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<nettime> VIDA, Art and Artificial Life Award Winners
Daniel Canogar on Wed, 5 Dec 2007 15:16:21 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> VIDA, Art and Artificial Life Award Winners



The hybrid forms of the artistic proposals submitted to VIDA and
the transformation of the discipline of A-Life itself have prompted
the jury to consider new issues, such as the rising importance of
simulation in both social life (for example, in the concept of
virtual personality) and organic life (evident in the concept of
"neo-organisms"). These phenomena are increasingly present and have
therfore received special attention in our current approach to art and
artificial life.

The jury for the Vida 10.0 competition in Madrid, Daniel Canogar
(Spain), Monica Bello (Spain), José-Carlos Mariátegui (Peru/UK),
Simon Penny (USA) and Nell Tenhaaf (Canadá), reviewed 165 submissions
received from 35 countries. The Telefonica Foundation in Spain will
give out the following awards:

FIRST PRIZE (?10,000)
Switzerland, 2006-07

Etoy.corporation launched the Mission Eternity Project in 2005,
foregrounding on the one hand respect for the human longing to survive
in some way after death, and on the other a sense of irony about dated
sci-fi fantasies we contrive to satisfy that desire. The Sarcophagus
is one materialization of this project. It is a mobile sepulchre
that holds and displays portraits of those who wish to have their
informational remains cross over into a digital afterlife. The size
of a standard cargo container that can travel to any location in
the world, the Sarcophagus has an immersive LED screen covering its
walls, ceiling and floor. There, interactive digital portraits can be
summoned via mobile phone or web browser from virtual capsules that
are stored in the shared memory of thousands of networked electronic
devices of Mission Eternity Angels (people who contribute a small part
of their personal storage capacity to the mission, currently 765 of
them; to date, 2 volunteers have been accepted for encapsulation). The
data spectres that populate this tenuous memorial space are composed
of details of lives lived, in visual, audio and text fragments. But
when they are summoned in lo-res pixellated form in the Sarcophagus,
they resemble one merged personality. The massing of details that we
find in archives and records that keep the dead with us has a similar
compositing effect, yet the Sarcophagus is also very unlike those.
It gives us access to a novel social world generated among networked
computer users who have a common goal of keeping something alive,
which can invoke intense feelings such as care and wonder.

Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr, Australia
Australia, 2007

Catts and Zurr, the artists of the Tissue Culture and Art Project,
call the biomass that grows in NoArk's bioreactor a semi-living or
sub-life neo-organism. Because of its origin in tissue samples of
various kinds, their ?chimerical blob? still participates in the vast
domain of living things. But it is orphaned, bereft of parentage or
kinship, abandoned by the Linnaean classification system that depends
on organismic coherence. Yet NoArk?s sub-life is incorporated into a
novel dynamic system that becomes its living context: the social body
that receives and responds to it. NoArk consists of a transparent
vessel reminiscent of an eighteenth century curiosity cabinet, which
houses both the bioreactor and a collection of dead and preserved
animal specimens. These components rotate together on a turntable
and relentlessly expose viewers to the ineffable quality of living
cells, whose properties are so imminent to us yet so elusive. The
cell is the basic self-organizing unit of life. Cultured in a medium,
abstracted from life as we know it, it is transformed into a synthetic
embodiment of life processes and their artificial replication. This
technique of abstraction is familiar enough in the science lab ?
biochemist Stuart Kauffman called it ?second life? long before the
virtual world of the internet took up the name ? but it is radically
new as public display in the cultural domain. The semi-living thing we
see in NoArk is afflicted by an excess of freedom to cross boundaries
between definitions and taxonomies, just like the limitless tagging
and cross-referencing that characterizes digital information. As long
as the semi-living is on life support, its bio-information persists
through time and space, and poses the startling question of how such
information can be deployed in ?first life.?

