20190118

Visited the Oodi Central Library Public Art opening and saw works by Jenna Sutela, Tuomas A. Laitinen and Samir Bhowmik. The works were curated by Shannon Mattern and Jussi Parikka. The process was managed by the Finnish Cultural Institute in New York (Ilari Laamanen) and named Other Intelligence. Mattern and Parikka gave an well thought introduction to the curatorial process. They framed the library as an avant-garde public institution of knowledge distribution and gave a media-orientated introductions to the institutions history. The artists presented works which referred to artificial intelligences.

Sutela and Laitinen had very practical approaches to AIs and their artworks utilized machine learning and music generation algorithms. Bhowmik’s approach felt more advanced. His “Memory Machines” tour, performed together with the 00100 Ensemble, offered an analysis of the library as a culture-memory-factory.

Sutela explained that her piece is a fragment of an ongoing art-research process, in which she is investigating (among other things) the development of languages and exploring links between bacterial livelihoods and human-intelligences. She presented a unique artist-book titled “nimiia ïzinibimi” which was written using characters produced by a computer program. The book was available for the public to read and possibly for lend too which is very interesting (all public art should be distributed this way!). The characters for the writing were drawn by a machine, which based it’s designs on the movements of a branch of bacteria called Bacilli subtilis. The texts referred to a French medium Hélène Smith, who supposed had received messages from the planet Mars in the 1800s.

The concepts behind “nimiia ïzinibimi” are intriguing and the idea of using an artificial intelligence to fuse together the movements of bacteria (as seen on the plane of a petri-dish) and alphabet characters, for the purpose of presenting the uttering of a long-gone psychic-medium is inspiring! The characters looked like asemic writing.

Unfortunately the way the process was displayed at the library didn’t do justice to the complexity of the work. Visitors entering the library are introduced to it trough a short video, projected on the lobby wall. The video offered some hints to the thinking (texts were only in English, which felt rude). The projection was overcasted by a array of other media-displays and projections in the same space, which the library uses to announce it’s programming etc. Also using a binded-unique-artist-book to show the bacterial writings, felt offbeat in the Oodi context. Oodi as a the new central library, with its maker-space, emphasis on co-learning and event programming is not about books at all.

Tuomas A. Laitinen presented a “Swarm Chorus”, an ambient sound composition and a series of abstract videos, projected on a see-trough space divider. At the opening, three singers wandered the main lobby wearing beekeeper protective gear. They sang long vowels to wireless microphones and Laitinen effected their tones from his workstation. They also projected sounds using an ultrasonic speaker but I didn’t understand why. The work reminded me of surrealistic art. Both artworks felt like documentations or aestheticization of artificial intelligence driven processes but didn’t offer an engagement with the AIs themselves.

Bhowmik’s work fitted Mattern’s and Parikkas definitions of the library best. He organized a tour into the hidden territories of the library-culture-memory-factory. His work facilitated inquiries to the ecological sustainability of cultural institutions and the role automated systems play in knowledge production. Some parts of his approach felt very familiar from his dissertation: “Deep time of the Museum – The materiality of Media Infrastructures” from 2016 (mentioned earlier). During the tour we were introduced to automatic book sorting machines, temperature regulation systems, the backstage of movie projection halls, different service areas and the interior-and-exterior ceilings of the building.

Bhowmik paused the tour at key locations, were he made short introductions to the technologies present at the location or the 00100 Ensemble performed gestures and dances, which were illustrated and furthered Bhowmik reading of the site. The hands of the performers were painted blue, perhaps as a hint of the labor of the invisible hands which keep the library systems running. The actors visualized the cybernetic nature of library workers. As workers the tasks which constitute their work, are so fragmented and intertwined with mechanized automation processes, that their existence is reduced to a node of the institution-intelligence.

A walk or a tour is a great format for a performance, because in motion groups begin to make sense of themselves as an organization. Our group stretched into a think belt and which followed Bhowmik, like a fermented milk strain. People took their time to experience the site and thanks to Bhowmik presentation, we could witness how the library-culture-facture performed with us. We learned how the different building sensors read us and how the building changed its processes, according to the data it collected from us. We formed a temporary co-agency with the site. In some moments the actions of the 00100 Ensemble obscured the buildings own performances.

A fun coincidence took place in the temperature regulation room. A member of the 00100 Ensemble was reading a book at the corner of the room. Our group walked around the temperature regulation machine. I saw a worker adjusting the machine and printing a label using a Dymo Label-Priter. The label showed an abstract series of numbers and letters, which possibly refer to the service manual or are intended to be read by a scanner. The text and the act of writing a code, on the machine, with a machine felt like a small miracle. It felt very odd being cornered by an actor (faking reading), a worker writing code and a machine which was interpreting the temperature of the library and making adjustments to the heat regulators. Culture production, information production and heat production (or energy consumption) got intertwined in one view.

