Ars Electronica

A few days ago, I mentioned that Michelle and I had seen an interesting piece of art at the Palazzo Strozzi, Christian Nold’s "Emotion Mapping Greenwich Village", in which he’d created a mood map of Greenwich Village by hooking up perspiration sensors and a GPS to people as they walked that section of New York. I said I thought the concept was great but the aesthetic execution weak.

As if to underline the point, we saw an awesome exhibit today that showed how to do great electronic art that is really, truly art.

The pieces we saw were part of the Florence Biennale 2007, a slightly weird but vast collection of art from all over the world. The show is sponsored by the U.N., and has the artists come with three of their works, where they are displayed one next to the other next to the other in a vast, sterile feeling exhibit hall.

Most of the work was really, really good and incredibly diverse, but the puzzle was "what’s in it for the artists?" Many of them sat uncomfortably in plastic chairs next to their pieces waiting to talk to anyone who came by, but, at least while we were there, there were very few attendees. As most of the artists began by asking us if we were exhibiting our work there, I got the sense it was mostly just them. It was a shame that the production value of the exhibit hall and the advertising was so below the quality of the art being displayed.

Given that there were 840 artists and over 2,500 works of art, I could go on for ages about all the different pieces we saw, but I’ll try to stick the point I started on and focus on the electronic art.

Awesome!

There were seven pieces under the umbrella of Ars Electonica, an Austrian-based group supporting the digital arts.

The most impressive piece was Se Mi Sei Vicino ("if you are close to me"), by Sonia Cillari, Steven Pickles and Tobias Grewenig. From the blurb:

A core element of the work is a sensor floor on which a performer is standing, functioning as a human antenna; when coming close to or being touched by members of the audience, the body movements are registered as electromagnetic activity. Surrounding the floor are large projections showing real-time algorithmic organisms connected to audio compositions, which change form according to fluctuations in the electromagnetic field.

Here you can see it in action:

Beautiful, isn’t it? I mean, it’s one thing to rig an an electromagnetic sensor that can detect distance between bodies and render that onto a computer screen (one really big thing, honestly), but it’s yet another to make it aesthetically compelling, beautiful. These guys pull it off. That it involves you, as the audience, becoming a participant is pure gold bonus.

Another "audience participation" piece was Noise and Voice by Golan Levin and Zachary Lieberman (calling themselves Tmema). Here there were two large projection screens that created visualizations based on input from two microphones. Again, what impressed me most about this one was not just seeing my voice realized in color and motion, but how attractively (and whimsically) they’d manage to render it. It’s difficult to see in the (shaky) video, but the objects they create have a very warm, old time woodcut feeling to them, while at the same time moving and undulating with an authentically organic motion:

The last piece I loved mostly because of my previously mentioned fascination with sundials. Watchful Portrait by John Gerrard had two 3-D renderings of a woman’s face, each rotating slowly over the course of the day to face the sun and the moon, respectively.

There were four other pieces that were all equally cool. Instead of describing them, I’ll just invite you to come to Florence and check them out!

Watchful Portrait

2 thoughts on “Ars Electronica

  1. Anonymous

    Firstly, I wanted to stay I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading on all your myriad escapades across Europe. Jordan, love your writing style –clean, concise yet enrolling. Where you choose to pause and what you report is as poignant as it is quirky.

    Secondly, you mentioned your fascination with sundials and having just come from the world’s largest I thought I’d mention it: Yantra Mandir (accurate to 2 secs) is part of a celestial center called Jantar Mantar in Jaipur, Rajasthan. The brain child of one curious Maharaja , it was amazing to see the manifestation of this king’s commitment to understanding movement in the heavens. I find it fascinating how light or its absence can translate space into time. The whole set-up is reminiscent of a cosmological Plato’s cave, where cast shadows help discern an unfathomable reality.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yantra_Mandir

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jantar_Mantar%2C_Jaipur

    Thirdly, that electronic art installation (Se Mi Sei Vicino) totally blew my mind -conceptually and aesthetically. They’ve given life to that sacred space that connects people. I’ve always regarded relationship as a kind of organism /child born of two parents, with a life and character of its own. To actually represent and animate this idea so beautifully (in real time!) was an exquisite feat. Thank-you for sharing that bit of magic.

    Am in N. Thailand now (Chiang mai), enjoying the last shards of sun before heading back to T.O next week -have been gallivanting though Asia for the last 3 months. I’ll be moving to NYC as of Jan 2008, so if you and Michelle are ever in the Apple, let’s make pie.

    Keep sending subjective postcards; they are a welcomed delight in my inbox.

    -Annie Lalla

    Reply

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