Len Lye at HKS

This year started with me co-curating together with Anne Szefer Karlsen an exhibition about Len Lye at HKS in Bergen, Norway. Lye has interested me for a while. I discovered him the first time in the eighties when MTV screened his experimental films between music videos (yes, they still showed music videos back then). I then rediscovered Lye through his kinetic sculptures a few years back when I was doing research on motion. I became particular fond of Lye´s “figures of motion”, he described his raw material as not being film or steel, but motion.

HKS, which has never presented the work of a non-living artist before, was eager to do an exhibition on Lye, based on my enthusiasm for his work. We ended up showing six of his films in the gallery, presented one at a time on three screens of different size, thus forcing the audience to move around and relate to his work at different scale. In this way the presentation of his films became a choreography of the movement between the screens. It was great to see his films in high quality digital copies which really brought forward the textures from the paint strokes and scratches in the original film. Presenting Lye´s films by showing restored digital files projected by video-projectors onto custom-built screens obviously influences how the films are perceived (Maybe not even Lye has ever seen them in such a good quality). We were intent on focusing on the relation between colour,texture, movement, rhythm, sound and scale instead of making a historical pristine presentation.

The films we showed in the exhibition were A Colour Box (1935), Trade Tattoo (1937), Swinging the Lambeth Walk (1939), Rhythm (1957), Free Radicals (1958, re-edited 1979) and Particles in Space (1957, finished in 1979). We also had several side programs during the exhibition period, including the lecture The Musicality of Modernism by Per Kvist, a screening of the documentary A flip and two twisters, as well as a live evening, Len Live, where we invited three sound artists, Lasse Marhaug, Maia Urstad and Espen Sommer Eide,  to create three different soundtracks to Lye´s film Tusalava (1929).

For those interested in checking out Lye´s films in a quality better than the pixelated youtube copies circulating I would recommend the DVD release.

As part of the preparation for the exhibition we got the chance to go twice to the IKON gallery in Birmingham which had a Len Lye retrospective from november 2010 to february 2011. This gave me the rare opportunity to see some of Lye´s kinetic sculptures, which I made a small documentation from.

VPT 4.1 available

Play Alter Native, originally uploaded by am4ndas.
An updated version of Video Projection Tool is now available.

Version 4.0 had a lot of under the hood changes, which unfortunately introduced some bugs. Hopefully most of them have been taken care of with this update.

There are also a few new features: different blend modes and a global moviesource drop zone.
Read the list of updates on the VPT page.

The image is taken from a project Amanda Steggell is doing for the theatre company Verk, where she is using the new blend mode feature for her beautiful emoticons video design.

The space between my ears

Perceptual meltdown after Granular Synthesis retrospective at the STRP festival in Eindhoven, in the old Philips facilities in the Strijp area.

The festival´s focus this year was a retrospective on maximalists austrian media art group Granular Synthesis. It was a unique opportunity to see a lot of the group´s work as well as newer work by the two members Ulf Langheinrich and Kurt Hentschläger. If you have ever seen any of their work before you would guess that this would be an overkill event, and you are right. The works are intense audiovisual bombardements, they physically attack your senses and that does something with your body and mind.
The Granular Synthesis performance installations POL and modell 5 are large scale multiple projections with a corresponding large sound system, which worked well in their monumental way in the factory space.
The solo works are not that large-scale, but more intense. Ulf Langheinrich showed Hemisphere (which I mentioned earlier from the exhibition “from spark to pixel”) and Drifter. Kurt Hentschläger showed Cluster and Zee, which could be seen as offsprings from his ARS electronica performance Feed in 2007. Zee is basically a room filled with smoke, with stroboscopic images projected into the smoke. You loose all reference to the physical space and experience psychedelic visions.

All their works relate to perception, and it was an interesting coincidence that I was reading The Space between our Ears while I was at the festival.

It was a bit strange to experience Granular Synthesis at STRP, since the audience is mainly a quite young techno crowd, and the difference between a trippy techno party and an installation like Zee is pretty vague.

Apart from the retro media artists there wasn´t so much of interest at the festival, the exhibition was a mix of two trends in the media art scene: The commodification of media art on the one side: beautiful objects in perfect collector size, and the technology fascination on the other side.

The Strijp area contains more than the festival. It is the site of the former Philips research lab Natlab, in the art world probably best known for the creation of le poéme electronique, a collaboration between LeCorbusier, Varese and Xenakis for the World Expo in Brussels in 1958 (I will probably write a bit more about this in a separate post).

