Blog posts

Dust comes alive and reproduces in space

Submitted on October 9, 2008, 12:44 pm

Recently I bumped into this truly amazing discovery about the creation of ‘artificial life’ in space. It seems nonorganic dust particles organize themselves into helical structures when held in the form of plasma in zero gravity. The astonishing thing is that these structures exhibit all characteristics of life: they contain code, have memory, reproduce and can pass on their code to a next generation. Time to reconsider what life is all about. Water as a prerequisite? Forget about that… 

Here’s some quotes from a Times article of August 12 last year: 

An international panel from the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Max Planck institute in Germany and the University of Sydney found that galactic dust could form spontaneously into helixes and double helixes and that the inorganic creations had memory and the power to reproduce themselves. 

The particles are held together by electromagnetic forces that the scientists say could contain a code comparable to the genetic information held in organic matter. It appeared that this code could be transferred to the next generation. 

Professor Greg Morfill, of the Max Planck institute of extra-terrestrial physics, said: “Going by our current narrow definitions of what life is, it qualifies. “The question now is to see if it can evolve to become intelligent. It’s a little bit like science fiction at the moment. The potential level of complexity we are looking at is of an amoeba or a plant. 

The findings have provoked speculation that the helix could be a common structure that underpins all life, organic and nonorganic.

Participation in TippingPoint climate conference

Submitted on September 19, 2008, 5:46 pm

The upcoming week is going to be busy with my presentations at PICNIC 08 in Amsterdam (read my former post for more details), and my participation in TippingPoint Germany 2008 in Potsdam, Berlin

Artist Bartaku/Bart Vandeput and myself were invited by the British Council to represent Belgium during the upcoming edition of the annual TippingPoint climate conference. This is from their website: The TippingPoint format originated in the UK with two conferences organised in Oxford in 2005 and 2006. The aim is to bring together scientists and artists for a sharing of thinking on climate change and a cross-fertilisation of ideas, feelings and plans to take place. Ideally, scientists are enthused by the possibility that their own messages may be more effectively transmitted by working alongside artists. For artists there is an aspiration to inspire new works which may help to convey key climate change messages. 

The event is organized by the British Council in collaboration with the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) on September 28 and 29. The location of the gathering is the Great Refractor, an expansive, larger than life telescope located on the Albert Einstein Research Campus.

Last days COASTOMIZE! • Biomodd at PICNIC 08

Submitted on September 12, 2008, 5:30 pm

This weekend is the last chance to go and see the exhibition COASTOMIZE! and other MIXED REALITIES in the beautiful country side of the Flemish Ardennes. This comes from the curatorial mission statement: On the one hand, this exhibition is built as an invitation by COASTOMIZE!, which is a project team of about fifteen artists, architects, scientists, and designers, and on the other hand MIXED REALITIES, which is a selection of laureates of the Higher Institute of Fine Arts (HISK) in Ghent/Antwerp, who mainly use new media in their art practice. (...) In our post-industrial information society, new technologies have co-created an ‘image/code’ culture in which man and machine have grown ever closer to one another, and have profoundly changed the way in which we create, distribute and conserve our culture. 

The exhibit is distributed over several historical locations, and takes the Provincial Archaeological Museum in Velzeke as a starting point. Several art pieces have been integrated in old industrial buildings and try to create a dialogue with the particularity of the location. 

I show the video installation The Storm Glitch, a compilation of internet videos featuring so-called ‘breakouts’ in computer games. Breakouts are unscripted routes that players discover where they can leave the predefined boundaries of the game for a virtual area that is not supposed to be accessible to the gamer. Gamers post breakouts to boast about their knowledge of the game and to share the information so others can go and explore these realms as well. I compiled videos from the game series Grand Theft Auto, Halo, Call of Duty, and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. [Thanks to Jin Berghmans for the installation photo.] 

BAM, the Flemish Institute for Visual, Audiovisual and Media Art, invited me for a project presentation during the upcoming PICNIC 08 event in Amsterdam, September 24-26. I will present Biomodd during the e-Art sessions that showcase 30 international electronic art projects. Morgan Riles’ Biomodd documentary (you can see a teaser here) will be continuously on display throughout the event. The film shows the development of the project's first version in Ohio in the US, and offers a personal insight into the group dynamics of the collaborators team. Tale of Tales was also invited by BAM and will showcase their virtual world The Endles Forest

Apart from the documentation exhibit, there are daily show-and-tell sessions by different artists and organizations such as Transmediale, MADlab, and I will talk about Biomodd on September 24. The full programme can be consulted here.