THIRD PRIZE (?3,000)
Leandro M. Nuñez
Argentina, 2007

In Propagaciones, Leandro Nuñez has physically instantiated one of
the archetypes of Artificial Life, the cellular automaton, originated
by John Conway in 1970. Now usually referred to as the Game of Life
or Conways Life, it was itself motivated by John von Neumann?s
notion of self reproducing machines. Conways original realisation
was physical, sheets of paper on the floor, only later was the CA
instantiated in software. Nuñez? machine installation brings Life
back into the real world of dirt and vibrations and inconsistencies,
the very unpredictables so difficult to simulate in-silico. Nuñez?
work belongs to a long but minor tradition in the arts, that of
the machine-sculptor, epitomized by such disparates as Duchamp,
Takis, Tinguely and Ihnatowicz. What unites this group is a desire
to connect with fundamental electrophysical realities, and to work
artisanally and manually, taking basic mechanical, electro-mechanical
and electronic components as a palette, in the production of
eloquent artefacts which embody such ideas in a materially sensible,
performative mode. Works such as Propagations do not so much depict as
enact the behaviours they refer to. Propagaciones is also significant
in that it contains no digital technology, reminding us that digital
micro electronics is not the sole and privileged location of automated


David Rokeby
Canada, 2007

Cloud appears at first to be much more complicated in construction and
behaviour than it actually is. This ruse is highly effective, because
the experience of complexity endures even when one has understood
that the work functions through repetitive motion. Cloud is suspended
from the ceiling in a very large space (the Great Hall of the Ontario
Science Centre in Toronto, Canada, who commissioned the work), so
it is always seen from below. Consequently, the vertical components
of the work extend into the space, towards the eye of the viewer,
and the overall effect is one of filling a large volume while at the
same time leaving it open, penetrable. The sculptural components of
Cloud are one hundred 13-foot long acrylic shafts that each hold
six sets of thin acrylic planes, half transparent and half pale
blue-grey. The movement programmed into this array of elements is a
simultaneous rotation of all of the shafts, slightly out of phase but
synchronizing at specified intervals. The constant movement of the
elements, plus the consistency of colour and texture, contribute to an
intense expectation of emergent patterns. And pattern does appear ?
a ripple of light, a solid block of colour ? but only for an instant
and only directly in front of one?s line of sight, while along its
edges a movement that can be perceived as either a disruption or a new
consolidation begins to take shape.

Julius Popp
Germany, 2006-07

The austere, biomedical look of bit.flow presents an enigmatic,
even hermetic spectacle for the uninformed audience. This is not
unsurprising given that the work instantiates a deep ontological
inquiry into the nature of self-knowledge, among machines and,
by extension, among people. It is, we might say, the exercise of
philosophy in the performative mode. Bit.flow seeds its physical
form, a random tangle of flexible tubes, with a random binary pattern
of coloured (red) and transparent fluid. This pattern manifests
as a constantly changing complex three-dimensional pattern as
alternating bands of red and transparent fluid pass around the loops
of the tangled hose. Thus the most simple, temporal on/off rhythm,
plus an undisciplined physical presence, generates complex pattern
richness. This material ?body? has no sensor feedback, no sensorial
self-awareness. It watches, contemplates, itself via a video camera.
By analysis of this image flow, bit.flow seeks to understand, and
replicate, its own pattern. In this process, bit.flow implements
fundamental assumptions of machine vision and ?traditional? artificial
intelligence, while asking questions deeply pertinent to artificial
life. bit.flow is a very Cartesian machine which says ?Cogito, ergo,

Jed Berk
ALAVs 2.0
U.S.A., 2006

Jed Berks? Autonomous Light Air Vehicles combine many of the themes of
artificial life and multi-agent robotics research in an accessible and
elegant public presentation. These include capable powered navigation
and obstacle avoidance, organized multi-agent behaviour (such as
flocking), discernable (quasi) intelligent individual behaviour, and
interaction with other (quasi) intelligent agents, i.e., people.
Connecting these agendas with more contemporary interest in mobile and
locative technologies, Berk has implemented human-ALAV communication
via mobile phone technology. The rigors of such a project must not
be elided. While robots in research-lab contexts often exhibit
remarkable capabilities, they are just as often delicate, unreliable
and require the constant attention of one or several highly trained
staff. A project like ALAVs must exhibit its qualities in the general
public, must inform and entertain, and at the same time be robust
and resilient to the unpredictabilities of unusual architectures and
architectural materials, weather, children and crowds (and sometimes,
animals) - influences which are almost always filtered out in the
controlled environment of the lab. The ALAVs achieve all this, while
remaining lighter than air, an achievement in itself given the weight
of batteries and other components. The ALAVs are beguilingly delicate
translucent agents which drift and float in a most un-robotic way.

