[spectre] Life 7.0, Jury Statement

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer errafael at mac.com
Thu Dec 2 19:23:24 CET 2004

Life 7.0, 2004

The jury for the Life 7.0 competition in Madrid – Chris 
Csikszentmihalyi (USA), Daniel García Andújar (Spain), Rafael 
Lozano-Hemmer (MEX/CAN), José Carlos Mariátegui (Peru), Fiona Raby (UK) 
and Nell Tenhaaf (CAN) – reviewed 60 artworks that utilise artificial 
life concepts and techniques. These pieces were pre-selected from a 
group of 82 submissions received from 24 countries. The Telefonica 
Foundation in Spain will give out the following awards:

SHARED FIRST PRIZE (4,000 Euros each)

“Spore 1.1”
S.W.A.M.P. (Douglas Easterly)

Spore 1.1 makes visible, in an ironic manner, the artificiality of our 
immediate reality by relating the business market to the ecosystem. The 
artist purchased a plant at the Home Depot superstore and inserted it 
in a mechanized installation that is connected to the Internet via a 
wireless connection and programmed with open source software. The 
installation periodically checks the value of Home Depot’s stock over 
the internet, activating a watering system: if share values are up the 
plant gets watered. The underlined paradox is that Home Depot 
guarantees the well being of the plant for one year and, if the plant 
dies due to either falling or rising share values it has to be replaced 
by the multinational, —a contract relating life and death.

“Universal Whistling Machine”
Marc Böhlen / JT Rinker

For hundreds of years, technologists have tried to design machines that 
can speak and understand human language  -- a problem they have yet to 
fully solve.  One 17th century automaton, Baron von Kempler’s 
artificial chess-playing Turk, famously defeated several of the best 
players in Europe.  All it could say was “check.”  Today, if one calls 
a typical US corporation to get information or to settle a bill, it’s 
almost impossible to reach a human being; instead, you get a synthetic, 
automated teller, usually with a chipper woman’s voice.  Yet these 
tellers can only understand a few words, because language, like most 
aspects of human culture, is difficult to compute, complex and florid.  
Marc Böhlen and J.T. Rinker are artists whose most recent effort to 
develop a communication system may be one that computers can finally 
understand: The Universal Whistling Machine, a tone-based based 
interpreter of whistles.  Using advanced signal-processing computation 
-- similar to the chips in mobile phones -- their system can extract 
whistles from other sounds, and can exchange passages with humans, each 
other, and even animals. Over time, it builds a database of every 
whistle it’s ever heard, increasing its vocabulary and range.  What 
looks at first like a simple process becomes ever more interesting, a 
technical mocking bird that’s either mimicking or earnestly trying to 
communicate. This project also received the Public award as it was the 
most voted during the award presentation in Madrid.

SHARED THIRD PRIZE (1,000 Euros each)

“Dripping Sounds”
Federico Muelas Romero

Some images make reference to certain phenomena that occur 
spontaneously in nature; from these we often make relations that, 
beyond making new impressions on us, also generate intimate and 
pleasant sensations. Dripping Sounds plays with this idea and amplifies 
a phenomenon that we could consider part of our daily life, 
transforming it into an augmented vision. At first this visual and 
sound installation seems to be a weird apparatus, a mixture between a 
rudimentary cinematic projector and a set of probes unusually connected 
to big water containers through which liquid flows. The water 
containers supply the system with a medium in which figures will be 
generated. By means of a system of dripping, ink enters the water 
medium generating aesthetic forms that transform and dissolve the ink 
drops until the coloration changes and the process reinitiates.  The 
image of the drops flows from a state of high concentration to a state 
of low concentration, or greater dispersion. This refers us to the 
concept of irreversibility in nature, that is to say, the impossibility 
for a process to revert from its final state to its initial state. The 
projection of light not only amplifies this phenomenon but since it 
displays the image upside down it offers a different way of looking at 
a well-known phenomenon, simulating that we are in front of a unique 
film that will never be repeated in a similar way. The viewing area is 
composed of 20 photosensitive sensors that transfer the movement of the 
projected figures into independent sounds, giving the sensation of an 
electroacoustic orchestra of similar instruments, but with a certain 
degree of difference among them.

“PaCo – Poeta Automático Callejero Online”
Carlos Corpa and Ana María García Serrano

A robot, unable to walk, moves slowly around in a wheel chair. It seeks 
out humans to ask for money in exchange for a ‘machine’ poem. Its arm 
holds a moneybox, which it thrusts to the ‘client’ demanding a 
response. When a coin is deposited a poem is read out. A hardcopy is 
then made from a printer on its chest to complete and reinforce the 
economic transaction.