Bhowmik focus on the heat regulators felt very engaging thanks Dr Jiat-Hwee Chang presentation on the matter in the Imagining infrastructures podcast (2017), which looks at how the cooling systems of Singapore are linked to the cities colonial history. During the colonial era, building designs was westernized and traditional construction materials/technologies were abandoned. The local designs were well equipped in dealing with the heat but the interior temperatures of the westernized building had to be regulated using mechanical devices, which are depended on imported fossil-energy sources. Chang presented this is a prime show-case of the destructive nature of colonial thinking. It the case of Oodi the view to this process was reversed, as the primary function of the temperature regulation is to keep the space habitable by humans and to protect the books (by setting the humidity).

The last part of the tour was visit to the library ceiling, were we stood in the cold snow for a while. When we returned from the ceiling back inside, I had a flashback from the temperature regulation room. While returning inside, I imagined how our heat signatures would be identified by the temperature regulating machine-intelligence. The heat we had lost from our bodies was identified by the intelligence and it would make adjustment to the temperature of the building to compensate for the change. The walk made me capable to read my body as a mere composition of information (or heat), which needs infrastructure to sustain itself… Much like a book. Feeling cold as a part of an artwork was an interesting aesthetic experience (entropy?).

In a chat with the Oodi maker space staff (whom I befriended trough the Oodi Modular working group), I got a nice introduction to the new services the library is offering to it’s guests. I was told that libraries in Finland have been very influential in the establishment of the contemporary information society. Libraries provided the first public internet terminals, the first public access printers and copy-machines. From the staffs view, the 3d-printers, meeting rooms, media studios and soldering stations (which the second floor of the library is committed to) are a natural extension of this process. The staff made a joke: “Next year we’ll have DNA sequence CRISPR printers and the first the Peoples Artificial Intelligence”. I’m exited to see what kind of art will be developed by guests of the library.

201190111

Alkovi gallery (Miina Hujala & Arttu Merimaa) is organizing a research-art-process which will take place partially in Vyborg and deal with ruins, tourism & knowledge. I’ll meet with the group of artist invited to join the process next week (our first meeting was in Vyborg last spring). Hujala send us a text to contemplate, in which she poses various questions on what art can enable and how it differs from other modes of thought. This got me thinking about moods.

Art can establish a mood

  • Mood is knowledge that lasts for a moment
  • A mood is the best aid for exploring the potential of a site, idea or event
  • Moods swing and maintaining a mood is a challenge, as a mood is not action
  • Mood might be the essence (or performativity) of solidarity
  • Processes which try to deliver a mood are scary
  • Art is more like a mood then mood is art

What is the minimal effort for setting a mood?

  • A mood requires a comfortable setting (no hunger)
  • Moods require that they are identified (possibly known in advance)
  • Too much talking spoils the mood
  • Setting a mood requires preparation and self-confidence (trust)
  • Only stopping an action makes changes in moods noticeable
  • Moods catch on trough subtle hints

What can moods do?

  • Change the appearance of things and events
  • Provide access to new horizons
  • Things make more sense in a good mood
  • A set of different moods is required to establish a baseline for good judgement
  • Shared moods require mutual consent (no tricks)
  • Mood can be picked up and possibly stored in art

Is there archeology for moods?

I’ve been trying to frame moods as public art recently… Trans-Horse (as an example) is as an artwork, best understood as a mood because that’s how it effected it’s audiences and what it is leaving behind (there is no monument). I started to think about this after reading a review by Maaria Ylikangas Hevosen avulla tutkitaan tilaa ja aikaa (2014). In the text she accounts her experience of the artwork and explains that even if she didn’t see the work, she got to know what it is like to move in the landscape with a horse. This happened by learning about what we were doing (trough twitter, radio broadcasts, articles) and combining this with with her personal experiences with horses (and other critical texts). I’ll use her case as an example were an artwork set a mood (and that was all the artwork did).

20190110

Interesting texts about art-formerly-known-as-land-art are popping up. Here is an interview of Alan Michelson (2018) by Christopher Green from last December! I wrote earlier about his video-work “Wolf Nation” (2018) which is discussed in the interview.

MICHELSON: […] I am interested in Robert Smithson’s idea of site and nonsite. But applied to an Indigenous framework, you could say that the Indigenous site is almost always a nonsite, an abstraction or documentary representation of a site that may no longer exist, like the pond in Earth’s Eye or our villages in what is now Upstate New York. So the dialectic between the absence and the presence of whatever is there now has a critical edge to it. […]

How Michelson speaks of the nonsite reminds me a lot about the performance “All Visible Directions Between Sky and Water” by artist Maria Hupfield and poet Natalie Diaz at The Vera List Center for Art and Politics. Diaz made a strong argument that as the Indigenous peoples of America were forced out of their land, their bodies became a site trough which their culture was manifested. Their bodies became equivalent to land! The performance felt like a group consultation session which aimed to problematize categories trough which we experience land. First they drew an endless spatial horizon by reciting questions that referred to the differences between water and air: “Is this water?” “Is this air” they asked and performed a pair-dance, in which they experimented with the distances and arrangements of their hands. The audience was also invited to join. Then Diaz gave a shot lecture that experimented with written language structures as visual, faux-logical patterns. After this Hupfield asked people for stories about water. Many of the speakers were Indigenous and their stories referred to mythologies and believes. Hupfield asked me for a story too.. At the spot I only had a silly personal story to share, which showed how superficial my relation to land is. I felt unconformable. The event did not offer any answers (for me). Which is very good… If we would knew all the answers what would be the point in gathering?

