Rafael Lozano-Hemmer on Wed, 28 Nov 2001 06:07:46 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Life 4.0, Jury Statement


The jury for the Life 4.0 competition - Daniel Canogar, Machiko Kusahara,
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Sally Jane Norman and Nell Tenhaaf - reviewed 35
artworks that utilise artificial life concepts and techniques. These
pieces were pre-selected from a group of 63 submissions received from 18
countries. The first prize of the Life 4.0 competition is shared by Scott
Draves for Electric Sheep, a collectively generated screensaver, and
Haruki Nishijima for Remain in Light, an interactive sound and light
installation. This latter project was also the public's choice at the
presentation of the awards in Madrid. The third prize is awarded to the
Web-based artwork Novus Extinctus by the collective Transnational Temps
(Andy Deck, Fred Adam, and Verónica Perales).


Electric Sheep
Scott Draves, USA

Electric Sheep, named after Philip K. Dick's famous novel "Do Androids
Dream of Electric Sheep", aims to realise the collective dream of sleeping
computers from all over the Internet. A screen-saver serves as a shared
visual space, where clients offer computational power to generate
animations or so-called "sheep".  These are individual graphic entities
based on a 65-number string of code randomly chosen by the server,
rendered using the artist's fractal flame software (future versions will
implement other generative animation software). Users can download the
flock of sheep at any time and monitor the rendering of new ones - a
permanent digital lambing season. User nicknames are stored for those who
want to muster their own livestock. Though disk space limits the flock to
about thirty live specimens, users can vote to extend the lives of their
favourite sheep. The artificial life premise of this work functions
effectively at both the metaphorical and software design levels:
generative algorithms allow us to breed an online farm of digital "sheep".
The work is strongly anchored in the ethics of freely distributed and
participatory software development processes:  creative energies firing
new graphic beings come from donated computing cycles, and many
enthusiastic shepherds have formed an active developer community. Thus,
the "electric sheep farm" offers fertile ground for a new digital and
social knowledge commons.

Remain in Light
Haruki Nishijima, Japan

We live surrounded by invisible electromagnetic waves. Wireless
transmission signals create a dense network around us, a communicative
tapestry that remains invisible. The Japanese artist Haruki Nishijima has
visually represented these signals that surround us. In his installation
Remain in Light the user becomes an entomologist who goes out to hunt for
sounds equipped with a head set, a backpack handcrafted in the form of a
traditional wooden collector´s box, and a butterfly net that doubles as an
antenna.  While walking through the city, the user captures fragments of
sounds from media such as cellular phones or radio. In the installation
site, the box that has recorded the sounds is opened for viewing, and is
networked to a computer that coordinates a visual display. This display is
composed of firefly-like lights projected on multiple transparent screens;
each light corresponding to an individual sound.  The screens are made of
the same material that is used in Japan as insect screening. When the
viewer approaches a projection screen, the floating points of light
scatter, and as they hit the edge of the screen their corresponding sound
is triggered. This is a poetic installation that binds an urban soundscape
with an imaginary ecology.


Novus Extinctus
Transnational Temps (Andy Deck, Fred Adam, Veronica Perales), USA., 
France, Spain

The artists have made an extensive Internet artwork that includes a
taxonomy of Web domain names, a search engine that sorts through this
strange data, marketing slogans, user input into the site, and mysterious
graphics that seem to be constructed from code. The key idea and message
of Novus Extinctus is that the expansion of human presence on the World
Wide Web parallels a frightening decline in biodiversity in our real world
habitats: the number of Web domain names registered climbs daily but so
does the number of extinct species. And so, to build the metaphor, domain
names on the site are associated with Latin species names. When one
selects a domain name and processes it, this association appears and also
links to real animal sites, like TigerDirect.com. The marketing spoof
continues in the Free Domain search engine for finding domain names that
have recently become available through extinction, and in testimonials
where the artists appear among others, praising the usefulness of the
engine. The sociopolitical astuteness of this work is summed up in the
artists' statement that our growing data bank of genetic codes, as in the
Human Genome Project, cannot in any way compensate for the loss of
species. Following from this perception, the site marvellously undermines
the platitude that computer code and genetic code are somehow
interchangeable, reminding us that an easy idea can become a dangerous
one. This work was developed with the support of the Electrography Museum
in Cuenca, Spain.

