a general audience, our characters as old people, effectively enabled us to be convinced of the issue with immediacy. Certain people were also pulled out to sit out, to invoke the idea of retirement. It echoed the idea of the inevitable succumbing to loneliness. Personally I was confident that I would be able to clear all the stations with ease, but was surprised when I fumbled myself. There were moments I was uncomfortable, as it did make me feel momentarily displaced from normalcy. Being forced to think about and reflect while under the guise of a role, allowed me to derive a new perspective.

Words that came to my mind whilst in role : Frustration,  Slow,  Burden.

While people were waiting for us, the fact that we were taking time to complete the station due to its difficulty mirrored similar issue elderly in real life deal with daily. Role-Play allowed me to associate with relevant ideas that I otherwise would not identify with usually.

3. Examples (Effectiveness of Role-Play)

Role Playing would mostly be effective when we as designers are trying to understand challenges that our target audience deal with, (the same challenges we aim to resolve via our design output). It allows us to have an active rather than passive approach towards our design process when we first hand are able to experience what they do. For example, for people with disabilities who are wheel chair bound – role playing to understand the difficulty many ‘normal’ infrastructure designs pose for the manoeuvring of wheel chair bound individuals. Apart from physically changing our experience, role playing also more importantly contextualises the way we absorb information around us. It attunes us to receive information based on the perspective of our target audience, as we interact with them and in their shoes. For something less physically apparent such as trauma, role playing may help us understand heightened sensitivity and trigger response this demographic has. All these then help us as designers be mindful and targeted in our design solutions. It also helps us identify what to focus on and what to avoid that may be detrimental to their betterment.

Task 1A : Exploratory Research

1. Current Issues

1. Sustainable Food

With depleting resources, people are increasingly advocating for the need for plant based diets and Veganism. Common sources of Protein such as cattle and pigs, which have been reared for centuries, are under threat and there is an urgency to harvest alternative sources of protein such as Insects, which are less popular but abundant.

” Businesses that have started to farm and sell insects as food claim their environmental footprint is relatively negligible, and that lean insect protein is a healthier choice for the consumer. “

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/long_reads/entomophagy-eat-insects-food-diet-save-planet-meat-cattle-deforestation-a8259991.html

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/jun/16/future-of-food-insects-gm-rice-on-the-menu

https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/68m-fund-to-turn-labs-into-food-factories-of-the-future

2. Mental Health (BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER )

Mental Health , especially illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar , borderline etc are often misunderstood and misinterpreted due to sensationalised portrayal in films and media — The Joker saw many people downplaying the seriousness of severe illness.  Personally I feel, people suffering from more ‘conventional’ illnesses such as depression and anxiety are stepping forward for help and are more readily accepted. However those with more ‘severe’ or culturally ‘frowned upon’ ones still face social stigma and discrimination. People tend to be more wary of them and see them as ‘threats’ more so than people who need help. Borderline however is one that is also stigmatised by Medical Practitioners. It is often maligned in the way it is perceived.

“When they discuss cases, the term “borderline” can take on derogatory overtones. A Canadian study found that psychiatric nurses were more likely to sympathize with hypothetical patients if they were labeled schizophrenic rather than borderline, even when the symptoms described were similar.”

https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/In_Brief_The_stigma_of_borderline_personality .

“This emotional instability leads to some people self-harming or abusing drugs and alcohol to cope. One in 10 people with a BPD diagnosis kill themselves.”

https://www.theguardian.com/healthcare-network/2017/oct/27/borderline-personality-disorder-stigmatised-misunderstood-misdiagnosed .

https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/4A8D81B3BB7564E2E561D99E2F80CB89/S0007125018002027a.pdf/prevalence_of_personality_disorders_in_the_general_adult_population_in_western_countries_systematic_review_and_metaanalysis.pdf

3. LGBT INTOLERANCE

Over the past few years there have been major milestones for the LGBTQ Community World Wife with the legalisation of same sex marriage in countries such as the U.S and prominent figures such as Artists (Lil Nas X) and  Apple CEO (Tim Cook) coming out as Gay. However at the same time, this has resulted in an equally strong resistance. LGBT hate crimes continue to happen and Religious Organisations still deem it as unnatural. This has led to continued discrimination and infringement of personal rights worldwide. In Singapore there is still a very strong resistance to the abolishment of the infamous 377a. This is often due to lack of knowledge and empathy.

