[-empyre-] stepping out of the frame/konnecting airlines

Sean Cubitt sean.cubitt at unimelb.edu.au
Fri Jul 20 03:22:32 EST 2012

Delightful mail from Savatore, and fascinating response from Johannes . .  . Too much to think about (I came in through street theatre: Living Theatre doing Frankenstein and a little later Jérôme Savary's Grand Magic Circus at the Roundhouse,  doing Moïse à Mao – both in my mind very much out of the Brechtian tradition.

If tere is a problem, it lies in the way "we" (culture critics) who are so wary of making value judgements, like to describe things we like as "playful", as if that was enough. Play comes in many formsmost of them structuring and ordering, which may well be a good thing, indeed I believe we have an instinct towards order, but like other instincts it can turn nasty – fascist in this case – or into its opposite (Freud's entropic death-instinct) - somehting the Living Theatre played on in Frankenstein. Participatory theatre has always felt utopian from Beuys to Boal, because we all need a temporary autonomous zone to make it through the daily Xit.

There might be another way. If the "private" art of the oil painting can at times give us deep, lasting but very personal experiences on an individual basis, should a"public" art aim to give a slight, passing, but still experiential experience to lots of people? If instead of Wölfflin swooning in front of a statue, a whole population walks six inches to the left of its usual path across a city square . . . .

One other footnote: as a cinema usher in the 80s, I used to love watching the faces of the audience lit by the big screen. Now on winter's evenings, seeing a face illuminated by a handheld. Both make me think that screening is a mutual thing: that humans are media too, mediating between screens (among other things). Screen images use humans to pass themselves on, to reproduce, specifically because humans can be trusted to mutate whatever they mediate, churn it, forget, misunderstand, misremember, and so when they retell a story or frame a shot in the style of something seen, it is always altered

Against which we have to place the enormous system of standardisation, patents and copyright, governance and standards bodies, preemptive law suits and the practice of buying out start-ups that militates towards us all mutating furiously in a tiny patch (thinking of Clément's third landscapes) of ground that only masquerades as natural, while in fact based in genetic modification . . .

Which is perhaps why certain extreme (sometimes extremely formalist) works are as significant as utopian TAZs: Jarman's Blue, for example, on whatever type of screen (I used to screen it from a really poor off-air VHS for years) is always the impossible imagination of blue, in this case as memory of blue in the mind of a blind filmmaker, its purity always only intimated, described, represented, in its absence, by the blue you can see – the blue of a perfect  sky we yearn to stand under


From: "xDxD.vs.xDxD" <xdxd.vs.xdxd at gmail.com<mailto:xdxd.vs.xdxd at gmail.com>>
Reply-To: soft_skinned_space <empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au<mailto:empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>>
Date: Wednesday, 18 July 2012 19:55
To: soft_skinned_space <empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au<mailto:empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au>>
Subject: Re: [-empyre-] stepping out of the frame/konnecting airlines

hi Johannes and everyone!

On Wed, Jul 18, 2012 at 4:32 PM, Johannes Birringer <Johannes.Birringer at brunel.ac.uk<mailto:Johannes.Birringer at brunel.ac.uk>> wrote:

> Surely not in real-time interactive art installations, and
> I wonder or worry about crowdsourced raising of
> political consciousness/cognitive compasses, too...

i'm glad you're bringing this up.

we obviously know that the objective of neutrality is technically unreachable for human beings, but in our practice we try to be at least honest :)  and highlight all the points of view that we are aware of.

the case of the technologies i mentioned earlier (harvest real-time info from social networks, use natural language analysis to understand topics/issues and expressions/emotions, make info accessible in a variety of ways, from AR to screens to body augmentations) is no exception. Even considering the fact that it touches many open issues for which we're passionate about ( the dictatorship of the algorithm, privacy/intimacy/anonymity, privately owned public spaces.. and we could go on and on )

this is why, for example, we used the same exact technologies for radically different projects

for example as in the Atlas of Rome, where we built a large urban screen in which citizens could publish their visions about the city in a variety of ways


or as in VersuS, where we analyzed the digital life of the city of Rome during the violent riots in the city of Rome on October 15th 2011


but also as in "Enlarge your Consciousness"


here we used the same technologies to sell unaware social network users' emotional states for 9.99 euros at the Artefiera contemporary arts fair in Bologna, capturing their emotional flows as expressed on Facebook/Twitter/Foursquare and basically, turning them into human tamagotchis.

we sold hundreds of them at the fair. and the most common question we received was "but... i could be in one of those boxes?" exposing multiple interesting things about the common perception of the processes which are behind these techniques and methodologies.

