ART WEEKS, the Meeting Point between Art and Technology
at ETH Zurich, is concerned with the application of digital technology
in the arts. Consisting of symposium, workshops and performances,
the Digital Art Weeks program offers insight into current research
and innovations in art and technology as well as illustrating
resulting synergies in a series of performances during the Digital
Art Weeks Festival each year, making artists aware of impulses
in technology and scientists aware of the possibilities of application
of technology in the arts. DAW is organised by ETH the Swiss Federal
Institute of Technology Zurich.
Can you explain in your own words what DAW07 is, what it aims
to achieve, and its relationship to the Swiss Federal Institute
of Technology, Zurich?
Scientific research has long been an issue in academic institution
around the world; art, however, has not been included as a research
field due a cultural difference between practioniers of science
and art. With the advent of growth in the use of newer technologies
in the arts, artists have been forced into gaining access to a
large pool of knowledge. This knowledge seemed to lie outside
of the cultural barriers of the artist's environment, so
in order to acquire the needed information concerning emerging
technologies, the artists could not turn to the traditional sources
of knowledge such as a library since almost anything new must
be sought out at the source. Scientific research institutes that
have opened up to having artists join the research team have prospered
from the creative mind of the artists in that the flow of ideas
and the quality of communication have increased. Artists tend
however by their very nature to make research visible, that is
to bring the empirical basis of that knowledge into the domains
of applied research. This type of cross fertilization is then
very clear the reason as to how artistic knowledge can benefit
scientific research and vice versa. Also, many projects from scientists
tend to be of an abstract nature whose application on more economical
levels is not clear.
What role do you see technology having in relation to contemporary
The impact of technology within an arts context lies above all
in the fact that the technology is used aesthetically and this
use is primarily non-utilitarian in function. Viewers, who see
how technology is such used, begin to realize that it can be used
in creative and other ways than were intended. Also, certain aspects
of technology can be presented better and clearer within an arts
context. Once the viewers come to understand how the artwork functions,
they have a much more clearer idea of what the technology is and
how it effects society in general and the cultural environment
you think it is fair to say that there is an inherent futurism
with works dealing with new technologies?
The general tendencies in the arts often follow those in technology.
Today, mobile communication is of key importance for both. Art
projects using such mobile devices are best at bringing the technology
used into critical view. Since good art is often dependent on
its originality, the use of the technology can often be innovative,
but not always. Artworks that deal with emerging technologies
may be innovative, but there are several factors involved here,
which determine the degree of innovation. The first factor is
that one must differentiate between artworks using commercial
technology and those involved in and stemming out of research
situations. Commercial technology can often just be a novel application
of research from yesterday or be a new application based in old
technology. Other scenarios can be imagined, but the situation
in which new research finds a novel application is rather rare.
What is important to recognize is that there is no guaranty that
artwork will have an inherent futurism just because it applies
new technologies. I think that it is rather the social context
in which the artwork is presented and how it than interacts with
society through the technology (old or new) that it uses.
Fig. 1. "Going Publik"
from Art Clay is an example of an art project that not
only uses innovative technology (Q-bic Belt Computer),
but uses it to explore innovative application in the arts
(Real Time Scoring). The computers are located in the
belt buckle and communicate wirelessly with a 3d motion
tracking system on the trombones.
R.W.: What does the term 'new
media' mean to you?
I think that the term 'new media' is not as inappropriate as the
term "multimedia", is, but it does come close. It seems
that we are continuously trying to redefine the term 'new media'
for the sole reason that we are not happy with using it or its
confining definitions. The term will probably not hold up as a
term for very long, because it actually describes new methods
of storing data for prosperity rather than an art movement. Also,
the term that is used to reference the arts, i.e. "new media
art" is as banal as the single word concepts that this term
embraces. Terms like "interactivity", "intermedia",
"hybrid arts" or the "new arts" come to mind.
How do you perceive the labels 'sound art' or 'sound installation'?
