one of the first things that come to mind when talking about network is the capacity of network technologies to connect people across the globe or, even, in a given area. Beyond projects such as "wireless toronto" and "murmur" which enable people to stay in touch and to share experiences across local areas within the city (Toronto in this case, but also Montreal in the case of "L'ile sans fils" one should acknowledge the existence of specific networks that, this time, connect artists in the same field or in the same province.
as some of the readers of this blog might know, the "artists run centres" movement represents a successful story in Canada. Ryan Stec has been involved in building artistic communities through technologies since 1996 when he helped build "art engine", then a virtual community, now a real space based in Ottawa, but stretching its network to the whole canada. As a virtual space, it has served as a net art platform, helping to build, and hosting netart projects by artists such as Germaine Koh and Paul Wong. In addition, it has also served as a residence space.
When the space evolved and acquired a 550 square foot gallery for workshops and exhibitions, it became the venue for the "electric field festival" a music and media art festival. This festival, in addition to being a showcase for artists, tried to address the preponderance of videos and screen media in the artist run centre scene in Canada. Thus, its mandate was to use electronic music and new media as a way to do outreach, and to make artists in the local area and in the province aware of what they could do with other media technologies and how these tools could be used.
recently, a hacked version of "art engine," named "Art Enjun" made its debut stemming from the already existing network. Cheryl L'Hirondelle, an artist member of metis/cree descent had created a clone of the main website where first nation artists who could post there their profile. the website, along with a mailinglist has now become a substantial section of art engine.the website is bilingual: english and cree.
of course, one of the comparisons that come to mind here is how does art engine, with its "low budget" "open source" "social network" interface (website, mainilglist, youtube videos etc..) compare with the demanding platforms of some major institutions who decided to choose more complex media platforms such as Second life? one of the points made during the Q & A was that SL allows a global diffusion of information and wider collaborations. however, do we really need such complexity to establish global connections? and then, do we need to establish such connections even before we try and include the smaller, less tech savvy and more prone to Face-to-Face communication communities of artists? sure, using SL brings some sort of prestige to the institution, but there is something about institutionalization of indipendent centres that somehow challenges their very indipendence and freedom of choice.
similar, or at least, to me, issues were somehow indirectly raised when Michael Nielsen addressed the advantages of using blogs or twitter as a way to connect the scientific community and to improve theirefficiency and speed in finding solution. he made the example of a scientists who had posted a scientific question on his blog hoping that someone would be interested in helping him find a solution. apparently, the website was inundated by messages and the result was a collaborative artiscle where everybody involved in the discussion was credited fro the contribution. as someone pointed out, however, isn't this sort of collaboration existing already within scientific communities? or are these forms of social networks projecting scientists onto a more global, expanded sphere neglecting to foster any collaboration between peers, say, in the same department or in the same city/university? is this form of collaboration helping the speed of research?
how to couple real performers and Second Life Avatars? how to produce a piece that compels and at the same time incorporates and complements the real and the virtual?
This last question was asked in the two installations exhibited in "Transmute" at the University of Toronto art Centre.
In "Dancing with Myself" Lynne Heller tried to emulate her Second Life persona's dance. Instead of programming her avatar to follow her real life dance moves, she instead tried the opposite, clearly obtaining awkward results.
This latest performance is the last of a series of experiments to transfer object from the 2D illustrations created with photoshop onto real life by building the object she had designed, and then move them back into the 3D virtual world of SL. This series of attempts, culminated in her move to bring her avatar Nar Duell out from second life into real life. once again, the artist didn't limit herself to a performative imitation of her character, but decided to transform her into a comics character whose adventures in SL are also documented on paper.
given their idealized and stylized forms as well as their value as "virtual," that is potential, but not always existing as real, how can we translate the objects we find in online imaginary worlds into concrete, material objects? or can we? how can we re-materialize as objects those imaginary objects we have seen in movies and that have circulated as myths in our culture? canSL help us with this task?and once we have visualized those objects, can we turn them into something tangible? how can we establish a connection between the virtual and the real through these objects?
in some way, in "No Matter" Victoria Scott and Scott Kindall succeeded in this task by asking the SL community to design imaginary objects such as "the Schroedinger cat" the "Kriptonyte stone", "Pandora's box", the "trojan horse" etc..and then by extracting and reconstructing them as real objects made of paper.
while the authors of each object received a reward for their labor, credit recognition on the project website, and his/her piece exhibited on the gallery space in SL (picture above) it was soon clear that the amount they received (in Linden, the currency in SL) was, in fact, really poor if one consider the cost of real life labor . thus, no matter not only unveiled the difficulty of translating "imaginary objects" into "real objects" but also the potential exploitative dynamics of working in SL.
