Out of Office AutoReply

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Things aren't always as they appear in automated communication. Cory Arcangel humorously showed us this when he posted instructions for rapidly saving $500 by adding a "Sent by my iPhone" signature to one's GMail account. A similar effect is achieved in Permanent Vacation, wherein two computers enter a logjam of endlessly bouncing auto-replies announcing that each user is away. Viewers watch as the self-generated feedback loop leads to the piling-up of messages in the respective computers' inboxes. The actual message is, in fact, never seen, but a "ding" is heard each time the index of repeated subject lines becomes longer. The work is actually a four-part series that has been showing throughout Europe since last Fall, most recently at Salzburg's Ropac Gallery. Each time it's been exhibited, the computers and their attached monitors or projectors change slightly. Originally, used computers were purchased online and the original owners' names were the names on the inboxes. In the last incarnation, brand new Macs were purchased and placed atop shiny new IKEA tables--perhaps the most convincing "workstation" of the four. Asked whether this evolution in materials was a comment on media change, the master of using defunct hardware replied, "remember, new computers become old computers very very quick, so in the end, they will all look similar." The joy of Permanent Vacation lies partly in its subtle tugging at fears about the "ghost in the machine" or artificial intelligence--the idea that these computers are somehow complicit in this tete-�-tete. Nonetheless, it also implies a kind of human glitch or failure on the part of two subjects to successfully communicate. In science fiction terms, Arcangel has created what might be called a "stasis field"--a space and time characterized by an almost blissful lack of progress. (This would be ...

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Tiny Specimens

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The "nature expedition" is a tried and true exercise in elementary school science class. Assuming the identities of junior scientists, students embark into nature to collect samples of bugs, plants, twigs and sundry living things for study. The artists Pascal Glissmann and Martina Hofflin, working in conjunction with the Academy of Media Art, Cologne, have updated this model, but with a distinct twist: their samples are solar-powered Electronic Life Forms (2004-2007) or "elfs". According to the artists, "elfs are small, analog creatures reacting to light, calling the attention of the observer with their delicate sounds and movements." Isolated in glass Mason jars and accompanied by photographic documentation of the machines inhabiting their "natural" environment, the artists present elf "specimens" in the gallery much like exotic fauna. The set-up falsely attributes these simple robotic creatures with the characteristics of a living being, thus enduing the elfs with an endearing quality. Glissmann and Hofflin explain the underlying motivation for the project as a questioning of "the relationship between technology, nature and humans." The elf installation is currently on view in the "Urban Living" exhibition at Pittsburgh's Wood Street Galleries. - Gene McHugh

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Cloud (2008) by Troika

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Troika is a London-based art and design studio run by Conny Freyer, Eva Rucki and Sebastien Noel. They were recently commissioned by British Airways to produce a new project entitled "Cloud" for the luxury lounges in Heathrow Terminal 5. See below for a statement from Troika about the sculpture:

...'Cloud' [is] a five meter long digital sculpture whose surface is covered with 4638 flip-dots that can be individually addressed by a computer to animate the entire skin of the sculpture. Flip-dots were conventionally used in the 70s and 80s to create signs in train-stations and airports. We were fascinated by their materiality, by the way they physically flip from one side to the other. The sound they generate is also instantly reminiscent of travel, and we therefore decided to explore their aesthetic potential in 'Cloud'...

We started to work on the metaphor of clouds as one's flies, and the contrast which exists between the busy, hectic airport experience, and the calm, luminous and ethereal world which we discover as we fly through this dense layer. Another of our inspiration came from the old electromagnetic flip-dots which were used in railways and airport signs from the mid 70s. Those signs, with their characteristic flicking noise which instantly reminds us of travel, represent to us a golden age of technology, when analogue and digital started to merge. The indicators, dots which can flip from one side to the other with an electric impulse, have a fantastic materiality, a physicality which more modern technologies often lack, de-materialised into the virtual...

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Masters of Manipulation

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The term "manipulation" comes to mind when discussing the vast and varied practice of artists LoVid (Tali Hinkis and Kyle Lapidus). For years now, the duo have created an impressive, diverse body of handcrafted video work, spanning from performances, installations and tapestries to sophisticated image processors. Their creative image and sound distortion is deeply informed by the work of a previous generation of video artists, not only luminaries like Nam June Paik and Steina and Woody Vasulka, but also the lesser known creators of image processors and synthesizers such as Dan Sandin (of the Sandin Image Processor) and Dave Jones. This influence is pronounced in LoVid's wearable image processor Coat of Embrace and pseudo minimalist sculptural instruments such as Sync Armonica. In their most recent work, a Turbulence Networked_Music_Review commission, Hinkis and Lapidus took a new approach to manipulation. Rather than create an elaborate machine from scratch, they transformed the physical constraints of the web and a home computer into a vehicle for distortion. More of the Same (2007) starts simply enough: a single pop up window, a photograph of the artists and their broken laptop, and a few lines of dialogue, ("What's up with this computer? Is it the browser? The connection?")- and from there multiplies exponentially with each successive pop up window. Window #1 loads one image and one audio file, window #2 multiplies the image and loads the audio twice, and on and on until your computer is simultaneously trying to load 514 audio files to sometimes cacophonic, sometimes eerily silent ends. Don't worry about your processor, the artists give thoughtful instructions to avoid any serious computer crashes. - Caitlin Jones

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