[spectre] Life 6.0, Jury Statement

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer rafael at csi.com
Tue Nov 25 17:11:03 CET 2003

LIFE 6.0, 2003

The jury for the Life 6.0 competition in Madrid ­ Daniel Canogar, Chris
Csikszentmihalyi, Machiko Kusahara, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Jane Prophet and
Nell Tenhaaf ­ reviewed 71 artworks that utilise artificial life concepts
and techniques. These pieces were pre-selected from a record number of 89
submissions received from 21 countries. The Telefonica Foundation in Spain
will give out the following awards:

SHARED FIRST PRIZE (4,250 euros each)

France Cadet
"Dog[Lab] 01"

One of the most unsettling aspects of molecular biology is the ability to
manipulate behaviour. Many experiments have shown that the behaviour of one
animal may be placed into another. For instance, in 1999 neuroscientists
altered a mouse by inserting a gene from a prairie vole, a different animal
known for its fidelity and sociability. The normally solitary mice now
showed the social behaviours of the gregarious prairie vole. While most of
us have no idea how to even think about these issues, France Cadet has
undertaken her own experiment in signification. Her Dog[LAB] project is a
monstrous hybrid, merging children¹s toys, hacked electronics, and social
and political concerns into robotically enacted dramas. Cadet performed
surgery on several robotic dogs, customized their forms, and reprogrammed
them with unusual behaviours. Her new dogs are genetically manipulated
animal combinations, plastic chimeras. For instance, one is the ³ultimate²
domestic pet, a mixture of equal parts cat and dog. This earnest Frankenpet
alternately wags its tail playfully, grooms itself, does feline stretches
and, eventually, falls asleep and dreams dog dreams. Another is a cowdog,
and as a result is prone to robotic BSE, twitching and collapsing while
whining like a sad puppy. Cadet¹s work reminded some of the jurors that the
more life-like robots become, the more prone they¹ll be to neurosis and
illness. We all admired the unusual way that Cadet addressed weighty issues
of science and society while keeping her tongue well in cheek.

"The Central City"
United Kingdom

This net art work, made over four years, is an impressive collection of
interconnected environments created using generative procedures. The focus
is on urban environments, resulting in a vast web site of interconnected
idealised spaces and polyphonic neighbourhoods. These environments explode
with ideas from art, architecture, design and urbanism. Visuals from live
web cams and pre-recorded audio are controlled by the user to make spaces
that fragment and are reconstituted in real time. The ever-changing nature
of the city is foregrounded in the way that its features flow through the
site; streets and buildings seem to change right before our eyes in visual
compositions reminiscent of Dziga Vertov¹s avant-garde documentary ³The Man
with the Movie Camera.² Users of The Central City interact with the piece by
selecting from multiple menus based on an iconic language. Starting from
recognizable imagery that is either pre-recorded or live, viewers can morph
images and algorithmically change sounds. Through these processes, ordered
and grid-like cities slip into disorder, and surveillance systems are
subjected to processes that make them ³bleed², that ³torment² them and
subject them to ³earthquakes². The sophistication and subtlety of the image
generation reflects Stanza¹s earlier paintings, and provide a sophisticated,
adult alternative to SimCity. The user is encouraged to take a painterly
approach to image transmutation, resulting in a subtle and ironic
convergence of art and civic issues.

THIRD PRIZE (1,500 euros)

Ethan Bordeaux, Ben Recht, Noah Vawter and Brian Whitman.
"Concrete Music"

The project Concrete Music gives life to a song. Instead of a permanent
recording on a CD that is reproduced exactly every time you press ³play²,
this musical composition is in constant evolution. Its creators developed a
hardware music processor from commodity hardware, an algorithmic music
language robust enough to last 30 years, and a synthesis framework capable
of composing timeless textures. Starting with initial parameters of tone,
texture waves, rhythm and critical duration, the song composes itself by
gradually mutating from its base state. Because of this large scale of
compositional drift, only time will tell what the music will grow into as it
progresses. Concrete Music also has a sculptural component: the generator of
this algorithmic music is encased in rough-hewn concrete. This unusual shell
appears to guarantee its existence for some time, as if it were a time
capsule that could be found and listened to in a remote future. The song in
this sound sculpture acquires a life of its own and refuses to die, and, in
this way, Concrete Music materializes one of humanity¹s great longings:
immortality throughout time. At the same time, it serves as a nod to the
³musique concrete² of the 50s.

