Blog posts

TED2010 Tweet archive 1/3

Submitted on March 29, 2010, 10:36 am

I’m posting my whole archive of all the TED-related Tweets that I sent out during and after the TED2010 conference in Long Beach, CA in February. Essentially importing microblogging back into regular blogging. Obviously, I couldn’t attend every single TED talk, so this overview is by no means exhaustive. But it nevertheless contains a valuable set of new ideas, developments, evolutions with concrete links. This is the first of three planned posts. The hours are a little off - as so often in Twitter and Facebook - but the dates are correct. 

Arrived in Long Beach for TED2010. Recovering in my hotel room after a 15hr trip. Will be Twittering throughout the event. 12:19 AM Feb 8th via web 

TED2010: TED Fellows pre-conference starts now, and lasts until Tuesday. Official opening of the main TED2010 conference is Tuesday night. 2:19 AM Feb 8th via web 

TED2010: First dinner with all new and senior TED Fellows. Amazing bunch of people from many different parts of the world. Great food too. 6:56 AM Feb 8th via web 

TED2010: Getting up at 7am. A packed day for TED Fellows: presentation rehearsals & a presentation workshop by Doug Neff http://url.ie/4ye5 4:09 PM Feb 8th via web

TED2010: Glad I practiced my short talk. Improving visuals now. Finally saw projects from my fellow Fellows. Will Twitter about that later.. 2:54 AM Feb 9th via web

TED2010: TED Fellows talk successfully completed. TED U begins w/ presentation by Michael Martin abt tornadoes. Cocktail party & gala later. 1:10 AM Feb 10th via web

TED2010: Great talk by Catherine Mohr abt consumption and 'embodied energy'. How to construct a real green house w/ a low energy footprint? 1:15 AM Feb 10th via web

TED2010: Check http://www.301monroe.com for useful tips and calculations to build that green house. 1:18 AM Feb 10th via web

TED2010: Felix Kramer on throwing away your sneakers and going back to barefoot running. Bad news for Nike & co. http://url.ie/4z71 1:24 AM Feb 10th via web

TED2010: Daniel Kraft about the future of medicine. Interesting cyborg-related stuff. But way too fast and way too much for a 5 minute talk. 1:31 AM Feb 10th via web

TED2010: More credible talk abt evolution of medicine by Kevin Stone. Biological, not bionic joint replacement. Animal tissue to the rescue. 1:45 AM Feb 10th via web

TED2010: Mindblowing 3D visualization about melanocytes and melanoma by David Bolinsky. 1:46 AM Feb 10th via web


TED2010: Senior Fellow Frederick Balagadde talks about his 'microchemostat chip', essentially a medical lab on a chip http://url.ie/4z7t 3:42 AM Feb 10th via web

TED2010: Jessica Green abt the ubiquitous presence of microbial ecosystems - on our bodies. Jonathan Drori w/ beautiful images of pollen. 3:44 AM Feb 10th via web

TED2010: Brazilian Juliana Machado Ferreira about the necessity of (molecular) wildlife forensics to bring captured fauna back to nature. 3:46 AM Feb 10th via web

TED2010: A great quote I borrowed from Manu Prakash' talk: "Information is physical" - R. Landauer. Useful for my Corrupted C#n#m# project. 3:52 AM Feb 10th via web

TED2010 Janet Baker on knowledge engineering in the brain. The old dream of relating brains to computers. Not entirely sure about that. 5:50 PM Feb 10th via web

TED2010 Rob Cook criticizing the idea of singularity in which machines will become self-aware and replace humans (Vernor Vinge). Good call. 5:53 PM Feb 10th via web

TED2010: Ted Fellow and violinist Robert Gupta captures the whole audience with his powerful story about the healing qualities of music. 6:01 PM Feb 10th via web

TED2010: Danny Sullivan on how to get into the top 10 on Google: improve title tags & page titles, avoid Flash issues, and add links. 6:21 PM Feb 10th via web

TED2010: Great sharp presentation by Derek Sivers on how to start a movement. Leadership is overestimated. The first follower is key. 6:39 PM Feb 10th via web

TED2010: Margaret Stewart on how to squeeze most money out of the mash-up media culture. Oh, sometimes Sony 'allows' people to use music. 6:41 PM Feb 10th via web

TED2010: Tom Wujec on the Marshmallow Challenge: prototype building + specialized and facilitation skills boost collaborative design most. 6:54 PM Feb 10th via web

TED2010: Another fascinating talk by fellow Fellow Manu Prakash. How water-striding insects actually never touch the water surface. 7:09 PM Feb 10th via web

TED2010: Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy on the next generation of.. suicide bombers. How the Taliban perfected the brainwashing of children. 7:11 PM Feb 10th via web


TED2010: Doug Randall on crowdsourcing & data collection in war zones. Data is not always the answer. Inquire & work w/ the crowd's opinion. 7:23 PM Feb 10th via web

#TED: Bumping into Paul Simon, David Byrne and Will Smith. A terrific on-stage message from Jamie Oliver. And a mini concert by Sheryl Crow. 4:55 AM Feb 11th via web

#TED Next tweets: overview of interesting stuff from the main stage yesterday. And more. 6:49 PM Feb 11th via web

#TED Daniel Kahneman on behavioral economics. How the ending of an experience determines memory, much more than the actual experience. 7:03 PM Feb 11th via web
 

#TED Speech by almost(?) Prime Minister David Cameron from London. Stomach turned. Web 2.0 turned into neoliberal ideology. People power? My *ss. 7:40 PM Feb 11th via web
 

TED Fellowship 2010

Submitted on February 4, 2010, 1:21 pm

I received a TED Fellowship for 2010 which means I’ll be participating in the annual TED conference in California that starts in just a few days. I’ll be meeting my 24 fellow Fellows for the first time during the preconference, and I’ll be talking about Biomodd. I’ll try to Twitter throughout the event (you can follow me here). 

TED is most famous for its wonderful series of online lectures by social innovators, scientists, inventors, artists, etc. If you haven’t checked it out yet, you should definitely have a look at TED.com and browse through their large collection of clips. 

Since 2009 TED also has an international fellowship program. This is from their site: 

The TED Fellows program helps world-changing innovators from around the globe become part of the TED community and, with its help, amplify the impact of their remarkable projects and activities. Fellows are drawn from many disciplines that reflect the diversity of TED's members: technology, entertainment, design, the sciences, the humanities, the arts, NGOs, business and more. 

The TED Fellows program is designed to bring together young world-changers and trailblazers who have shown unusual accomplishment and exceptional courage. The program targets individuals from the Asia/Pacific region, Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Middle East, though anyone from anywhere in the world, age 18 and over, is welcome to apply.
 

Digital Shamanism at Netwerk, Aalst

Submitted on December 22, 2009, 11:34 am

Last week on Thursday and Friday, the video essay "Digital Shamanism" by Josh Kerner and Angela Jerardi was on display during the "Tranche de Vie" event in Netwerk in Aalst, Belgium. The video is a reflection on my past residency at FLUXspace in Philadelphia, and is conceived as an associative reading of the various experiments for my new project "Corrupted C#n#m#". I inquired into the role of digital media's physicality by opening up hard drives and exposing them to different types of biological (degradation) processes. My main interest was to recover video files that I had saved at the start of the experiments, and work with the errors that would inevitably accompany data recovery. Essentially the project tries to transpose the tradition of abstract cinema to the digital age by working with the material aspect of digital video. 

