Rafael Lozano-Hemmer on Wed, 27 Nov 2002 12:06:50 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Life 5.0, Jury Statement

The jury for the Life 5.0 competition in Madrid ­ Daniel Canogar, Chris
Csikszentmihalyi, Machiko Kusahara, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Sally Jane Norman
and Nell Tenhaaf ­ reviewed 33 artworks that utilise artificial life
concepts and techniques. These pieces were pre-selected from a group of 57
submissions received from 18 countries. The Telefonica Foundation will give
out the following awards:

FIRST PRIZE (5,000 Euros)

Erwin Driessens / Maria Verstappen
Tickle Salon

Tickle Salon combines a remarkable technical achievement with an elegant
concept, a touching interface, and edgy irony ­ but most importantly, anyone
would want the device in their bedroom. The device is reminiscent of the
tattooing torture machine in Kafka¹s "Penal Colony", but its function is
pleasure rather than pain. A "user" experiences the piece by stripping and
lying on a massage table. A light metal ball, which can move in three
dimensions, probes and traces the contours of the reclining human¹s nude
body. The pressure of metal on skin is always light, thanks to a simple
reactive sensor. At the same time, this mechanism builds a 3D model of the
user, allowing it to achieve subtle caresses, lingering strokes, and
tickles. This two-way feedback gives a convincing sense that the machine
feels the person while the person feels the machine. The process of watching
a body¹s image being synthesized ­ curve by curve ­ is only slightly less
pleasurable than being prodded by the machine. The artists jokingly posit
that the problem with human stroking is that we eventually tire; certainly,
the 100-year history of vibrator technologies validates their hypothesis.
And while fully functional, the work is both preposterous and quixotic ­
intimacy without empathy, unsleeping affection on demand.

SHARED SECOND & THIRD PRIZE (2,500 Euros each)

Mariela Cádiz / Kent Clelland
Spain / USA

Levántate is an intimate installation that invites the visitor to a
metaphyisical meditation. As the visitor enters the dark room, he is
encountered with a ghostly view of a human body being projected horizontally
from the ceiling. A white sculpture in the shape of a coffin operates as a
screen where the winkling image of a reclining body in a continuos process
of digital rotting is reflected. The iconography of the visualized woman
body refers to those technological methods of diagnosis used to allow a
scientific vision of the human body or to the images obtained from
thermodynamic energy fields. The audio component of the installation is an
algorythm musical composition under constant transformation consisting of
voices digitally decomposed. A microphone placed in the room records the
whispers and sounds generated by the visitors contemplating the
installation. These verbal resonances are recycled through an interactive
system of accoustic feedback, being in this way incorporated both into the
musical composition of the installation and into the projected image. All
technologies seem to hold inside a secret desire for inmortality. Clonation,
genetical engineering and life assisted medical technologies are good
examples of how the precise limits between life and death are being blurred.
With "Levántate", Mariela Cádiz and Kent Clelland have created a suggestive
reflection on the vanishing of these limits. While watching the
installation, the public surround the coffin like participants in a ritual.
The name of the installation, "Levántate", obviously refers to the biblical
episode of Lazar¹s ressurrection, only that this time it is a technological
miracle. This work receives also the PUBLIC CHOICE award, as it was the most
voted piece in the presentation of the nomminees.

Paul Vanouse
The Relative Velocity Inscription Device

In 1929, social scientist Charles B. Davenport published "Race Crossing in
Jamaica", a three-year research project examining the "problem of race
crossing". It was the period when the new science of human genetics was
strongly biologically determined to develop into eugenics. Today, this new
science enables us to map every gene in human DNA. An individual can be
identified by a set of DNA, a non-materialistic set of information, rather
than by one¹s physical body, thanks to contemporary DNA separation
technologies. Based on the above-mentioned history and using the latest
technologies, artist Paul Vanouse presents the "race of race" with his
Relative Velocity Inscription Device. Genes responsible for skin color are
extracted from a Jamaican descended "biracial" family (Vanouse¹s own
family!), and run a race in genetic separation gel. Whose gene will win: his
"brown" mom, his "white" dad, his quadroon sister, or himself? Here, the
gene becomes each person¹s avatar, represented by an image of a runner
racing on the screen. Viewers can observe progress made by the runners (i.e.
the genes) in real time as they are separated in the gel. The combination of
a serious-looking scientific experiment and game-like interface, and of
historical context combined with a personal approach, visualizes the
absurdity of eugenics and reminds us of the social issues subtending genetic
engineering technologies in an ironic and critical way.

