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.

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.

shift v2: relief projection installation

shift v.2, originally uploaded by hc gilje.

I decided to give my current series of relief projections a name, shift: moving from one place to another, changing the emphasis, direction or focus of something. It also has a loose relation to the idea of shapeshifting.
As mentioned in my previous posts about my relief projection projects, shift combines multichannel sequencing, audio generated from video (soundtransducer inside every box, the sound you hear is directly related to the video projected on that particular box), with masking/mapping a projection to fit physical objects. This creates a dynamic audiovisual landscape, a spatial light painting.
The software to create the installation has developed over almost two years and some workshops, and I have shown documentation of the development, but never exhibited it as a final work.
It is only this autumn that I have found the right opportunity to show it in an exhibition. I was invited to participate in the Total Aktion exhibition at Museet for Samtidskunst in Roskilde, Denmark. I had the opportunity to exhibit there in 2005 as part of Get Real, a exhibition with real-time art as the focus (which was also shown at Kiasma in Helsinki, Finland). It also resulted in the book where I wrote the essay “Within the space of a moment”.


Shift became a sort of drone installation, with slow light/colour changes of volume, sometimes cut off by sharp white planes. The video documentation is a cut version showing some of the different scenes. Here is a slide show of still images.

(youtube link to the same video, if someone prefers that)

The software used is an expansion of the videoprojectiontool available here.

The wind-up birds continued

la forêt de Nouzhat Ibn Sima, originally uploaded by hc gilje.

The wind-up birds didn´t settle in the forest of Lillehammer.
Some of them went to the airport in Oslo, some of them to a park in Rabat, Morocco.
Two very different contexts in many ways:

Oslo Airport Gardermoen is celebrating its 10 year anniversary, and I was invited as one of two projects from the UT21 exhibition to be part of this anniversary.
The work was to be placed outside, in a passage between the parking area and the terminal building, a very busy pathway.

It was freezing, windy and wet the weekend it was installed. Of course everything at an airport involves heavy security, so I had a special permission card which I wore to avoid frightening passengers (bearded man climbing trees with electronics,wires and batteries). Actually I got a lot of strange questions, people wondering what these devices were against or for, was it to chase off the woodpeckers? When I explained that they were mechanical woodpeckers I got a lot of blank stares.
More images from the airport.


A week later I was off to Morocco, 25 degrees and sunny in Rabat, the capitol. There is a small art space there called l´appartement 22, run by Abdellah Karroum, which had been invited to present work at the first Brussels biennale. Abdellah decided to invite Anne Szefer Karlsen from HKS in Norway to curate some projects in Morocco, so she again invited Pedro Gomez Enza and myself to do projects in the frame of the Brussels Biennale, but in Morocco. It gets weirder.
Unlike the very organised airport project, things were a bit looser here. First we needed to find a location, and after some scouting I fell in love with a beautiful and strange park, on the outskirts of the center, la forêt de Nouzhat Ibn Sima( also known as le parc sportif), with lots of eucalyptus trees, cute fuzzy pine trees, mint tea houses and people exercising in the strangest ways.
Public art in Morocco isnt common and there had been quite a lot of discussion before my arrival as of what to do with permissions etc.
We ended up doing it without permissions, and therefore without a ladder to not draw attention on ourselves, and it turned into a strange undercover operation trying to set up woodpeckers in trees while pretending to do other things. We even drove around in a car while I was programming in the back seat.

I built a special version of the wind-up birds for this actionist installation. Basically I replaced the radio modems with a parasite brain (a timer and a light sensor), this made the birds more independent and maybe slightly more intelligent.
This actually corresponds quite well with the natural woodpeckers, some enjoy the company of its fellow creatures, while others insist on being alone.

more images from the wind-up birds in morocco, and some other images from morocco as well.

There are several types of natural woodpeckers in Morocco, but I unfortunately didn´t get a chance to see one.

colour psychology

tannerie, old medina in Fes, originally uploaded by hc gilje.

Last week I went to an inspiring lecture with professor Byron Mikellides from Oxford Brookes University about colour psychology.
Mikellides is together with Tom Porter editor of a new edition of Colour of Architecture Today which comes out in December this year. This book is a completely revised edition of the first one which came out in the seventies.

He spoke about colour related to our environment, about NCS (Natural Colour system), about the relation between the perception of time, volume, weight, size to colour.
He looked at different examples of combinations of colours in architecture, mentioning Josef Albers “Interaction of Color” as a great source for practical colour theory. Mikellides made a point of not only looking for relations in a space, but over time (diachronic), so looking at how colours change in the course of a day, over the seasons etc.

Since my primary interest in the topic comes from working with light and projection it was interesting to hear other people talking about painting with light, and he showed several interesting examples of use of light in architecture, particularly the architects Speirs & Major who have made a study of light with the website and book. (It doesn´t quite compare with the monster book from ZKM: “Light Art. Artificial Light (Emanating)).

lights out?

Park, originally uploaded by hc gilje.

I am not the most efficient blogger I have to admit, but its been a very busy period the last 2 months. Here is a short summary of my activities, I will elaborate on some of them in later posts:

After the opening of the wind-up birds in end of august I organised the seminar Conversations with spaces at Bergen Kunsthall Landmark, which was a success. I will most likely get the chance to see the work of two of the speakers, Lawrence Malstaf and Kirsten Dehlholm in november in Holland.