Biomodd goes global

Submitted on September 7, 2008, 11:47 pm

I just got news from João Braune from Fomenta Productions that he’s interested to try and set up a Biomodd version in Brazil. Together with Ohio, Singapore and the Philippines that would make for four different cross-cultural versions. It will be exciting to see how each version will develop its own specific character guided by local conditions. I met João through Ricky Seabra, a Brazilian artist who attended my artist talk at Victorian Circus IV in Amsterdam, last April. After that he wrote a wonderful email about Biomodd. I’ll quote a part of that here. 

Firstly, I have to reiterate that I found the Biomodd project fantastic and for me it has become a metaphor for a new look at the future. I can pretty much say that I have always been an old school futurist; I grew up on Space 1999, Star Trek, Jetson’s, Blade Runner etc... I always related things that went faster & higher, things highly technological to the future. Plus I grew up in Brasilia, a utopian vision for a city. I was always fascinated with airplanes and skyscrapers until 9/11 changed my notions of what I considered futuristic or glamorous. That’s when I got into theater (writing monologues). I summed up my feelings towards 9/11 with a performance called Airplanes and Skyscrapers in which I talk about the collapse of futurism. That was 2002. I still perform this piece but until I saw your work I realized that I haven’t really filled my futurist void. Biomodd makes the future present, organic, in touch with Gaia. It sends out a message that nature can and should occupy every part of our existence. It‘s a beautiful and effective metaphor that bridges the human/nature divide. 

I got some more photos of my recent trip to the Philippines. Aida Santos sent me some pictures of my artist talk at the UP Asian Center in Manila on August 15. And MM Yu sent me photos of my DJ performance (and Un mal pour un bien film screening) at Mag:net Katipunan the day after. I am currently collaborating with Diego Maranan to set up Biomodd in the Philippines in the summer of 2009. Right now, the whole project is still in a preparatory stage. You can follow the project's development and read more background information on this site


Magpies are self-aware

Submitted on August 22, 2008, 7:57 pm

A wonderful new finding was announced in New Scientist recently: magpies can recognize themselves in a mirror and thus seem self-aware. This rather astonishing discovery has rather far-reaching consequences and may force us to rethink the functioning of our own brain. 

In the so-called 'mirror mark test', a small colored dot is placed on an animal. The animal cannot see the dot by directly looking at its own body. After that a mirror is placed in front of the animal and its behavior is being observed. If it responds by trying to remove the colored dot, this is convincing indication of self-awareness. By now a whole range of species has been investigated: but only four apes, bottlenose dolphins and Asian elephants have passed the test so far. I talk about all this in my upcoming book Baudelaire in Cyberspace. Dialogen over Kunst, Wetenschap en Digitale Cultuur (Baudelaire in Cyberspace. Dialogues on Art, Science and Digital Culture) co-written with art philosopher Antoon Van den Braembussche, and to be published by ASP/VUBPRESS in October. 

And now the magpie has passed the test as well. You can see a wonderful video here where magpies try to get rid of ‘that annoying speck’ by picking at it, or scratching it away with their feet. Self-awareness was always thought to reside in the neocortex, but magpies do not have a neocortex. A bit of a surprise. There are two plausible explanations: parallel evolution, or there is more to our awareness than one particular part of our brain…

Un mal pour un bien at Green Papaya, Manila

Submitted on August 14, 2008, 9:20 am

Yesterday my documentary short Un mal pour un bien was screened at Green Papaya Art Projects in Manila. It was part of the Wednesday night programs curated by artist-in-residence Gelo Suarez. There were other performances and screenings by Gelo, Bea Camacho, Raya Martin, Mark Salvatus en Khavn de la Cruz

I introduced my film by talking about the original context in which it was conceived. In 2006, I was commissioned to create an art work for the exhibition Breugel Revisited in the National Botanical Garden of Belgium. Originally, I conceived a monumental outdoors installation entitled Fountain, island encampment and circulatory system (you can find the original proposal entirely reproduced in the exhibition catalogue). However three months before the opening, the management of the botanical garden started panicking and asked me to severely downscale my project. I refused and instead embarked on this video project about local visitors, some of whom have been coming to the botanical garden for the last 25 years. The avian flu scare of 2006 gave the whole project an unusual twist. 