Are we more likely to give money to a machine that sprouts poetry 
rather than the person the machine has replaced? The ‘replacement’ does 
not smell or spit when it speaks. But it is not a shiny neat 
precision-made machine. It is haphazardly made from bits of discarded 
material. In its attempts to be decrepit we question its motivation to 
ask for money. Do we feel sorry for it? Or are we charmed and 

HONORARY MENTIONS (in alphabetical order)

“Ornamental Bug Garden”
Boredom Research (Vicky Isley and Paul Smith)

It should be clear that the jury usually gravitates to the projects 
that show the darker, more complicated and ethical dimensions around 
life sciences.  But occasionally we find a project that’s simply 
beautiful.  Ornamental Bug Garden is such a project; graceful and 
elegant, like a dinner date who’s beautiful but a little dumb, but 
that’s okay, they’re still fascinating.  Vicky Isley and Paul Smith 
programmed this synthetic, aesthetic ecological system, literally 
framing it on the wall as a living kinetic painting.  Below a dangling 
set of branches, generated with the Lindenmayer system algorithms, is a 
delicate ecosystem generated by rules of Turing machines and cellular 
automata.  Little shapes jump around and onto each other, spores 
explode, and bubbles float like pollen.  Combining elements from video 
games, pachinko machines, and ornamental gardens, this delicate art 
nouveaux tableau is decidedly two dimensional, but we appreciated the 
mixture of apparently organic elements with unapologetically mechanical 

Semiotic investigation into cybernetic behaviour
Jessica Field

Two ‘decision making machines’ given different capabilities of seeing 
corroborate each other’s perception of reality. They watch and discuss 
the viewer. When the viewer behaves differently to how they predict, 
the machines start to loose confidence in their opinion. They move from 
certain, to uncertain, to disbelief and then concern.  Wonderfully and 
tragically, each of the main protagonists Clara, Alan and the viewer 
are flawed. Damaged. Alan is over confident, while Clara isn’t 
confident enough. As long as Alan thinks he is right he will not listen 
to Clara’s doubts. But his opinions are based on a slightly inferior 
sensor, yielding ‘one bit’ readings, while Clara’s are actually more 
accurate. If Alan loses confidence he seeks Clara’s opinion, and if the 
viewer behaves in a manner he perceives as ‘impossible’ he becomes 
totally irrational and worries that the viewer is a threat to his 
safety.  The mechanical drama addresses our inability to achieve 
complete understanding, but also plays out uneasily familiar gender 
dynamics. Our pleasure is cruel. As the viewer we take enjoyment from 
their increasing discomfort as both machines, fuelled by self-doubt, 
become paranoid and irrational. But we are the ones being fooled by the 
machines into pathetically believing that we have influence over their 

Life Support Machine
Luca Gemma

This work promotes the concept and the experience of a therapeutic 
inter-relationship between people and machines. Rather than expressing 
a complex behaviour repertoire, the Life Support Machine has a calming 
predictability that is based on the sound of waves. Thousands of fish 
scales layered between plastic sheeting rub together driven by a 
motorized mechanism that expresses recorded waveforms. The repetitive 
but varied action generates a swishing sound and creates a rhythmic 
motion that can push bodies around. This synthetic experience is meant 
to convey a sense of relaxation and well being. Unlike the format of 
the contemporary gym, there is no exhortation of a punishing fight with 
one’s body via workout machines. The Life Support environment doesn’t 
mirror our imperfections or show any judgement. But there is, 
nevertheless, an uneasy dimension to the atmosphere. The machines 
exhibit a strange antipathy toward the humans, who are passive and 
lifeless, so that the poetic mood invoked overall is tainted by more 
than just its quasi-organic fishy component.

Déjà Vu of fresh water, a nightmare environment
Carmen Gersti and Jeroen Keijser
Mexico and Canada

Fantastical virtual creatures who tell a story of environmental 
degradation inhabit this immersive environment, which is presented to 
viewers in the format of a three-walled CAVE. The principal characters 
are an Art Deco style mermaid and fish, who swim around in a 
post-apocalyptic dead and polluted underwater environment. The 
participant navigates the environment by wearing a Mad Hatter hat, with 
the mermaid hovering close in front of them and fish whizzing by - 
which the viewer can choose to kill off. That kind of viewer control 
epitomizes the dystopic but also critical tone of the work. The mood is 
pessimistic even though the participant interacts with the world as if 
it were a game, resulting in a work of satire. Cans of food with 
old-fashioned labels that show animal species litter the bottom of the 
sea, and participants drop their own can when they leave the 
environment as if there is no choice in our world but to litter.

Healing Series
Brian Knep

The visual displays that are projected onto the floor in this series of 
three interactive pieces are a direct expression of mathematical 
equations, yet the rules that govern them result in a very organic and 
human experience. The artist describes the viewer’s input as a 
wounding, and indeed there is a sense for participants walking across 
the projection or placing their bodies on it that they’ve caused a 
laceration in an otherwise very fluid, interlacing pattern. The 
algorithms being used are reaction-diffusion equations, a simulation of 
how much of the patterning in nature comes about, such as the patterns 
and colours on animals and plants. And nature rules here, because the 
wounds close over as fast as they are made, a pleasure that incites 
viewers to play and explore.

