Day two of the Eyeo Festival in Minneapolis. To recap, this is an event that focuses on the intersection between art, technology and design, with a strong emphasis on data.
Kim Rees – The Data Future
Kim works for Periscopic, a data visualization agency whose work I really admire (see, particularly, their gun murders work). I had high hopes for this talk but, to be honest, I came away quite disappointed. Kim set aside her work, and kept her presentation very simple – just a few slides with a few words – which is quite refreshing in this visuals-intensive event.
Instead she decided to focus on the future of data and the internet of things, particularly. Again, this can be great, but she unfortunately failed to really carry me along with a carefully crafted argument for how things that have not yet come will be. Instead, what followed was a bit of a diatribe, filled with a lot of buzz words and worry around nano-tech, around sensors thrown in the air, around userless interfaces and so on. It didn’t paint a big picture (again, for me) and instead came across as a bit naive, which I think is doing both her and her company a disservice.
Paola Antonelli – The Art of Our Time
I’ve seen Paola talk in the past, and through her relationship with the RCA, and the great exhibitions she curates at the MOMA, she feels like a familiar presence, on the edge of my network, while never being tiring to listen to . She speaks without breathing, like a contestant in Just a Minute, while remaining easy to understand, peppering her talks with subtle little jokes and digs.
Much of her talk was a discussion of the curatorial attitude towards technology and towards code. She uses “design” as a shield to protect herself from accusations that “its not art!” when she asks to include some of her more contentious selections into the museum’s collection (such as the “@” symbol, “acquired” by MOMA in 2010).
She spent a little time looking back on MOMA’s history with technology, which seems always to have been a number of steps ahead of the Museum’s capacity to accept the work in it’s exhibition spaces. It was quite a challenge, for example, for Philip Johnson to get engineering materials put on display in this context in his influential Machine Art exhibition of 1934. In Information Art: Diagramming Microchips  blown up images of chips were hung on walls, presented as art pieces. These were perhaps acceptable to the museum because of their resemblance to complex city plans.
The issue of what it means for the museum to acquire a digital thing seems highly complex, encompassing difficult issues of migration, archiving, intellectual property and so on. Sometimes digital artefacts come self-contained, and just need plugging in and turning on. More often, though, they are part of a more complex network of technological systems that can require the museum to have call on the artist to rebuild the system with contemporary elements when they want to deploy their work in a gallery.
The museum acquired Teji Furuhashi’s work, entitled “Lovers”. It’s a complex installation requiring a number of projectors installed in a tower at the centre of a room, which project images of two lovers searching for one another around the room. Teri has since passed away, and the projectors he used are no longer in production, so the museum is left trying to understand how it can show the work without reinterpreting it, potentially in a way that the artist may not have approved of.
The following image shows Marble Madness. MOMA has acquired a large number of video games including Tetris, Sim City 2000, Pac Man and Passage. Paola argued that ultimately what the museum wants is the source code, but intellectual property issues have meant that they have never managed to include a Nintendo game in the collection.
Interestingly, the museum has”added” the massively online multiplayer game “Eve Online” to its collection. What this means in reality is that they’re undertaken a relationship with both the players and the developer that allows them to draw on both when they want to show the work in a gallery context. If the game ever shuts down it’s possible they may acquire something more concrete – maybe a server running game code –but for now the acquisition is more social in nature.
Here’s an interesting image, which shows the words that Paola uses to describe the landscape of digital and media to the museum.
A number of year’s ago Paola organized some “salons” at the museum to discuss the role and goal of digital curation, inviting a broad range of participants to discuss the following set of topics.
Darius Kazemi – Quantity
I’d randomly ended up talking to Darius on a walk back from the Tuesday evening events at the Aria and he’d intrigued me enough to remember to attend his talk. In some ways it reminded me of the previous days presentation by Mike Bostock, but perhaps with a little more humour.
Darius challenges himself to develop a broad set of projects over the year, each of which take him 3 or 4 hours. He did 70 of these in 2013. Most seem to focus on the examination and subversion of one or a number of services he finds online, from which he produces a strange, thought-provoking and funny piece of work. He describes his medium as being “any programmable system.”
He’s most famous for the Amazon Random Shopper. He gives this a budget of $50 a month, and it automatically selects and delivers random CDs, books and DVDs to his home.
He sees each of these services as a black box which needs examining, testing the bounds of what is possible. Pushing the system to the limit is often where interesting things occur.
A lot of his work draws on services like Twitter or YouTube, from which he can generate an infinite amount of output. The question is how you make “infinite elegant content not boring”. As an example, he spent some time discussing the mechanics of Spelunky, a Mario-like game which generates random levels that manage to feel carefully crafted. Like much of Darius’ work, it uses a careful balance of templated content, random inputs and the context of pre-existing game mechanics to create this sense of random familiarity (and fun)
Darius emphasized this element of context. As an example, he showed how you can use the Wordnik API to select a random word and have it return its definition. This in itself is a bit boring, but if you put it in a specific context, like he has done with the definition for “earthquake” below, you start to get something a bit more interesting and fun. See You Must Be,
Similarly, in the Two Headlines Twitter Bot, he uses the context of news headlines, but mixes the topics from two different sources, to create something new and strange.
A couple of other Twitter bots
James George and Jonathan Minard – CLOUDS
The day finished with a performance of Clouds. This is an amazing digital documentary, that mixes interviews done with members of the open source community. They are tied together by a loose structure of topics and themes. Each interview was taken in 3D using a Kinect, and is played back in a way that allows you to navigate around the subject, and the whole system is peppered with amazing visualizations that work in real time. To make it even MORE complicated, it can be navigated using the Kinect, and viewed using the Oculus Rift, so they’ve thrown everything at it. It’s an impressive piece of work, though, and they’ve generously released the source code on GitHub.
Here, the authors of the system, James George and Jonathan Minard, are taking the audience on a “directors cut” of the content.