HONORARY MENTIONS (in alphabetical order)

Peter Bosch, Simone Simons
"Aguas Vivas"
Spain / Netherlands

Much research in artificial life is visualized on computer screens; for
instance, cellular automata are often represented as fields of changing
pixels that look like fluid waves or schools of fish. These digital
representations have become so ubiquitous that we associate artificial life
art with the digital screen and virtual worlds. Bosch and Simons have
produced an installation piece that confounds this assumption. A projection
displays a white cross and circle on a black background, reminiscent of a
target; a cinematic countdown sign; or TV test card. As we watch, this image
becomes progressively and chaotically disrupted. We assume that these are
non-linear images generated digitally, using algorithms and pixels. Then the
source is revealed: A metal container sits on eight springs that are
agitated by an oscillation motor, above it is a white neon light in the
shape of a circle and cross. Aguas Vivas uses a ŒHeath Robinson¹ structure
comprising of the oscillating container that sends vibrations through its
cargo of oil to present us with a convincing and rich variety of real-time
images. The simple and effective structure of this piece is the result of a
series of works, or iterations, made over seven years.

Francisco Javier Fernández Herrero
"Artificial Architecture, 1.0"

The field of Architecture has always had two types of practitioners: On one
hand, pragmatic architects whose priority is to pile up dirt and glass, on
the other, dreamers who place concept over concrete. These later are often
referred to in English as ³paper architects.² In the late 1970¹s, a new
branch was added, as paper architects went ³paperless² and started using
computers to express their conceptual interests. Fernandez Herrero¹s
³Artificial Architecture² is a significant contribution to this field. Using
algorithmic processes, this loquacious software spits out hundreds of floor
plans per minute, producing sinuous, curving structures for which all the
IKEAs in the world could not provide enough furniture. Parametric controls
allow for various aspects of the synthesized plans to be adjusted, from
length of walls to number of rooms, though it is still apparently impossible
to make anything rational, normal, or easy to build. When Fernandez Herrero
stacks these floors on top of each other, the resulting virtual buildings
are at times exquisite, at times horrific. Artificial Architecture is like
an automated idiot savant of postmodern buildings, an oracle speaking in
compositional tongues, a design generator capable of capturing abstract
blocks and dealing with incomplete states of information. But unless the
artist also manages to automate the town council, don¹t expect to see any of
these structures on your street any time soon.

Hanna Haaslahti
"White Square"
Finland / Belgium

This work was the "public choice", as it was the most voted piece in the
presentation of the nominees at the awards ceremony.

 The shadow is our alter ego, a double mystery that accompanies us
throughout our lives. Its phantasmagoric projection onto our surroundings
gives us visual confirmation that we exist. Yet, how do we confirm our
existence in virtual space? The installation White Square by Finnish artist
Hanna Haaslahti invites us to reflect on this notion by making use of a
technological shadow. Participants enter a darkened room where they see an
empty, white square of approximately 3 x 4 metres projected on the floor.
Upon entering the illuminated space of the white square, several shadows
appear and start dancing around the feet of the participants. This image
invites us to contemplate the existence of parallel realities usually hidden
to us. The shadows respond to the velocity, direction and position of the
participants. When a shadow touches a border of the square the image starts
to pixelate, as a way to metaphorically indicate the body¹s lived space or
lebensraum. White Square is especially effective when several participants
are in the space together. In this case, the shadows begin to interact with
each other to create dynamic movements that remind us of the virtual
interaction that takes place in electronic spaces. With this installation,
Hanna Haaslahti proposes new ways in which to experience our bodies in
digital space.

Mina Långström
"The Chinese Room"

The Chinese Room looks at the problem of interpreting new forms of visual
evidence that arise in surveillance culture. In this participatory
installation, the viewer sits at a control panel with a console of ten
surveillance channels that look into a virtual world with two polygonal
animated characters. The viewer can select cameras, allowing them to peer
into the world. In a nice turn of reflection, the viewer is simultaneously
scrutinized via a real video camera, bringing them into the simulated
environment. But none of the people here ever makes real contact. They find
out about each other only through hearsay and virtual camera tracking. The
artist's critical interest in techno-utopias is visible in several aspects
of this work. The theme of watching and being watched suggests the allure of
technologically mediated intimacy, but at the same time it speaks to the
threat of inescapable surveillance. The 3D animated characters that populate
the narrative invoke the animation industry ideal of simulated actors, which
has arisen from a research agenda driven by the goal of doing something
purely because it can technically be done. Yet in "real world" terms it
could come to displace working actors. The epistemological problem of what
we can know about each other which is posed in this work, extends in a
continuum from everyday interpersonal contact that is turned into fodder for
reality T.V., into the social realm where alienation and paranoia result.