And what place do you see sound having in contemporary artistic
practice in the arts world?
Soundscape, and all of the different approaches to it, basically
stem from an interest in recordings of nature, whose original
intent was and is more or less to document it. Later, such recordings
became popularized through wide distribution and soundscape has
developed since then passionately. In comparison with the New
Music movement, one might say that Soundscape is exploring terrain,
which is more experimental and at the same time more popular than
its New Music counter part. The difference between sound art and
music lies in the relationship between the elements found in the
works themselves and how these elements relate to one another
to form a whole. Music focuses completely on the relationship
between elements (i.e. the tones) and how they build up to create
a dramatic form; Soundscape focuses on the beauty of each element
(i.e. tones, sounds etc.) and how they combine naturally with
one another with no recognizable formal content being imposed
on the listener by the artist. Soundscape is therefore relevant
in contemporary artistic practice in the arts world, because much
of today's use of sound in installations for example is based
on concepts that are focusing on the use of pure sound.
Fig. 2. Net Derive from Atau Tanaka:
An art project that uses commercial technology (Smart
Phone with GPS) and innovative ideas in the arts (City
as an Instrument). A Smart phone, a GPS receiver and its
antenna are located sewn into a scarf like garment.
Due to the intangible nature of sound, would you agree that
one is able to transcend one's earthbound experience, time and
space through sound?
Let us not limit the question just to sound. A number of devices
exist that stimulate the mind of the user by visual and audio
signals. The fundamental principle applied to each is that a particular
train of visual and aural pulses leads to different states of
mind. These states include, for example, deep relaxation, heightened
creativity and heightened awareness. Often, the aim of the device
is to allow users to learn faster or relax deeper, but artists
have extended the experience with such devices into the realm
of art. The Dream Machine, conceived in the early sixties by Brion
Gysin, is a mechanical device that is viewed with eyes closed
as it rotates at 12 HZ around a light source located inside it.
The light, coming against the eyelids as the device rotates, effortlessly
produces a relaxed state of mind. This occurs, because the optical
nerve is stimulated and alters the brain's electrical oscillations.
Gysin referred to the effect as "interior visions" and
in his words the effect of the Dream Machine can be described
as a projection of dazzling lights and celestially colored images
whirling around inside one's own head.
Fig. 3. Video Peacock from Benoit
Maubrey: An Art project which uses primitive technology
(loudspeakers and common chips) for more established ideas
in the arts, but in a unique way as body sound art. The
speakers and amplifiers are located into a plastic transparent
membrane that doubles as a video screen.
R.W.: Have you heard of the term
'techno-shamanism', if so, does its meaning have any importance
to you and your own practice, or relevance to the works in DAW07?
Well one angle of the Digital Art Weeks could be better understood
with that term. The meeting point between today's art and tomorrow's
technology seems to echo the "techno" and "shamanism"
of that genre. Technology has a magical and mystical side to it,
so many artists doing work with obscure technology seem to make
a "spiritual" impression. However, the Digital Arts
Weeks Program doesn't need a chemically induced ecstasy state
to do so, but accomplishes an induced state of pure ecstasy through
a technically. Here, the Digital Manadala project comes to mind:
Each visual artist invited submitted static or animated images
in the form of "Digital- Mandalas", which are relevant
in content and effect to the theme of "inner visions".
The Digital-Mandalas get projected into the performance space
to digitally enhance it architecturally. To do this, the images
are synchronized to the 12 HZ flickering frequency of the Dream
Machine, which drives a custom computer program that subtly modulates
attributes of the image dynamically. This modulation gently arouses
news states of mind in the viewer. In this manner the inner visions
of the Dream Machine become outer visions of the installation.
Further, to extend the experience in the realm of the senses,
a group of audio artists submitted short audio works relevant
in content and effect to the theme of "the 60hz hum is the
electronic ohm of our times". These audio works are projected
into the space using a stereoscopic loudspeaker system and their
playback naturally enhances the psychedelic effects of the Dream
machine environment in conjunction with the digital mantras.