This evening was actually the second event in the brand new space of Green Papaya. They relocated to a bigger space in Quezon City and will have their official opening on August 23. You can read more about the opening night events here.

Philippine Biomodd on its way

Submitted on August 11, 2008, 9:29 am

Things are going fast here in the Philippines. After my talk in Los Baños last week, people of the Open University immediately offered support to set up a Filipino Biomodd version. My friend Diego Maranan is now enthusiastically assisting me in creating a local network to make that happen. On Friday August 15, I am giving an extra talk at the University of the Philippines Asian Center (Romulo Hall) both for potential partners, and for people that missed my two other presentations. Diego also launched a website outlining the first ideas for the new Los Baños Biomodd project. The current plan is to create a version outside Manila, showcase it locally, and then bring it to a Manila arts venue for a second exhibit. 

We’re also exploring possibilities to collaborate with the craftspeople of Paete, renowned for their woodcarving work. In this way, an unusual handmade wooden case for the computer cluster and ecosystem could be envisioned. At the same time, such a collaboration could also provide the basis for discussions on themes of the colonial/postcolonial binary, authenticity, and "modernization" 

On Wednesday August 13, I will screen my documentary short Un mal pour un bien at Green Papaya Arts Projects. This is part of an evening programme of performances and presentations curated by artist-in-residence Gelo Suarez. Gelo and me conclude the night with a jam session of storytelling and DJing. Gelo reads extracts of Street Smarts, his ongoing project on taxi driver stories, and I respond by creating an electronic backdrop of ominous game music. [Thanks to MM Yu for the photo.] 


Performance and artist talks in the Philippines

Submitted on August 5, 2008, 10:48 am

After my trip to Singapore, I have now arrived in the intense and mesmerizing Manila area in the Philippines. Tomorrow I'm performing with artist Angelo Suarez at Green Papaya Art Projects in Quezon City. He's currently artist in residence at Green Papaya and is working on a text-based performance in which he uses dialogues and communications from local taxi drivers. I'll be improvising and responding to his texts by DJing electronic and 8-bit music.  

After that I'll give an artist talk about Biomodd and Translucent Futures. The latter is a new artistic research project on civil liberties and technology set up in collaboration with FoAM in Brussels. On Friday, August 8, I'll be giving the same talk at the Open University in Los Baños, south of Manila. 


Talk and DJ set at ISEA2008, Singapore

Submitted on July 28, 2008, 7:31 am

I am invited to talk about the Biomodd project in Singapore during the ISEA conference. I will present the results of the first Biomodd version that was created during my artist residency at The Aesthetic Technologies Lab in Athens, Ohio, 2007-2008. The collaborative work process will be illustrated using work sketches, photos and participant testimonies. This will be complemented by clips from the recently completed Biomodd documentary by Morgan Riles. The talk concludes with drafts for subsequent versions in Asia and South America. In addition to my talk, I will also be part of the Luminous Green workshop and panel discussion set up by FoAM. 

Two years ago I was present at the former ISEA conference that was organized in San Jose in Silicon Valley. I talked about Blue Shift there and was consequently invited by the people of The Aesthetic Technologies Lab to come over for a residency. It’s all connected… 

I will also perform with a DJ set of game tunes and remixes during the ISEA2008 Club Nights at Post-Museum in Singapore. These nights showcase a mix of electronic and experimental music by local and international artists. That should be interesting. My first performance in Asia. 

This is some more info from the respective ISEA and Post-Museum websites: 

ISEA or the International Symposium on Electronic Art initiated in 1988 and is the world's premier media arts event for the critical discussion and showcase of creative productions applying new technologies in interactive and digital media. Held biannually in various cities throughout the world, this migratory event is being held in Asia for the second time in its history, after Singapore successfully secured this bid. The event takes place from July 25 till August 4. 

Post-Museum is a new cultural space which seeks to examine contemporary life, promote the arts and connect people. It is a project initiated by Singaporean curatorial team p-10 and opened in September 2007. Through its activities, it aims to respond to its location and community, as well as serve as a hub for local and international cultures.

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