Digital Shamanism by Josh Kerner and Angela Jerardi from FLUXspace.

Digital Shamanism by Josh Kerner and Angela Jerardi from FLUXspace.

I use surgical videos as images to corrupt because of their interesting dialectic relation to hacked and infected electronics. In “Digital Shamanism” surgery footage donated by a local Philadelphia surgeon was used as a backdrop for the narrated essay. The idea of opening up hard drives is linked to the early days of surgery, when this practice was still half rooted in “shamanism”, characterized by ritual curiosity, trial and error, and a quest for the anomaly. Here’s an excerpt from the text: 

Angelo, in his hypothesis for "Corrupted C#n#m#", stated that one of his goals was to disprove the myth that media art was wholly immaterial and divorced from the physical act of making. An unfortunate side effect of meddling with modern data storage devices is that they are far more easily destroyed than they are altered. Due to tamper prevention devices on hard drives, opening the hard drive case most often causes irreparable damage, the result being that the drive will rarely function again. Furthermore, the essential nature of digital media necessitates a sterile operating environment. When a foreign body is present on the drive, the information is completely and unutterably inaccessible. 

Perhaps we should focus on the road-blocks inherent in Angelo’s experiment? While we have not yet found a viable detour around some of the basic properties of common hard drives (on a technical level these experiments have been failures), the ideas and concepts that underlie the project propel continued thought and conversation. (…) 

Vermeulen – as though he were Dr. Moreau – dissected, added, and combined unlike-elements in experiments that might be destined for failure, but that hold on to the hope of finding a surviving specimen, a “successful” anomaly in the results. In his effort to defy logic, Vermeulen's practice is perhaps in line with that of the medicine man, working outside of, or even against what we know today as the empirical knowledge of western medicine or computer science. 

Thanks to Joe DiGiuseppe for the video editing, and to Rika Hawes for the narration.
 

Corrupted C#n#m# at FLUXspace, Philadelphia

Submitted on December 22, 2009, 7:06 am

In October I started my new project Corrupted C#n#m# with a three week long research residency at FoAM in Brussels. The project essentially transposes the tradition of abstract cinema to the digital age, and explores the physicality of digital media. Hacked digital media, biological infected electronics, and data forensic techniques all converge with the goal is to create experimental video pieces. During the beginning of November I moved to FLUXspace in Philadelphia to continue my explorations. After yet another three weeks the first Corrupted C#n#m# exhibition opened. 

Public presentation moment of Corrupted C#n#m# during the gRig Froesjels event at FoAM on October 30. (Photos Alex Davies and Angelo Vermeulen)

Public presentation moment of Corrupted C#n#m# during the gRig Froesjels event at FoAM on October 30. (Photos Alex Davies and Angelo Vermeulen)

This is the project description from the FLUXspace flyer: Corrupted C#n#m# is an amorphous, process-oriented project which explores new and old media through biological and digital experimentation via creating symbiosis and synchronicity between the living and the digital. The exhibition will consist of several components and a variety of processes, which will overlap and intermingle during the project. The experiment/project challenges and investigates parallels and dialectics between human flesh and digital physicality, bacterial infection and data corruption, and cinematic and tangible experience. Corrupted C#n#m# is an artistic inquiry into the notion of the material “body” in both the digital and the biological realm. How do we define the relationships between the natural and the artificial? How do they and when can they interface? 

Left: installation view of Corrupted C#n#m# at FLUXspace. Right: video stills of the surgery footage that was used as a point of departure for data corruption. (Photos and video stills Angelo Vermeulen)

Left: installation view of Corrupted C#n#m# at FLUXspace. Right: video stills of the surgery footage that was used as a point of departure for data corruption. (Photos and video stills Angelo Vermeulen)

Vermeulen initiated this project with SoundImageCulture and FoAM, two arts organizations in Brussels, with an experiment in which he colonized digital media with biological organisms. With the concept of glitch-art in mind, the following question arose: Can the growth of organic life on digital media cause visual glitches to video data? 

The source material for the experiment is scientific surgical footage from instructional medical tapes; this didactic and raw footage is displaced from its original VHS container through conversion into a digital file. These files are then be placed onto different digital storage devices that are manipulated and disrupted through various biological processes: bacteria, fungi, algae, and insects. These processes could cause data errors in the source material emerging as faulty lines and pixels, broken images and color shifts, among other artifacts. The biologically damaged video data will be meticulously recovered with data forensic techniques, and will then be carefully examined and displayed to determine the effects of the bacterial exposure. This physical interaction and experimentation with the actual digital media invokes early abstract cinema techniques, where the visual image on the screen was the consequence of real physical stress and alteration to the film reel. The project also explores the myth of the immaterial nature of digital art media and its production. 

One of the hard drives that has been infected with a culture of mold and bacteria. The video data stored on the drive could not be retrieved. The ultimate goal of Corrupted C#n#m# is to recuperate video from such

One of the hard drives that has been infected with a culture of mold and bacteria. The video data stored on the drive could not be retrieved. The ultimate goal of Corrupted C#n#m# is to recuperate video from such "reworked" electronics and edit the damaged data into abstracted video pieces. (Photos Angelo Vermeulen)

Through a performative/ritual process, bacteria is being collected around the city of Philadelphia by a team of volunteers, FLUXstaff, and the artist. A map of Philadelphia charts the locations each bacterial sample is collected from. The collected bacteria are then cultured following simple instructions from high school science experiments (as found on YouTube). The city becomes a monumental body from which its microbial ecosystem is superimposed on the digital media, thus making native Philadelphia bacteria act as the agent which will potentially "corrupt the cinema". 

These are some of the data forensics videos that are a source of inspiration for the project: a news item about a data recovery company, and a technical demonstration video on magnetic head replacement. These and similar videos show an interesting perspective on the "black box" that digital media still are. Hacking and reconfiguration are the first steps in exploring the creative potential of its material logic.
 

Artist talk at Tisch ITP, New York University

Submitted on November 12, 2009, 8:08 pm

Tomorrow I will give an artist talk at Tische ITP, at New York University. Jonah Brucker-Cohen invited me to come over and present my work dealing with digital culture, new technologies, and biology. ITP is a two-year graduate program located in the Tisch School of the Arts whose mission is to explore the imaginative use of communications technologies — how they might augment, improve, and bring delight and art into people's lives. Essentially a Center for the Recently Possible. 

This is the synopsis of my talk on the ITP website: In this artist talk Angelo Vermeulen will present his biology-inspired works. He will focus on 'Biomodd', a worldwide cross-cultural installation project in which ecology, community building, and case modding creatively converge. The first version was created at The Aesthetic Technologies Lab in Athens, Ohio between 2007 and 2008. In October 2009, the project's second iteration in the Philippines was finalized after an 8-month long collaboration with a team of over 50 Filipino artists, scientists, engineers, gamers, craftsmen, volunteers and students. During the talk, 'Biomodd' will be elaborated upon using video excerpts, photos, work sketches and participant testimonies. Vermeulen will also introduce 'Corrupted C#n#m#', his new art project set up in collaboration with FLUXspace in Philadelphia, and due to open on November 20. The work deals with biological infected electronics, glitch art and abstract cinema. 

More details can be found here.
 

