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<nettime> SWAMP-Interactive Wellness Park
axel vogelsang on Wed, 1 Oct 2003 17:44:25 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> SWAMP-Interactive Wellness Park


SWAMP-Interactive Wellness Park, Zurich, 25th to 27th of Sept., 2003

 
To use a former Yoghurt factory as a venue for a small but impressive
interaction design/(art?) event seems not too inappropriate considering that
it took place in the land where cows still happily roam on green pastures
amidst overwhelming landscapes. On top, to call it SWAMP­Interactive
Wellness Park is another indication that the Swiss besides stashing other
people's money and perfecting time measurement have taken on a lot from
their neighbours to the south and to the west in terms of enjoying the nice
things in life. The little festival took place in the "Dachkantine", a new
club with original 60/70ies interior on the top of the former Toni Yoghurt
Factory in Zurich, Switzerland. The organizers, a group called Co-lab
(http://www.co-lab.ch), describe themselves on their website as follows:

"The eight members of co-Lab have their professional background in a wide
range of professional activities such as electronic engineering,
architecture, fashion design, sociology, light design, design of interactive
environments, public relations and photography." Accordingly SWAMP was an
all-round event, both highly informative and entertaining.

In the centre of SWAMP some high class installations: Fur
(http://www.fursr.com) from Cologne had sent their infamous Painstation
(http://www.painstation.de) to enhance the wellness of the visitors. Two
players oppose each other in good old Arcade game style, between them the
monitor and Š the pain. While Pong does not seem to be the most exciting
game in the world nowadays, it becomes quite thrilling if your left hand is
placed on a panel that induces increasing electric shocks once you miss the
ball. Quite often you could see the players disappear towards the bathroom
in order to cool their blisters with cold water (The author himself proved
to be a chicken and did not involve physically but was highly impressed by
the tenacity of some players).

The most impressive piece for me though was Instant City by Anyaffair
(contact: anyaffair {AT} freesurf.ch). Sybille Hauert, Daniel Reichmuth and
Volker Böhm have produced a very poetic "electronic music building and
gaming automat". Imagine you stand in front of a square board together with
three other players on each side of it. The board is divided into small
translucent squares just like a chessboard but all white. A spotlight
illuminates the field. Each player has around 30 bricks neatly strung in
front of him, all in the same white translucent material. The game starts:
The players begin to place bricks onto the board. There are no rules or
guidelines. With the first stone spherical sound patterns start to emerge,
ever changing with every new brick. The players involve into mutual
compositions of high complexity and individuality. Those are reflected
beautifully in the three-dimensional constructions on the board, evoking the
skyline of a city. Technically this is made possible by light sensors
underneath the board detecting the changes in the light intensity from
above. Therefore even piling up stones will lead to different sound
patterns. The basic sounds were produced by seven different composers and
before a new game the player or players would chose one of the composers
represented in form of a master brick.

Lic Lac, the "Light-information-Cube" by Claude Hidber, Moritz Schmid,
Christion Schoch and Valentin Spiess was especially appreciated by the
visitors of the two club nights on Friday and Saturday. Lic Lac is an
illuminated, translucent cube about 1.5m to 1.5m to 3m with a stripe of LED
lights running around it. Anyone could send an SMS that would immediately
shine up and run around the cube. The slowly changing color of the cube
itself outside on the roof-deck was a very atmospheric experience at night
(http://www.co-lab.ch/seiten/a1_projects.html).

The other six or seven installations also had their special qualities. E.g.
the works of Mobiles Kino (http://www.mobileskino.ch): "Game Arcade,
Interactive Super 8 Slots" are analogue video games, all of them based on
Super 8 technology. Sound weird, but yes, it is possible: One of the
installations was an ego-shooter. A super 8 camera hidden under a cardboard
cladding that was designed in a retro console style. It was projecting the
classical Alien Attack symbols onto a wall. With the pistol connected to the
projector one could "shoot" those symbols. The pull of the trigger would
stop the projector while the heat of the projector lamp would physically
destroy the image in front of the player's eyes.

One of the biggest names around was John Klima from New York.
(http://www.cityarts.com/lmno/) showing some work in progress from his
newest piece "Earth discrete terrains /terrain machine". What he showed
though was too raw still to give more than a conceptual idea of the final
work. Nevertheless his presence was fully justified and appreciated with the
two hands-on workshops he was offering. In a few hours he showed us how to
build a simple light sensor and how to connect it to the keyboard. The table
slowly turned into a big mess of wires, cables, transistors soldering irons
etcŠ It felt like a mix of high-tec kindergarten and the mad professor's
laboratory. Finally I had my share of pain whilst grabbing the soldering
iron the wrong way round.

Outside on the roof-deck the stars of the Swiss new media art scene had put
up their branded containers, even though Agent Marcos from etoy
(http://www.etoy.com) would heavily reject both: the ideas of stardom and
art in relation to their activities, as well as being a Swiss organization.
Etoy was collecting DNA samples for a new project: "etoy.BIOTECH offers 20
etoy.SHARES (value: more than  200 USD) to each donator who provides a
sample of endogenous material  (organic body-fluid: blood, sperm or saliva)
for the production of an absolutely unique artwork: the etoy.DNA-PORTRAIT -
processed at etoy.TANK-PLANT2.."

What made this event really work was that all this technology driven art had
its counterpoint in the e-free zone. Whoever entered into this room had to
leave his Mobile, PDA, laptop, etcŠ behind. During the round table
discussions that took place the participants had to scribble their notes on
the paper tablecloth, which was later used as part of the documentation. The
mobiles, with a Velcro fastener stuck to the back, were displayed in a glass
showcase in the gangway. Once in a while one could hear them whine for their
masters from afar. 

One of the mentioned discussions was about virtual intimacy. It turned out
that both virtuality and intimacy are very ambiguous concepts: can one be
intimate with a machine or only in relationship to another human being? Can
one even be intimate with oneself?  On the other hand the term virtuality
seemed well described with the notion of reality or ideas mediated by a
computer. In a technical sense yes, but philosophically spoken, imagination
can be seen as the basis of virtuality. Imagination plays a central role in
all human communication, be it just simple talk or sexuality. The question
then arises whether it needs mediation by machines to produce virtuality.
Unfortunately we weren't able to solve that one.

The next day the discussion, led by Samuel Herzog, feature journalist of the
Neue Zuricher Zeitung (NZZ), centered around Daniel Diemers Virtuelle
Triade. Diemers, (http://www.diemers.net/sub/articles.htm)  who was present
at the event, wrote a book and a relating manifesto in 2002 to start a
discussion about the social impacts of new technologies and technology
driven concepts such as virtuality, cyborgism and bionics. Among his several
claims there are such as
"For a free and voluntary access to virtuality,"
"For the introduction of a voluntarily protection age with immersive virtual
3D-worlds", 
"For a life without life-augmenting implants", etcŠ
The discussion was highly controversial and far from complete after four
hours. To get into detail would be never-ending but as one participant said:
It was amazing to see how much western society has changed in the recent
years and how quickly acceptance for those technologies, e.g. mobiles,
virtual worlds, implants, etcŠ has increased. The same topics would have
been discussed totally different and much more emotionally only a few years
ago.

But the e-free zone was not only a place for discussion: the marvelous
opening dinner was served there and the second night had a
reading/percussion performance. In the event-free times one could give
oneself over to a shiatsu massage.

Even though art/design festivals and conferences seem to spread like a
disease, SWAMP was special: small, intimate but nevertheless with a high
quality program. The attendance though was slightly below the expectations.
One can hope that this does not keep Co-lab from repeating it.


Axel Vogelsang
01/10/03


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