Rafael Lozano-Hemmer on 19 Oct 2000 11:10:42 -0000

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

[Nettime-bold] Life 3.0 Jury statement

The Jury for the Life 3.0 Art and A-Life competition --Daniel Canogar, Joe Faith, Machiko Kusahara, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Sally Jane Norman and Nell Tenhaaf-- reviewed 40 artworks that utilise artificial life concepts and techniques. These pieces were pre-selected from a group of 61 submissions received from 14 countries.

The winners of the Life 3.0 competition include two interactive sculptural art works --the first prize awarded to "Autopoiesis" by Ken Rinaldo and the third prize going to Ken Feingold's "Head"-- and a screen-based work called "The Appearance Machine" by Willy LeMaitre and Eric Rosenveig, which obtained both the second prize and the public's choice award. The two sculptural works are based on sophisticated materialisations of Alife principles and they both rely on human intervention to "come alive", while The Appearance Machine ironically veils the servomechanisms used in generating it.

Ken Rinaldo´s networked robotic sculpture Autopoiesis involves viewers in a subtle and fluid interaction that manifests as a cybernetic ballet. It consists of fifteen robotic sculptures whose form has been derived from grapevines, and these friendly shapes respond to the presence of the public both in their movements and through sound. A system of smart sensors detects a viewer's location, which first affects the behaviour of the closest sculptures and then also modifies the whole group as they exchange data serially in a process of constantly evolving collective behaviour. A voyeuristic element is inserted through tiny cameras on the ends of the robots that project their imagery onto the walls of the room. The interface and the evolution of the system are both clearly understandable and contribute to a strong sculptural aesthetic. Meanwhile, the subsumption architecture underlying the work is key to Alife robot-building, and here it is innovatively used to structure the whole!
 system's individual and also group behaviour. 

Willy LeMaitre and Eric Rosenveig's The Appearance Machine, the winner of the second prize, is an autonomous system for the continual transformation of input, made up of locally gathered detritus, into "global media" output in the form of a live video/audio stream. The system is composed of cameras controlled by motors, a spinning and vibrating platform holding bits of garbage that form a sort of virtual landscape, and a computer that analyses the camera imagery of the landscape. The computer data established a soundtrack, which is then fed back into the system as further instructions for its behaviour. Servomotors activate the lights, fans and vibrators on the set. The feedback loops among all aspects of the system are the embodiment of its networked intelligence: "the machine invents in continuous response to its self-created accidents." Not only is this a kind of Bachelor Machine in its perpetual and solitary activity, but in its understated way subverts the industrial ente!
rtainment complex it is designated to mimic. The machine is physically located in New York City, but virtually it extends to whatever site it is networked into. The piece received the largest number of votes from the public at the presentation of the candidates and thus is also the public's choice award. 

One of the qualities we are seeking in art works is a certain critical distance from the tools and techniques they employ, and the social contexts in which these tools and techniques are habitually unquestioningly used. As science and industry target the Bigger, the Better, the Faster, art has an increasingly vital role to play, offering a unique place for reflection, interrogation, irrational prospection - some people call this dreaming - and doubt. A-life's development of humanoid agents is driven by the desire to optimise human simulation, to develop streamlined, reliable counterparts to facilitate and enhance our lives. Third prize winner Ken Feingold, with his freak-show Head, chooses rather to explore the zones of non-response, of mischief and misbehaviour, or distortion, of scrambled and failed communication. The Head makes us question the basis of everyday dialogue we tend to take for granted: how far is our exchange with others conditioned and limited by our own, thor!
oughly encoded eccentricities, our own programmed bugs and quirks? When indeed true communication occurs, how much is this just a matter of chance?

Honorary Mentions

Sandlines, by the Australian artist Paul Brown, is a quiet and minimalist computer-based piece that uses cellular automata to drive a changing pattern of tiles. The result is a simple but very beguiling network of lines that wrap and unwrap, knot and weave, drawing the viewer in. The jury was impressed by how Paul Brown managed to create so much visual interest from such simple elements, and also by how he had re-thought and re-presented one of the oldest and most familiar Alife technologies. Cellular automata, such as Conway´s Game of Life, have been used for 30 years to model the emergence of macroscopic order in living systems, and are a basic part of any Alife scientist's toolbox. But the artist has managed to throw a new light on such systems by using them to manipulate tiles patterned with connected lines. The result is not only visually compelling but also of genuine interest to scientists working in the field. 

Beneath the real, physical floor that people are standing on there exists a virtual world alive with small creatures. In El Ball del Fanalet - Lightpools by Perry Hoberman, Roc Parés and Narcis Parés, participants discover and interact with such a virtual world. As if lighting up the surface of a pond with a lantern and finding a fish, participants can find the virtual creatures with the Fanalet, can nurture them and train them to dance until they start dancing by themselves. The Jury appreciated the matching scale of the virtual and real worlds, creating the social quality of the piece, where human participants seem as artificial as the synthetic creatures they share space with.

