Futurespeak

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Shane Hope’s sprawling prints can’t be processed with one or two looks. They are built on thousands of tiny details, rather than around a single focal point, and as the eye travels across the picture field, it sees lines and pieces accumulating in recognizable bodies and then collapsing into chaos, or maybe an order that can’t be discerned by the naked eye. Hope calls them Molecular Modeling prints, or “Mol Mods,” and they are informed by his belief that “the molecule is the brushstroke of the future”—that nanotechnology, the manipulation of matter on a molecular scale, will transform industry sometime soon. For now, Hope’s tools are coding languages Python and Perl. Because of the Mol Mods’ size he can only work on one screen-sized swath at a time, and because of their complexity, that is all that can be rendered even on Hope’s homemade desktop, which he proudly calls "faster than any factory-built Mac on the planet."

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Digital Art Under the Sun

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For much of the world, and even for residents of America's other 49 states, California is more of a fantasy than a place. This fantasy stipulates in part that this West Coast territory is comprised mostly of balmy beaches swarming with beach bunnies, palm trees, and pina coladas. There are many flaws in this fantasy, but the idea that California is rich in resources is true. Among those to be celebrated are its artists and, in particular, the large number of brilliant new media practitioners employed by the University of California system. Talk about brain trusts! Curator Christiane Paul has tapped into this vast resource in organizing "Scalable Relations," a series of exhibitions featuring artists who are faculty members of the UC Digital Arts Research Network (DARnet). Ordinarily this kind of members-only context would have a sour ring to it, but the assignment to bring together such a large and diversely talented group of artists actually establishes the onus to make some deeper comment about what they do have in common: new media. There is a kind of challenge in the act of curating or criticizing new media art, which revolves around the question of the extent to which one should foreground technology. For some artists, the medium is, well, the message, while for others it's merely a tool to address the subject of technology. And of course, there's so much middle ground... This show include works that very diversely "illustrate the complexities and shifting contexts of today's information society." But the very fact that our society is an information society points to a scenario in which technology will sometimes be blatantly paramount, while at other times it will be transparent or embedded. Frankly, the very notion of what constitutes "high tech" is shifting so rapidly ...

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Repackaging Nature

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It's easy to see Philip Ross as a recent embodiment of an age-old spirit of inquiry, where aesthetics, personal discovery, and scientific knowledge are linked, and all seem to tap into the fertile edges of local industry. In San Francisco that means computing and biotechnology, and Ross's work makes use of both. The transplanted New Yorker has a body of artwork that centers around human interaction with biological materials like fungus, plants, and mollusks. Ross was also curator of the BioTechnique exhibit at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and frequently teaches classes and gives lectures, such as one he delivered December 2 to amateur mycologists at the Oakland Museum of California.

His current projects include a long-term effort to grow a large building out of mushrooms, and a new, ongoing salon ("Critter") at the Studio for Urban Projects, a unique cultural center opened in 2008 by Alison Sant and Marina MacDougal. Ross describes the studio as "a collective of collectives," with about five or six contributing programmers, all similarly interested in ecology, education, technology and other related fields. - John Alderman

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Long Live the Matrix

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The connections between science and technology are always evolving, and their vocabularies continue to merge as networks further permeate our lives. Much has been written about the coincident emergence of the AIDS virus and computer viruses (and the resultant panic surrounding both) and we've subsequently seen communicative transmissions signify the transmission of communicative diseases as much as any form of broadcast. In the 1990s, a group of scientists, technologists, and humanists interested in collaborating and learning from each others' research formed the Spanish group Art-Science-Technology-Society (which they abbreviate ACTS). Among other activities, these scholars organize an annual exhibition entitled "Banquete_Nodos y Redes" and this year's installation will be at the LABoral Centre for Art and Creative Industries from June 6th-November 3rd. The show includes "thirty digital and interactive art projects which posit a series of critical reflections and participative experiences while also exploring the new shared matrix of the net." The primary interest, here, is in using Santiago Ramón y Cajal's research on neuronal networks to cross-examine Manuel Castells's research on social and telecommunicational networks--and vice-versa. A very diverse range of projects by mostly Spanish artists is suggested as outlining "a path through these neuronal micro-worlds and the global dynamics of contemporary societies." - Marisa Olson