HONORARY MENTIONS (alphabetical order)
Laura Beloff / Erich Berger
Finland / Austria 

Spinne is a networked audio installation where four sculptures shaped like
giant spiders, built of transparent plastic spheres, loudspeakers, and
metallic legs, are connected to one another and to the World Wide Web server
via prominent cables. The virtual counterparts to these embodied spiders are
four "web spiders", whose predatory hunt for key words on the internet is
manifest in the exhibition space as shaking of the cables, triggered by a
motor which responds to web search activity. The physical installation
assumes further dramatic force as subwoofer and cable vibrations impart
movement to tiny spider replicas made of glass beads and false eyelashes,
placed on top of each loudspeaker membrane. The spinning dance performed by
these beady little creatures weaves into a constantly evolving soundscape.
All installation components are deliberately made visible ­ computer,
network connections, amplifiers, etc ­, and key words prompting web spider
activity can be modified by visitors, to enhance their engagement in the
underlying processes. This piece, which belongs to a line of art works
exploiting links between real and virtual networked space, builds a strong
poetic mesh through the use of recursive symbols centred on the image of the
web-spinning spider.

Marnix de Nijs / Edwin Van der Heide
Spatial Sounds (100db at 100km/H)

Spatial Sounds is a device than combines both atracction and rejection. A
loudspeaker placed on a rotating arm holds a number of sensors constantly
scanning the presence of the public in the room like a radar. This
information is processed by a computer that sends sound effects back to the
loudspeaker, and in turn these sound effects react in real time to the
presence and movements of the public in the room. Some sort of flirtation is
established this way between machine and public: the more they play with the
installation, the more active the installation becomes. But if the public
interacts in excess with the system, the system goes wild and as an
overexcited child it begins to rotate at a maddening speed that can reach
100 km/h. A deafening sound and the airflow created by the centrifugal
movement of the loudspeaker make the public step away. The public look
absolutely scared yet fascinated at a device that seems to be out of control
and that could seriosuly harm any one that would dare come too close to it.
In "Spatial Sounds" the overload of the system is used aesthetically because
of its dramatic quality, as opposed to our need to control the risks of the
technological systems we use. This reminds us of the engaging attraction we
feel towards our technologies and how physically and emotionally vulnerable
we are to those powerful devices that are everywhere and have been created
by us.

Eduardo Fuentesal Escudero, Pedro Diaz del Arco (Sculptor Zeta Cluster)

John Conway's Game of Life algorithm is used as both the user interface and
the generator for an evolving soundscape in Dadatron. A 32 X 32 cellular
automata (CA) array can be manipulated by the viewer, which then launches
the evolution of this virtual musical ecosystem according to programmed
rules. It is a transparent, easy to use and fun encounter with time and
chance. As in all CA's, the rules concern the behaviour of an individual
cell in relation to its nearest neighbours. Here, viewer input in the form
of clicking on cells initiates the CA's emergent activity. Subsequently,
each changing array of 4 X 4 cells calls up a sequence from a predetermined
database of sounds so that the overall array at any given moment generates a
composition of randomly combined audio elements. Dadatron is an engaging
interactive installation, as well as an instrument for musical composition
in the spirit of Dadaist anti-logic. Rather than inventing a new driving
concept, the merit of the work resides in the way that it combines existing
tools to build a system.
Victor Liu
Turn All Things
Taiwan / USA 

Turn All Things is an exploration into creating films with computer. But
while many commercial systems exist which allow a person to edit quickly on
the computer, Liu¹s system allows the computer to actually do the editing
itself, based on a simple automatic vision system. After filming a variety
of landscape settings, Liu puts the video into the computer as a regular
series of contiguous frames. Then, rather than play one frame after another,
the computer uses algorithms and image processing, searching for its own
ideas of continuity. For example, it may scan the entire database of footage
taken over the coastline of Nova Scotia, and find two images of seagulls in
mid-flap, facing left. Noting the similarity ­ even if they are different
seagulls filmed hours apart, one over land and the other over water ­ the
algorithm will then put these frames together. The resulting effects can be
surprising and rich. A viewer is left with a documentary of a world filmed
by an alien eye, a film made by something that clearly sees nature, time,
and composition differently than we do. Perhaps it is our fault that the
resulting films are not necessarily beautiful: but rather than malign the
system one immediately wants access to it, to enter a dialog with this
uncanny editor and try making films with it.

Antoine Schmitt
Avec Détermination

What makes us feel that something we see on the screen is "alive"? What are
the moments when we see signs of emotions in artificial creatures? Is a
sense of life-likeness derived from a visually realistic representation, or
from something else? Avec Détermination is a series of pieces one can
interact with on the Internet. Figure and behaviour of these artificial
creatures are algorithmically determined. Simple looking creatures struggle
to achieve their goals given by the program, such as standing, while users
may interfere with the cause of their movements. The creatures are
determined to pursue their goal of life ­ but are they determined by the
algorithm, or determined by their own will? The title of the piece has a
double meaning; so does the interaction we have with this piece as we drag
the creatures around in their small world, almost empathizing with them, yet
driven by curiosity. According to the artist, the creatures represent his
feelings when depressed. Knowing they are entirely algorithmic, their forms
and behaviour still trigger strange "human" reactions in the viewers, as we
project our own experience and feelings onto them. In this way, abstract and
simple forms trigger rich imaginative and interpretative response. Alife art
often helps us to rediscover ourselves: this piece makes us reflect on our
own life.

