A reminder for our Toronto readers that we'll be co-presenting an outdoor concert by William Basinski and VT's Neil Wiernik this Saturday at The Music Gallery. This event will take place in the courtyard of St. George the Martyr in Grange Park at dusk (8:30 pm) – consider joining us for what promises to be an inspired evening of music. See the Music Gallery event page to purchase tickets and learn more about our feature artists.
Update: Neil has provided us with some material he's recently been working on in the studio.
[Openlab Night - Fave Dave Alex Live Coding / photo: Openlab Flickr Pool]
Openlab is a loose collective of artists centred around London, UK, who use and develop open source software and technology for music, art, noise, performances, and just about anything else they feel like doing with it. Openlab organizes performances, talks, workshops, events, and beer-y meetings across the UK for like-minded individuals to share and exchange ideas and let loose their creative inner daemons.
Marco Donnarumma: What is Openlab?
Evan Raskob: The beauty of Openlab is that people who are motivated and willing can come into it and "hijack" it for their own events and purposes, without some fear of pushing against the status quo. Of course, there are limits, and it needs to stay "open" to still be Openlab, but as I've discussed with other members, the emphasis on open source software is there but also includes open process and transparency of thought - it isn't constrained to a single medium such as code. There are plenty of organizations out there, such as MakeArt, that explicitly enter into the politics of open source, and that's great that they are there fighting a worthy fight for access to important tools and opportunity to learn and the shared culture of international software design, but Openlab has taken a more apolitical and anarchic stance or just doing what we do without worrying too much about it, more of a social club and meeting place for like minds than an organization with a political agenda.
Robert Munro: I think Openlab is more about community, anyone can join just by signing up to the mailing list. Openlab is more about enabling artists to use all these free resources, and using it to make stuff. Different people organize things and Openlab is just a good communication medium to collaborate and find others who are willing to join in.
[Openlab Workshop 8 - Make Some Noise / photo: Openlab Flickr Pool]
MD: Media-labs and artistic platforms play an essential role in the cultural development of the cities in which they are based, even though they are not always properly supported logistically or financially. What does Openlab aim to offer to London and what do you think the city is lacking? How does the city support Openlab's activities?
Evan Raskob: Certainly, things have sprung out of Openlab and yet maintained an association with it, which is great – personally, I'd love to see Openlab keep its role as anarchic incubator of open ideas, but I know that others feel differently and would even go so far as to explicitly disagree with that, which I also, in a strange intellectual-judo move enjoy them doing.
Openlab doesn't aim to offer London anything. Openlab simply exists, and sometimes wonders exactly what it is that London offers it. Often times, bits of Openlab decide that London doesn't really offer them anything (except the occasional squat party, and the soon-to-be-demolished pub and performance space The Foundry) and break off and leave for other pastures.
S. Jagannathan: I find London has many programmers (I would wager a lot more than many other cities in the world) that write free software that makes music especially and through Openlab I have been able to meet many of them and share and learn from them. From my perspective, the logistics appear fine but maybe paid gigs would benefit…a travel card + a meal + a drink would be a humble start.
Robert Munro: Venue support has been a challenge at times as we most want Openlab to remain free or low cost. In fact the place where Openlab's first event was, the foundry is under threat for a planning proposal (to be replaced with an "art" hotel). I think there is a bit of a lack of public space for groups of people to just get together and jam or hack.
MD: Nowadays we see an increasing number of cross-disciplinary artistic tools and works developed using free or open source frameworks which challenge our perception of art and technology, I think of Graffiti Markup Language (GML), ARToolkit (a library for augmented reality) or the latest monumental mapping project by Telenoika. How would you define the present distribution of open source technology? Do you think the demand of new artistic open source tools is expanding? Specifically I'd like to address FLOSS distribution as an independent process and possibly outline its characteristics.
