Monday, August 27

Tracking the trackers: Unmasking wiki

Next month US based artist Wayne Clements will present a new variation of his un_wiki project specifically for Window. Clement’s Neutral 3 script filters through electronic encyclopedia Wikipedia’s recent pages log, ignoring hundreds of edits on boyfriends, tech trends, and local events, in search of something more sinister. The software contains a list of ‘shadowy editors’ – from defense departments in the US and Australia through to corporate giants like Deutsche Bank, Shell Oil and the Ford Motor Company.

Using tracing technology developed by Virgil Griffith, the artist is able to link the editor with the edited. Griffith created the software "to create minor public relations disasters for companies and organizations I dislike", and has so far succeeded. Australian Department of Defense staff are now banned from editing articles after it was discovered the department has made over 5000 edits. Dell, the American Rifle association, and both Democratic and Republican parties were also caught in the fallout, being linked to 'improving' articles that were potentially damaging.

Of course, Wikipedia "conflict of interest" policy is ineffectual and debateable. Who better to create that article on a new technology than the developer? The organiser of a local event is the perfect contributor for an wiki article on it. The problem lies in the potency of the information - from relatively harmless "graffiti" remarks on Helen Clarke's page, to rewrites of presidential administration history, and changes to crash articles by the airline responsible.

Tuesday, August 21

Viola makes the journey from art to videogames

Video artist Bill Viola, together with a team from the University of Southern California's Interactive Division, have just released "Night Journey", an interactive game "based on the universal story of an individual mystic’s journey towards enlightenment". The game plays out like a protagonist wandering through a filmic wasteland, interactivity limited to moving in any direction, or simply to "reflect". The latter seems to trigger video snippets from Viola's earlier work. Aesthetically the game strays away from the pastel colours and hard polygon edges dominant in the genre, opting instead for a dreamy, blurred black and white approach which allows video treated in the same way to be incorporated seamlessly.

Art videogames, or videogames as art, is a concept that is slowly growing. New Zealand born artist Julian Oliver established Select Parks in 1998, an attempt to provide a hub for the grey space between the two mediums. The site features categories like art, political and social games, with some innovative standouts. Float around a garden as pollen in the zen-like Pollen Sonata, gather clouds together in Cloud, or play Oliver's own mindbending take on the FPS genre, Second Person Shooter.

Thursday, August 16

Giving up control with generative art

In 1896, William Morris, founder of the arts and crafts movement, drew his last design, a subtle wallpaper pattern called Compton. Over 100 years later, a machine called Hektor spraypaints it on the wall of a gallery in Amsterdam. Like the original, the execution isn't perfect - the automated spraycan wobbles on it's strings and the paint bleeds, introducing an element of chance and performance that the software that created it has tried to negate.

Engineered by Uli Franke, the mechanism plays back a drawing from Adobe Illustrator using Jürg Lehni's Scriptographer plugin. Scriptographer attempts to break the stranglehold of closed, limited tools like Adobe's by creating both a software library and website that allow scripts to be posted, improved, and shared. What's more interesting is that the tools shift the creation paradigm. Instead of drawing, erasing, and redrawing, the artist now tweaks variables like "rotate", and "randomness". They also allow aesthetics which can't be achieved manually: fractal letters condense infinitely small, organic trees grow upward, letters extrude based on colour values.

Giving up control, and using words to control aesthetics is at the heart of Google Synth, created by Paul Andrew at "Based on an algorithm by Micheal Ashikmin in his paper Synthesizing Natural Textures it attempts to recreate the "target" image using the textures present in the "input" image. Some aspects can be controlled by the user, but it mostly does its own thing." Users click Random while the software cycles through a list of words, then click Generate when they're reached the word they want. Want to see what "inarticulate + merriment" looks like?

Quick take: Phil Dadson and Rosy Parlane at Starkwhite

New Zealand sound artist Phil Dadson, and London-based soundscape musician Rosy Parlane performed at Stark White last night to a full house. The pairing was a good one - active versus passive, old skool versus new. Dadson roamed around the room, slamming away on metallic coils, dropping chains and pumping bellows of organs furiously. Parlane was consumer and filter - recording and looping Dadsons efforts, building up soundscapes of drones, glitches, adding Vangelis-like synths into the mix.

The performance worked best when the distinction between the two grew less - one of the high points occured when Dadson placed a simple $2 fan against taut wires, producing a pulsating percussive backbeat. The ability to replay loops from 10 minutes ago created a much more complex, wholistic piece than Dadson could have performed solo. Unfortunately it's all too easy to create monstrous, piercing tones with a laptop, and Parlane overpowered the piece at times, obscuring whole passages of Dadson's sensitive reed organ work.