“Same-sex sexual activity is a crime in 70 countries, and can get you a death sentence in nine countries, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen. And even where these restrictive laws are not actually enforced, their very existence reinforces prejudice against LGBTI people, leaving them feeling like they have no protection against harassment, blackmail and violence.”

http://amnesty.org/en/what-we-do/discrimination/lgbt-rights/

https://www.asiaone.com/health/intolerance-lgbt-can-be-detrimental-young-people

https://www.hrw.org/topic/lgbt-rights

4. Substance ABUSE/Addiction

Substance Abuse Disorder or Addiction, is a world wide epidemic that has been on the rise despite expenditure on healthcare resources to curb it. This is due to the fact that many end up relapsing after undergoing treatment, indicative of a ‘failed system’. In the US itself, there is a Major Opioid Crisis due to the prevalence of prescription pills coupled with the lack of external support for addicts. People get hooked onto painkillers and eventually turn to cheaper drugs such as street heroin, fentanyl etc. The stigma stops many from seeking potential help until it’s too late (further spiral or overdose). It affects family and friends, has social and economic consequences, and healthcare and environmental impacts. Furthermore, proper rehabilitation centres are expensive. In most countries such as Singapore, drugs are criminalised, regardless of the reasons the person may have had to fall into addiction.

“Nearly 64,000 Americans died from a drug overdose in 2016 alone. Opioid overdoses accounted for more than 42,000 of these deaths, more than any previous year on record.”

https://www.whitehouse.gov/opioids/

https://www.forbes.com/sites/claryestes/2019/12/01/successful-alcohol-and-drug-recovery-still-hindered-by-stigma/#f0a6b3e27bfd

 

2. Chosen Issue (Addiction/Relapse)

Why?

The issue is important as despite advances in our technology and healthcare, addiction and deaths from overdose have been steadily increasing rather than decreasing. Addiction not only affects people within the social circle of users but leads to detrimental economic burdens and impacts on the environment. It is a major cause for concern as despite initial successful treatment, almost 80 percent end up relapsing. Most however do not even seek help to begin with. This points to a ‘broken system’ and it needs to be tackled from a new perspective. In the US itself, overdose from drugs has become the leading cause of death for those under 50.

“People with substance misuse issues are less likely to be offered help than are people with a mental illness or physical disability.”

https://www.drugpolicy.org/sites/default/files/DPA_Fact_Sheet_Stigma_and_People_Who_Use_Drugs.pdf

“Drug abuse and addiction cost American society more than $740 billion annually in lost workplace productivity, healthcare expenses, and crime-related costs.”

https://americanaddictioncenters.org/rehab-guide/addiction-statistics

Who?

Addiction affects users and their immediate family and friends. However it is the users who bear the stigma and often end up being ostracised by society even after being clean. This discourages them from contributing to society and many end up relapsing due to not knowing what else to do. Fundamentally being an addict becomes their identity (just like how society views it as such). Those who want to seek help, are too scared to for fear of being harshly treated and end up giving up the fight to recover. Some people are ‘born’ addicts when they are born to addict parents with drugs in their system. Others often have other trauma or pain in earlier phases in their life which eventually led them to spiral into substance abuse. The public often forget that many of these people are human and were not born abusing drugs.

How?

It often ends up in poor socio economic status, prison or death. An addict who does not recover or gets integrated back into society, gets stuck in a vicious loop. They also end up affecting people close to them permanently as addiction is never a problem exclusive to just the user.

3. Target Audience

Who

Recovering addicts or addicts who want to seek help. ( Remind them of their worth and that they are not defined by their history of abuse). The aim would be to encourage them staying clean, getting back involved with family, people. However since addiction is not just isolated to users, a separate target audience comprising of people affected by a loved one’s substance dependancy could also be drawn up. This would ensure a more affect.

Effect

Empathetic, rather than punitive and deterring which is the case for most existing Drug Campaigns. It should  encourage them to seek help and remind them that there is a support system they can rely on. It should ideally also come off as warm as opposed to being disengaged. Users should remember the motivation to stay clean such as their kids or family members who will be adversely affected if they continue to neglect them.

4. Visual Communication Examples

‘Thief’ , Montana Meth Project, Venables Bell + Partners

https://www.montanameth.org/

Pros :

This campaign is executed via a poster which aims to deter and instil fear into potential drug abusers. It is personal in the way it utilises a photo to make the message more intimate for the viewer. The fonts used are also bold, firm and white, reminiscent of white powder. The colours are lowly saturated and the mood of the visuals is relatively sombre. The use of an unsuspecting and ordinary shelf as background echoes the message of ‘home’ and how drugs can so easily pervade one’s family.

Con :

However the use of thief in a larger font to describe an addict is exactly what perpetuates the stigma and is highly discouraging for both family members or users.

