NOT Slow Art By JEN ZEN _aka Jen Grey__ August 2008 Introduction by ert634

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									NOT Slow Art
By JEN ZEN (aka Jen Grey), August 2008


Introduction

We want it, and we want it NOW! More! Bigger! Better! Faster! “In our fast-paced society…
we forget to stop, look and listen to our surroundings. What are the consequences…?” asks Lina
Yamaguchi, SIGGRAPH 2008 Juried Art Chair from Stanford University.

As an integral part of SIGGRAPH 2008: Evolve, the SIGGRAPH 2008 Art Gallery featured
Slow Art, a juried art exhibition representing 41 new media artists invited to re-examine the
imperative/impetus for speed. The artwork highlights recent work from the crossroads of
science, art and technology, to celebrate some of the best in creativity and innovation from the
past year.


A Contrary Re-Definition

“Slowness” as a popular public backlash to automation and speed was assumed. The impact of
“time saving devices, fast food, voice mail, instant messaging, rapid prototyping, the Italian
Cittaslow’s manifesto defining new criteria for slow cities, the Slow Food Movement, and the
inherent need to a return to artisanship with a renewed focus on the local as opposed to the
global” were underscored in the SIGGRAPH Call for Submissions. But in the rush to identify
more enduring values in a speedy automated society, the fact that “slow” also means blunt, dull,
obtuse, tedious, slack, sluggish, retarded, out of fashion, and holding back progress was ignored.
So the show ripped by promoting a title counterproductive to its intention… although the
universal constraint that both suspension and progress are intrinsic to the paradox of time was
definitely emphasized. After reviewing initial submissions, Jurors created four new categories:
   - Erosion – the nature of material existence, time, temporal disintegration and entropy
   - Hybrids – unique combinations of the old and familiar, with the new and unexpected
   - Rhythms – patterns and play… a new examination of time and space
   - Traversal – pathways that re-define the human relationship to time and place


Exhibition Highlights:

Hybrids

Chosen as the gateway into the Slow Art show, VISIONS OF THE INFINITE created by Kevin
Mack dissolves boundaries between reality and illusion. The press release promised “mind-
bending animations that reveal the fluid dynamic of evolving 3D math functions […] sinuous
abstract structures that dance and curl in evolving progressions like ripples in an infinite sea of
twirling color.” The award-winning artist delivered it all and more, richly professing “a
passionate fascination for the sublime beauty of infinity, complexity, perception and
consciousness.”
By contrast, Dutch DJ and punster Dennis de Bel calls himself a street musician yet builds lo-
tech objects to do it for him. STRATENSPELER is a robotic turntable that rotates in a perpetual
circle to play the street, literally dragging the audio stylus across concrete. Dennis reconstructed
his grandma’s obsolete Singer sewing machine to play retro LP records. Of course it doesn’t
work, but then why should it? Once futuristic machines, now obsolete, are re-contextualized for
nonfunctional application… recycled for “Super use”, a new art direction in the Netherlands.
Consumers, worried about de-humanizing aspects of machines and planned obsolescence can
laugh about it, too.

Ross Racine draws freehand computer models for planned communities as aerial views of
fictional suburbs that subvert effective planned communities. Intersecting street patterns are so
complex that that driving anywhere would be ridiculous. Jonathan Bachrach offers a hi-tech
peep system for sustaining intimate eye contact mediated by the machine interface. Inspired by
Japanese Origami paper folding tradition, Joo Youn Paek presents FOLD LOUD, a hands-on
electronic folding structure for generating vocal harmonics. Paul Magee programs the first
passage of St. John’s Gospel using the phonetic structure of text in CHORUS as a template for
generating musical notes. The hybrids are as innovative, rich and complex in variety as the
artists who made them.


Erosion

“At first you don’t see it,” say Edrex Fontanilla and Robert Goldschmidt… a curious thing to
say about a grid of sandstone slabs. But it is used as a receptive base for video mapping a stream
of water. S(TR)EAM initially appears to be a soothing real-time projection of primary
elemental forces - earth, air, water and light. But if you linger in calm meditation, the projected
imagery shifts, pausing, freezing, layering, zooming in, fading and rescaling in a Zen-like re-
mapping of the space-time continuum.

Yunsil Heo and Hyunwoo Bang wanted OASIS to be totally non-nerdy and playful, despite the
techno-heavy Swarm programming that drives it. Cloaked in darkness, intent visitors stir chunky
black gravel with their fingers, creating trails of light for the swarming genesis of puddle critters
that appear out of nowhere… like those you might expect to rise from the primordial ooze at the
beginning of time. It’s an instant fix on fun, generative and godlike… all as easily obliterated by
a sweep of the hand.