Yet we perceive opportunity and, most of all, possibility behind this.

but it's an "old" question, isn't it? Is the "hammer" a tool to drive nails into the walls or to smash your head?

Fact is that all these technologies correspond to specific business and strategic models which are relevant to corporations, large cultural operators, institutions, governments and many other forms of "power".

this obviously applies to screens, as well: fixed, urban, ubiquitous, body-related, square, key-stoned and frameless

for example, sticking to my personal research focus, Mitchell's idea of the City of Bits, or of McCullough's Digital Ground, or of Zook&Graham's DigiPlace are very interesting when brought to the domain of the screen, especially of the urban and ubiquitous quality, as they in someway describe the possibility to achieve a multi-layered, emergent version of the city, in which multiple points of view can be freely expressed across cultures and perspectives.

This is a very interesting point of view, as it places enormous questions on the practices of design and architecture which are authoritarian by their own nature: the Designer and the Architect, in the end, make the Plan that will shape what i see/traverse/live in the city.

There is a wonderful liason with this concept in Clément's Third Landscape, where he describes the presence of natural environments in urban contexts. Normally nature is present in cities under the form of synthetic administrative boundaries (the flowers at the center of the roundabout, the vegetables in the supermarkets, the "park").

The Third Landscape, instead, is a place for possibility and opportunity, and it is emergent, real-time, temporary, autonomous (the grass in-between the bricks).

And it is the possibly most important factor in determining our cities' biodiversity.

One thing about the Third Landscape is that its existence really depends on us and on our "sight", and our sensibility in seeing and recognizing it while we lead our daily lives in cities.

Seeing creates a perception (of the "possibility" of this kind of natural environment) and, thus, a spatial affordance ("this type of natural environment can exist") and, in turn, a series of critical, constructivist practices which can be based onto it (one for all: urban gardening).

I see a beautiful parallel between this and the theme of the screen in urban contexts, be it fixed or ubiquitous or of the many types which can exist nowadays.

people constantly re-program public space. mobile devices and screens radicalize this process. If you're jogging in the middle of a park, you receive an office phone call on your mobile phone, the park transforms into an ubiquitous office for a few minutes, careless of urban planning, zoning and administrative boundaries.

In the same way, if your pocketable (or wall-mounted) screen enables you to freely and easily perceive (or "publish") multiple, independent, autonomous, emergent interpretations of the same space, space transforms, and other practices can emerge.

in my research, this greatly enhances the ideas of de Certeau's "strategies vs tactics", of Lefebvre's "social construction of space"  and of Soja's "Third Space".

In this, great insights can be collected by focusing on de Certeau's idea of "daily practices", meaning that it is interesting how Lefebvre wanted to capitalize on these kinds of possibilites for the sake of a political agenda and, instead, in de Certeau, politics should emerge from the creativity of our daily practices, in an interesting inversion.

and, so:

whether the vision of the ubiquitous urban screen-net-to-end-all-screens is a globalized metropolitan vision for the hyperdeveloped, leaving out the regional, the less developed, underdeveloped and non developed (along these predicted lines)?

this is focal issue to confront, in the wider range of issues which we commonly call digital inclusion and digital access.

both at technical and cultural levels.

"solutions" can never be as simple as "smartphone", "urban screen" or "app". They need to confront with the context (cultural, political, social, economic...) and, probably, the architectural diagrams of "solutions" should have a big box at their base with the word "anthropologist" inside it, before sensors, cloud computing, expert systems, screens of any form and type. And, possibly, a box with "citizens", as well :)

And Salvatore mentioned a performance in which bodies "displayed"... (body of the performer was a "display" [screen?] of user interactions and, in turn, everything that was heard/shown as sound and video of the performance was generated my the dancer's movements and biological data.);  Salvatore, could you please elaborate on that, and how you, and others here, think about the performance side of interactive behaviors and what they might or might not indicate?  Following Sean's critique, have consumer relations changed at all in principle?

In Turner's anthropological definition, performance is liminal: it exposes conflicts and highlights discontinuities with predetermined order.

I particularly enjoyed Luisa Valeriani's book "Performers".