Note: images of Parlane and Dadson shown were not taken from performance

Wednesday, August 15

Robotics in art: moving past function

The cybernetic hand moves across the canvas at an eerily constant speed - perfect, flawless. It suddenly stops, dabs a brush into a pot and drags it across the canvas. The piece is the latest example of Simon Ingram's "Painting Assemblages", recently installed at the Adam Art Gallery. For the last few years Ingram has been pursuing his doctorate by investigating artificial intelligence and painting, relinquishing creative control over execution to an industrial machine. Painting Assemblages is a horrifically poor use of old technology - CNC (Computer Numerically Controlled) techniques were developed by the US Air Force in the 50s for metal cutting techniques and are capable of extremely fine tolerances (.002 mm). And that's precisely why it's interesting. "Assemblages" runs roughshod over all the glittering conventions of robotics - a paint splattered machine made partially out of lego that is forced to stand-in for the artist.

Bruce Shapiro has spent the last 15 years in a grey space between science, technology and art. Like Ingram, he's repurposed CNC and motion control for far 'less functional' means. "Sisyphus III", Shapiros latest incarnation of his sand plotter, picks up on Japanese garden and Tibetan sand mandala traditions, generating flawless mathematical patterns continuously. Similarly, his "Ribbon Dancer", inspired by Chinese dance, was recently installed in the Science Center in Iowa, USA. "Dancer" populates the lobby area, drawing dynamic, fluid lines through the space.

Monday, August 13

Online artist for next month's show at Window

Due to some rescheduling by artists, we have a slot open in next month's Online programme. If you've recently created new work, or would be interested in in developing something specifically for the show, email me at luke dot munn at gmail dot com. You'll be showing in conjunction with Jasmine Lajunen, a former Elam student who's interested in perception, the glance, and who's work will probably take the form of installation. The show opens on September 13th.

Help not wanted: Rise of the nanobusiness

Right now, over 2,000 people a day in the US are going into business for themselves, according to the US Census bureau (quoted in Tomorrow's Trends). The USA Today recently published "Microbusinesses find huge benefits in outsourcing", and Small Biz Trends followed up with posts like "Single Person Business Booming".

In New Zealand, where 85% of all businesses are less than 5 people, this is less trend than standard practice. But while locally this results from a smaller population, internationally it's much more of a conscious decision. Turned off (or made redundant) by large corporates like WalMart, Ford, and HP, and turned on by a new interconnectedness online, single-person or nano businesses are finding success - and ethics they can live with.

More competition means cutting costs. And for many corporates, this means importing products from China, which can result in a 20% to 40% cost savings. 23 recalls of toy products were done last year alone in the US, featuring items like bears with toxic paint and a floating eyeball filled with kerosene.

Checkout the pages of the web's newest startups and nanobusinesses, and you'll find a different approach. Tanya Thompson, founder of successful clothing label Misery states in Idealog "she doesn't have to look further than any city mall for an example of what she doesn't want to happen to Misery." Local fashion designer Mala Brajkovic doesn't need to worry about sweatshops - her small team of designers assemble, cut, and sew her new lines in a loft in Newmarket.

"There’s certainly money to be made from stripmining users, as proven by the numerous malware providers.....but we firmly believe that doing right by our users is the best way to build a sustainable, successful company", says Flock, makers of an innovative social web browser of the same name. Monome, a small collective creating open source sound instruments, states that "by working with small, local companies we hope to foster long-term relationships, gain more insight and control over production, and actually witness our products’ progression." Seth Godin, in his landmark post titled "Small is the new Big", picks up this new ethical awareness with one of his many plusses: "Small means you can tell the truth on your blog".

Saturday, August 11

Gina Tornatore at MIC

The insuperable phenomena of hidden behaviour by London-based Australian artist Gina Tornatore consists of a trio of synchronised projected video, filmed at 300 fps and then dramatically slowed, rewound, and repeated. A friend commented that it was so simple, yet effective, and I have to agree. Tornatore takes the formal rigour and cinematic aesthetic of 16mm film shot at high speed and digitises it, opening up the flexible sampling and playback control inherent in digital video. The dance content of the piece added a visceral, physical quality which curator Louise Garrett aludes to with her description of "action to produce intense psychological moments," and which, in Tornatore's hands, manages to steer a course through the pitfalls of both the dance and video art mediums. Closed now but highly recommended future viewing.

Hye Rim Lee at Starkwhite

Candyland consists of a series of stills from 3d models, highlighting some of the artists themes - a perfect manga face, a nipple, red lips against an untextured polygon skin. Obsession/Love Forever is comprised of four 3D DVD animations featuring dissected body parts of TOKI trapped in a perfume bottle. The latter is a fictional character created by Hye Rim, which represents and explores the idealised female form dominant throughout manga, anime, and video game genres, and extending heavily into the mainstream culture particularly in Asia. Technically and aesthetically Hye Rim as employed conventions of these genres in her work. Animations entice with pastels straight from the pages of beauty magazines. Glass bottles shimmer and emit slow-motion perfume sprays. The artist has setup particle systems - typically used for smoke and fire effects in CG and video game work, Hye Rim repurposes them here to create swirling, glistening pixie dust and more seductive effects. On until the 30th of August at Starkwhite.