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Making the Most of Negative Space

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By now, many Rhizome readers are familiar with the ordeal endured by Steve Kurtz, a member of the tactical media collective Critical Art Ensemble dubiously charged with "mail fraud" (when bioterrorism allegations didn't stick) following the sudden death of his wife. More details on the case, which resonated in ripples throughout the art world and raised many important questions about free speech rights, can be found on the CAE Defense Fund website. Now CAE and their frequent collaborators, the Institute for Applied Autonomy, are teaming-up in an exhibition at Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center, in Kurtz's city of residence, Buffalo, NY. The show, entitled "Seized," revolves around the materials taken by the FBI in their occupation and search of Kurtz's home. The negative spaces left behind by these absent books, art works, and other seemingly innocuous objects are filled by the garbage the FBI left behind. The show will also include the works in which CAE was engaged at the time, and which came under Homeland scrutiny. These include Free Range Grain, Molecular Invasion, and GenTerra, all of which explore the systems of scientific research as models for discussing the impact of biotechnology on our food, our bodies, and ironically, our security. The exhibition will be open June 7-July 13 and, like the negative spaces filled by government garbage in the exhibited documentation, the show offers an opportunity to fill the hole punched by this unfortunate series of events with critical conversation. - Marisa Olson


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Personal Electronics

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Audio-visual performance duo Tali Hinkis and Kyle Lapidus, better known as LoVid, will be reading people's auras tonight at the Museum of Modern Art in New York-- or at least generating an electronic approximation. For their live work "Video Fingerprints," which premieres in the show, a select group of participants (including a few artists and curators familiar to Rhizome readers) will hold a quarter-inch plug in their bare hands, thereby generating natural electric currents which will be translated into analog video images corresponding to each person's unique body signal. The cords carrying these biofeedback signals have a touch of the handmade as well, crafted with homey cardboard and fabric coverings that mirror the chunky, multicolored video patterns created in their performances. "Video Fingerprints" is the latest in LoVid's growing body of elaborately low-tech projects based around the rough malleability of the electronic signal, updating the image processing practices of first-generation video artists like Stephen Beck and Skip Sweeney with a 21st century taste for noise, overload and disruption. In addition, LoVid will enact "Venus Mapped," a double video projection which Hinkis and Lapidus perform live A/V patching to create one image that follows a prerecorded "visual score" on the other. They'll also give a talk about their work, and screen a number of single-channel recordings produced over the last few years. - Ed Halter


LoVid, Venus Mapped, 2007

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The Club Who Was Thursday

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Bearing a deceptively straightforward name, The Thursday Club at Goldsmiths College, University of London plays host to a wide range of technologist-artists for its recently-announced Summer Season; in upcoming weeks, the Club's guests will explore such diverse topics as narrative interactivity, biofeedback, coded textiles and "strategic walking." On April 17, Rachel Beth Egenhoefer presents works in progress from her ongoing art-melds of knitting and coding, including a knit zoetrope and knitting with the Wii. Writers Kate Pullinger and Chris Joseph talk about their "networked book" Flight Paths on April 24; a novel to be based partially on strange-but-true occurrences of immigrant airline stowaways tragically plummeting to earth, Flight Paths is currently crowdsourcing research and ideas in its online forum. May 8th brings two artists who use medical technologies to esthetic ends: Camille Baker, whose MINDTouch combines biofeedback and mobile phones to create live performances, and Marilene Oliver, who creates artworks with MRI and CT scanning data. Future clubbers include E:vent organizers Colm Lally and Verina Gfader, artist/writer Richard Colson, and "live coders" Alex McLean and Dave Griffiths. - Ed Halter

Image Credit: Rachel Beth Egenhoefer, Detail of Knit Zoetrope (Work in Progress)