London Fieldworks
Hibernator: Prince of Petrified Forest, 2007
Great Britain, 2007

Artists Jo Joelson and Bruce Gilchrist have created an installation
that extends throughout the gallery space and offers a wide variety
of information that challenges the spectator to take an unusual
intellectual journey. Based on their interest in suspended animation,
the collective proposes a surrealistic piece that subverts one of
the major icons of the 20th century: Walt Disney. In the gallery,
the public encounters an animatronic figure that is the protagonist
of a series of animated films recorded during the exhibition. This
robot has the physical features of Disney's head, and a conglomerate
body of two of his favourite creations: Bambi and Thumper. The films,
shot with blue-screen technology, show the fanciful Disney robot
resurrected in a world of cartoons, a knowing wink to the reputed
conservation of Disney?s head with cryogenic technology. The character
is in a distorted and grotesque paradise, where he has to face the
darkest side of his being, that which he hid from the world while
he cultivated his insatiable hunger for worldwide-fame and endless
self-promotion. This project interprets the myths created by mass
culture and the scientific promises of a technological society. These
are examined in the gallery space by a precise manipulation of all the
elements, using an open creation process that results in a striking
narrative. The result is a highly versatile mise en scene, accompanied
by a 30-minute film that includes pantagruelian elements of the modern

Evelina Domnitch and Dmitry Gelfand
Camera Lucida: Sonochemical Observatory, 2007
USA, Belarus, 2007

Camera Lucida investigates and allows the visualisation of an
almost unknown and unexplored marginal natural phenomena called
"sonoluminiscence". Sonoluminescence consists of the emission of
short discharges of light conditioned by the explosion of bubbles
in a liquid excited by sound. In the installation/observatory, the
activity focuses on a translucent glass ball that contains gas and
recreates the process, which can only be seen in complete darkness.
The immersive and perceptual space created by the artists brings to
the light hidden and somewhat esoteric natural phenomena, making it
real and tangible for us to study. This project evokes territories to
be explored in the kingdom of the invisible, and questions the stale
flatness of the material in favour of what is ephemeral and volatile.

Kelly Dobson
United States, 2007

Omo is an artifact that shares empathic relationships with humans.
Rather than using the hackneyed paradigm of a mechanical invasion of
the body, the piece suggests an organic allegory that enables new
subconscious feelings to emerge. In that sense, Omo might also be
seen as a friend or a companion. The creature expands and contracts,
either matching the users? breathing, or helping the user to adjust to
its mechanical respiration. The physical sensing generates prosthetic
emotions; for example, placing Omo on your stomach and feeling
its gentle contractions is remeniscent of the intimate sensations
triggered by feeling the turgid belly of a pregnant women. Omo is one
of several informed artifacts drawing from the emerging discipline
of Machine Therapy that combines art, design, psychodynamics,
and engineering. This field makes visible complex dynamics that
may occur between humans and machines. Machine Therapy tweaks
technological artifacts in order to awaken human?s sensitive side,
forging their role as relaxing and stimulating companions. As humans
are increasingly in contact with technological artifacts, works such
as Omo highlight unexpected human emotions, helping us develop more
profound, complex and expressive interrelationships with machines.

