Rafael Lozano-Hemmer on 19 Oct 2000 23:23:31 -0000

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

<nettime> Life 3.0 Jury statement

The Jury for the Life 3.0 Art and A-Life competition --Daniel Canogar, Joe
Faith, Machiko Kusahara, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, Sally Jane Norman and Nell
Tenhaaf-- reviewed 40 artworks that utilise artificial life concepts and
techniques. These pieces were pre-selected from a group of 61 submissions
received from 14 countries.

The winners of the Life 3.0 competition include two interactive sculptural
art works --the first prize awarded to "Autopoiesis" by Ken Rinaldo and
the third prize going to Ken Feingold's "Head"-- and a screen-based work
called "The Appearance Machine" by Willy LeMaitre and Eric Rosenveig,
which obtained both the second prize and the public's choice award. The
two sculptural works are based on sophisticated materialisations of Alife
principles and they both rely on human intervention to "come alive", while
The Appearance Machine ironically veils the servomechanisms used in
generating it.

Ken Rinaldo´s networked robotic sculpture Autopoiesis involves viewers in
a subtle and fluid interaction that manifests as a cybernetic ballet. It
consists of fifteen robotic sculptures whose form has been derived from
grapevines, and these friendly shapes respond to the presence of the
public both in their movements and through sound. A system of smart
sensors detects a viewer's location, which first affects the behaviour of
the closest sculptures and then also modifies the whole group as they
exchange data serially in a process of constantly evolving collective
behaviour. A voyeuristic element is inserted through tiny cameras on the
ends of the robots that project their imagery onto the walls of the room.
The interface and the evolution of the system are both clearly
understandable and contribute to a strong sculptural aesthetic. Meanwhile,
the subsumption architecture underlying the work is key to Alife
robot-building, and here it is innovatively used to structure the whole
system's individual and also group behaviour.

Willy LeMaitre and Eric Rosenveig's The Appearance Machine, the winner of
the second prize, is an autonomous system for the continual transformation
of input, made up of locally gathered detritus, into "global media" output
in the form of a live video/audio stream. The system is composed of
cameras controlled by motors, a spinning and vibrating platform holding
bits of garbage that form a sort of virtual landscape, and a computer that
analyses the camera imagery of the landscape. The computer data
established a soundtrack, which is then fed back into the system as
further instructions for its behaviour. Servomotors activate the lights,
fans and vibrators on the set. The feedback loops among all aspects of the
system are the embodiment of its networked intelligence: "the machine
invents in continuous response to its self-created accidents." Not only is
this a kind of Bachelor Machine in its perpetual and solitary activity,
but in its understated way subverts the industrial entertainment complex
it is designated to mimic. The machine is physically located in New York
City, but virtually it extends to whatever site it is networked into. The
piece received the largest number of votes from the public at the
presentation of the candidates and thus is also the public's choice award.

One of the qualities we are seeking in art works is a certain critical
distance from the tools and techniques they employ, and the social
contexts in which these tools and techniques are habitually
unquestioningly used. As science and industry target the Bigger, the
Better, the Faster, art has an increasingly vital role to play, offering a
unique place for reflection, interrogation, irrational prospection - some
people call this dreaming - and doubt. A-life's development of humanoid
agents is driven by the desire to optimise human simulation, to develop
streamlined, reliable counterparts to facilitate and enhance our lives.
Third prize winner Ken Feingold, with his freak-show Head, chooses rather
to explore the zones of non-response, of mischief and misbehaviour, or
distortion, of scrambled and failed communication. The Head makes us
question the basis of everyday dialogue we tend to take for granted: how
far is our exchange with others conditioned and limited by our own,
thoroughly encoded eccentricities, our own programmed bugs and quirks?
When indeed true communication occurs, how much is this just a matter of

Honorary Mentions

Sandlines, by the Australian artist Paul Brown, is a quiet and minimalist
computer-based piece that uses cellular automata to drive a changing
pattern of tiles. The result is a simple but very beguiling network of
lines that wrap and unwrap, knot and weave, drawing the viewer in. The
jury was impressed by how Paul Brown managed to create so much visual
interest from such simple elements, and also by how he had re-thought and
re-presented one of the oldest and most familiar Alife technologies.
Cellular automata, such as Conway´s Game of Life, have been used for 30
years to model the emergence of macroscopic order in living systems, and
are a basic part of any Alife scientist's toolbox. But the artist has
managed to throw a new light on such systems by using them to manipulate
tiles patterned with connected lines. The result is not only visually
compelling but also of genuine interest to scientists working in the

Beneath the real, physical floor that people are standing on there exists
a virtual world alive with small creatures. In El Ball del Fanalet -
Lightpools by Perry Hoberman, Roc Parés and Narcis Parés, participants
discover and interact with such a virtual world. As if lighting up the
surface of a pond with a lantern and finding a fish, participants can find
the virtual creatures with the Fanalet, can nurture them and train them to
dance until they start dancing by themselves. The Jury appreciated the
matching scale of the virtual and real worlds, creating the social quality
of the piece, where human participants seem as artificial as the synthetic
creatures they share space with.