The old Natlab is now dead, but last fall Baltan laboratories emerged in another part of the Strijp complex, a media lab with a fantastic space and with interesting artists like Telcosystems and Geert Muul involved. I will give a presentation there in the end of may as part of their monthly public Natlab sessions.

Composing motion

I have known New Zealand artist Len Lye´s films for a long time, but was unaware of his kinetic sculptures until recently. I found the Universe sculpture from 1976 especially interesting. The Len Lye foundation did a remake of it in 1998, completely silent except for the sound made by the steel.

City of Sound did a nice post on Lye some years ago, and I will requote their Lye quote: “One of my art teachers put me onto trying to find my own art theory. After many morning walks an idea hit me that seemed like a complete revelation. It was to compose motion, just as musicians compose sound. [The idea] was to lead me far, far away from wanting to excel in traditional art.”

You can find several of Lye´s films by doing a search on youtube (although the quality isn´t very good), Free Radicals and Swinging the Lambeth Walk are two good examples of his work. What makes them really stand out today is the combination of the experimental nature of the visual side with the soundtracks of african drums and happy jazz.

There are two documentaries made on Lye, Doodlin´: Impressions of Len Lye, and A Flip and Two Twisters.

Addendum: There is also a third documentary about Lye (thanks Pip Chodorov)

Here is a an excerpt from the first one where you can see the Universe sculpture in action:

Roger Horrocks has written a biography on Lye, but it seems to be available only as a collector´s item at the moment. Horrocks has written a new book, Len Lye – ART THAT MOVES – which will be published by Auckland University Press in November 2009.

Here is a website which gives a good overview of the work of Lye.

Re-voir has a collection of Lye´s films on VHS (thanks again to Pip Chodorov).

And check out my quite extensive post on kinetic art.

Machine Music

Currently at Lydgalleriet in Bergen there is an exhibition by young british artist Felix Thorn.

Felix´s machines are music making sculptures, creating acoustic counterparts to electronic music. Check out the interview made in relation to his exhibition at Gasworks.

The installation of instruments reminded me of some very different projects, but the connection is the use of digital control systems to control mechanical instruments, so in principle they could be played with the same sequencer but producing very different results:

In 1998 I saw Matt Heckert´s Mechanical Sound Orchestra at the Ultima festival in Oslo. Heckert has background from Survival Research Laboratories and later moved to making music. In a statement about the Mechanical Sound Orchestra he writes about Machine sound: build machines that are playable, being remote controlled via a computer interface, and the performances consist only of sounds produced by the the machines in real time.

In contrast to Felix´s machines which takes up the corner of a room, Heckert´s gigantic instruments filled up a whole factory space. Here is a documentation I made from the performance in Oslo, called Flying at Sound.

David Byrne Play the Building is another type of machine orchestra, where the machines play the building:

“a sound installation in which the infrastructure, the physical plant of the building, is converted into a giant musical instrument. Devices are attached to the building structure — to the metal beams and pillars, the heating pipes, the water pipes — and are used to make these things produce sound. The activations are of three types: wind, vibration, striking. The devices do not produce sound themselves, but they cause the building elements to vibrate, resonate and oscillate so that the building itself becomes a very large musical instrument.”

The devices are controlled by an organ, which made me think of something Charlemagne Palestine said about the organ as instrument in a presentation a few years ago. The organ, with its many pipes, are built specifically for a particular space and stays there for hundreds of years. So playing the organ is a way of playing a building in itself. It also contrasts to the mobility of laptop instruments, an organ is attached to a building.

Finally, I would like to mention Maywa Denki´s Tsukuba series (eventhough they are not controlled digitally as far as I know).  Maywa Denki is a combination of a company that makes gadgets/toys and produces art: Maywa Denki is a art unit produced by Nobumichi Tosa. Each piece of of Maywa Denki´s work is called “a product” and a live performance or exhibition is held as “a product demonstration”.

The Tsukuba series: musical devices played by physical movement of motors and/or electromagnets at 100V: Machine music materially performed by electric powered musical instrument. Here is the “manual” for the tsukuba in typical maywa denki style:

moving objects

slothclose

(photo:sloth by Lars Brunström)
The last two weeks has been dedicated to moving objects. First, Lawrence Malstaf gave a workshop, and this last week the swedish artist Lars Brunström was in Bergen, partly to teach at the academy, partly to help me with the prototype for an upcoming project.

Brunström gave a lecture about artists working with kinetic sculpture, showing examples from some well known and some lesser known artists.
I have collected some links to some of the artists he talked about, plus some other artists and projects related to kinetic art I have seen the last few years.