Chris Sugrue
Delicate Boundaries
U.S.A., 2007

Delicate Boundaries explores the fragile and sometimes unperceivable
juncture between real and physical space. This work is an interactive
installation that uses the body as an extension of the digital ecosystem
inhabited by a crowd of digital bugs. When a presence is detected, the
creatures move from the screen onto the human body via an over-head
projector. Delicate Boundaries generates an animated illusion and a
virtual intimacy by transfering the bugs? virtual behaviour onto the real
bodily space. The interface senses the contours of the human body,
invading it in life-like manners, and giving the illusion of a viral-like
infection of  the organism. There is a seamless transition between the
real and the virtual, an effect that leads to learning and appreciation,
turning the behaviour of artificial entities into ritualistic visions.


The second category of the competition, Incentives for Ibero-American
Production, helps finance art projects exploring Artificial Life (and
related disciplines) that still have not been produced. Applicants must be
from South America, Spain or Portugal. This year?s recipients are:

Alex Posada and Alejo Duque

Greenbots will be comprised of a series of small robots created with
simple electronics, using sensors, communication systems (radio, infrared,
RFID, GPS) and solar panels that can absorb in daylight the energy
required to power their night-time prowling. These organisms, whose shapes
will vary (mechanical butterflies, balls, etc.), will be located at
strategic points and react to the environment, gathering data, changing
shape, generating light and sound effects, evolving, reprogramming
themselves or other nearby greenbots, and transmitting all this
information to an online database. This information is a creative and
innovative way of representing the levels of environmental pollution we
are continuously subjected to. Pollution will also affect the Greenbots
physically, modifying them internally without them realising. The
Greenbots are an allusion to the new technological ecosystem we have
created and to the damaged natural ecosystem we live in.

Francisco Lopez
Sonic Alter Ego

The scope of sound creation traditionally covers two large conceptual
categories: tools (instruments, software, sound materials, methods) and
sound pieces (composed, improvised, random, etc.). Sonic Alter Ego is a
system-concept between the said categories or, more specifically, a
virtual creative entity that includes both. It will produce original,
variable sound creations as a result of the interaction between the
author's criteria and the sofware?s working architecture. The fundamental
concept of Sonic Alter Ego is not the development of a software tool for a
potential user, but rather the transfer of crucial aspects of Francisco
López?s creative spirit to a virtual machine. Using evolutionary
computation techniques, the system will gradually learn the artist's
creative criteria, such as the selection of sound material, editing
choices, compositional decisions, etc. This virtual alter ego will reveal
hidden or unconscious aspects of the author's own creative spirit.

Hamilton Mestizo Reyes, Luis Enrique Martínez, Sofía Cordero, Marcela
Ayala, Patricia Muethe and Jonatan Gómez
Electricium Vitum

This project by Hamilton Mestizo (et al) seeks to apply contemporary
biotech research to the question of artificial life in a way that has
relevance to the traditions of robotics, to the emerging fields of
bio-art, and to environmental and ecological issues, as well as to the
history of cybernetics and cybernetically inspired biology. Electricium
Vitum applies the research of Logan, et al into biological sources of
electrical power - bio-batteries - to the construction of a cyborgian
life-form, by using the power from the battery (driven by human waste
decomposed by E.coli) to drive a microcontroller which monitors its
environment (via sensors) in a homeostatic or autopoietic way. This is an
important intervention in robotics because, while processing has become
relatively easy, electromechanical movement is manageable and sensing is
at least tractable in most cases, the question of power remains unsolved,
and is hidden under the table in most (autonomous) robotics projects - you
charge the batteries at the wall socket. That the generation of its own
power is fundamental to Electricium Vitum is, therefore, a rather profound
intervention in robotics and artificial life.

It is also profound in that its power is derived from the repugnant, the
less than worthless, that matter which, in most cases, is removed, with
attendant energy consumption. This aspect of the work makes it a
provocative intervention into environmental issues. Electricium Vitum also
intervenes in the realm of bio-art. Bio art practices to date have focused
largely on specialised technical practices, such as tissue culture, DNA
manipulation and synthesis of hybrid cells - all practices made viable for
the artist by the boom in genomics and biotech and the attendant
availability of mass-produced lab appliances. In this, bio-art follows
large scale patterns not unlike the early years of computer art.
Electricium Vitum therefore stakes out a new territory on the margins of
bio-art and robotics.

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