S. Jagannathan: This question implies this is about free software vs proprietary technologies to make art or music and who is winning that battle. However, it is important to understand that there is no battle at all. Free software is a dark, dingy, leaking and long tunnel but many of us see light at the end of it. Proprietary software though is like the attractive trap of a carnivorous plant - death definitely awaits at the very end and when its too late to do anything about it.
Robert Munro: One of the biggest advantages of FLOSS it that it is very malleable, you can just roll your sleeves up and mash it together in lots of different ways. The good thing about having all these fragments of technology is that you can build something original and not just have something shoved down your throat. So it's not really about competition, or this being better than that … its about the philosophy of open source, the fact that people give it all away for free to enable others, and more and more will be built on open source going ahead. I wouldn't be surprised if there is a lot of open source stuff in windows nowadays, though they would never admit it anyway. Pure Data, Supercollider and Processing are great applications but open source is about tinkering and playing around with stuff and I think as people get more computer literate, open-source just make more sense, which is pretty well why I like it ;).
Chris McCormick: For me, Free Software is evolution whilst proprietary software is intelligent design. Free Software is massively parallel, whilst proprietary software is serial. As you say, proprietary software leads to death (companies collapse, people die, source is lost) whilst Free Software at least has a chance at survival through change, maintenance, modification. I believe that evolution is sustainable and that intelligent design isn't (because it's too expensive), and that evolution can afford to make mistakes, whilst intelligent design can't. Free Software is moral, whilst proprietary software is immoral, because Free Software gives it's users freedom, whilst proprietary software takes that freedom away on purpose. That's why I release everything I can as Free Software.
Alias: I'd take issue with that statement - free software isn't moral or immoral, it's just software. Open source is amoral. From the original GPL licence:
'THE COPYRIGHT HOLDERS AND/OR OTHER PARTIES PROVIDE THE PROGRAM "AS IS" WITHOUT WARRANTY OF ANY KIND, EITHER EXPRESSED OR IMPLIED, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, THE IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY AND FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. THE ENTIRE RISK AS TO THE QUALITY AND PERFORMANCE OF THE PROGRAM IS WITH YOU. SHOULD THE PROGRAM PROVE DEFECTIVE, YOU ASSUME THE COST OF ALL NECESSARY. SERVICING, REPAIR OR CORRECTION.'
Freedom is not by default good, it simply represents a lack of constraints. Some open source software is very, very bad, if viewed from certain moralistic perspectives - some is amazingly good. Some is created with the express intent of changing the world, some is created with the intention of establishing the developers as experts in their field. Like a lot of creative endeavours, a large proportion of open source software never gets finished.
In my experience, Openlab does not generally seem to concern itself with ongoing and largely simplistic, unwinnable "x versus y" arguments, as most of us are simply concerned with making art, exploring technology, and/or drinking beer.
Chris McCormick: Yeah, I definitely take your point. I think that the decision to license something as Free Software should be a moral decision though, not a technical one. I was convinced of this by this article "Taking a Principled Position on Software Freedom". This is tough for me personally as my day job often involves writing proprietary software for other people, which I now see as an immoral, but unfortunately necessary, act. I guess I am not the only person on this list in that position though. On the other hand, Mako argues "Most people won't demand evidence for someone's commitment to non-violence or an adherence to the Golden Rule" in that article, but I think it can still be useful to explore objective reasons for a subjective choice. For example, I believe that altruistic behaviour, quite apart from being morally "the right thing to do", can be objectively justified as an optimal way to behave in human culture for the benefit of everyone.
Andy Farnell: It's not just dynamics and parallelism, for me the lure is in diversity and difference. Openlab (its culture) and open source (freedom) software is about finding something different.
Dave Griffiths: I think this is a good time to have this discussion. When Chun and I started Openlab the intention was simply to promote the use of free software for artistic uses - at that time this was unusual, and people only thought free software was for running servers with. I remember some of the reactions at Openlab#1 were fairly incredulous at what we were trying to do.
Nowadays it seems very different - free software has gained a lot of ground, and although my view is completely biased, I don't really see much interesting going on with proprietary software now. All the energy seems to be surrounding free software.