Biomodd [LBA2] opening at MCAD, Manila

Submitted on August 31, 2009, 8:58 am

It’s been so busy the past few weeks that I didn’t even have time to post anything on the two Philippine Biomodd exhibits. The first exhibit at the SU Building in Los Baños opened on August 5 and ran for two weeks. The whole installation has now been moved to the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design (MCAD) in Manila, and we are currently preparing the opening event planned for tomorrow night at 6pm. Both shows have been created in very contrasting contexts. The exhibit in the SU Building in Los Baños was set up in a smaller space than in MCAD. The space was relatively dark which made the illuminated Biomodd structure easily stand out. The SU Building is one of those typical examples of 70s Marcos era architecture, and is breathing history. 

Invite for both Biomodd [LBA2] exhibits, in the SU Building in Los Baños, and in MCAD in Manila.

Invite for both Biomodd [LBA2] exhibits, in the SU Building in Los Baños, and in MCAD in Manila.

 

Biomodd [LBA2], SU Building, Los Baños, Philippines, August 2009. (Photos Angelo Vermeulen)

Biomodd [LBA2], SU Building, Los Baños, Philippines, August 2009. (Photos Angelo Vermeulen)

MCAD is a huge, white and well lit exhibition space with two floors. It is part of the spectacular De La Salle building designed by Calma Associates, and feels almost like an assembly hall for spacecrafts. Precisely because of the large space, the show in MCAD has been transformed into an exploration of the Biomodd universe, rather than just displaying the Philippine result. The new Biomodd structure is set up in the middle of the space, and is flanked by a large-scale lab/meeting space. In the back, the Ohio Biomodd video trailer by Morgan Riles is monumentally projected. There’s also a documentation area with detailed background information, participant testimonies, photos, videos by Waise Azimi, and a screening area for the 50 min documentary on the Ohio Biomodd (also by Morgan Riles). During the opening, cocktails and drinks will be served on the two museum floors. Interesting detail: most of these have been donated through an open call on Facebook and Twitter after our main drinks sponsor pulled out. I will conclude the opening night with a DJ set of 8-bit music and game music (as DJ Drumlander). The event is free and open for all. Please join us at 6pm in MCAD, on P. Ocampo in Malate, Manila. 

Preparations of the Biomodd [LBA2] exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design in Manila, Philippines. (Photos Trixie Beredo, Vanessa Liwanag and Angelo Vermeulen)

Preparations of the Biomodd [LBA2] exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design in Manila, Philippines. (Photos Trixie Beredo, Vanessa Liwanag and Angelo Vermeulen)

 

Violence, Transgression, and Modernity online

Submitted on July 28, 2009, 5:28 am

My dialogue 'Violence, Transgression, and Modernity' with Belgian art philosopher Antoon Van den Braembussche has been published in the New York Magazine of Contemporary Art and Theory, and is now available for download

In this dialogue the contemporary fascination for violence is explored. The mechanisms in which extreme violence is represented in modern media are discussed, while making multiple references to philosophical theory and historical events. We identify transgression as a core component of modernity, and go on to discuss terrorism and religion in this light. Awareness of hypermediality is seen as empowerment in dealing with the media's depiction of extreme degrees of violence, in particular, computer games. 

Antoon Van den Braembussche (1946) has taught philosophy of history, and philosophy of art at the Erasmus University of Rotterdam from 1980 until 2007. He currently teaches, on a part time basis, art criticism at the Free University of Brussels. Van den Braembussche was Visiting Professor at the University of Bielefeld, Calcutta University, Javdapour University, the University of Amsterdam, and the Universities of Turku and Helsinki. He is currently preparing a publication, titled 'The Silenced Past', which embodies the first systematic inquiry into the nature of historical taboos and traumas in history and art. His most succesful book 'Thinking Art' will be published in its first English edition in the fall of 2009 by Springer (New York). 

'Violence, Transgression, and Modernity' is part of the publication 'Baudelaire in Cyberspace'. This book was published by Academic & Scientific Publishers (Brussels) in 2008 and was written in Dutch. The text contains a series of dialogues which were recorded from 2005-2007. In these conversations, the relationships between art, science, and digital culture are explored from ten different angles. This is the first English publication of any part of the book. The title chapter of the book 'Baudelaire in Cyberspace' deals with the impact of contemporary hyperlinked media, and draws parallels with the 19th century concept of the "flâneur". This dialogue has also been translated in English, and will be published shortly. If you have any interest in publishing parts of the book in English in a magazine or online format, simply send an email at angelovermeulen[at]inbox[dot]com.
 

Open House Los Baños • Talks & DJ set Manila

Submitted on July 20, 2009, 7:36 pm

Different events in Los Baños and Manila this week: open house in the Biomodd lab, two artist talks, a panel discussion, video screening and DJ set during SciTech Week and ASEUM, and getting Biomodd ready for its move to the SU Building in Los Baños. Here are the details. 

On Tuesday the Biomodd lab (or studio) in Los Baños will open its doors for UPOU faculty, students and supporters. This event is organized right before we start moving the whole installation to the SU Building in Los Baños for its first public exhibit. Diego Maranan and I will host the afternoon. We will elaborate on the project and the lab, share our experiences creating the Philippine Biomodd community, talk about our expectations for the two upcoming exhibits, and of course provide snacks and drinks. No event in the Philippines without a nice supply of food. 

The College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology Student Council (CEATSC) of De La Salle University in Manila invited Diego Maranan and me to give a duo presentation about Biomodd on July 22. This event is part of the Philippine National Science and Technology Week. During this talk we will be focusing on the more technical aspects of the project such as computer recycling, heat management, open source hard- and software, sensor technology and data visualization. 

Biomodd [LBA2] is a partner of ASEUM, a new media arts festival/symposium in Manila. This is a rather intense description from their site: The symposium, initiated with the support of Asia-Europe Foundation, will consist of a series of workshops, presentations, performances, video screenings, open-studio sessions, round-table discussions, and policy meetings with cultural foundations (…) This in an effort to advance artistic positions reflecting on the socio-cultural impacts of new technologies, and artistic practices that not only respond to scientific or technical developments, but also try to shape the way in which we think about and experience these technologies. I’ll be giving a talk about Biomodd on July 23 during the early afternoon. In the evening I’m part of a panel with Jerneja Rebernak, Emma Oto, Brian O’Reilly, and Diego Maranan. The topic of the panel is ‘Threesome: Art and media, art and technology, art and science.’ The introductory Biomodd video that was produced for the Vooruit Arts Centre in Ghent (Belgium) will be on display in the TV lounge of the festival. And on Friday I will be DJ’ing (as Drumlander) during the closing night of ASEUM at Penguin Bar in Malate. Other artists that night are Armor, Minister Zero, Sgt. Vez, Downboydown, and Eggboy. 

Clockwise from upper left: Vanni Liwanag discussing the woodcarving design with xx Cagayat; transport of the donated logs for the woodcarving; meeting in the Biomodd lab to discuss the integration of the aquaponics system; donation of second-hand computers at SEARCA; view of the lab with the central case being furbished with plant life and computer components.

Clockwise from upper left: Vanni Liwanag discussing the woodcarving design with xx Cagayat; transport of the donated logs for the woodcarving; meeting in the Biomodd lab to discuss the integration of the aquaponics system; donation of second-hand computers at SEARCA; view of the lab with the central case being furbished with plant life and computer components.