 

‘Heroin’, Crenvi, Bronx Comunicação, 2013

https://www.adsoftheworld.com/media/print/crenvi_heroin

Pros:

This campaign is based on the organic structure of Heroin. It uses the branches in the structure as a tourniquet for the Male who is injecting himself, while the other branches extend out to bind his kid and Wife. It smartly and effectively captures the idea of how substance dependence directly affects loved ones. The colours used are predominantly white, black and red (Clinical). Text is incorporated within the stamp motif. Heroin and 10 is in red to highlight the severity and danger of the substance. Personally I feel, this campaign utilises a good balance of seriousness and empathy. It calls for potential addicts to reflect on their action rather than outrightly berating them. It allows for thinking space rather than aggressively putting forth an idea.

‘Last Days’, CNB Drugs Free Sg, 2019 (Film)

Pros:

Use of Family to engage and stir emotions of audience.

Con:

This film is by CNB’s ongoing Drugs Free Sg campaign. It dramatises the scenario where an ‘addict’ kills a toddler in broad day light to pawn her Jewelry for drugs. As much as the purpose was to send a very serious message, I feel that it failed in portraying addiction in a nuanced manner. The exaggeration perpetuates stigma and would only discourage affected ones from being supportive. It is also too unrealistic and disengages the public, causing discourse between more widely read youth who are not convinced and zealots whom on the other  buy into the idea religiously. Users who view this film would also be further discouraged from integrating back into society due to the way they are portrayed as murderers even though substance dependency has no direct correlation to murder.

 

 

On Sound — reaction essay to ‘Digital Currents, Art in the Electronic Age’

1. Digital Currents, Art in the Electronic Age

Summary

In the book ‘Digital Currents, Art in the Electronic Age’, Margot Lovejoy brings us through the history and evolution of Art in light of the rise of technology. My personal insights and opinions will be in reaction to the Sub Chapters:  (Exhibiting) sound as Art‘ and ‘Sonic Bridges‘ — the sections in which Lovejoy explains the relevance and potency sound has in this digital era and also the overarching dilemma artists grapple with, due to constant technological advancement.

2. On Sound (Personal Thoughts)

Initial Thoughts

After reading the section on Sound as a medium, listed below were the initial concepts that I pondered about to myself :

Sound as A New Medium?

When does Sound become ‘Interactive Art’?

Sound is Relative not Definite

Sound as a Measurement of Space
(Visually Impaired use their hearing to gauge proximity and spaces and hence ‘see’)

Reflection

When we approach the use of Sound as a ‘Visual Art’ medium, it is often isolated from any strong visible elements that might distort or ‘soften’ the experience. The space of sound exhibits are kept relatively minimalistic in terms of aesthetics — any interesting aesthetic acts as an extension for the sound interaction rather than a pre requisite to its affect. For example Lovejoy talks about the work ‘Tim Hawkinson, Uberorgan, 2000, sound sculpture installation.’ In this installation, a massive instrument, representing our internal organs occupy the span of a few rooms, attached to a central organ. The sculptures are inflatable cavities and pipes with piano keys that act like the work’s central nervous system. When the audience walks in the space, their motion triggers different keys, producing different notes.

In this example, the sculpture is transparent and the organ itself is stripped down and ‘raw’. It is not embellished and rather is placed there to simply serve a technical purpose. However at the same time, Hawkinson plays with the scale and form of the pipes to resemble that of an internal system to heighten the immersion and veracity of the experience. He does this without disrupting the hierarchy of significance ‘sound’ plays in the work. Instead it is treated as important as the tangible sculpture itself.

Hence when working with sound as a medium, we have to be sensitive in the way we employ visual complements without compromising the central medium of sound and at the same time using just the right amount of visual elements to create a holistic experience still.

Fundamentally, by removing away or ‘suppressing’ our sense of sight, we are prevented from ‘seeing to believe’ and instead have to form our own perceptive version of reality with whatever abstract information we are being exposed to in that moment -temperature , sound etc. It gives way for wonderment and synaesthesia to occur (touch, hearing, smell) , allowing us to potentially experience a heightened multi sensory sphere.

When the relative and elusive nature of sound becomes our primary source of ‘vision’ (as dictated by the limitations imposed by the artist), we are lured to ‘unsee’ to see again. Of course not all sound exhibits involve blinding the audience. However most of these exhibits are minimalistic in nature and often have wide empty spaces with almost no intentional use of colour to cause any visual bias. On the contrary, the use of variation in spaces or the nature of the space itself acts as a vessel both physically and metaphorically for sound to travel or convey its meaning. If we were in a space resembling an empty ship and hear sounds of screaming, we might associate it to that of drowning.

Association in the digital age, with the rise of mechanisation and the internet, have become more introspective and metaphoric rather than connotative. Instead of associating a certain sensation to a definite imagery, we are likely to associate it to a multitude of simultaneous feelings or fragmented ideas derived from constant exposure to social media, the internet or even mass culture. These in turn come together in that moment to form a temporal experiential bubble that is unique to each individual. However the context of the sound and the space it is set in does set boundaries or an overarching concept for pockets of these multiverses within the same alternate reality.