I guess there is a problem now that free software is so pervasive that it's easy to forget where it came from and why its possible - i.e. all the hype about crippled apple hardware. But largely it seems that the role that Openlab has played over the last year or so is providing workshops - seeing as the free software 'stack' has found its way into so many academic institutions, but seem to lack people who actually use it to teach it.
Chun: Over the last year, it also occurred to me about free software is, or its primary benefit, the ability to change the relationship between technology users in a more positive way. and that, for me, is Openlab. I mean, because of its diversity and openness (technological), we as the users are encouraged to, well, make friends and work together (cultural), than otherwise. I have also experienced this when working with Openlab.taipei gangs. If this "change the relationships between people for the better" stuff has some truth in it, then I would like to think this could be the purpose (if there is any) for what we do in the grand scale of the society.
S. Jagannathan: Yes! This is indeed a deep but subtle point and has the potential to revolutionize the way society itself is organized. So far its been about inventing technology which is inevitably not shared and thus becomes a weapon to use against someone who hasn't invented it. The inventor makes money (a non-violent result on the surface) and that has become a self-obvious virtue. A quantifiable virtue – understandable to all. What free software brings back and that which money making displaces and that which I've experienced myself is a kind of "love" among the practitioners. Help your neighbour as he is your brother kind of love. Now, that word love might have sounded cheesy cos its not quantifiable. Its not objective. Its personal. When you are creating and you benefit from others creation you feel that love. I do almost every time I call a function in PortAudio or SDL or liblo :D
Dan Stowell: On this very topic see this thesis just published: Geeks and Global Justice: Another (Cyber)World is Possible [PDF link] From the abstract:
'I analyze how tech activists consciously design technology that embodies values of equality, freedom and justice. Their creation and appropriation of free software indicates a more general argument for open knowledge production as the basis for a new mode of work, and indeed, a new set of social relations. In reconstructing the Internet along a democratic model and through a democratic process, I argue, tech activists are creating a model of social organization that is radically transformative, refusing the reductive limits of the neoliberal world order, and enacting the possibility of a better world now.'
Martin Klang: In terms of the free software ethos providing a social model for the future, I can't help but feel some apprehension for a couple of reasons. The first is to do with the inherent elitism of the open source/free software 'movement', or whatever you want to call it. There's often an implicit assumption that meritocracy somehow equals democracy, and people tend to overlook how they came by their extraordinary skills in the first place. So there are actually two points here, or two questions: one is to determine exactly what model of democratic decision making is being proposed, the other is to do with recognizing what function, in a capitalist society, that technology specialists fill. Specialization and centralization tend to be inherently anti-democratic societal tendencies. The other main misgiving I have when I see writing such as Geeks and Global Justice is the following - though I have to admit I've so far not read much more than the abstract - when speaking as the author does of political engagement, it is clear that this involves a completely virtual sense of activism. Virtual as in something that happens on the web, and virtual as in not real. The author Kate Milberry states:
'I argue, tech activists are creating a model of social organization that is radically transformative, refusing the reductive limits of the neoliberal world order, and enacting the possibility of a better world now.'
A better internet, perhaps, though even that is stretching it a bit far if all we do is sit at our computers. The risk is that we retreat from the real world to the virtual, and take our battle with us. How then the neoliberal world order will be overthrown - with its wars, famines and injustice - is a mystery to me. But maybe these questions are answered later on in the text.
'Is anybody there?'
- posted two months ago in the comments on the Glitch Art flickr pool discussion page
I first discovered glitch art while digging for new live video processing techniques on Create Digital Motion. An article by Peter Kirn introduced me to datamoshing, and with my appetite whetted I soon stumbled on the flickr Glitch Art pool.