On August 6 the first exhibit of Biomodd [LBA2] will open at the SU Building in Los Baños. The installation will consist of the hybrid bio/computer ‘sculpture’ surrounded by its supporting equipment and work benches. During the exhibit this installation will be continuously updated and reconfigured. And the audience is invited to actively engage in this process. Visitors can help in the ongoing development of the piece, assist in maintaining the set up, play and explore the computer game, or engage in dialogue with the team members. More detailed info soon on this blog.
 

Slides of lecture at UP Manila online

Submitted on July 14, 2009, 1:14 pm

Last week I posted my latest presentation on SlideShare. On July 7, I talked at UP Manila about the progress of the second Biomodd version in the Philippines (after 17 weeks of project development). I was invited by Prof. Levy Achanzar-Labor to come and talk for Philippine Arts students and faculty. The presentation starts with an overview of selected previous art projects. Subsequently the Biomodd versions in the US and the Philippines are explained in detail using video excerpts, photos, sketches, and participant testimonies. The presentation concludes with a brief introduction about the relevance of the project for space research. 

Browse and download the slides here. More info on Biomodd here.
 

Interview by Xárene Eskandar

Submitted on July 3, 2009, 9:41 am

I met LA-based artist Xárene Eskandar last year during ISEA2008 in Singapore where we both presented work related to the themes of ecology and transformation. This is from her website: Xárene has a diverse background ranging from fashion and automotive design to architecture and event production. She takes on anything the situation needs her to: a builder in a range of mediums; a designer without boundaries; and a catalyst funneling anger and despair into creativity. Fusing concepts of the rhizome, Singularity, and the phenomenology of space, Xárene's recent work visits the parallel universe of Other Earth, a nomadic society where the inhabitants’ responsive wearables create tentative architectures within an invisible urban infrastructure. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Design from University of Cincinnati, Department of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, and her MFA from Design/Media Arts, UCLA. Currently she is working towards her PhD at UCLA Architecture and Urban Design. Her research focus is in Social Ecology and the role of architecture in disturbed social interactions. 

Other Earth, Xárene Eskandar, 2008.

Other Earth, Xárene Eskandar, 2008.

We started discussing my Biomodd project over email when I was in the Philippines a few weeks after the ISEA conference. I was there to do some prospection for a potential new version. We’re almost one year later, and I am actually in the middle of the development of the Philippine Biomodd. I’m reproducing our email exchange here as one continuous conversation. 

Xárene Eskandar: Is the ecosystem in the case related to the location you are, or are you planting and growing plants that just grow easy for the effect you are creating? 

Angelo Vermeulen: That depends. In the case of Ohio, we first tried using ferns and mosses, including species native to the area – but that didn’t work out too well. The inside of the case is more like a dry arid environment, and as a consequence almost all these plants died. We then used succulent plants, and plants typical for a hotter environment, and that worked much better. Apart from that we also use microscopic green algae as a water coolant. I took a dried batch from my Belgian studio to Ohio, revived them and injected them in the work. Inevitably they mixed with local algae (through air-borne spores or aplanospores). I will reuse this Belgo-American batch in the next version, and so on. By the end of the project I should have a sort of universal mix. 

Biomodd [ATH1], 2007-2008. Looking for plants with Daniel Mintz in a local plant nursery in Athens, Ohio.

Biomodd [ATH1], 2007-2008. Looking for plants with Daniel Mintz in a local plant nursery in Athens, Ohio.

XE: I don't understand the game. Is it Tron-like but in a world similar to the greenhouse? 

AV: For the first Biomodd version we decided to start with an existing open-source game with good and accessible gameplay, Armagetron Advanced. Social connectivity is essential for the project, hence the need for a game with a low entry threshold. Scott Sullivan, one of the team members redesigned the game using photos and ideas stemming from the ecosystem. In the future I want to create a custom game that integrates, or rather mixes, the virtual world and the ecosystem. There are several ways to achieve this. Sensors could be utilized to probe the state and evolution of the ecosystem. These data can then be used to create a dynamic representation of the ecosystem in the game world. Specific controls in the game could allow the player to (temporarily) take control of robotics inside the structure, and consequently manipulate the ecosystem through such tasks as planting seeds or providing nutrients. 

Biomodd [ATH1], 2007-2008. From left to right: game terminals running the multiplayer game Armagetron Advanced; screenshot of the game; one of the textures used to modify the game.

Biomodd [ATH1], 2007-2008. From left to right: game terminals running the multiplayer game Armagetron Advanced; screenshot of the game; one of the textures used to modify the game.

XE: I am not keen on its disassembly. I like that some parts get used in the next set-up, but the rest just recycled and the plants given away (and probably the goldfish die)? That doesn't cut it for me. Creating a system and killing it off... so erroneously human. 

AV: The goldfish didn’t die – they’re actually in good health now. Morgan Riles, the filmmaker who made a documentary about the project adopted them. However, next to life and evolution, death and destruction are also recurrent elements in my work (check out Blue Shift on the ISEA2006 site). Death and destruction are not erroneous, nor strictly human, and actually inherent to ecology (and thermodynamics). The temporary fleeting nature of the Biomodd versions is crucial. I always compare it to the tradition of Mandala sand painting: Traditionally most sand mandalas are destroyed shortly after their completion. This is done as a metaphor of the impermanence of life. The sands are swept up and placed in an urn; to fulfill the function of healing, half is distributed to the audience at the closing ceremony, while the remainder is carried to a nearby body of water, where it is deposited.  

XE: Can instead each Biomodd network with another Biomodd? They can each have their location-specific character, without facing death. 

AV: That could be another option. 

XE: Can Biomodd be a space that expands over time and takes a life of its own? 

AV: Sure, if a local community wants to dedicate time and energy in taking care of the system,
I would be open for that. The problem is that the communities I gather around Biomodd are
temporary by themselves. Afterwards people disperse again. And even if some people would
decide to take care of it, it would end somehow. The realization of that pervades the
whole experience. 

XE: Can it be a server room for a network of gamers? Then different parts of the greenhouse may grow differently based on the gaming habits of the network it represents. Hmm, live data visualization of sorts? 

AV: Theoretically yes. But transforming Biomodd into an architectural structure would require an enormous input from people and a huge budget. Who knows, once I am rich and famous… But the idea of live data visualization is definitely a good one. 

XE: Any edibles and herbs perhaps, so it can make a full circle and come back to us. Then the energy generated won't die off with the plants and the fish... and I would love to make Biomodd dishes!! Oh, can you add a culinary aspect to this for me?! 

AV: Oh yeah, we already experimented with that in Athens: we had watercress seeds sprouting inside the case… and then organized an intimate wine and cheese event with the crew, sprinkling watercress on our French bread. It’s probably something we will expand upon here in the Philippines. And complete Biomodd dishes? Yes, that would be nice. But wait a second, edible means killing… 

From left to right: Blue Shift [LOG. 1], 2005 (with Luc De Meester); detail of the algae cooling system in Biomodd [ATH1].

From left to right: Blue Shift [LOG. 1], 2005 (with Luc De Meester); detail of the algae cooling system in Biomodd [ATH1].

XE: I am happy to hear about the goldfish. Using the mandala as an example doesn't work. A mandala is lifeless matter used as a metaphor; a lama will never use a living being. I recall reading about your Blue Shift project... hypocritically, I enjoyed the evilness of it. 