Smart Studio, Interactive Institute / Servo
The Responsive Field of Lattice Archipelogics
Sweden / USA

This installation is designed to activate and express relationships linking
subjects to a responsive environment, using sensor technologies and light
and sound output devices. Visitors explore a plastic lattice embedded with
various sensors and sonic and lighting equipment, which react to their
movements to generate constantly changing scenarios in "sentient space".
Architecture is designed to evolve as a responsive entity endowed with life
of its own, an ability to interact but also to act autonomously: the
installation develops a kind of memory by storing experienced movement
patterns, and this memory or dream state continues to animate it, triggering
sound and lighting events in the absence of visitors. The algorithms used to
drive this activity are based on positive feedback processes, leading to
sedimentation and crystallisation of data patterns, and on negative feedback
processes leading to the erosion or disappearance of other patterns. Lattice
Archipelogics counts among current research undertakings which aim to
integrate artificial life principles into "intelligent environments", where
hybridised physical and digital spaces trigger new kinds of engagement and
more vivid relationships to technology implemented as an active, responsive
force to its human makers.

Reva Stone
Carnevale 3.0

The idea conveyed by this robotic work is of a fleshless phantom body that
haunts the viewer who approaches it. Carnevale (without flesh) detects the
presence of a person near it and starts to move toward her/him, which is not
an aggressive gesture per se, but one that seems somewhat ominous because a
video camera visible inside the structure is pointed at the viewer. Along
with a small video projector, the camera is sandwiched between metal cut-out
shapes of a young girl that suggest an illustration from an old-fashioned
school primer. This image represents the artist as a young girl. In
parallel, Carnevale stores "life experience" through machinic devices for
seeing and remembering. But it is a lifeless machine in the end, and so
inevitably its attempts at conveying the power of memory can only seem
frail, ephemeral and rather distant. The camera captures the viewer in the
space at random intervals, combines this information with previously stored
images, and projects the result on the wall as Carnevale moves around. The
image may be stored in memory or not, so that a random accumulating database
of encounters is experienced by the string of viewers who interact with the


Mario Aguirre Arvizu

Mosqueado is a piece consisting of a big screen that receives the image of a
swarm of flies having a landscape at the background. As the viewers walk
through the projection scope, the image they make on the screen is invaded
by the swarm. All attempts of the viewer to get rid of the flies are in
vain, as the flies follow every movement of the viewer. From the internet
virtual visitors can help the viewers on site to drive the flies away or
even to kill them, and each of these actions changes the background
landscape. If the flies are driven away, they fly towards the landscape and
if they die there, images of plants and trees start to crop up. If, on the
contrary, the virtual visitors decide to kill them, there is no change in
the landscape, if it was already arid, or it becomes arid, if there was any
existing vegetation. Each fly is an artificial life creature that can
reproduce itself and develop behaviours as it contacts the projected image
of the visitors, and similarly the vegetation at the background grows when
it contacts the flies.

mmmmŠ Banco de Ideas
Muerte Artificial (Virus Amazonas)

Muerte Artificial is an activist project that draws attention to the
flipside of our epoch¹s devotion to technology ­ its simultaneous plunder of
the natural world. The artists, mmmmŠ, who have staged a variety of
performative interventions, now take their politics to the Internet, where
they hope to create a virus that quickly infects your computer, erodes the
image on your screen, and then disappears. The erosion of your beloved
desktop is based on a recorded deforestation of the Amazonian rainforest,
with pixels on your system falling like trees to the axe. In this end, the
virus leaves no mark, and many users will simply blink and continue their
accounting while, as they say, Rome burns. This technological extension of
street theater seems like a powerful antidote to the ubiquitous ads that
plaster the Internet: one could easily imagine the meme of the virus
spreading, with users trying to find out what the pattern signifies, and
pausing to think about their global complicity in this local problem. The
use of a virus reminds us both of Ebola (the result of overpopulation and
deforestation in Africa), and the fact that the biodiversity of the Amazon
might yield countless new medicines and compounds, if we don¹t destroy it

A videotape of the ten winners will be produced and distributed to
non-profit art centers, libraries and academic institutions. For this,
please contact Ana Parga <fat@telefonica.es>.

For more information, pictures, and videos on the Vida-Life Art and A-life
awards, please visit http://www.vidalife.org

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