Here's a little history about the pool. Flickr was launched in February of 2004. A few months later the Glitch Art pool was founded by LiminalMike. The pool's description / statement of purpose reads as follows:
'Glitch is a short-lived fault or malfunction in a system. Whenever camera lenses erroneously save the data of what they see to it's recording device or whenever the binary code of an image file gets corrupted (intentionally or accidentally), the final result is a faulty image, which we call Glitch. Please only post images that have had authentic digital glitching through computer or digi-cam error. This includes databent images (eg. inserting randomness with a hex editor). Please DO NOT post images that have only been manipulated in image editing software (unless it's the software that has failed and glitched the data) or abstract images made up of authentic light - these will be removed from the group.'
The content spans a broad range of styles and techniques. There are text / hex editor hacks, images processed with audio editing software, broken ROMs, screenshots of browser glitches, hardware circuit bends, and datamoshes. In addition to the intentional works of art there are also plenty of serendipitous, accidental glitches posted both by regular and one-off submitters.
Members of Glitch Art and other similar flickr pools have had their art featured in Glitch: Designing Imperfection, and present their work at festivals and shows around the world. Dtemkin recently displayed his Sector series at the Bent Festival in NYC, and Rosa Menkman seems to always be busy with one public project or another.
The pool became an immediate source of inspiration for me. It introduced me to a wide range of techniques and artistic styles, and put me in contact with many artists that I would otherwise never have discovered. This potential for immediate one-to-one contact with other artists of various levels of ability was invaluable.
One particularly useful resource was longtime flickr user and Glitch Art pool member stallio, whose blog stAllio!'s way provides lots of great databending and glitch art related guides (highly recommended for aspiring glitch artists). Other users like Antonio Roberts, aka hellocatfood (and now myself) also host sites with instructional materials related to glitch art techniques and processes.
These connections, along with information presented in the image descriptions and comments of other users, got me started glitching jpegs using TextEdit and Audacity. I joined the pool and soon began uploading the results of my own experiments.
Despite the obvious interest shown by the thousands of members and posts that have accumulated over the last few years, some users have recently voiced concerns about the current and long-term health of the community. A few months back I was surprised to see the following post leading the pool's discussion page:
'Is anybody there?
Is activity in the flickr glitch community on the decline? What has kept some users involved for years, and what is gradually pushing others to alternative outlets?
Ben Baker-Smith: Do you see flickr as a community, or simply a platform on which to display your work? / What are the pros and cons of displaying work on flickr?
Max Capacity: At first flickr was just a platform to display my work, and for me to refer back to from blogs and such. But I started hooking up with other people who are interested in or doing the same things I am. And holy shit, people actually like my work on there. So the community aspect is absolutely one of the main contributing factors to how much time I spend making stuff. I live for the anonymous praise.
Dtemkin: Flickr has a wonderful community of glitch artists who are very approachable. For artists starting out with databending, it is a fantastic resource. [But] there's definitely an 'instant gratification' aspect to flickr. If you simply post an image and send it to a bunch of different groups, you can get positive responses, but not necessarily the thought-provoking or instructive comments that will help you move forward.
Rosa Menkman: I used to be more active on flickr, but because my personal work revolves around video, I think I moved a lot of my attention to platforms like Vimeo. There I started a similar (video) pool, which I called noise artifacts. I think the community on flickr used to be more active, there used to be a little bit more discussion on there. Now it seems to have become more of a dumping pool … or platform.
[Rosa Menkman / rom glitch 3.2]
B B-S: What display environments and mediums would you like to explore in the future?
stallio: I've been trying to move away from purely abstract glitch to introduce more traditional illustration aspects, for example doing illustrations and using glitches for textures/fills.
Dtemkin: Most of the databending software I've written has been geared toward producing a final still image or set of images. I'm experimenting with writing software where the program itself is the final piece, rather than a tool to create an effect It's a different sort of challenge, but an approach I'm excited to explore.
Rosa Menkman: In May I will be doing a live audiovisual television show in Denmark [ed. This show has now passed]. Therefore I am getting deeper into composing and sound generation. I am also hoping that during the summer I will find some more time to play around with videomixers and other hardware.
[Dtemkin / mario 39.2]
B B-S: How do you first develop and explore an idea/concept?