Fig. 4. The Dream Machine from
Bryon Gysin. The machine sits on a record playing, rotating
st 72 rpm. Along with the light, the rotation causes a
flickering. The flickering is then viewed as light impulses
with the eyes closed. The light, coming against the eyelids
as the device rotates, effortlessly produces a relaxed
state of mind. This occurs, because the optical nerve
is stimulated and alters the brain's electrical oscillations.
According to Marshall McLuhan there is a 'sense bias' that
exists in Western society favoring visual logic, a shift that
occurred with the advent of the alphabet as the eye became more
essential than ear. Do you think we live in a visual world today?
Yes, very much so, but things are getting interesting because
what was once presented as printed text has been replaced with
symbols. This brings about a heightened state of psychogeography
in that we move through a city not reading but visualizing. My
personal experience is that signs let us enjoy the soundscape
of the city than the all those words did. The DAW07 project "The
City as an Instrument" fits into the psychogeography possibilities
of today in that the project places emphasis on unique art projects
using mobile communication technologies to actually 'play' the
city as an expressive instrument or place of artistic practice.
As an art and technology statement this might be formulated better
as follows: Using wearable computing technology within global
ubiquitous networks as an art tool allows interacting with society
as part of a collective consciousness. This bears significance
for the creator of mobile art and also for its recipient participants
who likewise realize that personal space endowed with added capabilities
and explored as an extension of the self and body points to a
global culture of the self in which the individual is not limited
to what they are part of globally.
What is your response to the word techno?
I think that when it is combined with other terms, such as Shamanism,
Animalism, Fatalism, Dadaism, Vandalism, Fetishism etc. it starts
to take on a desperately needed new flavor and more interesting
aesthetic direction. Pure generic dance music has little to do
with progressive art, but it can wrap up events nicely. At the
former ewz power plant, the festival will close with a big party
splash centered around pop trivialities based on Warhol's "Exploding
Plastic Inevitable" and then melt down into a dance club
atmosphere. Before things get pure dance, you can check out bizarre
performances, robotic sculptures, installations, a few nasty bands
in the tradition of the Velvets. After midnight and last but not
least be part of Zurich's party scene, when regionally and internationally
famed Djs and Vjs make your bones jitter and your retina stretch
beyond your eyelids with techno fetishism mixed together with
a touch of Dadaism and a lot of animalism.
Fig 5. Rip My Disc: A project from
Corebounce that unknowingly rips images and sounds out
of people's mobile phones as they sit around in a club.
The "ripped" material is then combined collage
like and then projected on to the wall for everyone to
view and listen to.
R.W.: Finally, how do you posit
DAW07 within the arts world globally, and can you see any particular
trends arising in this still quite new area of art practice?
This year's program is based around the themes of the calls the
DAW sent out world wide in the fall of 2006. At the famous Cabaret
Voltaire, the program sets an accent on performance art using
electronic media. The concept of the "performative surround"
(the media articulated body in space) makes its way into the program
under the guise of two DAW project calls, entitled "Cabled
Madness" and "B.I.O.". So we at the DAW are not
only making works with a technological long lever, but we are
also making impact wit that on an aesthetic and social level too.
The term 'Cabled Madness' itself refers to the critic of Joseph
Weizenbaum that society went mad when it started to put consideration
and trust into things like the Star Wars System of defense. In
the same vain, but on a more rational level and without collateral
damage, the scheduled performances are works that empower the
performer in an explosion of the boundaries of the body and link
the audience into the virtual of technologically animated space.
Like Weizenbaum's plea for sanity in computer application, the
works trigger critical observation in the mind of the audience
and counter act the most logical form of evolution in the 21st
century enabled by technology: Intelligence without morals.
for your time.
See you at the DAW07 in Zurich