Straight after the seminar I went to New York, mainly to follow the conflux festival, but also to catch up with some people. I went to Kurt Ralske´s closing day of his show at the MFA Computer Art Gallery, I was at the opening of Luc deBois´ exhibition at bitforms, I saw Olafur Eliassons huge rotating mirror at PS1 and his waterfalls, the Buckministerfuller show at moma.
I hung out with Keiko Uenishi (oblaat) at conflux and share, Eric Redlinger showed me the mrmr application, Carrie Dashow explained her concept of live video editing for multiple cameras.
I had planned to get in touch with Eyebeam, but after two months of not answering my emails I gave up. 

The next two weeks I spent in a monastery cell of the grey brothers in Roskilde, Denmark, preparing for my installation Shift at Museet for Samtidskunst. It is part of a show called Total Aktion (on until christmas).

On my way back from Denmark I met the wind-up birds who had settled down at the airport in Oslo, celebrating the 10 year anniversary of the airport.

Right after that some of them flew to Morocco, which is where I spent the last week as well. This was part of the Brussels biennale.

wind-up bird(s)

Introducing a new species, the wind-up birds.
The wind-up birds are a flock of mechanical woodpeckers, having found their first home in a forest in Lillehammer, Norway as part of the UT-21 project.

How will nature treat them, with hostillity or acceptance? How will the wind-up birds adapt to heat/cold wet/dry conditions? Will small insects creep inside the circuitry creating possible short circuits, beetles eat the wood, squirrels use the wood slit as nut storage (or the roof as a slide?), birds use it as a shelter, etc.? Will they be treated as foreign objects or accepted into the local eco-system?
How do real woodpeckers react? Are they threatened, attracted, or not bothered? Will they use the roof as a pecking drum?
Initial tests indicate an attraction: it took 15 minutes for a real woodpecker to join a wind-up bird on the same tree.

Adding a layer to the perceived reality:
The sound of the wind-up birds easily fool humans. The initial reaction is surprise, and then bewilderment, as there seems to be a whole flock of birds communicating. Then the curiosity of trying to track them down, to localize the sound, becoming more aware of the surroundings, sharpening the senses.
This was the initial motivation for me, the movement of sound in a space, and the effort involved in trying to localize the source of the sounds which lead to a stimulation of our perceptive apparatus.
By introducing an element or layer which somehow relates to the environment, but still is a bit off (It is very unlikely to hear a flock of woodpeckers drumming at the same time, and it is usually restricted to the mating season in the spring), you perceive the reality differently. This could be called an animalistic alertness, one of the three listening modes described by Barthes  (Listening).
This project is related to my soundpockets project, and as with that work I feel it is somehow more interesting when people happen upon it by chance, instead of looking for a piece of art in the forest.

The development of the wind-up birds have gone through a lot of phases:
It was important for me that the sound produced was not playback of a recorded sound, but mechanically produced, so I looked at many different ways of creating resonance boxes and ended up with a construction resembling a wood block: a piece of wood with a slit. I ended up using a simple push-magnet solenoid for the mechanical part.
The first prototype was an arduino board, the solenoid and the woodblock, trying to find the right pecking frequency for the solenoid, and testing different woodblock designs.
I decided to add a roof, to protect the wood and circuitry from heavy rain.

Since the wind-up birds are communicating, they needed to be in a wireless network. I decided early to use the xbee radios which are programmable, low-energy, high speed radio modems which can work in a mesh network.
A lot of effort was put into creating and deciphering xbee datapackets to be used in the arduino/processing environment.
Energy consumption was an important factor in the project, since the wind-up birds would be in a forest with no access to electricity and should be active for a month. One strategy was to use low-power components. It´s amazing the difference between two voltage regulators for instance when they have to be on for a month(the difference in consumption was the size of the battery I ended up using for the whole project).
I also decided to use a low power version of the arduino, basically just the microcontroller chip running at half speed (which meant using a AVR programmer to program the chips).
The other important factor in reducing energy consumption was to make use of the xbee and arduino´s capability to go to sleep when inactive. I decided the wind-up birds would be pecking about every 5 minutes, and inbetween they would sleep. Also at night they would be sleeping.
After having decided upon the components to be used, I designed a prototype circuit, which was later made into a proper circuit board making it easier to mass produce the birds.
It took a lot of trial and error to get the wind-up birds alive and pecking in the lab, but I had a pretty reliable setup when I placed them in the forest. The challenge in the forest was to find interesting locations within the range of the network, and to find interesting pecking patterns. I ended up making a system where the pecking pattern is different everytime, so it wouldn´t become a simple playback of movement, but a dynamic system.

More images of the wind-up birds

thanks to Tom Igoe, Jeff Mann, Kristian Skjold and Roar Sletteland for helping me realize this project.

Here is a link to the first technical post related to the project, which covers how to program and hook up a atmega168 as a minimal arduino standalone, using the internal oscillator running at 8mhz and 3.3 volts.

Maxwell city soundtrack

Maxwell city day 2-3 8, originally uploaded by hc gilje.

As I promised a year ago in the post about the Maxwell city workshop, I edited together a track using material from all the participants of the workshop into a 20 minutes soundtrack, which was originally made for a radio broadcast for the ctrl_alt_del sound art festival in 2007.
So, finally available, the maxwell city soundtrack.

video projection tool v2.1

Last week I was invited to the Medialab Prado in Madrid to give both a short workshop and a presentation as part of the light,space perception sessions. The energy at the medialab was amazing, a lot of projects being worked on in parallell, and it was great to see a medialab focused on producing works, not making festivals or big exhibitions. Check out their interactivos program, a intensive two week period for developing a selected group of works, a collaboration between the artists, the workshop teachers and other collaborators who want to contribute.

I got a chance to continue working on my videoprojection tool, which is a multi-videoplane software for masking video projections and position layers on specific objects and surfaces. You can find all the information,documentation and software (osx and win xp+vista) here.

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