Performers break crystallizations of meaning, recombining imaginaries in creative ways: they subvert by playing. Knowledge is not confronted through academic discussions, but through practical performative actions.

Nowadays, consumers are performers, and business models are based on this. "Products" have changed, and have become "places for performance".

Even more, people's (users', consumers') performance has become the "product". Think Facebook, the iPhone etc. When we observe iPhone's design with our students for the first time we really focus on the fact that most of it's success is due to the fact that it's "empty", ready to be used by its "owner" to express him/herself by populating it with apps which describe personality, desires, perspectives, points of view, daily practices, needs.... iPhone is a performative object.

and (coincidence?) it is a screen. there's practically nothing more to it, than a screen.

a performative screen.

now: iPhone is, obviously, a very controlled screen

but its characteristic of being "an empty, ready to be performed, screen which constitutes a platform for personal expression" changed everything.

We see the scenarios of interactivity and (ubiquitous) screens along these directions, with the idea of exploring spaces/modalities for liberation of these "platforms for expression".

in the example of the performance i mentioned, all was dedicated to this.

radicalizing the idea of reactive/interactive environments, we tried to create constructivist experience which would shape the sensorial environment according to people's interactions in extreme ways, to disclose a set of opportunities which we perceived as being critical.

as suggested in the practice of multiple performers before us, including Stelarc, Orlan, Marcel-li Antunez Roca and others, as well as in the ones of queer performers, the body is a fundamental space for construction, resonating with the ideas of architecture and mutation to explore the possibilities for expression and liberation.

this is why the "construction" was performed at the level of the body.

people could use interactive toys (interfaces and gadgets) to generate stimuli which propagated onto the body of a performer. Patterns of stimuli were interpreted as symbols of a choreography. The effect was that multiple people could establish physical dialogues to transform the center of focus of the performance: the body of the performer. This, in turn, was observed through sensors, whore readings were used as parameters of the generative sounds and visuals which filled all sides of the environment. Furthermore, sounds and visuals were designed to create feedback loops with people, counterbalancing their interactions (oversimplifying it: lack of interaction=strong, arousing A/V stimulations; lots of interaction=soothing, meditative A/V).

on one side: the necessity to collaborate (each interface produced only parts of the stimulation patterns, so that people contributed to parts of the symbols of choreography, with each action producing visible results and only coordinated actions produced predictable results once the collaborative approach was understood) produced performative dialogues among individuals, who worked together to achieve agreed transformations in the body-->space

on the other side: there was an untold story which was clearly perceived
this was a mediated, authoritarian experience.
we decided all the parameters,algorithms, colors, sounds, strategies etc.
to "modify and liberate space" people could have just stopped using the technologies and starting to physically touch/move the body of the performer, or even radicalizing everything and tearing the whole place up in pieces, turning the location into a chaotic, physical, 4D screen displaying in real-time their strong desire for liberated spaces.

We were prepared for this option, but it didn't happen. Yet we received explicit questions about it. People, who enjoyed and actively participated to the performance, explicitly asked about this possibility: "Could I just have stepped on stage and moved the performer's body with my hands? What would have happened?"

This was an extremely interesting response for us, as it displayed how these kinds of experiences are still authoritarian, in the sense of "design": they are walled gardens, aquariums, in which "designers" establish various degrees of mediated freedom according to which "users" are able to move, act, express, perform, inform, communicate, interact.

This has been enlightening for us, and we transformed our practice towards different forms of performance/interaction, aiming at creating frameworks for expressions under the form of free/libre tools, hardware/software and methodologies for autonomous, ubiquitous expression which are free to use and which are, after all, our "artworks".

After that show we stopped producing "closed" artworks and started to adopt the methodology of 1) present opportunities 2) workshop to disseminate and recombine knowledge 3) disappear 4) co-create scenario

in this the idea of screen becomes of fundamental importance, as we refer to urban contexts and with emergent, open, recombinant, temporary communities which take active part in the performance (be it about art, consumption, city governance... ) by "writing" onto the world using ubiquitous publishing techniques and by becoming aware of the multiple layers of info/action created by other actors through "interactive screens" of multiple types, such as the fixed ones in the Atlas of Rome, or the synthetic sense we created with the Electronic Man

after writing this, i just realized i wrote an enormously long email!

sorry! :)

( passionate about the topic.... )

i'll just stop now

all the best!

Salvatore Iaconesi

Art is Open Source
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