Anab Jain and Alex s. Taylor tease us with an impractical theoretical model for retrieving
energy from beautiful objects made of cast sugar. The idea is to breakdown organic material
with a microbial substrate, to produce an electrical charge strong enough to drive common
household appliances. Our bodies use sugar for energy, why not radios and computers? I wish it
really worked, maybe someday.

Anna Ursyn celebrates water as a form of exploration, transformation, metaphor, annotation
history and myth… an intriguing vehicle for cultural evolution and value. A history of her work
reveals a sophisticated fascination with data mining and programming linked to visual
meditations on color, pattern, regularity and balance. WATER PLANET is loaded with visual
connotation and spatial nuance, comprised of dense shortcuts and visual fragments that read like
collapsing sentences to create deeper levels of meaning.

Kirk Woolford and Carlos Guedes began the ECHO LOCATIONS project in NYC seven years
ago, and sustained the collaboration inter-continentally from Amsterdam, Majorca, Portugal and
the UK as their respective base of operations changed. The result: a life-scale interactive
installation that enhances an awareness of location as a time-based experience. The backdrop is
a midsummer night’s evening at St. Patrick’s Chapel, built on the Viking ruins of a 6th c burial
site in the Scottish Lake District. The audio mix harmonizes real world sound bites of the natural
environment with fragments of melody and harp song, giving the night an edgy corporality,
weight and volume. As visitors approach, streams of particles streak across the site, like a time
traveling dancer caught in a song line of fast forward motion. As visitors still, the particle flows
coalesce, never quite settling as a singular human silhouette. If visitors chase the flow, or make
too much noise, the apparition dodges off, hissing and scratching like a haunting electronic cat in
wet tide. In this complex soundscape, the artists explore the edge between the human and the
abstract, teasing recognition through action and interaction rather than appearance. The artists
eloquently point out that, “Chasing after technology, like the devilishly elusive will of the wisp
of legend, you will find yourself lost in space and time.”


Rhythms

SKORPIANS designed by Joanna Berzowska and Di Mainstone are kinetic electronic
garments constructed as metaphors for parasites and organisms that feed on your body.
The metaphoric clothing is a perverse, ultra-soft cocoon of camouflage with an independent
history of living, breathing memory. Revealing and hiding alien intentions, pleasure and pain,
the garments are out of your control. Engineered with soft electronic circuits, electronic thread
and programming boards, embedded sensors activated by magnets trigger the shape memory
alloy Nitinal. Felt leaves furl and unfurl like intelligent little tongues licking and testing the air.
A cowl neck creeps up to engulf the head. Fully dressed, the model is transformed as an alien
creature, beautifully organic yet creepy, like a warrior dressed for protective battle while being
eaten alive.

Trained as musicians with a background in gaming, The Sancho Plan artists merge new genres
to create an interactive system that can be applied as an interface for gaming and futuristic club
music, or as a new form of edutainment and home play. Beat the drums to activate a filmic
backdrop in which streams of delightful underwater creatures dance to your rhythms. What kid
wouldn’t want to play? SPACEQUATICA out-bests Karaoke as an immersive, real-time
audio/visual experience.

Armella Leung and Oliver Oswald created THE DREAMING PILLOW as an ordinary object
that transforms simple visions into wondrous waking dreams. Takahiro Matsuo draws you into
another fantasy dreamscape in PHANTASM, where clouds of white butterflies are lured to a
hand-held orb of light, transient illusions, interactive yet insubstantial. Even more ephemeral,
Mark Stock strips a deforming blob of fluid to its essential nature, revealing the elemental force
of SMOKE WATER FIRE as an animated computational structure in slow motion.

Ryoko Ueoka and Hiroki Kobayashi present the marvelous WEARABLE FOREST:
FEELING OF BELONG TO NATURE, interactive bio-acoustic clothing with embedded
speakers, LEDs and a CPU system with a wireless connection to process and play acoustic data
received from the forest. The concept is brilliant. Although the user can broadcast pre-recorded
sounds back to the forest installation, however, the potential for real-time conversation with the
biosphere has not yet been fully explored.

The work in Rhythms seemed united in its yearning, nostalgic and magical sense of nature,
immersed yet paradoxically displaced and disconnected from human experience in phantasms of
dream. Is this an expression of our often-mysterious connections with nature, or is it a reflection
of technology displacing nature in our lives?