HONORARY MENTIONS (alphabetical order)

Relazioni Emergenti
Mauro Annunziato, Piero Pierucci, Italy

Entering the space, one encounters feather-like abstract patterns
spreading on the screen accompanied with sound. As the participant moves
his/her hand on the screen, the generation of graphic patterns follows the
hand movement. Although they are not given life-like forms, the graphical
and acoustical patterns evolve autonomously according to the genetic
information and algorithm that allows them to mutate. A participant can
freely interact with them by guiding and nurturing them, as the hand
position fosters germination. The combination of continuous autonomous
evolution and the transplantation by participants produces distributed
local communities of patterns with subtle variety and beauty. The
experience is as if one is given a green thumb in a digital garden.  The
piece invites participants to enjoy creating images with their bodies,
showing the potentials of alife concepts not only in art-making but also
in offering the joy of art and design experiences for many people.

The Table: Childhood
Max Dean and Raffaello D'Andrea, Canada and USA. 

Table is an ordinary-looking piece of furniture, something you might have
in your office, that unexpectedly displays autonomous movement in response
to someone entering its environment. The artificial behaviour that is
built into this work is simple in one sense, because the table just glides
across the floor of a small room that it can't get out of. But it is also
unpredictable and complex. For example, it picks only one person from a
group to respond to, it learns the body language of the individual it
initiates a relationship with, and it also moves when there is no one in
the room. The interaction is controlled through a vision system that uses
a video camera and custom software. The Table's visible behaviour might be
described as teasing: it makes small inviting movements when a person
first comes into the room, it parries the person's movements as if it were
challenging her or him (in fact, if a person is unresponsive the table
becomes more active and enticing), and it might even block the doorway as
the viewer is trying to leave through it. The Table: Childhood was a
popular participant in the Venice Biennial, and its maturation process
into adolescence and adulthood continues.

Castenedize!: Dingir 2.0
Ivor Diosi, E/Bone, Slovak Republic

Ivor Diosi combines projected virtual entities and primitivistic
sculptural elements in a multi-user interactive installation space.  
Optical trackers and sound sensors monitor participant body motions and
speech, using data thus gathered to trigger and catalyse computer graphics
avatar behaviours. The screened view of the world offered to participants
conveys a simple but effective impression of enmeshed realities:
multiagent software animates playful, responsive swarms of graphic
creatures. One of the challenges in mixed reality works is to create a
convincing visual register for the aesthetics of combined real and virtual
worlds: how can we build coherent relationships between solidly rooted
physical objects and their weightless, computer-generated counterparts?
Inspired by Castañeda cosmology, Dingir 2.0 embeds its sensors and
speakers in hulks of simulated organic appendages which, in the physically
and virtually morphed universe displayed to participants, enter into
strange resonance with the digital avatar swarms.

Jessica Findley and Margot Jacobs, USA

These two artists have collaborated several times on interactive works,
with an interest in creating experiences that invoke emotional responses.
In the environment Breathe, the viewer has to enter a chamber made of
white fabric where he or she lies down facing upward.  A force sensitive
resistor is strapped around the chest and then the person relaxes,
breathing deeply. The resistor measures the flow of breath, and this is
translated into a signal sent to two small motors that turn a pair of
dowels. The person lying below sees two sets of strings moving up and down
between the dowels: one follows their breathing, and the other plays back
the breath of the previous occupant. A microchip coordinates all of the
movement and records the breath. This mechanism generates a simple but
elegant method for looping one person's experience into the next person's,
or weaving together the breathing rhythm of an infinite string of people.
This is a very accessible feedback system built with an intelligent
economy of means.

Skeletal Reflections
Chico MacMurtrie, USA

Sooner or later, our world will be co-inhabited with humanoid robots with
elegant looking yet robust bodies and intelligence. That is what robots
such as Honda's PINO or Sony's ASIMO demonstrate. However, Chico
MacMurtrie's Skeletal Reflections is quite different. The autonomous robot
is designed intentionally as a skeleton without skin, with artistic taste.
It simulates human beings as a machine, with a system that controls
muscles. When a human demonstrates a posture, the robot recognizes it
using the motion capture software, and mimics it. Gestures that we know
from paintings depicting historical moments such as praying or elegant
bowing, which have been associated with social, psychological, spiritual
activities of human beings and legitimated in art history, become
strangely out of place when they are convincingly performed by the
skeletal robot. The piece deliberately and ironically raises questions
about the relationship between humans and robots, and the way we have
represented and recognized our emotions through postures in the course of