The author also talks about the era of simulation with the advent of technology and computers being incorporated into art. This is inextricably linked to the way sound is used – as much as it is considered an abstract medium conceptually, in science, sound is empirical and the way it is produced or transmitted can be changed via its voltage, frequency, etc. We use hardware and manipulate elements of it to choose the type of sound emission we want to achieve. This then leaves it up to the artist to transcend it beyond science. Rather than just emitting sound, we have to exercise our creative freedom to play around with these elements or string them in non functional and unexpected ways to induce a certain reaction.

For example in Shinseungback Kimyonghun’s ‘Stone’, which we discussed in last week’s lecture, wave crashes against a stone rigged with pressure sensors, are translated into mechanical knocking of solenoids against a block of wood. The output sound occurs after going through a technical and systemic process. However the sheer loudness of it and the way it has a very flat sound is unexpected and contrasts with actual dissipating sound of waves crashing (which is projected on a screen).

Another aspect of sonic in modern culture would be how easily accessible and ‘producible’ it is. Anyone with the right software, has the ability to ‘create’ their own sound just like how artists create songs and music. Existing sounds can also be studied, taken apart and selectively replicated. Lovejoy talks about Laurie Anderson, an experimental artist who explored the melding of sound and poetry in her works, before sound was recognised as a legitimate visual art form. Interestingly, I personally love one of the ‘songs’ she wrote in the 1980s that became an unexpected hit — O Superman. It utilises poetry mixed with constant distinct humming and electronic vocalised harmonies. It has a very mechanical, robotic and futuristic sound.

Sound, in spite of its relativity, and in its function, has a distinct power to covey a specific idea or philosophy effectively. As humans we associate sounds to objects. Anything unfamiliar or new we tend to associate with the Avant Garde or the ‘future’. When Laurie Anderson released O Superman In the 80s, when the established sound was ‘pop’, dominated by the likes of Madonna, it cause a stir and was considered highly experimental for radio. This is an example of how the accessibility and ease of transmission of sound allowed it to penetrate mass culture. Years on, as a millennial myself, ‘O Superman’ is one of my favourite songs as it still holds its own ground in being an experimental masterpiece even in today’s music scene.

Although one must not confuse between sound in the visual arts and sound that is consumed in mass culture via music, it is important to understand both the nuances and the essence of the power it upholds universally. It is important for artists to play  with, and approach sound in a poetic and liberating manner.

One further notable exploration of sound as medium would be the undeniable presence that sound has in both its presence and its absence. Marina Abramovic, in her long durational performance art training institute, MAI, has chambers that immerse prospective artists in absolute silence. It is part of her ‘workshop’ which is intended to ultimately heighten our creativity and consciousness as artists.

Here is an independent experiential installation of hers in which silence is the main transcending medium bridging the audience and the ‘artwork’ and also the only ‘artificial’ and deliberate mode of interaction.

Concluding thoughts

Apart from this specific idea I have chosen to discuss and explore in the above reflection, in ‘Digital Currents, Art in the Electronic Age’, Lovejoy emphasises throughout, of the dilemma we as creators grapple with, as technology advances exponentially in this digital era. We are part of a very real digital ‘Matrix’ of our own where we too are offered both the Red Pill — brutal and harsh truth of what technology can do (negatively when manipulated) and in an increasingly subliminal manner and the Blue Pill — this seductive idea of an unchartered and constantly growing territory for us to explore our ‘Art’ with each new development that comes with each technological milestone. In our reality, we are acutely aware of both these dichotomies and hence must come to a personal compromise within ourselves in order to shape and assert our creative voice with both conviction and affect.

As an artist I’d choose the thing that’s beautiful more than the one that’s true — Laurie Anderson

3. Links

http://ssbkyh.com/works/stone/

http://referad.ru/60888/60888.pdf

https://mai.art/

 

Typography Lecture 4 — Saul Blass ( The Man with the Golden Arm)

1. The Man with the Golden Arm

” Design is thinking made visual ”  — Saul Blass

Personal Thoughts

In 1950s, Saul Blass designed the title credits for a Otto Preminger movie that featured a protagonist who was transformed due to his heroin addiction. Blass’s challenge was encapsulating the drama, intensity and gravitas of the movie’s theme and plot within the title credit without making any explicit reference to drugs or addiction – an extremely taboo topic in the 50s. It would even considered be taboo now and would not be something explicitly publicised in pop culture movie screenings. As such, Blass had to simplify and translate his idea into a visual abstraction rather than a literal representation.