Max Capacity: I've always been drawn to the aesthetics of degradation and decay. And I love obsolete media. ... Pixels themselves in old video games had to represent something much more epic in scope. Today's video games don't need to be symbolic or representative, they look like what they're supposed to look like. So the video games become a fun medium or subject matter to degrade, as there's still a certain level of basic recognition after the fact.
Stallio: Glitch projects are usually about solving some kind of puzzle: how to bend a certain type of file, how to get the effect I want, how to get it to glitch in the right place, how to get the best colors, etc.
Detemkin: It's the hands-on approach that appeals to me about databending, so usually experimentation comes first, and concepts develop from the work. I began Sector, the series much of my early databent work belongs to, by looking at different file formats as raw materials with their own qualities, and asking what JPEGs want to look like, vs. say, BMP files.
[glitch-irion / 32 dezembro glitch 11 2008]
B B-S: What are some of your influences? Where do you find inspiration?
Max Capacity: I can't help but think about Warhol or Lichtenstein when I look at pixels. Pop art and punk art are big influences. I eat up anything by Yves Klein or Jim Phillips. I'm a huge William Gibson fan, and all his books give me tons of inspiration. Science fiction movies, Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, Frank Miller, Ghost in the Shell, Akira, lots of anime. Looney Toons, I watch cartoons constantly. Kraftwerk and Atari Teenage Riot.
glitch-irion: Pop art, graphic design, flickr's glitch/databend galleries, urban snapshots, graffiti, abstract art, and classical art concepts such as form, composition balance, color composition, composition unity are very important for me.
Dtemkin: My Sector series was heavily inspired by Bauhaus-era work and Pop Art, both of which I see as natural companions for glitch art. Repetition of images is of course common in Warhol's work, and also occurs often in databent images. Iconic symbols work well with databending, since the images are still highly recognizable when bent. In this project, I used databending partly in response to Warhol's ideas of automation in art; it's what happens when the machine breaks.
Rosa Menkman: I think Goto80 has been a really big inspiration to me - his work has a lot of tension in it; it takes place within this vortex of randomness, brokenness and perfection, which keeps me interested. I am naturally a curious person so I ask a lot of questions and always search for these tensions in my own life and research. Besides music, I think my main influences and inspiration are in concerts and festivals, books and bad television. I think I find most inspiration between the cracks of whatever else I do in daily life.
[Max Capacity / Star Wars - The Empire Strikes Back (1982) (Parker Bros)]
B B-S: What methods, mediums, and tools do you use?
stallio: I'll use any software I can figure out how to databend with. Mostly I use hex editors, wav editors, and notepad.
Max Capacity: My NES circuit bending is all hardware, so I actually have to go through the process of testing and bending the circuit to get desirable results. ... The rest of the glitches are perpetrated using emulators.
Rosa Menkman: I don't feel like I am stuck into using any particular hard or software, or within the distinction between analogue and digital or sound and image. I have my preferences, but my final choice of method really depends on the moment.
Dtemkin: Most of the software I write to glitch images begins with automating manual work I often do to the files, and then expands in complexity as I discover new effects. Some of it builds on bugs I've discovered accidentally when using various image editing software. Much of it comes from testing what would happen if I tried to process data of type A through system B and see how it is transformed.
[stallio / tvslib4]
How the community will evolve is yet to be seen. But with the Glitch Art pool alone claiming 3,142 members and 4,914 images (by far the largest concentration of glitch artists and enthusiasts I have come across), it is certain that it has already played a part in nuturing the development of the glitch aesthetic, and will continue to do so for a some time into the future.
Members of the flickr glitch pools have certainly helped me to develop my own work. However, over a relatively short amount of time (a year) I have become considerably less active. Like Rosa, I attribute this in part to having to split time between video and still image hosting sites. A proper combined audio/image/video hosting site is seriously missing.