Jon McCormack, Australia

Eden is an interactive self-generating artificial ecosystem.  McCormack
uses a cellular automata model of A-life, with creatures in constant
evolution simulating the characteristics of a real ecology.  The creatures
search for food, confront predators, and reproduce with other creatures.
Simultaneously, they move through their environment transmitting and
listening for each other's sounds, generating the soundscape that we hear
while experiencing Eden. The survival of the virtual world depends on the
presence of people in the installation space, because their movement feeds
the creatures. The artificial world is projected onto two translucent
screens that form an "x" in the space. This original configuration creates
transparency and depth effects that enrich the reading of the work. Eden
illustrates the emergent properties and open nature of A-life systems.

Machine autiste-artiste
Samuel Neuhardt, France

This young French artist's work conveys a critical approach to robotics
and artificial life, where new technologies are often acclaimed as
improving communication and exchange, and the cloning mythology tends to
focus on propagating ideal and idealised creatures. Many robotics artists
today strive to build virtuoso artificial artists: in the lineage of
Vaucanson's eighteenth century clavecin-player, increasingly accomplished
robots delight us as they paint, play music, write poetry, etc. Neuhardt's
"machine autiste-artiste" is animated but at the same time totally
refractory to communication. It rocks mechanically in a corner, ignoring
all contact with the outside world. Its patently, noisily mechanical
movement bleakly conveys an undeniably human pathology. The artist's twin
or clone, designed to reflect the introversion and obsession he
experiences during creative activity, thus acts as a disturbingly,
chillingly intriguing specimen of artificial life. There is no empathy at
work here, just irrefutable recognition of the state of non-communication
that - like it or not - is also a vital component of human behaviour.


The Life 4.0 jury has also split the first "production incentive"  award
designed to help development of new A-life artworks in Latin America,
Spain and Portugal. The two winning proposals represent very different
artistic approaches to the field.

Cuarteto de Cuerda Robótico
Carlos Corpa, Basilio Martí, David Cabellos, Spain

One of the most compelling aspects of this group's robots is that they are
born as part of a performative "community" --breaking the stereotype of a
solitary anthropomorphic robot developed to serve humans. The robots are
highly specialised individuals whose contribution to a collective
performance of visual art and music proposes new machine aesthetics.
Carlos' work seeks to contrast high-art elements like the string quartet
with festive events closer to a popular carnival of excess. The
gesticulating robotic performers will grind and strum devotedly at
authentic, finely crafted musical instruments to generate sounds for a
21st century salon of decidedly concrete music. To focus solely on the
parodic elements of the work might be to miss the fact that the mechanical
spasms of these aspiring maestros, these would-be Paco de Lucias, call
into question our perception of robots as utilitarian instruments capable
of executing precise pre-calculated movements. The jury felt that the
Robotic String Quartet may be taken to a next level of chaotic
sophistication by supporting their development.

El Continuo
Enrique Rosas González, Mexico

Enrique Rosas González is a Mexican artist who is exploring the
relationship between art science and technology in a thoroughly
renaissance spirit, covering fields as diverse as electricity, electronics
and botany. For the new Life 4.0 category to encourage new productions the
artist has proposed "El Continuo", a complex, dynamic electrical and
electronic sculpture. Enrique Rosas is interested in the cognitive
processes of pattern recognition that we use to decipher reality, but from
a very unique standpoint: he intends to relate scientific studies of
matter with other more esoteric fields of knowledge such as archetypal
memory and futurology. "El Continuo" clearly evokes Marcel Duchamp,
particularly his famous "Bachelor Machine" considered by many people to be
a metaphoric model of artificial life. "El Continuo" connects many
elements including a plant, 24 networked computers, and two rotating discs
that generate sparks and become praxinoscopes, those XIX century
proto-cinematographic optical apparatuses that recreate the illusion of
movement from static images. Couched in enigmatic language, this project
reminds us of alchemical investigations of another era, which aimed to
connect matter with the energetic dimension of life. The technological
sophistication and highly personal aesthetics of Enrique Rosas's work
appealed strongly to the Life 4.0 Jury.

Further information

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