He used geometric, harsh white lines juxtaposed against a pitch black background while playing with the direction and the angle in which they interacted. The tilted lines and sporadic animation coupled with the ominous crescendo of Jazz Music in the background is representative of the psyche of a drug addict – scattered, intense and troubled. Space and lines are used to create visual drama.

The most significant piece in the whole title sequence would be the the distorted looking arm. This image was also the most direct reference to to drug use with the significance of the arm being one of the key places most heroin users will ‘shoot up’. Heroin in its purest form also comes in white which could explain the significance behind the use of harsh white. The white lines could possibly be an extreme abstraction of syringes which is the main medium through which addicts would administer themselves.

In this particular work, typography is kept very minimalistic and is differentiated by uppercase and lowercase fonts. They adhere to the presence of the white blocks and are framed accordingly within or around the blocks each time. This creates a dynamic and spontaneous representation of the text while keeping the font itself constant. There’s also an impression of instability in the way the text or the blocks frame each other and ‘hang’ at a very disconcerting angle or placement within the black.

The Man with the Golden Arm

The text is complemented by the intensifying jazz music which is reminiscent of Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar named Desire’s (Also a 1950 literary classic) use of the Varsouviana Polka music that signified Blanche’s mental deterioration. The frequency of the Polka increased towards the end of the movie and it appeared whenever Blanche encounters a traumatic experience or emotion. In this context, Saul Blass’ Man with the Golden Arm sequence within the few minutes, effectively throws us into a pool of discomfort and coneys the idea of madness and addiction before even we are directly exposed to the movie’s themes.

In A Street Car named Desire, the score was used within the film itself to complement the narrative and theme following Blanche’s descent into insanity. Blass followed the same concept but was the first in the 50s to revolutionise title sequences by adding motion and animation to it. Before that, all title sequences were mostly static.

A Street Car named Desire

 

The same concept is seen in his other famous sequence, Anatomy of A Murder, where the central image accompanying the title is that of a dissected body with each part framing certain portion of the title text. Here, geometric and harsh blocks are once again used along w jazz music.

Anatomy of A Murder

Take away from LECTURES

Through these 4 weeks which were rather heavy with content, I was introduced to key figures and names related to Visual Communication Design History that have helped me better understand the depth of the rationale behind many of the design concepts or styles that exist today. Here on, I will be able to also recall some of these names off my head and apply them accordingly to my personal work.

 

 

Typography Lecture 3 — Futurism

1. Reflections

In this lecture we learned about the dawn of Modernism. A period sparked by the birth of Cubism which further let to the development of Futurism in Italy, Constructivism in Russia and Precisionism in United States. During period, new philosophies by influential poets and literary figures formed the primordial soup for corresponding Art to emerge. Before this, Typography and Art were widely used in posters and to gain attention with primarily variation in colour, form and with the integration of visuals. However they were still mostly linearised with focus on readability and conveying of a tangible message. With Modernism, these supposed rules fell apart, and artists redefined the arrangement and construction of letters and texts according to their personal beliefs. They were manifestations of the mind, made to stir emotions and induce feelings rather than to serve a material or superficial purpose. In some ways we can say that Typography in this period was imbued with an organic and spontaneous life of its own. Personally I was most drawn to the rebellious and robust philosophy of Futurism.

2. Futurism

Background

in 1909, Poet F.T. Marinetti issued a Futurist Manifesto which was published in La Figaro (a popular magazine run by youths), igniting the movement. He urged artists to revel in and celebrate ‘the beauty of speed’ and emphasised the veracity of movement. He was inspired by this notion of speed when he avoided a collision and ended up flying into a ditch in his speeding car.

“a roaring racing car that seems to run on shrapnel is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace”

Full Translated Manifesto : https://www.societyforasianart.org/sites/default/files/manifesto_futurista.pdf

Works

This love and obsession for speed and movement is evident in his use of texts which fully break away and disregard the conventional rules of typography. He used varying fonts within one page with variations in thickness, colour, strokes.

When one looks at his books, there is a deliberate lack of harmony and no form of symmetry – accurately capturing the essence of the idea of Movement he was so passionate about. This erratic and chaotic appearance (lack there of, of rules) became a rule in itself for the Futurists. He scattered mainly nouns about the page and conveyed meaning through arrangement and size. His lines were organic and dynamic and their grids intersected freely on the page.