Dtemkin's comment about the "instant gratification" quality of viewer feedback also ring true to me, and partly as a result of this I increasingly view the pools primarily as virtual display galleries and artist profile listings rather than places to seek meaningful feedback and ideas.
I admire the stalwart, longtime contributers for their tenacity and commitment to flickr as both a platform and a community; I think it has the potential to be both. And I hope that fresh faces continue to bring new energy and fresh approaches. There is tons to be learned already from the body of images and information, and it is increasing daily.
Partway down the "Is anybody there?" thread, hellocatfood contributes a note of cautious optimism, "You're right, things have slowed down. I think the interest in glitch art has fallen a bit. But I'm sure it'll come back soon."
Like receding feedback waves on the screen of a broken analog television set, I too think that it has fallen only to begin another inevitable climb.
2011 marks the 10th anniversary of NAISA’s Deep Wireless and SOUNDplay festivals and so it is an opportunity for NAISA to both reflect on the past and look ahead to the future. With this in mind, New Adventures in Sound Art invites artists of all ages and nationalities to submit works on the theme ABOUT TIME for consideration in New Adventures in Sound Art’s 2011 programming for its annual Deep Wireless, Sound Travels, and SOUNDplay festivals presented in Toronto, Canada. Artists may submit works in one or all of the following four categories (Note: please send separate submissions for each entry).
Preference in programming will be given to works that respond in some way to the theme ABOUT TIME. Individual interpretations or variations on the theme are encouraged, but should be realized with sound as the primary component.
Artists may submit works in one or all of the following four categories
1) Radio Art (for Deep Wireless)
The Radio Art category is for works conceived for radio or that use radio and other wireless technology in their creation and that play with the medium. Special consideration will be given to 1 minute radio art pieces for broadcast as well as 1 page proposals for collaboration on translocal and network performances.
Pieces will be selected for broadcast within Canada and on several international radio stations in May 2011 as part of the Deep Wireless Festival of Radio and Transmission Art.
Both Canadian and International radio art submissions will be considered for inclusion in the following:
-The Deep Wireless 8 radio art compilation CD
-The Radio Art Interventions (1 minute pieces played guerilla-style on radio stations during the Deep Wireless festival)
-The Radio Art Salon - a listening gallery of radio art works exhibited for the month of May.
2) Electroacoustic Music & Sound Art (for Sound Travels & SOUNDplay)
The Electroacoustic Music & Sound Art category is for multi-channel and stereo works conceived for concert performance or presentation in the Sound Travels Festival of Sound Art and SOUNDplay festivals. Preferred formats for performance presentation include 5.1, octaphonic, 12 and 16-channel formats in both acousmatic (tape), live, and mixed formats. Please indicate in the notes the intended format of presentation and any required instrumentation or specialized equipment.
3) Videomusic (for SOUNDplay)
The Videomusic category is for works that explores non-narrative abstraction with equal emphasis on sound and image. Submitted works will be considered for video screenings with either stereo or multi-channel playback for screenings in either a performance venue or a small-size gallery alongside other works selected from this call for submissions.
4) Installation Art (for Deep Wireless, Sound Travels or SOUNDplay)
Installation proposals of previously realized works for site-specific and gallery installations will be considered for presentation as part of Deep Wireless, Sound Travels or SOUNDplay. Site-specific works can be for indoor or outdoor locations. Works can use multichannel or single channel playback and may incorporate any number of media, but must feature original sound as a primary element.
Preference will be given to small to medium scale interactive works that appeal to all ages. Please note that almost all of NAISA's exhibition locations are multi-use venues and often require works to be moved and re-positioned on non-exhibition days. Also attach a list of the necessary equipment required to mount the installation and which of these items can be supplied by the artist. Submissions should include audio, video or audio-video documentation of previously realized versions of the work.
Please complete in full the online submission form by midnight on September 30, 2010 and submit your submission materials by post (postmarked September 30, 2010) to:
New Adventures in Sound Art
The online submission can be found at https://www.naisa.ca/eshops/sub_call.php.