Traversal

Hye Yeon Nam asserts, “Technology is like a brush. It is not my priority but the best way to
show my work. I am not a drama queen.” Raised by an extremely conservative Korean family,
she confronted her fear of nonconformity by walking backwards through Times Square with
square planks attached to her feet. Surprised that it attracted little attention from the fast moving
crush of pedestrians, she flipped the film backwards, transforming the low profile scene HERE
AND NOT HERE, as an eerie displacement of the familiar - as if a time traveler had become
lost, engulfed yet disconnected and nearly invisible to society.

Jing Zhou is more interested in the traversal of the mind and spirit, finding beauty in the balance
of the moment. In the Ch’an Mind, Zen Mind Series INFINITY AND PURITY, the artist
describes “infinite and constant change performing against a background of perfect tranquility,”
on the one hand “symbolized by harmonic elements from the natural landscape mediated by lines
and circles inspired by the ancient Chinese numeric system,” and on the other by the more
“sensuous and emotionally abstracted images of the lotus.”

Jorn Ebner explores circuitous forms of navigation in an invented world re-contextualized by
animating children’s drawings and digital photographs. He wants to guide the viewer in
choosing unexpected pathways, while Dylan Moore aggregates data from commuter bike and
pedestrian pathways to form digital line drawings that remap familiar urban spaces his familiar
New York city neighborhood. Aaron Oldenburg investigates the nonsequitur nature of
narrative while playing with new ideas about game design based on two years as a development
worker in Mali.

Whether searching for ways to investigate the familiar from new perspectives, or suspend
disbelief in time or state of mind in an open-ended experience, the artists seem committed to
understanding a non-linear interpretation of human existence.
Conclusions

The subcategories – Hybrids, Erosion, Rhythms, and Traversal – provided a dialectical
framework far more interesting than the initial concept of “slowness”. Luckily, the artists
included in the show were themselves more intent on creating work of rich and stunning
complexity than in providing a re-definition of speed. The Jurors made fascinating choices in
selecting work for Slow Art, filtered by their checklist for concept, novelty, interest, quality,
craft and completeness. Sue Gollifer, a member of the Art Exhibition Committee, was pleased
the show “looks good, was not too big, and proved quite international.”

Slow Art is not slow. It is techno-smart-art, timely, up to date, generative and responsive to the
state of the world today. Certainly, all of the work was enriched by patient contemplation,
incubation, meditation, scrutiny and examination intrinsic to invention. But this is a quick witted
rather than a slow process. Some of the more intriguing work in the show is real-time
interactive, redefining the traditionally inverse nature of ‘still life’ as a primary art genre for
illusion, but most of the art in the show does not move at all. None of it is dull, tedious, stupid or
obtuse. And none of it takes longer than expected… with the outrageously wry exception of the
REALSNAILMAIL (RSM) developed by researchers Vicky Isley and Paul Smith at
bordomresearchl.com.

Modeled on a Standard Webmail Service Contract, RSM Users sign up to send e-mail via real
snails cultivated in a real aquarium. Theoretically, the snails carry embedded RFID (Radio
Frequency Identification) chips to pick up messages from one side of the tank, and deliver them
to the other… IF, that is, they pass by the collecting points at all. Even given the British sense of
folly and farce, researchers did not expect that the snails might NEVER pick up, much less ever
deliver a message. Observing that the snails are apparently more interested in vertical foraging
and rampant sex, researchers now expect that dead snails in a box could work just as well. 7,000
e-mails have stacked up in the queue, which could take 70 years to deliver, more than the herd of
snails can ever send in a lifetime. Researchers worry whether they owe it to their Users to
intervene or not, having assistants spray mist the tank to encourage faster snail traffic. One of
the Users planned to send a letter of resignation…. another, a letter to his unborn children.
Luckily there are enough escape clauses in the Terms of Agreement to protect Researchers from
romantic Users who expected the tongue in cheek system to work. RSM epitomizes Slow Art,
subverting a priori expectations for natural systems to conform to human networks, foiling
expectations set by instant messaging, and epitomizing ‘wisdumb’ at its best.

Slow Art is fast-tracked. It represents innovative art that mediates consciousness, awakens
curiosity and encourages continued innovation. Whether the art is still or kinetic, our minds react
with the speed of light filtered by our senses, a lifetime of experience and expectation triggered
in a piquant instant. This remains a universal aspect of great art, which serves constraints of the
past, present and future simultaneously. Nandhini Giri, Student Volunteer at the International
Chapters Booth, brilliantly summed it up more simply, “Fun is more knowledge! Come back for
more next year at New Orleans SIGGRAPH 2009!”

For complete details on SIGGRAPH 2008 “Slow Art”, see http:www.siggraph.org/s2008/attendees/slow

To contribute commentary, visit “Slow Art” Blog at artfuture.com

								
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