Personal Thoughts

Marinetti wanted to express a sensation or a feeling, something intangible and intense and this accurately is reflected by his free and unrestrained ideology of Typography. When I see his work, rather than viewing it as a book, my sense of it is more visual and imagery. It is also important to note that Umberto Boccioni was the leading artist of the movement and manifested Marinetti’s philosophy through his sculptures. His main aim was to capture a cinematic sensation of flux in his figures. As a collective, the also fascist futurists were controversial and rebellious. They were known for provocative acts such as proclaiming fascist slogans from the top of the Venice’s St Mark’s bell tower. They even went to the extent of advocating a new cooking style named ‘Cucina Futuristica’ – extremely absurd recipes that involved the use of cologne and other unconventional ‘ingredients’. They measured their success by the level of abuse they received from the masses. However the movement was short lived and ended with Boccionis’ death. Which fittingly (?) occured due to a riding accident. I suppose one could say he brought his passion of Futurism with him to his grave.

Boccioni, “Unique Forms of Continuity in Space”, 1913

Even though Futurism was short-lived, its aesthetics had a significant impact  on the development of other movements like Surrealism and Expressionism which subsequently lead to the birth of Post-Modern Art movements. Their philosophy of centralising Art and Typography around a specific sensation and feeling propelled the exploration of the intangible, temporal and subconscious to the fore front of Art.

Future World @ ASM — Reflection

1. Layout

Experiential Design

The Space in Future World by Art Science Museum is an example of Experiential Design, from the way the works are curated and the manner in which visitors navigate through the space. The purpose of a successful and immersive space is the create an ‘umwelt‘ — a world of perceived reality that is unique to each individual that comes into contact with it. FutureWorld achieves this through its enclosed yet open layout, comprising of various interactive art works placed all over, allowing visitors to move around freely and make their own choices. As visitors ourselves, we were not restricted or force to directly interact with any of the works. Everyone had 3 choices while navigating between the works : Interact, Observe as a Voyeur or Interact in ways different from what is suggested by the description complementing each work. This ‘freedom’ makes each individual’s experience and take away from the same overarching narrative of FutureWorld, unique to them and them only. This was evident in the way me and my friends approached different works we gravitated towards or engaged in different modes of contact with the same works.

2. Experiential Journey

Hero’s Journey in FutureWorld

Coined by Joseph Campbell, any successful Experience Space should incorporate this theory of leading one from the known to the unknown and back again to the known with some sort of internal transformation.

Source : Worlds of Wonder ,Experience Design for Curious People

Based on my personal experience at the FutureWorld Exhibition, I will breakdown how it integrated this theory and achieved each step in leading us through this journey through the gallery space.

1. Invitation

Pre-Visit, people are enticed to step into this ‘unknown’ realm via its advertising and promotion online. We are given a tease of the potential ‘journey of discovery’ we will undergo and urged to explore it for ourselves. We are also informed of a Story (Narratives) that tie the exhibition together, making the idea of visiting the exhibition less foreign and more intimate. When I read the ‘invitation’ my curiosity was undoubtedly piqued and I wanted to experience this narrative for myself.

 https://www.marinabaysands.com/museum/future-world/city-in-a-garden.html

2. Transition

This crucial step is the first glimpse the visitor gets of the unknown world they are about to step into — a bridge between their present familiar world to the one they’re about to be immersed in. We were introduced to a guide who gave us the breakdown of the key exhibits and the modes of interaction we would encounter once we stepped in. She also presented us with a floor plan to facilitate our navigation while in the gallery space. Each student was also given a sticker right before we stepped into the FutureWorld space, almost like a ticket to our transition.

3. Introduction

In this stage, visitors would typically be immersed into an introductory area filled with evocative and sensory elements to welcome and give them a taste of the rest of the space they will go on to explore. In FutureWorld, the first area we stepped into was enclosed with high ceilings and big walls that had projections all over. These projections were interactive and veracious in the way they reacted to touch and movement. Even the floor had projections. This space also featured six different artworks that seemed to dissolve and flow seamlessly into each other. Many of us spent a considerable amount of time within this space before stepping into the main area which was sealed off with a black curtain. The intense ‘immersiveness’ set the appropriate tone and mood for the digitally interactive theme of the whole exhibition.

https://www.marinabaysands.com/museum/future-world/city-in-a-garden.html

4. Exploration

Typically in this stage visitors would come into contact with a myriad of exhibits and stations allowing them to choose which ones they would want to participate in. The key element in this stage is the freedom of choice coupled with the depth and multitude of experiences to choose from. Here, users are ideally supposed to complete certain tasks and see the direct effect of their interaction. In FutureWorld, most of the tasks involved direct and deliberate physical interaction and an outcome. For example in the Giant Block Connecting town area, we were able to build our own cities with large blocks and observe a real time projected map of the city. We were able to place obstructions to divert ‘traffic’ or hinder movement in the virtual projected city.  In the Sketch Aquarium exhibit, users had to draw and colour out caricatures that once scanned, got projected and brought to life on a huge aquarium screen. Hence once we completed tasks, we were paid with a satisfying ‘reward’ in the form of a tangible and observable outcome.

