Open Systems:
A Perspective on the Dutch Electronic Arts Festival 07

laurie halsey brown


'Interact or Die!' is the eighth edition of the Dutch Electronic Art Festival - with the first edition in 1995. DEAF07 [April 10-29] also marked 25 years of v2 Institute for the Unstable Media -based in Rotterdam, the Netherlands - who creates the event.

I attended DEAF03 as well as DEAF04, which I wrote about for Rhizome.org titled "Where's the Art in Electronic Art?" [see Rhizome Digest - November 19, 2004]. Each DEAF Festival includes an exhibition, and the DEAF04 exhibition was a bit of a high-end science fair with a large predominance of work that fit the 'push button, step on platform to make something vaguely pointless happen' profile. During a symposium at DEAF04, Dutch theoretician/writer Arjen Mulder described interactivity as two sub-systems connecting: art as a system and the audience as a system to equal the meaning as a process of creation. If the artist presents an Open System then the audience will form a network to then 'create' the piece.

The corresponding DEAF07 'Interact or Die!' exhibition did include several works that reflect Mulder's concept of interactivity.

The viewer's movement down a long, dark hallway affects the resolution of the image on a LCD screen at its end. The closer you get, the blurrier the video image, until it totally vanishes. "Lowest Resolution", 2006 by Zhang Peili [China] reinterprets the scientific process of the video signal to poetically refer to an interactive 'approach'.

Hu Jie Ming's [China] piece "Go Up! Go Up!", 2005-07 consists of 24 TV screens stacked as a vertical column. The TV screens show a number of people climbing frantically. The audience interacts with the climbing scene by either shouting at them or making noises - which intensifies the climbing - but they still fall down hopelessly, and start to climb again. The work exemplifies a Chinese proverb i.e. that the more you want something, the more unattainable it becomes.

"ObjectB" by Exonemo

  Everyday components of the physical and virtual worlds converge in "Object B", 2006 by Exonemo [Japan]. A large cube screens a video game on all four sides. Placed in front are beautiful Assemblages using ordinary materials such as hair dryers, keyboards, chainsaws, drills, cleaning brushes – all interconnected to move and create their sounds in response to the video games. This collision of the everyday creates an opening for the viewer's own experience of interactive process.

Roman Kirschner [Austria] has created a subtle art / science experiment based on a model of a chemical computer by Gordon Pask in the early 1950's. The piece is titled "Roots", 2005-06 and like traditional science experiments, it is based in glass tank, although beautifully lit and placed in a dark room. The tank is filled with electricity, which is the key to the transformation of the roots-like apparatus' in the tank. They make organic connections to one another amidst bubbles that dissolve into clouds: dark iron crystals grow, break off and sink to the dark ground. Interact or Die!


"Roots" by Roman Kirschner

The DEAF07 symposium focused on the ways that ideas become effective through interaction within networks.

Jeanne Van Heeswijk is a Dutch artist who focuses on the 'social in the public realm'. Her talk during the symposium dealt with her interest in new forms of intervention in public space. She discussed how public space is controlled and non-typical behaviors are not tolerated. She referred to the "Free Hugs Campaign" video on YouTube that won an award for 'Most Inspirational'although the campaign itself was forbidden in several countries, including Australia and China. Van Heeswijk is presently working on a new piece in which empathy is seen as a radical act. She believes that living in a city is an art and we need the language of art to negotiate our experience within the city. Her interventions are designed to interact with public space to create alternative connections: a technocratic approach vs. the traffic control of space.

At other DEAF07 seminars, the concept of social interaction was recurrent. "Transdisciplinary Innovation" included a talk by Sally Jane Norman, the Director of Culture Lab in Newcastle, UK. She discussed how transdisciplinary practice "will constantly display itself" - as it reflects contemporary society? Trans [meaning across and beyond] differentiates itself from interdisciplinary practice by the level of interaction between collaborators, and by the outcomes of the collaboration. Norman focused on participatory knowledge structures in response to how larger organizations create niches. The Culture Lab positions experts in situations outside of their area of expertise. This creates an awareness of points of non-communication, which is seen as an aspect of a path leading to new areas of discovery. The Culture lab is interested in accessing the non-generic user, towards creating social software that can affect social change.