AV: We’re killing the system, not the life that it contains. Animals and plants are adopted by participants and members of the audience. Algae are poured in the grass outside where they can form spores or are used as nutrients by other organisms. Working with life implicates working with death. It’s simply impossible to separate both in a straight opposition. I’m glad you enjoyed my evil Blue Shift piece.
 

Back in the Philippines

Submitted on June 29, 2009, 10:31 pm

I was writing this blog entry a few days ago on my way to Manila, but I had to board the plane before I could actually post it. At this point I’m back in The Living Room, Carlos Celdran’s artist spot in Malate, and my hang-out in Metro Manila. Here’s the original post. 

Part of the Biomodd team working the plants and computer components into the case

Part of the Biomodd team working the plants and computer components into the case

I’m currently sitting on the floor in a hallway in the airport of Abu Dhabi, my laptop plugged into the wall, headphones on. Flew in from Brussels and now I’m waiting for my connecting flight to Manila. This is the start of my third and last stay in the Philippines to develop – and complete – the new Biomodd project. I’ve been working in the Philippines since February, and a wonderful community has been steadily growing around Biomodd. There’s over 40 of us now, with a very active core group of about 10 people experimenting, debating and exchanging ideas on a daily basis. The team is a very mixed group with ages ranging from 18 to 62, and consists of contemporary and traditional artists, craftsmen, horticulturalists, engineers, students, and game developers. We have a detailed (and popular) website that is updated daily, and employ the usual suspects – Twitter, Facebook and YouTube - to get the message even further out. We built a group of supporters and sponsors that helps us create this amazing collaborative project. We had two fundraising events and a third one is on its way. The dedication and enthousiasm that the project generates is truly fantastic. 

Stills from the video of the first aquaponics prototype

Stills from the video of the first aquaponics prototype

At the moment, we’re about halfway with the project’s development. We’ve got a large 9 feet tall case made out of recycled coco lumber, supported by two interior metal ‘crowns’. Aquaponics is being used to create a semi-self-sustaining ecosystem inside. Six recycled computer units have been connected to create a multiplayer network and are currently being worked into the case. Glass panes or plastic sheeting will be used to enclose the whole volume. The biggest challenges right now are (1) coming up with a series of creative uses of waste heat, (2) developing a game that is fed by data from the ecosystem, and (3) further collaboration with traditional Philippine woodcarvers. We’re focusing on getting as far as we can for the first exhibit, scheduled from August 5-20 in the University of the Philippines Student Union building. After that the project will move to Manila and be exhibited in the National Museum or the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design. More news about that soon.
 

The Biomodd Computer Drive in Quezon City

Submitted on May 22, 2009, 12:52 pm

Tomorrow we’re setting up a computer drive at Green Papaya Art Projects in Quezon City in Metro Manila. People can bring their old computer equipment: PCs, monitors, keyboards, mice, individual components, etc. The goal is to recycle this and integrate the components in the final Biomodd structure. Early donors will receive Informatics gift certificates in exchange. Informatics provides education in ICT and has over 35 schools and training centers in the Philippines. The Biomodd Computer Drive wants to put the issues of e-waste and computer literacy in the spotlight. There will be several quick fire presentations, and informal discussion groups. The event will be concluded with music by DJ Drumlander (myself) and Dxzvizhawnzs. 

The past few weeks we’ve been building a battery of small prototypes. We disassembled old computers of UPOU (where Biomodd is developed), and built fully functioning units onto simple shower racks bought from the bath section of a department store. All units run Ubuntu 9 and have been networked to explore their multiplayer gaming capacities. Currently we’re building a massive 9 feet tall computer case out of recycled coco lumber. This will be the prototype that will be used by the Paete woodcarvers to design the final piece. 

The Biomodd Computer Drive
Saturday, May 23, 2009
2:00pm - 8:00pm
Green Papaya Art Projects
41 T. Gener St. Kamuning
Quezon City, Metro Manila
Philippines
 

Biomodd in my mind

Submitted on May 6, 2009, 3:28 pm

Aleta Villanueva, one of our Biomodd [LBA2] collaborators in the Philippines recently send out a beautiful email to all team members. She reflects on the project, and what it could mean for herself and for Philippine culture. She was so kind to allow me to post it on this blog. I added a few sketches showing recent project designs and proposals. 

Images Pia Maranan and Ian Darren Aycocho

Images Pia Maranan and Ian Darren Aycocho

Diego brought us back to essential questions:
What is art? Who owns it? Who owns Biomodd?
He touches on digital media and knowledge...when we create what knowledge is lost?
In the process of representing, whose story are we telling?
He drives us to think more. He jumps a bit to ask about immigration. Then leads us back again with these pressing questions:
Why preserve? Why mainstream? What's our stake at biomodd? How can we own it? 

Towards the end of our session, my brain lits up with some kind of AHA moment: Art becomes ours when we come together to imagine it together, some kind of convergence of all our imaginations and all the meanings we put into it – that will define us and what is ours. 

On the way home, HQ to QC, my mind could not rest at all. A teacher just successfully pressed on the right buttons and tinkered with the hooks in my brain... 

What is art to me? Why does it even matter? What's with biomodd? Should it even matter to me? 

As I have shared to the group, art is a representation, it has symbols which convey meaning. For one, it is a product of one's imagination – like an artist visualizes a product, imagines ways and means to be able to express it in a certain form (process) – to some extent it conveys the artist's meaning which she attaches to her work. That is her ownership and her claim. However, there are viewers of art who in turn make meaning out of it and again these meanings are the viewers act of engagement with the artist, making the work her own as well if she chooses to. Art is like meaning-making and a way to define and express our identities. 

Art and Identity and my being Filipino matters to me...growing roots and taking root is what kept me bound to the Philippines...bound to my identity. How about the rest of the Filipino people – living in different communities, growing and taking root, representing their identities through symbols and stories in their art. How different we all are but could there be symbols and stories which bind us together? Or is it our common roots which bind us all? 

Angelo's art is into perpetuating life (said Diego)...but what sustains the perpetuation of life...on to Biomodd as I try to imagine (this is me brainstorming by myself): 

Why leaves...and why not the roots? 

What's with roots which help the leaves grow? Is it even possible to grow roots from the leaves? Are leaves totally dependent on roots to sustain it...and if so, what sustains the roots? Is there another way to sustain the roots? 

Why not do it upside down...so I am imagining this art work: lots of leaves down below where children can linger and brush their faces with, then layers of soil suspended mid air with roots coming out? Roots coming out leading to where and why? How to fit in Paete and the computers? 

Let's go back to how normal plants look like: growing and crawling leaves, up there...thick layers of soil mid air...roots connected to some kind of computer parts down below to sustain the whole system up there...computer parts sustained by something else, possibly from another life form. Can this be even case modded at all? 

But I'd like to see more roots? Can we carve on roots? Do Paete folks make use of roots even? 

Gosh this does not even have a scientific basis!
Can leaves grow roots? Can leaves grow the other way around? What's with the soil to sustain it all? Can technology activate/facilitate this? Can technology even intervene with the usual process? If so, why and what for?
To help us see the roots which we hardly see and sometimes forget...
roots sustaining the perpetuation of life...
our identities perpetuating our lives,
preserved and sustained through art.
 