The Institute of Applied Autonomy is located in one of the hottest spots
on the planet for robotics development. This anonymous group of leading
R&D figures has crafted a number of major Alife breakthroughs.
Pamphleteer, alias Little Brother, offers an eminently pragmatic solution
to a key issue facing the development of information and communication
technologies: how to effectively communicate strategic data to the huge
populations currently deprived of Internet access. How to cater to the
offline world. Little Brother's low-end design tackles this problem
ingeniously: as a neighbourhood presence, the Pamphleteer is a benign
agent whose qualities lie somewhere between those of the friendly local
police officer, and the ice-cream vendor. He thus productively breaks with
ominous surveillance robot culture. But we shouldn't be fooled by this
whimsical surface: Little Brother occupies a distinct socio-ideological
niche, defined by well-planned social strategy. His deceptive
street-corner innocence makes him the perfect communications vehicle for
new forms of activism, feeding vital information to whole population
sectors previously untouched by propaganda and subversive issues.

The centrepiece of Genesis, by the Brazilian artist Eduardo Kac, is an
artificial living creature, in this case a bacteria that glows when
illuminated in ultraviolet light, of the kind routinely used in
biotechnology experiments. Into this organism the artist has inserted a
scrap of DNA whose sequence is a translation of the passage from the Bible
where God grants Man control over nature. The resulting mutant is then
presented in a petri dish like a holy relic: the word of God embodied in
flesh. Genesis is a complex and conceptually difficult work that plays on
our fears about the power of biotechnology, about the threat it poses to
our own biology, and the changing relationship of control we have over
nature. But it also points to an alternative, since the artist has also
made it possible for the audience to use the Internet to induce mutations
in the carefully genetically engineered bacteria. The illusion of
biotechnological control is never absolute.

Genetically speaking, we are all designed with the alphabet of Nature, the
letters of our DNA code. This is a key concept that bridges real life and
Alife. In Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau's Life Spacies II, an
artistic representation of the way life is related to information,
participants can send texts over the Internet to eventually design virtual
creatures that live in a virtual world. Users can see how different texts
or letters result in a difference in body structure and behaviour of the
creatures. Users can also feed creatures with letters, because each
creature can "eat" letters that are already included in their genetic
code. This piece provides us with an arena for entertaining and
educational collaborative experience over the Net.

Modelling human emotions or at least capturing human emotions as an
element in a machinic interaction, also called Emotional Computing, is an
area with some recent pubic visibility. The challenge of modelling
emotional states and emotional behaviours within virtual entities is taken
up in Japanese artist Naoko Tosa's Unconscious Flow. The piece is highly
entertaining because of the engaging animated mermaid and merman
characters that are used as agents or surrogates for the human
participants. The interface in this work, which involves tracking
heartbeat and hand motion in water, is somewhat challenging to read
because one's own emotional state is not readily understood in relation to
what biosensors may be gathering physiologically. Also, the
synchronisation of emotional state between two viewers is what is being
measured and for relaxation and level of interest. This work raises some
provocative questions as it diverts and amuses us.

Although most of the videotapes received for the Life competition are
documentation of art works in various media, ranging from sculpture
through Web art through audio, some are works in themselves. In Australian
Linda Wallace's video art work Love Hotel, the medium is used to great
effect in that it merges imagery taken directly from the Net, including
some chat line and e-mail texts, with footage of the contemporary urban
environment. Love Hotel is a narrative about a virtual character whose
life is on the Net. She is Gash Girl, the creation of Francesca da Rimini
--a well-known Net activist with VNS matrix. In this beautifully textured
video work, Wallace is stepping into the character of Gash Girl, then
setting up a two-way flow between her experiences in cyberspace and in
real space. The interest of the work is in its evocation of parallels
between these two spaces, and experiences one can have in them: constant
flow of images, globalisation, identity confusion, sexual adventures.

Special Mention for Innovation in Alife research

A defining feature of living things is their ability to reproduce. Hod
Lipson and Jordan B. Pollack have come closest to inducing a machine to do
the same. They have created a process whereby a design for a robot is
evolved with no human intervention, through a process of artificial
selection. The robots were then automatically constructed using a
computer-controlled manufacturing process called stereoscopic lithography.
The overall result --from virtual evolution to physical construction--
responds to a key issue in Alife research, which is bridging the gap
between simulation in the computer and materialisation of the digital
models made there. The resulting robots are crude and simple, capable of
only the most rudimentary locomotion; but this simplicity, along with
their purely autonomous genesis, lends them an enduring fascination.

Madrid, October 17, 2000. 

For more information and documentation please visit

#  distributed via <nettime>: no commercial use without permission
#  <nettime> is a moderated mailing list for net criticism,
#  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
#  more info: majordomo@bbs.thing.net and "info nettime-l" in the msg body
#  archive: http://www.nettime.org contact: nettime@bbs.thing.net