 

https://www.marinabaysands.com/museum/future-world/park.html

5. Admiration

This stage is a pivotal moment where an intimate relationship with the audience is created to encourage them to continue on their ‘journey’. All sensory organs should be potentially engaged and and evoke enough wonder to sustain the narrative and their commitment to it. In this area of FutureWorld, most of the interaction here was physical involving pushing illuminated balls which resulted in corresponding music and designing and playing hopscotch. It was a predominantly ‘play’ area where visitors were able to respond to each other via their interaction.

https://www.marinabaysands.com/museum/future-world/park.html

 

6. Immersion

In this stage, which Campbell describes as the ‘Descent into The Innermost Cave’, the interaction between the visitor and the main subject or theme meet in the most intense manner yet. In context of FutureWorld, we as visitors are transported into a ‘psychedelic’ room that alternates between complete light and darkness with projections that warp according to specific movements. The experience one feels here is somewhat overwhelming.

https://www.marinabaysands.com/museum/future-world/sanctuary.html

7. Connection & Recollection

This step aims to consolidate the overall experiences for the visitor and offer them a transformational final experience before they depart from the space. In a sense it is the stage that fully tries to engage the visitor on a personal level and convince them of the relevance of the narrative they went through to their personal lives. In FutureWorld, Crystal Universe undoubtedly and successfully delivers this. As we step into a mini ‘maze’ surrounded by strings of shimmering 170,000 LEDS and distorting mirrors, we experience a temporal existential moment — floating in a ‘digitalverse’. The lights around us changed as we interacted with our phone screens. The sheer luminosity and intensity of the surroundings reminded me of my ‘insignificance’ in the vastness of the universe we live in today — not just the literal universe but the virtual one of technology.

https://www.marinabaysands.com/museum/future-world/space.html

3. Reflection

Sketch Aquarium

When I reached the Sketch Aquarium Exhibit, I sat down at the drawing tables that were occupied by kids and their parents and observed how drawings were being converted into animated images onto a huge projected aquarium. I realised that there was no mediator to filter the works or images that were being scanned and couldn’t help but wonder what kind of reaction would something controversial or ‘inappropriate’ incite in the viewers. Hence I decided to disrupt the idea and demography of the work by making a ‘protest’ Jellyfish. I used the colour red, an angry face with the slogan FTP (Fuck The Police) and Free HK. I wanted to it to be graphic, tacky and controversial —especially right now with the ongoing protests. As I wasn’t breaking any law by doing so, it was a line that I decided to cross intentionally. The fact that this particular artwork was accessible to anyone and had no filter, gave it huge potential for open collaboration. I scanned the image multiple times and an army of angry looking jellyfish started floating insidiously in the aquarium. Almost immediately, adults who were before just smiling innocently at kiddy drawings, got tensed up and murmured among themselves . It was significant that there were a number of mainland Chinese tourists on the day. The station was mostly ‘intended’ and targeted at adolescents who would pick up their crayons and enthusiastically draw. But does the museum expect only kids to interact in this work? Despite being open to public? Personally I felt that the lack of a moderator and the easy access gives way for a ‘Trojan Horse’ in the way the safe space within the kid context allows for controversial opinions to be conveyed and garner attention without facing hinderance.

Typography Lecture 2 — Jules Chéret

1. Reflection

Industrialisation, mechanisation and interactivity between cultures changed the way letter forms and type were approached. Previously the main function of type was heavily centred around the idea of documentation. However with the rise of industrialisation, people started making a conscious effort to manipulate type in order to draw attention towards a particular product or idea. It was used simultaneously with images via posters, magazines and mass communication traditional media devices. Out of the multiple examples we were shown during the lecture, Chérets posters had the most visual impact on me.

2. Jules Chéret

Background

Chéret began his career in 1858 illustrating opera posters, book covers and advertisements. Just like the Art Nouveau artists of that period, he was heavily influenced by the Japanese Ukiyo-e movement which reflected the idea of indulgence in daily life by exploring controversial subject matter such as the Geisha. After Japan opened up to trade, from being isolationist, there was a sudden influx of these Japan Aesthetics into the western world of Art. The notion of ‘flatness’ in Japanese Art was adopted in Paris and the simultaneous lifting of a ban in Paris, allowed posters to be displayed on the streets, making the streets an ‘open gallery’. As such, commoners and the public had increased access to Art.

 

Posters

Chéret established his own lithography firm and employed this technique in his highly illustrative posters which often portrayed the sultry and ‘unrestricted’ spirit of a woman. The female figures in his posters were fondly named the ‘Chérettes’ due to their characteristic flamboyance and vibrance in terms of colours and movement.