24/06: virtual vs real
one of the performances/demonstrations that were part of friday night SL showdown is the work of coreographer and media artist Johannes Birringer (please, see Alien Nation Company, and Interaktionslabor) who showed a fragment of his latest work "Ukiyo" ("movable world" a short description of the networked performance can be found here).
the work proved to be a particularly interesting reflection on how it can be possible to involve simultaneously people around the world connected long distance, as spectators in close proximity with the performers in a theatre or an exhibition space and as spectators of a show in Second life. how could they pay attention simultaneously to all events? how could all these different environments brought together ? how could technologies and real-life performers play the same role (have the same weight) or maintain the same consistency and quality of performance?
in a panel on Saturday morning Biringer expressed his many concerns about dealing with technologies and performance in general and network performances in particular and had a number of people, including Chris Chafe on his side, or expressing similar concerns.
for Chafe the problem partially resides in the different tasks of each instrument (or media) we are using. for instance, in music, traditional and rich instruments can sure be coupled with instruments that produce sounds through a loud speaker: it is difficult to incorporate the two: "do you tone down the instrument or you hump up the electronics?" IN the end the problem resides in the fact that each of them has its own features and putting them side by side might create issues of compatibility.
on the other hand, the type of performance and the gestures the spectator observes while attending a concert delivered through a saxophone or a trumpet is definitely different from one that is entirely performed standing in front of a laptop.how to place them side by side, or in a networked performance without one overpowering the other?
24/06: experiments in SL
while most SL enthusiasts access it to explore, to meet people, to build or develop structures and architectures or to just "hang out", some artists have tried to find out ways to interact with this environment in new ways or to draw parallels and connections between the virtual world and the so called real world. two interventions were performed in SL were performed on Friday night: Alan Sondheim's "Mess" really tried to literally "subvert" the order of SL by inundating it with abstract lines of colors, blogs of light and organic-like formations.
Second Front brought, as they usually do, socio-political topics onto the often apolitical space of SL."Red, White and Blue Dawn" explored the Canada-US border relationship, with some fun moments created by the non-narrative and the stereotypical costumes (Uncle Sam sporting a pair of thongs and a canadian mounty wearing a white seal on her shoulder) and props, such as the unforgettable CN Tower turned into a missile. while the the result might be conceptually interesting (raising awareness through a somehow light satirical dramatization of the sometimes difficult relations between the two countries), it still appears like a big colorful party. one then wonders whether this "big party with hardly any content but a lot of beautiful sceneries" might be the result of the particular structure of the virtual environment (a cartoonish environment)or just the effects of a medium that has infinite potentials but it is yet to be explored in its full.
Although the initial debut of SL at Subtle Technologies was rather disappointing, a few evening performances and some personal conversations with the artists involved revealed some interesting and interpretations of SL and the whole uncritical hype around it.
Quite interesting (and silly, but for good reasons) was Jeremy Baily's "War Mail". his attempt to force the rather reluctant audience to send an email "collaboratively" using a totally ridiculous futuristic interface was far from successful. later on, he explained that his was a comment on useless and too elaborate interfaces. thus, his apparent lack of success really demonstrated his point.
one of the problems emerging from network technologies is the failure to accept and to exploit their fallibility. if War Mail is a failing technology becasue it is too complicated and too futuristic,Chris Chafe's network performances are a success becasue they exploit the noises, the delay and the little glitches of the physical infrastructure of the network. the piece performed with his trio (He in Toronto, and Pauline Oliveros and Ione in Banff) enetertained the audience with a spoken word with accordeon performance.
23/06: some thoughts on Second Life
one of the main "attractions" of this years' festival was Second Life. This 3D virtual world has been praised by many because it is unlike other virtual worlds. In other virtual worlds the user is assigned an avatar with no possibility of modification, or the user is interacting with a non-modifyiable environment. in SL, virtually everything can be built, reshaped, or worn by the user. it sounds very exciting, if it wasn't for the technological demands it asks the user (old computer with no decend graphic capabilities? forget about SL), its time-consuming features (hours and hours on SL to become fully familiar with programming), and its appropriation by corporations, institutions, private property and the entertainment industry (everything comes with a price, unless the user knows SL very well). In sum, what could possibly have some true potentials for creativity tends to look more and more like a cartoonish version (or a disneyland version) of the first life.
Second Front, SL performance
what surprised me most is the hype that this type of technology has caused within academic institutions. The Ontario College of Arts and Design (OCAD) joined other universities and colleges building a SL version of its campus. During the entire course of Subtle Technologies it was offering users around the world the opportunity to attend the festival "for free" (provided the user had the software, the account, the right computer and the right bandwidth). result: the average amount of attendees was 5 to 10 users. While it is important that such a promising piece of technology be promoted and improved to create larger networks of like-minded people, collaborations and sharing of knowledge, its structure is far from being accessible and user-friendly. with the number of social networks that populate the Internet and are used everyday to broadcast, share and provide information to people around the world, SL was the only "default" choice, and not a very accessible (without going into the tired discussion of haves/have not) and/or democratic one . the reason for this is still a mystery to me.
at least, I would have appreciated that the presenters be allowed to speak through their avatar, instead of being featured with their own hardly distinguishable "human appearance". Knowing that my presentation would be broadcasted to "the (virtual)world" I had even chosen to wear a "no one is illegal t-shirt" to send some political messages ....impossible to be seen during the presentation...