This list is by no means exhaustive (and it points in all directions), so if you think there are other artists who should be mentioned, leave a comment.

Alexander Calder (american)

calder-766936
inventor of the mobile (kinetic sculpture constructed to take advantage of the principle of equilibrium)
“There is more of the unpredictable about them than in any other human creation … A general destiny of movement is sketched for them, and then they are left to work it out for themselves.” — Sartre on Calder’s mobiles

calder links
wikipedia on calder
calder foundation

calder circus video filmed by Carlos Vilardebo in 1961
part 1
part 2

Jean Tinguely (Swiss)

tinguely

self destruction machines, imperfect machines
wikipedia on Tinguely
installation at Jean Tingeuely museum Basel

paris, fountain and kinetic sculpture place Igor Stravinsky

P O Ultvedt (swedish)
ultvedt
video of an installation by Ultvedt

Rebecca Horn (german)
knuggdome0

artist´s website
wikipedia on rebecca horn
video with an installation by Horn

Arthur Ganson (american)
ganson-786727
artist´s website
TED presention with Arthur Ganson

Anna Strid (swedish)
oronmaskin2-for-web-large

zoetrope
artist´s website

Peter Flemming (canadian)
manual

artist´s website
video of installation

Jean Pierre Gauthier (canadian)
jean_pierre_gauthier_isopor

main focus on making sound from the kinetic sculptures
artist´s website

lázlo moholy nagy
475974913_e6fabe280e
light space navigator

Bernie Lubell
intimacy_1

interactive wood machines
artist´s website

Gregory Barsamian
barsamian
zoetrope
artist´s website

chinese farmer and inventor Wu Yulu
1457195

article about Wu Yulu
video with Wu Yulu
video with Wu Yulu
Mechinal love: documentary
image_preview
The film portrays people who in different ways enjoy a close relationship with a robot. We meet an old German woman who desperately seeks to keep her memories alive through talking with a baby seal robot called Paro. We also meet Professor Ishiguro who is developing androids, and who, in his current work on his own geminoid, wonders what it takes to be human.

The robot is no longer just a mechanical gadget that sits inside your coffee machine or performs monotonous, mechanical work, but made to provide meaningful presence.
The film´s website

and while we are in the robotics section, here is a link with some great images of contemporary robots.

Theo Jansen (dutch)
jansen-strandbeesten
wikipedia on Jansen
TED presentation with Jansen

Kristoffer Myskja (norwegian)
kristoffer_myskja021
artist´s website

atle selnes nielsen (norwegian)
mekanisk_trett_hets_syndrom_selnes
artist´s website

Lawrence Malstaff (belgian)

website of his gallery with several video examples of his work

Lars Brunström
Last, but not least, check out Lars Brunström´s website with his own work, including the sloth at the top of this post.

Here is a video documentation of his snake

I have added a separate post about Len Lye.

touch-punkt night in Budapest

touchpunkt

Last week I was in Budapest for the first time, a fantastic city!

I was invited to take part of a Touch – Punkt event as part of the Temps d´Images festival. The Touch label came with Mike Harding and Jon Wozencroft which gave a short seminar, and with the artists BJNilsen(laptop)  and Hildur Ingveldardóttir Gudnadóttir (cello).

The concept of Punkt, which is a festival in Kristiansand run by Erik Honoré and Jan Bang is to sample a concert as it is being played, and using that sampled material as the basis of their own concert following straight after. They had invited Sidsel Endresen to join them on vocals, and Andras Halmos from Trafó had invited me to create the visual part of the concert.

I wanted to stick to the concept of using the first concert of BJNilsen and Gudnadóttir as the departure point for my video.

budashortstrip2

I created a very long image buffer, 12000×480 pixels. For recording, I could move sideways through the buffer and add images into the buffer, and eventually adding layers of overlapping images as the two concerts progressed. The image above is a small sample of what the buffer looked like at the end of the concert. For playback I had a very slow horisontal movement, so it would take several minutes to move through the buffer.

I wanted the recording head to move faster than the playback head so the images wouldn´t appear in a chronological order, and which also created some interesting layers of time.

Unfortunately I still don´t have any good images from the concert, the one at the top of the post is taken from my video camera with nightshot on, but you get an idea of the scale, it was a huge image behind the performers.

I was also supposed to do an hour presentation at Kitchen Budapest for maybe 10-15 people, but they convinced me to participate in a tech-pecha kucha event (so 20 slides, each showing for 20 seconds= 6min 40 sec) at the Merlin Theater with 300-400 people in the audience, so that was a strange but interesting experience. My impression was that people were sincerely interested in the content, my previous experiences with pecha kucha events has had a strong focus on entertaining, but superficial presentations.