The Toronto Urban Film Festival (TUFF), the only festival of its kind in North America, is a 10-day long public film festival that reaches over 1.3 million subway commuters daily.
TUFF is looking for the best one-minute silent films from across Canada and around the world.
The festival runs from September 10 - 19, 2010, at the same time as TIFF. Films are presented on the Onestop Network of 270 subway platform screens inside the TTC, and featured on the new TUFF website.
Films are selected by a guest jury, with top awards selected by guest judge Deepa Mehta. The TUFF 2010 Jury: Chris Gehman, Min Sook Lee, Jorge Lozano, Kathleen Mullen, Sarah Robayo Sheridan, Haema Sivanesan, and Michael Zryd.
Filmmakers, animators and video artists are invited to submit one-minute silent films that speak to an urban audience. Programming themes this year are: Urban Encounters and Other Stories; Our Environment and Urban Growth; The Medium is the Message; Urban Ideas and Politics; Urban Journeys; The City is a Poem; After Night Falls.
Need some tips on the art of one-minute filmmaking? Check-out our TUFF Tips from past winners and jurors: http://www.torontourbanfilmfestival.com/tuff-tips
Submission Deadline: July 15th
'Contemporary appeals to the aesthetic of experience, then, always need to be leveraged by own demands to experiment. We are responsible for our own performativity and for the politics we make of “emancipated” experience. Best to enter these ludic contracts as both knowers and dupes - only then we might really manage to do things with art' - Caroline Jones
The quote above comes from a brilliant article on, among other things, performativity in the work of Maria Abramovic, Tino Seghal, and Vito Acconci and I’m particularly curious about the possible meanings of the last line in that article. What could it mean to “do things with art”? The critical contemplation of art would become an activity of art, a utility even, and the aesthetics of that utility would become the communicative medium of the work, the “reading” would be “using”, the artwork in and of itself would be the action it engenders. It’s a curious development and if the art world at-large, whatever that may be, is wondering what a utilitarian aesthetic practice might look like (I hesitate to say “art practice” to avoid complication) then they might look at how interactive practices approach the marriage of utility and aesthetics. Were I feeling brave I might even call it “utilitarian aesthetics” because there is nothing separating the aesthetics and utility. One is not a crutch for the other, in fact they are almost indivisible; the expression of one directly because of the other. For instance, Eyewriter:
'The Eyewriter project is an ongoing collaborative research effort to empower people who are suffering from ALS with creative technologies.' - Eyewriter.org
If one wants to learn about the Eyewriter project, most likely they would begin at the website, and with the video, which situates the projects in its conditions: Tony Quan, a graffiti writer, publisher and activist, paralyzed by Lou Gehrigs Disease or ALS, is approached with a proposal to create a tool for him with which he can draw. The situation of the project is foregrounded, it isn’t incidental, nor is it circumstantial: it is why. This is where interactive practices, socially informed practices, and politically informed practices converge: explicit situationality, explicit definition by conditions. Any art historian can point to any number of institutional critiques, from Duchamp, to Andrea Fraser, WochenKlausur, The Yes Men, the list goes on, of artists who recognize explicitly the situation of their work, who incorporate that situationality into their working practices as contemplative element but it is a different proposition to begin from a situation and proceed towards a resolution, a solution. Indeed, one ends up looking at something that looks like “doing things with art”. It also looks very much like a design strategy. One wonders where they diverge.
Eyewriter is a tool for making art, an explicitly empowering object that is an art object as well: computer vision software, two small cameras, a stylish pair of glasses, and a series of projectors, dimensions indefinite. The medium of its art is both as an object and as the work that is created with it. This isn’t to say that there is a perfect balance between object and utility, that they are weighted with perfect equality. Utility wins out; nothing is added that doesn’t contribute directly to the use to which it is put, the design dictum “form follows function” is obeyed, and yet the purpose to which is it is put, it’s conditions, are explicitly art. I could just as easily make the argument that Eyewriter is simply what is called adaptive design, that is, design modified for the conditions of the impaired. The first sentence of this paragraph could read “Eyewriter is…a design object”, and it would still describe in the same way, save for the clumsy ambiguity of “design object”. Every instance of the word “art” could be replaced with “design” and the work, the conception of it, would lose none of its meaning, power, or beauty.