...and after biological networks, a conspicuous part of the festival, the link between the biological and the the informational via the spread of viruses and their distributed lives bridging human and wired networks, the first day couldn't but end with Inne Poppe's documentary http://tinyurl.com/l2ul8k " target="_blank" title="hippies from hell">"Hippies form Hell".
an artist, writer and director, Poppe used her special connection with the Amsterdam based hackers to create a rich ethnography which incorporated rare footage with interviews, documentation of their projects and events as well as their "secret life". the full 53 min. documentary has been available through several social networks sites for your perusal, including youtube .
"life took place not by war, but by networks" According to Anna Dumitriu (find her projects here)this network development and dynamic configuration can be explored by actually drawing a comparison between the two realms, the biological and the informational through the study of bacteria's behavior and communication.
bacteria are far more complex than humans. they communicate through hormons. they "vote" on their status and their well-being. they communicate turning into sporing bodies.
so much so that we can talk about bacteria democracy.
Cybernetic Bacteria 1.0 creates the first human-bacteria communication portal.
by sending a message that these bacteria are able to understanding, the communication is open (though there is no way to prove it).
cybernetic bacteria 2.0
one of the major ideas behind this project is drawing a connection between the biological networks formed by bacteria communication and today's internet network communication.
raising awareness about what is going on and how we can connect what happens at the microbiological level with the cybernetic level.
Given the topic "networks," one of the topics that needed to be discussed was the role that connectivity plays in our society. Thus, it is imperative to analyze the ubiquitous presence of connectivity and the issue of access and inclusion, the need to explore new ways to utilize network technologies to achieve goals beyond the simple "access" (building a concrete, physical community and share memories or experiences about such community), The possibility of making creative use of networks, and the way tools produced by such connectivity are turned into new needs and necessities.
on this note, Gabe Sawhney's Murmur project, Wireless totonto (inspired by L'ile sans fils based in Montreal) ,and Echelon and Mark Shepard's reflection on the "sentient city"'s fascination and dangers (his reflections stem from an early project he had presented at Subtle technologies in 2006, tactical sound garden) appear complementary.
As Katja Mayer explained through her analysis of today's ubiquitous visual representations of large networks, connectivity is a double-sword tool, as it allows us to map and examine the way in which communication is structured. on the other hand, it becomes a tool of control to which we submit without objecting and/or realizing its implication.
One of the elements that seem to have emerged form the conference is the tension between trying to classify, measure and reduce networks to mechanical behaviors and fixed categories
in his sociological analysis of how genetic assumptions about our nature and about our social status are accepted and/or imposed, Bill Leeming mapped the overlapping of meanings, terms and assumptions (an approach he defined as modeling merography).
Ontology has 2 definitions, a philosophical and one that is specific to computer science. philosophically speaking, it can be defined as the study of being and knowing.
ontological notions can be applied to a number of aspects of reality. when it comes to society, however, here is what happens:
Leeming considered 2 statements:
1) "I see a son with his father's hair." this is a totally acceptable and informative statement. but what if we hear this:
2) I see a daughter with a beard like her father's beard.
the general assumption is that women don't have facial hair. this statement is weird and makes us uncomfortable. in fact, traditionally, the "bearded ladies" were displayed in a circus. how do we name and locate these figures? we tend to define these individuals with medical terms (especially in writing).
For example, achondroplasia identifies a particular form of "dwarfism" (again, a medical term). according to Leeming, we reduce everything to the genes. even the language.
however, it was not always this way. notions that are now used to refer to particular individuals or to convey a particular concept, did refer to something else in the past, or didn't quite convey the same meaning. knowledge production and representation have always generated particular concepts based on specific knowledge available.
these concepts overlap and succeed to each other.
in order to be able to provide a general picture of how meanings overlap and transform, two dimensional maps are not sufficient though. It was only by using custom software (now a prototype) he was able to collect all concepts together and locate them on a "readable" multilevel chart to "permit to identify the conceptional and institutional steps through which genetic ontologies become distinguishable and recognized."
while ordering the objects and meanings entangled through networks produces a great deal of complexity (and frustration, considering the great effort and the resources one is forced to employ to provide a visual map or any other explanatory product readable), exploiting networks as they are, as a way to propose new forms of narrative or non-narrative is equally difficult.
Jill Golick's presentation, in this sense, worked as a good (and messier) counterpoint to Leeming's rigorous work of genealogy and design.
"Obsessed" with the idea of building a story just by using the social networks like FaceBook, Twitter, blogs, Youtube, etc... Golick devised a simple narrative (boy meets girl and story starts) a few simple imaginary characters as catalysts and let the audience determine the story by interacting with them through these social networks. her story proved to be a social experiment on how society, despite all the hype and the paradigm changes promised by the rise of networks in general and social networks in particular are stilldifficult to be accepted by most of us. many of us are baffled by the "lack" of narrative these new experimental narratives provide, while other voice their outrage and their ethical concerns when the character they had been following and befriended on Twitter or Facebook turned out to be fictional.