The Biomodd Summer Party in Manila

Submitted on April 8, 2009, 3:52 pm

Party with us on April 17, Friday, 10pm, at M Café, Greenbelt 4, Makati (across Ayala Museum) as we create art, serve summer cocktails, and flaunt cool graphic t-shirts. You can already check out our specially designed (and potent) Biomodd cocktails here. The proceeds of the event will go towards the Philippine Biomodd project

With performances by:
• DJ Drumlander
• Ms. Badkiss
• Tengal Drilon
• Adrian Cuenca
• Vyxzshawnz
• Elemento
• Pilipinas Street Plan 

Also brought to you by: Haliya Light Fruit Wine, VuQo Vodka, Playground Sportswear, Soundsgood Entertainment, and The University of the Philippines Open University. 

This event is open to all. Spread the word and invite people through the Facebook announcement! Bring ALL your friends! 

Biomodd [LBA2] is a project that fuses art, ecology and technology while encouraging innovative collaboration in the Philippines. Ultimately, it aims to come up with a locally created sculpture that involves an ecosystem of plants and a network of modified computers. The finished work will then be launched to the public through an art installation exhibit. Developed and first launched by Belgian artist Angelo Vermeulen in the USA, the idea is now being adapted and relaunched in the Philippines. To know more about Biomodd and how you can help, visit www.biomodd.net
 

Biomodd talk for the European Space Agency

Submitted on March 25, 2009, 10:36 pm

On Friday, I have to give a talk for ESA’s MELiSSA research group working on future space-based ecosystems. I’m going to talk about Biomodd, the coupling of electronics and organic life, its design aspects, and collective intelligence. Ecosystems have become an integral part in conceptualizing future manned space missions. They can provide both food and oxygen for the astronauts. A two-way trip to Mars would take approximately 3 years. Taking along all the food needed for such an extended trip is no option. The spaceship would simply be way too bulky. Hence, growing food and gardening will inevitably be part of the routine of astronauts on future spaceships. 

From their website: MELIiSSA (Micro-Ecological Life Support System Alternative) has been conceived as a micro-organisms and higher plants based ecosystem intended as a tool to gain understanding of the behaviour of artificial ecosystems, and for the development of the technology for a future regenerative life support system for long term manned space missions, like a lunar base or a mission to Mars. 

The driving element of MELiSSA is the recovering of food, water and oxygen from waste (faeces, urea), carbon dioxide and minerals. Based on the principle of an "aquatic" ecosystem, MELiSSA is comprised of 5 compartments colonised respectively by thermophilic anoxygenic bacteria, photohererotrophic bacteria, nitrifying bacteria, photosynthetic bacteria, higher plants, and the crew. MELiSSA goes further than other recycling systems used on the International Space Station, which purify water and recycle exhaled carbon dioxide but do not attempt to recycle organic waste for food production. 

I will post the slides and photos from my presentation on SlideShare one of the next days (together with the slides from my presentation at Victorian Circus V in Amsterdam on March 22) 

 

Biomodd talk and DJ sets in the Netherlands

Submitted on March 19, 2009, 11:30 pm

Victorian Circus is the annual new media festival in De Brakke Grond in Amsterdam. From March 19 till 22, the fifth edition takes place with a focus on the Belgian performance collective CREW (directed by Eric Joris). This comes from their website: CREW is a collective wanting to face the new technological condition of man. This 'pool' of artists wants to be a pioneer in setting up experiments that blur the border between theatre and technology. (...) A recurring element in all performances is the big responsibility the spectator/participant gets. The large amount of stimuli he is bombarded with, can be and has to be freely interpreted so that in the end everybody creates his own performance. 

Early development of Biomodd [LBA2] in the Philippines (Images Angelo Vermeulen)

Early development of Biomodd [LBA2] in the Philippines (Images Angelo Vermeulen)

On Sunday, March 22, Victorian Circus V is dedicated to art games with a game workshop by Fourcelabs, presentations and games by Submarine, Daniël van Gils and Tale of Tales, and 'speeddate' sessions by Gamefonds for those who look for game development support. At 6pm, I will give a presentation about the first four weeks of the new Biomodd iteration in the Philippines. Using work sketches, photos and video excerpts I will elaborate on the installation’s stepwise development, the local Philippine context of the project, aspects of cross-cultural collaboration, and differences with the American version created in the Ohio in 2007-2008. 

DJ set in C-Base in Berlin during transmediale.09 (Images Sander Veenhof)

DJ set in C-Base in Berlin during transmediale.09 (Images Sander Veenhof)

At 7pm, I will conclude the festival with a DJ set of 8-bit and game music. Victorian snacks and drinks will be served at the CREWbar. I will be performing with the same set On March 20 during Dance to the Bit, an 8-bit club night organized by WORM in Rotterdam in the Netherlands. The other artists of that night are Bacalao, Binärpilot, Pornologic, Gameboys a Gogo and Sah Selekter.
 

Biomodd [LBA2] in the Philippines has started

Submitted on February 24, 2009, 5:51 am

Last week on Thursday I arrived in Manilla to start the second Biomodd iteration. Biomodd is a project in which installation art, ecology and game culture converge into a process-based art work. The project is realized with groups of people in different places in the world. The first iteration took place in Ohio, 2007-2008. You can read more detailed background info and Twitter updates here

From left to right: UPOU in Los Baños, traditional Paete woodcarving, Giger as potential inspirational source. (Images: A. Vermeulen, H.R. Giger)

From left to right: UPOU in Los Baños, traditional Paete woodcarving, Giger as potential inspirational source. (Images: A. Vermeulen, H.R. Giger)

At this point, the local Philippine Biomodd team already consists of about 15 people, but there's more signing up every day. Diego Maranan is my project co-lead, Lai del Rosario is project manager and coordinates the fund raising, Carlos Celdran is providing me with valuable background info on the Philippines and with free lodging in The Living Room in Manila, and Waise Azimi is taking care of the project's video documentation. I'll be introducing more people along the way. 

At this point we’re both building the local network and starting concrete experimentation. University of the Philippines Open University (OPOU) in Los Baños was the first to enthusiastically endorse the project and provides the main infrastructure to build and develop the project. Their guest house will de transformed into 'Biomodd House' for the duration of the project with work spaces, a meeting room, kitchen, etc. We plan to collaborate with artisan woodcarvers from the nearby village Paete to create the case. Our objective is to create a structure that fuses traditional arts & crafts, case modding and science fiction. The SM Science and Discovery Center in Manila has shown interest to be co-producer. And today we have a meeting with the director of the National Museum of the Philippines, also in Manila, to discuss possibilities to showcase the final result in September. 

From left to right: processor water cooling with living green algae in Biomodd [ATH1]; Chlorella, an algae species that is being used in Biomodd; start of the algae culture for Biomod [ATH1] in the @Lab in Athens, Ohio in 2007 (Images: A. Vermeulen, M. Palmer, NIES, J. Lovett)

From left to right: processor water cooling with living green algae in Biomodd [ATH1]; Chlorella, an algae species that is being used in Biomodd; start of the algae culture for Biomod [ATH1] in the @Lab in Athens, Ohio in 2007 (Images: A. Vermeulen, M. Palmer, NIES, J. Lovett)

By the end of the week we will start reviving the algae that were used in the first Ohio Biomodd. I brought the server’s motherboard with its water block that was used to liquid cool the processor. Instead of using commercial coolant liquid, we used a culture of living algae. At this moment, the water block contains dried spores. By circulating water through it again, we will try and revive this Belgo-American batch of green algae (possibly with the help of some fish). The setup will be monitored non-stop with a webcam and the video stream will be on display in the Vooruit Arts Centre in Ghent, Belgium as part of their 'The Game is Up! How to Save the World in 10 Days' festival. This will be complemented by extensive video documentation made by Morgan Riles and Waise Azimi.
 