After the event I remember a good story about water (which I send to Hupfield over email):

My friends Topi and Nestori bought a sailboat on a whim. It was very cheep and they spend two summers fixing it up. Neither of them were experienced sailors, so at first they took courses and made small trips in the archipelago. Eventually they developed courage and went on a long trip from Helsinki to Stockholm. There are a lot of boats on the lane and it’s a well documented route – It goes from a small island to the next. They reached Stockholm safely, felt very confident about themselves, had a night out at the town and started their trip home the next morning.

Midway their return trip a pea-soup fog appeared. They only had the visibility of the length of the boat, which meant that they had to rely on sparse boat lane beacons blinking lights, a nautical chart and sounds for navigation. They took turns at the bow of their small boat and tried to listen for other boats and the movements of the water. When there is no wind one can quite very far, but you can hear echoes reflected from the islands shores too. You even might hear your own boat reflected from the distance. They were not moving fast but a collision with a bigger boat or a ship would have been bad. To keep focus they kept completely silent for the day and took turns at the bow, while the other steered the boat.

Topi told me that during that trip, they developed an appetite for the truth. If they would have altered their course on a false assumptions, they would have gotten lost, possibly wondered to the wrong lane and got into a collision with an other boat or an islet. He also told me the most paranoid part of the experience was that, it’s possible all of the other people sailing on their boats were trying to navigate based on sounds too. Which meant that everyone kept silent and collisions were even more possible! When he told me about it we started laughing: If everybody is silently looking for the truth, nobody is safe!

Maintaining Good Relations: Starting From Zero (2017) is a live radio show by Native Art Department International (Maria Hupfield & Jason Lujan). In this episode they discuss the recent trend of cultural organizations starting their public events by acknowledging, that the land the organization stands has been forcefully claimed from the indigenous people. Land acknowledgements are often followed with a moment of silence. Lujan asks what would happen if audiences would respond to the acknowledgements with cheers and applauds (I think I heard applauds after an acknowledgement at an event at the New School). I think cheers are very good response, they indicate that the issue is still vibrant and that every acknowledgement is a step forwards (not backwards).

Without Us There Is No You: A Conversation at Artists Space (2017). Brian Droitcour interview Hupfield, Lujan & Jessica L. Horton about a screening they put together as a response to the protests against the Dakota Access Pipelines near the Standing Rock Reservation.

How Whiteness Works: The Racial Imaginary Institute at the Kitchen (2018) Lou Cornum. A review of an exhibition.

On a huge screen in the main gallery plays “There Is No Then and Now; Only Is and Is Not” (2018) by Native Art Department International, a video that enigmatically evokes the slips between colonial time and being. Dennis Redmoon Darkeem, an artist and member of the Yamassee Yat’siminoli tribe, dances in his powwow regalia and, in large blocks of text that interrupt the footage, comments on his frustrations with being obscured as a black Indigenous man under the current racial and visual regime. The video’s central position in the exhibition was fitting: here in the entanglements of black and Indigenous identities lies the narrative of modernity in the Americas, the creation of categories by a supposedly transparent and self-determining group of European subjects.

20190107

How to shoot a video while you are riding a horse?

When you film while riding, the footage is bound to be shaky. When you ride a horse your body movements are controlled by an other being. The film industry has a lot of specialized tools and techniques to make the act of riding appear what they imagine it to be. They use cranes and drones to follow a rider, shoot footage using camera stabilization tools and even engineer fake-horses.

Working with real animals is costly. Companies often have to employ a herd to portray an individual. The pig in the movie Babe (1995) was portrayed by 48 different animals. Using multiple pigs guaranteed that a compliant, pretty and healthy animal was constantly on set. What were the rest to pigs doing, when one of them was at the set? Did they become friends? Did they think that they all look the same?

Robots are more compliant than animals. The film industry has learned to build mechanized horses. Mechanized animal hulls are designed to look convincing from a specific camera angle, but might miss the rest of their body. To can move their ears and eyes and are fitted with micro-controllers and servos under their silicone skin. I bet the inner-mechanics of these puppets get repurposed. One day the automatized servos fake the liveliness of a horse, the next week they are used to animate a partial robot cow or an alien.

There is a growing variety of camera stabilization devices available. Stabilizing components can be build inside the lens or the camera. They try to balance the frame based on the devices orientation to the ground. I guess they use gravity as a reference. This means that all footage shot with lens or with in camera stabilization is geologically orientated. This means that subjects they portray are oriented to gravity.

Another way of stabilizing video footage is to use software to read the stream of images and to re-render it frame by frame. An algorithm interprets what it sees and reframes the footage accordingly. It’s interesting to see this kind of image, because you get to see how the algorithm interprets movement. What are you portraying trough this kind of material? Speculative choreography?

Anyway you look at it the camera will get in the way and fiddling with the settings takes time from interacting with the animal. Real riders shoot it rough: Riding in the Bronx (2018)

20181230

Returning from New York City to Helsinki feels like lobotomy.