Unending Enclosure
Fernando David Orellana
El Salvador / USA

Technological innovations have brought us many dramatic political and 
social transformations; nevertheless, our undeniable initial 
tecno-optimism has become transformed into increasing evidence of new 
forms of control and power in modern society. New social paradigms are 
created, thus generating a new psyche derived from this technological 
world. By using robots instead of humans as the affected objects of 
study, Unending Enclosure tries to reveal this future, but in a 
tormented way. The robots are imprisoned in wooden columns, living in a 
climate of constant fear and distrust. By means of a small vertical 
window they can see out and we can see them as they execute paranoid 
movements and convulsions, similar to the characteristics of living 
beings.  A human, from outside this prison, can approach one of the 
robots and it will generate sounds and vibrations that we could 
understand as rudimentary forms of communication. But it is just a 
stupid bot, revealing future states of paranoia. It is questionable 
that robots will fear, but evident that a technological paranoia 
exists. In this way the author attempts to simulate or synthesize 
social behaviours in today’s digital world, transferring the anxiety 
but also the curiosity of human beings, and raising again the question 
of who is controlling who.

Quorum Sensing
Chu-Yin Sen
Taiwan, lives in Paris

The title of the interactive installation Quorum Sensing refers to a 
communication phenomenon in bacterial colonies, which the artist 
translates into the idea of collective action on the part of a group of 
spectators. Bacteria coordinate individual behaviours through 
pheromones. Viewers of the installation gather on a sensitive carpet 
placed underneath a projection coming from above; as each additional 
person joins the group, the shifting shape they collectively form 
reveals more of the projected image of a colony of virtual creatures. 
This virtual living world is based on alife principles that include 
evolution through genetic algorithms and nurturing from a substrate 
based on cellular automata. But it also has some more purely biological 
ideas built into it: for example, its colony of graphical entities 
regenerates by feeding from the trace elements of dead creatures. 
Viewers don’t see these functional strategies, but they experience an 
ebb and flow of the projected image that metaphorically suggests cycles 
of the natural world.


Ambiente de estereo-realidad 2 (8,000 euros)
José Carlos Martinat and Enrique Mayorga

Technological developments are creating human beings absorbed by 
digital media that deny natural space (here and now), transforming us 
into informed but uncommunicative beings. The individual is ‘codified’ 
in his search for dominance, trying to manage everything that surrounds 
him. Thus, it is no longer the individual that reflects the world, 
rather the object reflects the individual. Subtly, through our 
technologies, the object imposes its presence.  The project 
Stereo-Reality Environments tries to question familiar media objects, 
making them act ironically.  An inquiring reflection is created through 
the actions of apparatuses in space and their relation with their 
surrounding elements. This is deployed through the 'robotization' of 
various everyday objects, which question individuals and their 
indifference to their surroundings.  Stereo-Reality Environments 2 
proposes the installation of computers that will act as subversive 
editors, independent and autonomous agents that will publish texts from 
cyberspace, sending them from the roofs of buildings in the hot spots 
of Lima. The messages will be produced by means of information 
extracted from the Internet. Local newspaper headlines from the web are 
used as input signals of information that will be processed by means of 
an algorithm that relates them to subgroups of data possibilities 
extracted from cyberspace. The agents finally publish the information 
using an intertextual associative logic. The messages will be printed 
and will fall into the streets as flyers, in an attempt to create new 
means of awareness or to intervene in the information we usually read 
in local media.

IP Poetry (2,000 euros)
Gustavo Romano

Argentinean artist, Gustavo Romano, will use as a point of departure 
for new work some concepts he explored in his project “LogOmatic” in 
which a type of automaton recites texts based on images of pre-recorded 
Spanish phonemes. For his new project, Gustavo intends to develop both 
software and hardware that will, using texts selected from the Internet 
as raw material, generate automatic poetry to be recited by 
poet-automatons. These automatons, called IP Bots, recite the poetry 
created by his software employing a series of poetry-generating rules. 
In order to develop this software Gustavo will have the cooperation of 
writer Belén Gache, who has published numerous essays on literature, 
visual arts and poetry. The IP Bots will ironically emulate heads 
having mouths comprised of loudspeakers housing LCD screens, and eyes 
replaced by network connections and wires.


The Jury would like to award a special mention to the pioneering work 
of the Critical Art Ensemble (USA) in the field of art and artificial 
life. We support the freedom of artists and scientists to collaborate 
in a critical context that helps our society understand the 
implications of research into biotechnology. 


For next year's edition of the competition, the Telefonica Foundation 
has doubled the prize money: 20.000 euros will be given awarded to 
completed international projects and 20.000 euros for the production of 
new projects by artists from Latin America and Spain.

Any non-profit, educational, art or media centers that would like to 
receive the reference DVD "The best of Life 7.0", please contact  
Alicia Carabias <alicia.carabiasalvaro at telefonica.es>

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