Interview Drumlander & Tale of Tales

Submitted on November 11, 2008, 6:13 pm

Drumlander is my collaborative project with Canadian Louis Blackburn. It is essentially a platform to explore the creative potential of computer games. Drumlander has been presenting audio performances with game music and installations with independent games in Belgium, the Netherlands and Québec. 

Left: The Endless Forest by Tale of Tales. Right: Drumlander DJ set at GOGBOT 2007.

Left: The Endless Forest by Tale of Tales. Right: Drumlander DJ set at GOGBOT 2007.

Tale of Tales is a games development studio, founded by Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn in Belgium in 2002. The purpose of Tale of Tales is to create elegant and emotionally rich interactive entertainment. They explicitly want to cater to people who are not enchanted by most contemporary computer games, or who wouldn’t mind more variety in their gameplay experiences. For this purpose, all of their creations feature innovative forms of interaction, engaging poetic narratives and simple controls. 

Around the end of last year Louis and me had a back-and-forth email discussion about war games with Tale of Tales. Time to post that here. 

ToT: Many people like playing games. But rarely is the excitement so great as between a hardcore gamer and a big-budget action game (Doom, Halo, Half-Life, Gears of War, Bioshock, etc.) Even in gamers with a relatively broad taste, such as you, one cannot miss the sparkle in the eye when one of these games is mentioned. What makes them so special? 

DL: There seem to be a few assumptions in your question that we do not completely agree with. First of all you seem to assume that “big budget action games” and more specifically first person shooters are the most intensely desired and enjoyed games within the gaming community. This is obviously not true. There is a wide range of other types of games that are equally popular, maybe even more popular. If you look at sales figures, the FPS games make up only 15-20 percent. 

Secondly you assume that this type of game is not only the most popular, but also exceptionally “special”. This is not true. Every gamer has his personal selection of favorite types and genres of games. Moreover, our personal experience has shown that so-called hard-core gamers are very curious and interested in indie games. “Big budget action games” are not more special than any other type of game. 

Apart from this, we have our reasons to like some mainstream FPS games. Contrary to what many people think, it’s not just about aiming your crosshair and bashing the left mouse button (but to be honest, we think this type of hand/eye coordination game can provide a satisfying experience as well). In a compelling FPS game other skills such as strategy and efficient teamwork are also needed. Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter is a good example of this. What is definitely a strong point in these games is the way in which they manage to create an immersive, persuasive and genuine atmosphere. You may not like Gears of War, but you cannot deny that it has its own specific and powerful stylization. Sadly, this stylization and this level of art direction are elaborated way better than the script. Most often these games heavily suffer from weak storylines, stereotypical characters and bad voice acting. But this doesn’t automatically render them uninteresting. 

Now we have a question for you: how exactly do you define a “hardcore gamer”? 

Gears of War 2 (Epic Games, 2008)

Gears of War 2 (Epic Games, 2008)

ToT: I don't define a "hardcore gamer". But Chris Bateman does. Read his excellent post on Game Literacy here. If you do not consider big-budget action games special, then there is no point to continuing the interview. I want to try and figure out what makes them special. Why the enthusiam for such games is so extreme. And I thought I'd start by asking a player of those games why he likes them. If you think they are not special, then I will ask somebody else. Otherwise, please continue :) Do you think the atmosphere that you mention is enhanced by the challenges and missions of the game? I personally feel that gaming tends to distract me from enjoying it. What do you mean by stylization when you talk about Gears of War? And how is it "powerful"? 

DL: We’re eager to discuss the enthusiasm for big-budget action titles. However, like we said before, their appeal is not unique in the game world. There are other types of games that are equally successful: MMORPGs, sports games, etc. But let’s focus on your last questions. 

There seem to be three defining elements that we’re discussing here: (1) interaction, (2) atmosphere/stylization, and (3) storytelling. The relation between interaction and atmosphere is a dialectic one. Thorough interactivity can enhance the experience of a virtual atmosphere. Discovering that the environment is not a static one, not a 3D painting, but actually pulsating with virtual mechanics can drag you deep into a setting. At the same time a compelling atmosphere enhances the experience of interactivity. In some cases you can almost feel the materiality of the virtual world because of its visualization, sound effects and physical behavior. This can makes interactions very convincing and augment the pleasure of even the slightest change you make in this world. 

Regarding stylization in Gears of War, on a purely aesthetic level there is maybe an obvious, but still very efficient use of soft lighting and a light fog in a war-torn city. Could you switch off the voice acting, you would still strongly feel what this story is about. Sometimes game mechanics and aesthetics combine for very strong effect. For example, an enemy you didn’t see attacks you so you run for cover. When you perform the run action you can’t shoot, the camera pulls away and starts to shake and the depth of field narrows making the background blurry. This combination of mechanic and aesthetic elements induces a very emotional reaction in the player. You do feel panicked when it happens, a lot more than in a game such as Half-Life 2 where the graphics are always very sharp and the camera always moves smoothly. Another example would be a level where your only defense against some types of enemies is to stand in the light. At some point you need to position a follow spot to create a “light bridge” to move safely. You can also move this spot to freely look around the scenery. This exploration too becomes very emotional. It feels like a “calm before the storm” moment. And as you look at it, you kind of wish this city hadn’t been destroyed by the war. It does immerse you in its narrative. It did have a powerful effect on us, anyway. 

ToT: You call the storylines of such games weak. Is this perhaps a result of their game mechanic and rules system? What else can a fast-paced game in which you defeat hundreds of opponents be about? I agree that games can be interesting despite weak storylines. Different games in different ways. How are the big-budget action games that we are discussing interesting? Are they similar to sports? Is it all about the adrenaline that is released by tension and victories? Or is it, as Raph Koster would claim, about the joy of learning to recognize abstract patterns? 

DL: It’s true that fast-paced action and the simplistic goal of clearing subsequent levels is not very conducive to subtle storytelling. However, when interaction and atmosphere are developed in a good way, you don’t necessarily need a highly original storyline to engage the players. These two parameters are so powerful that they almost function on their own. And that’s what you see in a lot of games, both mainstream and independent: the story is just a mere pretext. Nonetheless, we are convinced that it is not impossible to combine deeper psychological and emotional storytelling with pumping action. We believe this is definitely an aspect of future game development. And it’s not that all action games have terrible storylines. Also, gamers really appreciate efforts to build up engaging scenarios. 

To answer your last question about the adrenaline that is released by tension and victories and the joy of learning to recognize abstract patterns, both are certainly aspects that can perfectly work together. 

ToT: I have a few questions in response to "Nonetheless, we are convinced that it is not impossible to combine deeper psychological and emotional storytelling with pumping action." First of all, I was just going to ask you: why do you think so many of these games are set in war zones? Is there a link between games and war, perhaps? Or is it just a convention? 