The Institute of Applied Autonomy is located in one of the hottest spots on the planet for robotics development. This anonymous group of leading R&D figures has crafted a number of major Alife breakthroughs. Pamphleteer, alias Little Brother, offers an eminently pragmatic solution to a key issue facing the development of information and communication technologies: how to effectively communicate strategic data to the huge populations currently deprived of Internet access. How to cater to the offline world. Little Brother's low-end design tackles this problem ingeniously: as a neighbourhood presence, the Pamphleteer is a benign agent whose qualities lie somewhere between those of the friendly local police officer, and the ice-cream vendor. He thus productively breaks with ominous surveillance robot culture. But we shouldn't be fooled by this whimsical surface: Little Brother occupies a distinct socio-ideological niche, defined by well-planned social strategy. His deceptive stree!
t-corner innocence makes him the perfect communications vehicle for new forms of activism, feeding vital information to whole population sectors previously untouched by propaganda and subversive issues.

The centrepiece of Genesis, by the Brazilian artist Eduardo Kac, is an artificial living creature, in this case a bacteria that glows when illuminated in ultraviolet light, of the kind routinely used in biotechnology experiments. Into this organism the artist has inserted a scrap of DNA whose sequence is a translation of the passage from the Bible where God grants Man control over nature. The resulting mutant is then presented in a petri dish like a holy relic: the word of God embodied in flesh. Genesis is a complex and conceptually difficult work that plays on our fears about the power of biotechnology, about the threat it poses to our own biology, and the changing relationship of control we have over nature. But it also points to an alternative, since the artist has also made it possible for the audience to use the Internet to induce mutations in the carefully genetically engineered bacteria. The illusion of biotechnological control is never absolute.

Genetically speaking, we are all designed with the alphabet of Nature, the letters of our DNA code. This is a key concept that bridges real life and Alife. In Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau's Life Spacies II, an artistic representation of the way life is related to information, participants can send texts over the Internet to eventually design virtual creatures that live in a virtual world. Users can see how different texts or letters result in a difference in body structure and behaviour of the creatures. Users can also feed creatures with letters, because each creature can "eat" letters that are already included in their genetic code. This piece provides us with an arena for entertaining and educational collaborative experience over the Net.

Modelling human emotions or at least capturing human emotions as an element in a machinic interaction, also called Emotional Computing, is an area with some recent pubic visibility. The challenge of modelling emotional states and emotional behaviours within virtual entities is taken up in Japanese artist Naoko Tosa's Unconscious Flow. The piece is highly entertaining because of the engaging animated mermaid and merman characters that are used as agents or surrogates for the human participants. The interface in this work, which involves tracking heartbeat and hand motion in water, is somewhat challenging to read because one's own emotional state is not readily understood in relation to what biosensors may be gathering physiologically. Also, the synchronisation of emotional state between two viewers is what is being measured and for relaxation and level of interest. This work raises some provocative questions as it diverts and amuses us.

Although most of the videotapes received for the Life competition are documentation of art works in various media, ranging from sculpture through Web art through audio, some are works in themselves. In Australian Linda Wallace's video art work Love Hotel, the medium is used to great effect in that it merges imagery taken directly from the Net, including some chat line and e-mail texts, with footage of the contemporary urban environment. Love Hotel is a narrative about a virtual character whose life is on the Net. She is Gash Girl, the creation of Francesca da Rimini --a well-known Net activist with VNS matrix. In this beautifully textured video work, Wallace is stepping into the character of Gash Girl, then setting up a two-way flow between her experiences in cyberspace and in real space. The interest of the work is in its evocation of parallels between these two spaces, and experiences one can have in them: constant flow of images, globalisation, identity confusion, sexual ad!

Special Mention for Innovation in Alife research

A defining feature of living things is their ability to reproduce. Hod Lipson and Jordan B. Pollack have come closest to inducing a machine to do the same. They have created a process whereby a design for a robot is evolved with no human intervention, through a process of artificial selection. The robots were then automatically constructed using a computer-controlled manufacturing process called stereoscopic lithography. The overall result --from virtual evolution to physical construction-- responds to a key issue in Alife research, which is bridging the gap between simulation in the computer and materialisation of the digital models made there. The resulting robots are crude and simple, capable of only the most rudimentary locomotion; but this simplicity, along with their purely autonomous genesis, lends them an enduring fascination. 

Madrid, October 17, 2000. 

For more information and documentation please visit http://www.telefonica.es/fat/vida3

Nettime-bold mailing list