By a weird coincidence one of the other presenters was Maté Gaspar from the theatre company Krétakör (website in hungarian) who I had been in touch with a year ago, so I got to visit their amazing workspace.

I also got a short tour of the Kitchen Budapest facilities, and finally met Adam Somlai-Fischer, who was supposed to be part of my seminar last fall.

Hotel Modern: Kamp

Hotel Modern: Kamp, originally uploaded by hc gilje.

I have followed Hotel Modern´s work online for a while, but haven´t had a chance to see their work before now. I find the way they combine live animation with stage performance, and through this the transformation of scale, very inspiring.
I saw the performance Kamp, which was part of the political theater festival Echt! in Köln, november 2008.

The stage floor, about 8x8m, is filled with a replica model of the Auschwitz concentration camp. The back and sides of the stage are covered in white.
Three persons are busy with something in one part of the model.
The light comes down and we see a masked circular projection at the center of the white backdrop. You hear the sounds of people working.
You are watching details from the models, being filmed and animated by the crew of three persons.
The whole performance consists of a series of scenes from different parts of the model, with large groups of people (models of prisoners or guards) being moved around (like extras in a filmshot), and the focus shifts between overview of the whole camp to close-up actions showed on the screen. Since everything is miniature, any camera movement is possible: slow horisontal movements, spectacular crane shots, combined with effective lighting.
It is as watching a film and seeing the making of it at the same time, without it ever becoming gimmicky.
There is no text, only the sound from the camp: environmental sounds recorded in Auschwitz mixed with live sounds from the action on stage. The sound is very important for both focusing on the particular details but also for linking the video projection with what is happening on stage: You never loose the connection between details (filmed) and the whole model of the camp.

There is something very interesting in that you see the whole space the whole time, and that the performance is basically a navigation through that space. It could also be seen as a animated documentary, the crew is just registering the events happening in the camp.
It´s a dark piece, but it avoids becoming sentimental (maybe because there is no music or text?), thus becoming a very effective way of describing what happened in Auschwitz.

A few more images here.

in the dutch mountains

hc shrinked, originally uploaded by hc gilje.

Last week I did a short dutch “tour”, seeing some interesting performances and exhibitions.
I am only going into detail on one of them, but would like to briefly mention the others.

I had the opportunity to see work from two of the artists speaking at my seminar this fall, Kirsten Dehlholm from Hotel Proforma and Lawrence Malstaf.

Hotel Proforma was showing their now classic Orfeo opera, at Zaantheater. The performance combines the choreographed singers from the Latvian radio choir with a very effective set-design. The set-design seems to be quite inspired by Svoboda, with a endless staircase inside a large frame being lit in many different ways to create a quite dynamic image.

More images from Orfeo

Lawrence Malstaf was given the ART & TECHNOLOGY AWARD 2008 Witteveen + Bo at the Lebuinuskeerk in Deventer where he presented two works, shrink and The Long Now.

More images from Shrink and The Long Now

I was invited to see a tryout of “Licht is de Machine”, a music theater performance by Veenfabriek. My interest in it was mainly Joost Rekvelds kinetic light installation which disappointingly was only in the last 10 minutes of a 2 hour performance. The performance was in a huge hangar outside Leiden, and also here the stage was using a frame.

more images from Licht is de Machine

I saw two good exhibitions in Amsterdam, “Speaking out Loud” at the Netherland Media Art Institute and a spooky exhibition about voodoo in Haiti at the Tropenmuseum.

more voodoo images

Finally, I went to see the dutch group Hotel Modern in Köln, but you can read more about that in a separate post.

Defining space with light

sonumbra by loop.ph

sonumbra by loop.ph

This week I went to a presentation with loop.ph, an artist research duo consisting of Rachel Wingfield & Mathias Gmachl.
Loop.ph combine biology,technology,textiles and structural elements into a wide range of projects, often collaborating with experts within their field. The last few years they have concentrated on constructing lightweight relatively large-scale structures (synetic structures which is supposed to be an improvement over Buckminister Fuller´s geodesic structures),  combined with light and solar cells (they are collaborating with a danish company making printable solar cells).
The result is quite fascinating: large dynamic volumes but with hardly any mass. Especially in their Sonumbra project the light patterns in the structure is defining a changing volume in space: Each thread is a line of light, which can be animated. Check out the video from the first animation test.

sidenote: It took me a while to realise that Mattias was the same guy I  knew from Farmers Manual from back in the 242.pilots days.

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