DL: Conflict, battling, winning & losing are simply inherent in games. This can be in a very literal way such as in FPS games, but also in a way more abstract way such as in chess or Tetris. This inherent character leads naturally to war settings and narratives. There’s no surprise there. Such games are appealing to a large audience and sell well. It’s like a safe bet for a publisher. Of course action should not be narrowed down to war action. There’s so may other types of intense action that are equally popular. Just look at the massive success of the Wii and Guitar Hero. 

ToT: So far, you have been stressing the similarities between these highly immersive big-budget action games and the much more modest independent scene. But can you see something come out of the independent scene that the highly commercial games don't seem to be capable of offering? Different kinds of stories perhaps? Games without "pumping action"? Other emotions than those induced by threat and violence? 

DL: The independent scene is probably the best thing that could happen to gaming. We fully agree with you. Since these people are not bound to shareholders, they are more willing to take risks. For a lot of the small developers there’s also limited risk involved since they work on a shoestring budget or no budget at all. The indie scene is a wonderful lab for exploring both game mechanics and game narratives. Also, this scene is much more accessible and usually the developers specifically ask for feedback that they can implement in improved or new versions. It's this collaborative and open nature of the scene that makes it so attractive to us. Then again, borders are blurring and independent games are also finding their way into mainstream consoles. Good examples of this are flOw and Everyday Shooter which are a big success on the PS3. 

flOw (thatgamecompany, 2007)

flOw (thatgamecompany, 2007)

ToT: In all other other art forms, critical praise and commercial success seem to be diametrically opposed. This almost leads to a form of snobbery where anything successful cannot possibly be considered "good". But games seem to go for the other extreme: "good" games sell well, or successful games are good because they are successful. There seems to be an eerie link between winning in the virtual battle of the game and winning in the marketplace. What do you think about the level of testosterone in games culture?

DL: It’s true that mainstream game journalists often lose their critical attitude simply because a game or game series is popular. Look at Halo 2, hardly an innovative or creative game, but when it came out it was hyped to such an extent that no journalist even dared to analyze it in a really critical way. The Gamespot/Jeff Gerstmann scandal also brought to the forefront what had been in most critical gamers minds: how can we be certain that mainstream game critics are free to write what they really think? The gaming press is mostly funded by ads of the same games they are critiquing. In a way game criticism is still very young. It's slowly building its language and finding its references. It also took a while for the first serious film critics to appear after the films of the Lumière brothers. We're quite confident that apart from the current publicity-oriented "criticism", another way of analysing more mainstream games is going to arise. 

It's also important to point out here that here’s currently more than just mainstream journalism. There’s a very active blogging community that writes about independent games, and that’s basically where we get our information from. These people are not bound to publishers or developers and can write in a much more open and critical way. Definitely a healthy counterweight for abysmal mainstream journalism.
 

Translucent Futures research gathering 31/10

Submitted on October 25, 2008, 4:08 pm

On Friday night, October 31, I will talk about my new project Translucent Futures at FoAM Brussels. The presentation starts at 6:00pm and is followed by a Hallow’s Eve party. Attendance is free, so please join us. 

Translucent Futures is an artistic/activist platform that I initiated several months ago and deals with the increasing abrasion of civil liberties through ubiquitous, networked, miniaturized technology. Far-reaching use of techniques such as data mining, audiovisual surveillance, automated behavioural analysis, see-through body scanning, DNA profiling etc. is being legislated at a disturbing rate. While governmental and corporate use of these technologies is consistently pushed further into the realms of daily life, the opposite seems to be the case for civilians: technologies can only be used under firm restrictions, or are simply not accessible. Data mining for example is widely used by corporations, while the same activity when carried out by an individual is too easily labelled 'hacking'. 

Regardless of activist groups continuously questioning these issues, the larger public does not appear well-informed. The complexity, diversity and speed of current technological developments can be daunting. Moreover, many of these developments and techniques are applied in secrecy and can hardly be discerned by an untrained eye. This automatically raises vital questions about contemporary civil liberties and the relation between civilians and government. If most techniques only become visible after we transgress the law (e.g. introduced as evidence), should we be worried at all? Or should we rather strive for a fully transparent society based on accountability, where the 'watchers' can also be watched, at all times? 

Translucent Futures hopes to keep the attention to the imperative problem of eroding civil liberties in modern hi-tech society. The project is set up in close collaboration with FoAM in Brussels and the support of a growing list of other organizations ({nadine}, Brussels, The Hub Brussels, etc.). The objective is to combine open collaborative research, multidisciplinary dialogue, artistic practice and activism. 

On October 31, I will present a first round-up of the project. Research was started in June at FoAM, and continued at a residency at {nadine} in September and October. The meeting starts with a short introduction outlining the project’s main goals and research approach through mindmapping, wiki-building and collaboration with specialists from different fields. 

During my residency at {nadine} in Brussels I started the preproduction of a live documentary dealing with issues raised in Translucent Futures. As such, my research shifted from a strictly theoretical to a more practical, applied approach. Two specific topics are explored in more detail: representation of the digital and dystopia in cyberpunk from the late 80s/early 90s, and hacking culture. Both serve as inspirational background material to shape the documentary project. The contemporary (political) relevance of archetypal examples of cyberpunk such as Neuromancer from William Gibson and Snow Crash from Neal Stephenson will be elaborated. The presentation will conclude with a personal selection of video clips of cyberpunk/dystopian movies. 

After the research gathering, FoAM, {nadine} and the Guild for Reality Integrators and Generators invite you to cultivate the vegetal side of your mind... From dystopia to heterotopia, from human-machine to human-plant interactions, a post-cyberpunk eve for retro-techno-pagans, archaic revivalists, lab-witches, eco-nomads, pre & post millenial cultists. gRiggers are preparing an evening of ethnobotanical cooking, cyberbotanical lighting, autumn tunes, with viriditas and thalience diffused through the air, culminating in a (pre)futuristic celebration of the All Hallow's Eve.
 

Biological computing inside living cells

Submitted on October 18, 2008, 3:02 pm

Biological computing has gotten one step closer using RNA molecules inside living cells. RNA is the lesser known cousin of DNA. It has an almost identical molecular structure, except that it contains one extra oxygen atom which makes it much more reactive. DNA codes genes; RNA reads those genes and consequently translates them into the proteins that all living matter is consisting of (on this planet at least). 

For the new method of biological computing a specific type of RNA is used: a hammerhead ribozyme. It cuts up other RNA molecules and as such can stop genes from getting translated, and thus can simply stop genes from functioning. Researchers modified the ribozyme's structure in such a way that it is only active when a specific compound binds to it. And it’s here that its computational potential kicks in. Hook up the modified hammerhead ribozyme to a green fluorescence gene, and an organism containing that gene will stop glowing green as soon as the specific compound is present. 

Since there are two binding locations in the hammerhead ribozyme, you can easily build an AND logical gate: two different molecules need to be present in order to activate the ribozyme. An OR gate is built by hooking up two different ribozymes to the green fluorescence gene, each one sensitive for a different compound: if at least one compound is present, the ribozyme will be activated and stop the gene from working. 

With these simple building blocks more elaborate biological computing can be imagined. New Scientist put it this way: Future models of the living computer, made from the DNA-like molecule RNA, could be used to run calculations in vivo - that is, inside human cells - to release drugs or prime the immune system at the first hint of illness. 

See also the Ars Technica article for a clear explanation of this new and fascinating technique.
 

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