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Teems Like Smell Spirit

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Who hasn't had the synaesthetic experience of a scent triggering a memory? Some argue that the sense of smell is among our body's strongest, and yet--"smellivision" aspirations aside--media culture revolves so much more around our eyes and ears. At present, New York's Lower East Side (a piquant sensorium, to be sure) is home to two olfactorily driven projects. At nonprofit art space Cuchifritos through April 26th is a group show entitled, "If There Ever Was," featuring seven "extinct and impossible smells" that have been "re-created" by Koan-Jeff Baysa, Bertrand Duchaufour, Christoph Hornetz, Christophe Laudamiel, Patricia Millns, Steven Pearce, David Pybus, and Geza Schön. Some of these creators call themselves artists while some work as scientists, engineers, or others with a vested interest in "olfactory images." For instance, botanist James Wong created a hyperreal scent equivalent to a bouquet of extinct flowers, calling attention to art's ability to invoke the absent, fantastical, or what cannot otherwise be said or seen. Neighboring nonprofit Participant, Inc is also supporting artists' exploration of the interface between sight and smell with Lisa Kirk and Jelena Behrend's Revolution Pipe Bomb project. The work was initially conceived as a fragrance by Kirk, who then approached Behrend to produce it as a special limited edition in the form of "a precious metal pipe bomb to contain a vile of [a] faintly aggressive fragrance." The perfume's core elements were determined after interviews with war journalists, activists, and others who've been on the frontlines of revolutions. It bears hints of "smoke, gasoline, tear gas, burnt rubber, and decaying flesh." Doesn't that make you wish this website was scratch-and-sniff? In all seriousness, this project explores the important subject of the commodification and marketing of violence and like Wong's imagined bouquet ...

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Life Transformations

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There's a very nepotistic event happening tonight at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies (the new venue with a whopper of a name presenting great science-related art), and it looks good! Chris, Birgitta, and Geoff Bjornsson happen to be siblings with some shared interests--go figure, maybe they had similar childhoods--but they are each making distinct "artworks that represent living biological systems." The common thread in the work they'll present at tonight's panel, "Essence: Transfigure," is an interest in "transformation from one state to another," whether that shift happens in a single cell, an entire organism, or a larger ecosystem. The Bjornssons use a variety of media to address and imagine these transfigurations. Birgitta Bjornsson's project, The Space of Disgust employs photography, film, sculpture, installation, and drawing to explore the terrain between the idealized no-place of utopian environments and the reality of the disorder and decay wrought by the very nature of our own biological existence, if not our culture's compulsion to pollute. Real-life scientist Chris Bjornsson's The Illuminated Veil, uses "immunohistochemistry and spectral confocal microscopy to highlight specific cells within the brain." The end result is a series of large-scale microscopic images that seek to map and pinpoint the identifying characteristics and relationships between every cell of our brain. If Chris's creative impetus seems to entail an almost impossible feat, his brother Geoff Bjornsson's work is more fantastical. Inspired by a constellation of interests in minimal Japanese animation, science fiction, and the tradition of hand-crafting, his sculpture, Sleeping golem II, is a vessel made with the potential to "enshrine a spirit." The container sleeps until aroused by a spirit, though that spirit will suffer karmic damage by choosing the vessel as its home. Obvious mechanical challenges ensue... Each ...

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Beat Poetry

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Madison Square Park Conservancy described their calendar for this year as "ambitious" in their press release and, judging from the amount of coverage we've allotted their public art program in the Rhizome blog this week, this is certainly so. Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, the Montreal-based artist slated to present work in the park this November, gave an informative lecture about his upcoming project Pulse Park (2008) at the Parsons The New School for Design last week. The inspiration for Pulse Park came about during his wife's pregnancy, when the artist listened to the heartbeats of his twins for the first time. "We could hear how different the heartbeats were, and the pattern - the music - that was generated by the pulses was really fascinating," he reminisced. Imagine that rhythmic pattern scaled up one hundred times, and you'll have an idea of the scope of his proposal for the interactive light installation Pulse Park, which is set to transform the oval lawn of Manhattan's Madison Square Park into a complex matrix of throbbing lights in synchronization with the heartbeats of passersby. During his talk, he explained how this complex operation would function. Two hundred aircraft landing lights will surround the oval lawn, pointing toward the center; on the north and south sides of the lawn will be a computer-equipped stand with two cylindrical metal tubes. When a user grabs the tubes, a sensor picks up the heart rate as well as the amplitude and shape of the beat's waveform. The system translates those variables into a unique pulse of light, which appears in the first light to the left. When the next user records his heart rate, the first person's pulse moves one down the line along the perimeter, and so on. After a pulse has traveled all ...

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