The use of bright vibrant colours, flatness, wavy lines, tumultuous movement and bold outlines were the key features in all his posters. The woman wore heels, had provocative parts like their thighs and back exposed and asserted a very dominant presence in the compositions (echoing the idea of indulgence world in Ukiyo-e). They celebrated and embraced feminism, subverting the characteristic patriarchy of that time.

Personal Thoughts

Chéret adopted both the ideas of ornamentalism from wood type and also the concept of readable fonts. He however broke from any strict restriction and created his own illustrative style, making  space for ‘new’ rules to be enforced again. He disrupted the idea that type had to be static and gave it equal importance as imagery via the use of lithography. The emphasis on free movement and the idea of Ukio-e resulted in emotive and non conforming, unique letter forms. Instead of using a standardised font, artists started exploring making their own custom fonts by illustrating them. His aesthetics also played a key role in the development of Alphonse Mucha.

Typography Lecture 1 — Oracle Bone Script

1. Reflections

In this first introductory lecture, we learned about how letter forms over the centuries, have evolved and changed along with man’s need for different functions, before they were treated as typography or something that is more closely associated with Art as we know it today. In the archaic days, pictographs and petroglyphs (engravings) were created to facilitate documentations with the main and simple function of conveying information. Many of the ‘stylistic’ elements of the form like the stroke were unintentional and rather occured due to the tool with which they were being engraved with (cuneiform, brush stroked serifs on ‘Trajan’s Column’). However over time, with the establishment of function, creating letter forms became a more discrete and unique activity, leading to various modifications and explorations of how they can be presented (with identity and character) as we have them today. We were also presented with many examples of typography being employed in different cultures throughout the centuries. One in particular that we did not delve deep into piqued my interest — Oracle Bone Script. Hence I decided to look up this particular script on my own.

2. Oracle Bone Script

History

The Oracle Bone Script are the oldest form of pictographs that are recognised as the predecessor of modern Chinese Language. They were used by diviners in the Shang Dynasty (questions were inscribed using a metal pin on animal bones and tortoise shells, before being introduced to a hot rod which then caused cracks, allowing the diviner to craft their answers by interpreting these cracks).  They believed the divination via pyromancy allowed them to communicate with their ancestors.

Form

The letters found in the Oracle Bone Script, were essentially pictographs and hence they were highly abstracted version of modern Chinese characters — with some being a combination of two characters. Some scholars theorise that this simplification was due to the difficulty of inscribing on the hard bony materials. Here the form of the letter is hence possibly influenced by tools and materials just like mentioned earlier with regards to the ‘serifs’ on Trajan’s Column. From this script, only about 1300 of known 4600 Chinese characters have been deciphered. Below are some examples of Oracle Bone characters.

Personal Thoughts

Being a non-Chinese speaker, I did not need any prior knowledge of the Modern Chinese Language to decipher the rough meaning of these highly visual pictographs. The characters in the Oracle Bone Script were abstracted ‘diagrams’ of ideas and words. These then eventually transitioned into calligraphy and more complex strokes as they appear today.  Scholars are still trying to fully decipher these texts, as they potentially contain key information about the history of ancient Chinese Civilisations and the way they lived.

“Sidney Leng at the South China Morning Post reports that the museum is offering 100,000 yuan, roughly $15,000 dollars, for each character researchers are able to translate (with sufficient evidence of course). They are offering 50,000 yuan for anyone with a definitive explanation for some of the many disputed characters. Of the estimated 5,000 symbols found on oracle bones, scholars have only been able to translate about 2,000, meaning there’s a lot of room for any brilliant code-breaking scholars out there.” 

One of the main difficulties is due to the fact that the script was irregular in size and form depending on which dynasty they belonged to. Standardisation only occured during the Qin Dynasty period.

What is interesting to note here is that the similar pictograph like Egyptian Hieroglyphs were fully deciphered, by Jean-François Champollion and Thomas Young after the discovery of the Rosetta Stone. The presence of Hieroglyphs, Demotic Script and Greek on the stone, all conveying the same ‘decree’, allowed them to compare and eventually decipher the Hieroglyphs. The lack of a clear transitional ‘piece’ of artefact has yet to be found with regards to the Oracle Script and Modern Chinese Language, making difficult up till today for scholars to gain full access and depth to understanding these characters.

Rosetta Stone 

This could potentially be due to the fact that countries like China and Japan were isolationistic and trading only within themselves for a very long period of time  — this probably did not allow for their language to be appropriated and transpired across regions, which is contrastingly evident in the Egyptian, Greek and Roman scripts.

3. Sources

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Rosetta-Stone

https://www.omniglot.com/chinese/jiaguwen.htm

https://www.smithsonianmag.com