  DEAF04 had an extremely positive seminar series that was also continued in DEAF07. Nat Muller is the curator for the 'Snack and Surge Brunch' series, which is subtitled "Biting at the Poetics of Power". Each of the four seminars included lunch as art, with the themes of each discussion topic reflected in the food; eating becomes an art experience, and a tasty! form of interactivity.

"Out in the Open" on April 11 dealt with the myth of openness, specific to collaborative process. Lauren Wright from Furtherfield.org discussed DIWO: Do it With Others and considered how to emphasize the 'with'. One thing she felt was relative was collaboration vs. remote connection. Tim Jones, production coordinator for NODE London, discussed NODE as a model for other cities to connect all their media-based organizations to form one network. He also focused on social software that can extend the collaborative process. To find the right tools, the fundamental collaborative elements should be understood: "Look at how people interact and then develop software the develops out from that. Start with behavior, and then technology is used as an extension of this." During this discussion, artist Saul Albert used MindMap software to visualize what was being said. He also presented the project 'The People Speak' in which artists create strategies for engaging public debate.

"Rules of Engagement" on April 12 asked, 'With 72 million blogs, how do they impact on culture? Can they be a form of activism?' Mazen Kerbaj [Lebanon] puts drawings of war on his blog that communicate his experience globally. Xu Wenkai [China] maintained that blogs have little impact on local culture as the Gov't controls the blogs. In China, there are firewalls in place that can filter and edit the blogs based on list of objectionable words, but the Gov't has very little understanding of the content, so the filter system can be sidestepped. The list of objectionable words gets smaller all the time, but he is looking forward to a day when the list is obsolete. Ellen Pau [Hong Kong] is an artist/activist who thinks that the online tool is powerful in preserving memories of urban experience, in relation to a rapidly changing Hong Kong.

"Media Insurgency" on April 13 looked at insurgency as legitimate from the inside. Andrea Natella [Italy] created where next in which you can bet on where the next attack will be globally. It looks at fear vs. reality, it's a live map of perception, to see if perception corresponds to reality. Panelist Naeem Mohaieman works on documentaries about Bangladesh politics that deal with audience perception, and is concerned with how his work continues or dissuades stereotypes. He also discussed the inside vs. outside / local vs. global media lens. Contemporary political actions are hyper-aware of media influence, and work in tandem with the media in some cases. His presentation was followed by a live web cast from Extremadura in Spain where they had set-up a temporary media lab near a disused power plant in a "struggle to free the building".


Food Art and design for Media Insurgency seminar by anderseten.com

"Marked-Up City" on April 14 was monumental in that it brought together Mushon Zer-Aviv [Israel] and Leila El-Haddad [Palestine] who are working on a project as part of you are not here. The festival was the first time these two collaborators have met face-to-face. They are using place as a foundation for each culture to share commonalities. The project is groundbreaking and of great value, both politically and artistically. It deals with urban tourism and a reflection ofthe human scale of a city as it demonstrates how two cities can live the same realities. Leila also has her own blog: a-mother-from-gaza.blogspot.com. Also discussed was city branding by Merijn Oudenampsen [Holland] who saw city identity - as presented through tourism - as a simplistic representation of a city.

Another seminar titled 'Create' [a.k.a. CREative and Technology Exchange], focused on online media archives. Researcher Keith Baker discussed the importance of these archives and the lack of memory in net.culture. The seminar advertised its focus thus: 'As technology-inspired art is gaining more widespread acceptance, documentation of the rich and diverse media art histories is becoming increasingly important." Rhizome was mentioned as an important node in the constellation of media art archives.



This article was commissioned by Rhizome.org and published in in Rhizome Digest May 9, 2007. Photos by laurie halsey brown.


laurie halsey brown is an intra-disciplinary hybrid practioner [born in Eastern US, lives in Western Europe]. Her present artistic focus is as a 'mobilizer' between architects and the public realm in order to facilitate dialogue, heighten awareness of the daily experience of architecture and empower the user towards establishing their voice in how architecture is designed. She has been shown in the U.S. including the New Museum of Contemporary Art in NYC and internationally. As an aspect of her intra-disciplinary practice, she has created numerous public art projects, site-responsive installations and architectural interventions. Single-channel videos made between 1999-2005 have been screened at international festivals such as the International Film Festival Rotterdam 2004, and which articulate psychological movements of time. She teaches online media and theoretical studies with several international Universities, and has curated many international media-based exhibitions. www.movinginplace.net











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