Green pixels: Thinking sustainable in art and technology

From An Inconvenient Truth to LiveEarth, terms like 'sustanability' and 'carbon-neutral' have been thrown around frequently lately. But what does it mean for us working in the arts and technology space here in New Zealand?

"The little rivulet down the hill has to pretty much dry up for this to happen! However 23mm of rain the other day has brought it back to its normal capacity. Yippee, the coffee maker can be started up again."

The quote above, taken from Thinking Unlimited, is a response, albeit one which might send a groan through the average tech-savvy artist. But electricity consumption is at the heart of the digital space, so it makes sense that's where bloggers like Mark Ontkush start. His post stating that "An all white web page uses about 74 watts to display, while an all black page uses only 59 watts.” led to an all-black version of Google, titled Blackle. And while the intent is there, posters to the ADA list looked past the hype, calculating that the savings here are negligible.

> > > BTW, this 750 megawatt-hours/year is not actually very much at all.
> > > If you convert it to megawatt hours per hour, which is to say,
> > > megawatts:
> > >
> > > 750 / (365 * 24) = 0.0856
> > >
> > > you get 85 kW. Heaters, kettles, and vacuum cleaners use in the
> > > order of 2kW each

Programmers working on alternative operating system Linux have focused on power heavily in the last few months, releasing a series of patches that aim to conserve and minimise whenever possible - such as backlighting and a new 'tickless idle' feature. Normally processors 'wake up' every millisecond to keep the system clock going and synced, tickless idle disables this function, resulting in a cooler, less power hungry processor that's truly idle. This PowerTOP project demonstrates some of the basic plusses for open source - their channel regularly has between 30 and 50 volunteer coders exchanging ideas, contributing features, and fixing patches. Their reward (besides saving the earth) is something much more tangible - their laptop batteries last a few hours longer.

Friday, August 10

Visualising the future: Data as art

The medical professor smiles smugly at the new intern, unable to draw a conclusion from the long string of integers before him. "What's the matter", he questions, "can't see the pattern". He quickly draws a j-curve, signaling a medical emergency in the next few hours for the patient. What's true for the researchers in 1972's "Terminal Man" seems even more vital today. With the ability to generate so much data, how do we make decisions from it?

Tomar Sagi is building a business around one way. His software converts the thousands of hidden mail messages and contacts from Microsoft Outlook into tangible 3d environments - coloured cubes and blocks denoting what's important and what's not in a few seconds. Functional? For some. Beautiful? Definitely not.

A host of recent projects have attempted to prove that doesn't have to be the case. "Shape of Song" highlights the structure of music - from the repetitive hooks of Madonna's pop anthems to the complexity of masterpieces like Chopin's "Mazurka in F# Minor". Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar's piece, "We Feel Fine" extracts feelings from blogs with algorithms, then displays them as an exploded universe of painted spheres. As well as providing insight into the unseen, they mediate the complex world of information for us - cloaking thousands of lines of code and data in line, colour, and form.

TradeMe eats itself: Auction sites reused by artists

William Boling is an accomplished photographer. He studied drawing and painting at Georgia State University and L'Ecole Des Beaux Arts in Rennes, France. Featured on both Rhizome and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Boling's studies of time and place are restrained and rigorous. But for this latest series of work, he didn't travel or scout locations. He surfed.

Finding and pairing objects from both TradeMe and it's U.S. counterpart, eBay, Boling created a series of odd couples - dress shoes and deer hooves, paintings and princess diana posters. Through Window, he's printed these and auctioning them off over the next month. To complicate matters, he's then taking the screenshots, emails, and user feedback involved in the first phase, compiling them into 3 books, and auctioning these off at the end of the project.

And while this is new terrain for photography, subverting web services and highlighting art as commodity has cropped up in other places recently. Daniel Malone purchased space for himself to promote his recent Gambia Show, "Black market next to my name". An upcoming show at Te Tuhi will also utilise TradeMe extensively. Austrian artists Alessandro Ludovico and Paolo Cirio staged "Google Will Eat Itself" a couple years ago, filtering funds received from Google AdWords to purchase stock in the global search giant.

Update: Emil McAvoy's "Better Work Stories" series follows this pattern, confronting TradeMe buyers with disturbing history both old and new: 1981 Springbok riots and police rape allegations. His "Police Baton sculpture for sale" features 3 batons in red, white and blue, incorporating molds of the artist's penis. Current bid: $1,010.00.