George Legrady
"Pockets full of memories II".
Hungary / USA / Canada

Most people come to an exhibition to appreciate something created by the
artist, but the traditional paradigm of art appreciation does not apply to
interactive art. George Legrady has said that "interactivity is about
creating self-consciousness, or consciousness about one's presence". The
artist has worked on the theme of archiving memories in three-dimensional
interactive space for many years. In this work, the familiar objects that
visitors carry around form the body of the work -- a visual database of
personal memories and identities. A visitor to the exhibition, carrying only
necessary objects, is invited to submit one of these belongings to the
database. The object is scanned and archived according to a description
attached to it, which is prompted by questions the system asks as to what it
means to its owner. Submitted objects include mobile phones, photo ID, or
one's hand or other body part. For a visitor the process is about redefining
what these "personal" belongings mean, which inevitably leads to thoughts
about one's identity. The item is immediately sorted in the database based
on a self-organizing mapping program (SOM), which simulates processes that
take place in our brains. Hence each object and the memory it triggers
becomes part of a networked space of memories. One can view the object
entered and see how it is connected to other people's memories and thoughts,
or just enjoy how people think similarly or differently toward the same
object. We still don't know exactly how memory works, but Pockets Full of
Memories II allows us to explore its associative processes through familiar

Simon Schiessl
"Haptic Opposition"
Germany / USA

Artists as well as engineers have been experimenting with machines that have
their own "mood" and thoughts. Sony's AIBO is an example of how such an
approach is welcome in pushing the borders of human machine interaction. We
are on the cusp of confronting machines that have personality. While such
personality is overtly designed in the case of entertainment robots, the
logic of the machine itself and its more chaotic features may result in some
unexpected moods. "Haptic Opposition" explores "moody" interaction between a
machine and its users within a humorous setting. On a flat wooden box is
mounted a slim LED display at eye level, which is movable horizontally. It
shows a flow of text that contains philosophical thoughts, and travels to
the left and right if there is no interaction. When a visitor arrives and
starts pushing the display, it interrupts the machine's ability to continue
displaying the text. The machine detects the force and resists the induced
movement. Thus the visitor encounters the physical resistance of the
machine. As the machine becomes annoyed it turns either nervous or
aggressive, showing its will to keep on expressing its thoughts, eventually
displaying its own program code. While the piece demonstrates an interesting
approach to research on haptic interfaces, an important field in virtual
reality and human interface research, its original approach and its sense of
humour are significant for alife related art.

Jaime del Val

The physical body is enveloped within a magical visual and auditory dream
world in this live performance work that blends electronic art, interactive
dance, virtual architecture and electro acoustic sound. A dancer who is
moving behind a transparent screen controls the real time generation of
projected images and sounds. A camera picks up the dancer's movement, then
this video is digitally processed and the resulting imagery is projected
onto the screen showing the dancer's shape morphed within trails of coloured
light. The software used recursively modifies and re-modifies the visual
information tracked by the camera. Real and virtual space are brought
together convincingly in this work by resisting the photorealism commonly
found in virtual 3D environments. In fact the artist refuses the
technological temptations of both spectacle and mystification, in favour of
simplicity of movement and clarity of structure. Here the dancer moves in a
constrained almost 2-dimensional plane that respects the projection screen.
Whereas most interactive dance often leaves the viewer puzzled as to what
effects the dancers are initiating, and why, at certain points in this piece
floating wisps of colour and abstract shapes appear to be pulled and formed
by the dancer's gestures. The moving body in Morfogénesis with its generic
look and smooth flowing motion achieves a liquid integration with the
transformed image of itself, a body in the process of constant becoming.


Diana Larrea (in collaboration with Javier Velasco)

Diana Larrea has spent many years researching myths from the world of cinema
and how they influence the social dimension. For example, Larrea has
constructed models to recreate classic moments from time-honoured movies,
including scenes from Planet of the Apes, and Goddard¹s A Bout de Souffle.
In the project presented to the jury of Life 6.0, this artist proposes to
build a model of HAL, the famous artificial life entity from 2001: A Space
Odyssey. With the aim of faithfully imitating the outer appearance of the
authentic HAL, Larrea¹s installation will consist of 13 television monitors
set into a black, metallic structure. A variety of sensors controlled by a
microprocessor and custom software will provide an interactive element to
the installation. The software, to be developed by a company that constructs
systems for intelligent buildings, will simulate HAL¹s behaviour and allow
for different kinds of interaction with the public. With this proposed
remake of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Diana Larrea alludes to the myth of the
creature that rebels against its creator. This universal myth has arisen in
numerous narratives of classical mythology and in literature, including
Oedipus and Frankenstein. In cinema, the notion of machines rising up
against their maker has also become a recurrent theme, as can be seen in
classic movies such as Metropolis, Terminator and Blade Runner. Diana Larrea
proposes to show us how we now project this collective myth onto the world
of artificial life.


Mario Humberto Valencia, Diego Bustamante y Ariel Bustamante

The EXP media group proposes a robotic sculpture with contagious movements
controlled by A-Life algorithms. The Jury decided to award 2.000 euros to
this group so that they can continue developing and designing this proposal


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