Aesthetic discourses are fundamentally one thing: a way of reading. The artist creates a way of reading an object and the viewer agrees to that way of reading and hence understands the intent of the artwork. The content of the object can be the reading itself or it can be another referent altogether, both are completely legible, but without the readability itself then an artwork doesn’t function as art, a sentence doesn’t function as a sentence, a faucet doesn’t function as a faucet. What happens then when the discourse of a discipline that requires a different sort of legibility intersects with an art practice, with one of the recognized artistic discourses? For instance, what happens when industrial design intersects with concerns that place them in discussion with artwork? We can see a curious functionality in the case of Natalie Jeremijenko for instance: her ideas are put to work. The Institute for Applied Autonomy presents a similar conceptual puzzle; their early motto stated simply: “our shit works”. It functioning is its legibility; the criticality, aestheticized content all are engendered by an the functioning of the object as it is intended, by it’s utilitarian legiblility. Contrast this with Donald Judds now-classic remarks on his furniture “I’m very touchy about it being considered art…I’m not sympathetic to in-between positions.” Eyewriter looks like nothing more than a cheerful bleeding over of design and engineering practices into artwork and an aesthetic discourse that takes as its content the activity, the action, the act; a functional, playful in-between position indeed. Inspired artwork, littoral practices, whatever we call it, for instance, adaptive design inspired artwork, engages our use of systems, our ability to recognize that as a content that can be read, that can have values attached to it. As with many interactive practices in the US and UK, the working practice seems to begin with problems, problematizing, and proceeds to a play with the notion of research, an aesthetics of experimentation. Perhaps it’s our shared history with the Anglo-American tradition of philosophy, Russell and Wittgenstein to Rorty and Nagel, or a consequence of working with code and hardware, practices which seem to engender an appreciation for elegant utilitarianism, or the backgrounds in design or film or architecture that so many practitioners share. Whatever causes one attributes, there is, a shared practice, a discourse of practices, in which this project participates and which lend legibility and coherence to it.
So, then, in Eyewriter, what do we read? When we look at it, how do we see it? At its core, as in so many digital practices, is a transform: the transform from an eye movement to a projected line. The aestheticized object is the transformed action, the opening of possibility through what might almost be called a computational trick: take this analog process out in the world, digitize, then statistically analyze, and present. And Eyewriter is art because that transform is aesthetic, in its conceptual condition, as an understanding of its process, in its mediums of documentation, photo and video, and as practice, not simply a single object, but a way of making, to build collaborations and communities around enabling creative practice:
'The long-term goal is to create a professional/social network of software developers, hardware hackers, urban projection artists and ALS patients from around the world who are using local materials and open source research to creatively connect and make eye art.' - Eyewriter.org
A, if not the, goal of critical artistic practice is to engage the material of our lives, of our situations, in our engagement with art: vision, commonplace materials. What could be more commonplace than our computational interaction: our expectations of what computation is and can be? We can create narratives of aesthetic around our actions, our uses, our commonplace actions. This is no longer purely the critical art of our expectation of our reliance on systems and interfaces; this is an art of shaping narratives from our action and acting, our patterns of use, our desires for functionality, not simply to subvert them, but to enable them, to create art from them, act from them. Utility is narrativity and using is story-telling; as such, they are both a content and medium of emergent aesthetic practices and that is as rich, complex, and challenging a terrain as we can elect to engage.
Eyewriteris a project and initiative by members of Free Art and Technology (FAT), OpenFrameworks and the Graffiti Resarch Lab: Tony Quan, Evan Roth, Chris Sugrue, Zach Lieberman, Theo Watson and James Powderly. It is the winner of the 2010 Golden Nica award for Interactive Art from the Ars Electronica Foundation.