the medium and the mayhem @ oberlin college

I recently checked on my blog and was astonished to find that, despite months of inactivity (eons in internet years), there are so many of you reading! A little update– I will be presenting The Medium and the Mayhem in my old department, the TIMARA department at Oberlin College in Ohio (TIMARA = technology in music and related arts). So if I shared your story on this blog, I may be sharing it again for a new audience!

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Please join us for the special guest event…

Lisa Chung (’10) : The Medium and the Mayhem: a year of traveling through electronic art

Wednesday May 9 @ 12:00 in TIMARA Studio 2 

After graduating from Oberlin with an independent major in “Studies in New Media” Lisa Chung won a Watson Fellowship and spent last year traveling the world in order to engage with local electronic arts communities. She returns to campus to talk about her Watson experience and subsequent work. This event is highly recommended to those interested in interdisciplinary composition and artist communities, as well as students interested in applying for a Watson Fellowship.
In Lisa’s words:
I noticed that the field of electronic art is particularly well-networked. This is not by chance, but because the people in it tend to be interested in the community itself and the spread of artistic, technological and social ideas. I decided to travel this network for a year, collaborating and participating in the events I found along the way, from the mouth of the Amazon to the slopes of the Himalayas. Despite the wide array of people and projects, and the wide array of media (video art, experimental noise, programming, circuit bending, bio art), I was surprised to find a number of repeating themes, such as: artisanal circuit design, recycling and repurposing of objects, an emphasis on knowledge sharing practices (e.g. open source software, community workshops) and interesting interactions and interventions with urban space.

Aloha from Hawaii, and some thanks…

Aloha from Hawaii!

I’ll begin with a few photos from a trip to the Big Island at the beginning of the month, which is both the youngest and largest Hawaiian island.

waves breaking where a river meets the ocean

rough lava rock coastline outside the house I was staying at

a canopy of Albizia trees (so beautiful! but the park ranger told me these brittle 4-story trees are actually really hazardous-- they grow extremely rapidly and come crashing down just as easily)

'Akaka Falls

Kilauea, crater and live volcano

I was thinking I wouldn’t post here on TMATM until I decided where I was going to go with this project, but since I still don’t know, I’m posting anyway. It has been a confusing transition back to life in the States, and I feel like bits of me are scattered around the world. The grant is done and I finished all the documentation and shared my work at a conference, but even though I’m done traveling, it doesn’t feel like its over. I am investigating to see if its feasible to self-publish The Medium and the Mayhem as a book. Of course, by the time the book is made, everyone mentioned in it will have moved on to new projects! I guess I’ll have to travel the world again.. ;)

Inspired by other Fellows who put their travels into numbers, I was curious to do the same. In all, I traveled to 14 countries. My major transportation (i.e. city-to-city, country-to-country, but not counting transportation within cities) included 38 flights, 18 bus rides, 7 car trips, 4 train rides, and two boats. I traveled approximately 87,433 miles or 140,710 km! The last leg alone (Barcelona –> Cellsbutton Festival in Indonesia –> Watson Fellowship Conference –> Hawaii) was over 25,000 miles (and was really exhausting)!

Many kind friends and relatives around the world let me stay in 38 houses or apartments, and I stayed in 19 establishments that represented a wide range of hotels, hostels, dorms, guesthouses, and ashrams. I also note that I benefitted from the hard work of at least 12 domestic helpers; I had no idea it was so common in certain places. (I recommend this article about domestic labor that recently appeared in the Economist.)

The art events were a bit more difficult to count up, since they were so varied. I participated in 17 festivals, residencies or several-week workshops, 6 short (1-3 day) workshops outside of festival programming, attended 10 performances or openings, set up 9 talks or meet-and-greets with artists or organizations, went shopping for components in the electronics districts of 7 cities, taught electronics 5 times, played in 4 concerts, and participated in 2 recording projects.

I can’t even begin to express my overwhelming gratitude for those of you who gave me a place to stay, cooked me delicious food, introduced me to your family and friends, acted as informal tour guides in places completely new to me, and tolerated me butchering your language. I have so many wonderful memories. I hope that someday when I actually live in one place I can return the favor! There are so many people who I am confident that I will see again, and when we do, I’m sure we will be friends just as much as the day we parted.

Here are a few updates from people who’ve been mentioned on TMATM in the past.

A video reel of Intersessoes, the experimental music series I participated in when I was in Brazil.

Good to see the kids in South America are still improvising and building circuits! :

Amaaaazing real-time face substitution app that Arturo Castro and Kyle McDonald are working on

Senseless Drawing Bot, which was in progress when I met Takahiro in Barcelona, in action

Documentation of Hojun Song’s talk at Carnival of e-Creativity in Northern India. Jump on it if you have the chance to see him speak about his work in person!

 

And a video sent to me by Sergi, a talented animator I stayed with in Barcelona :

On that note, Merry Christmas (or Mele Kalikimaka in Hawaiian), Happy Hanukkah/ Kwanzaa/ Eid/ Rohatsu /New Year /(whatever else I missed) !

And lastly, thanks for reading the Medium and the Mayhem! It means a lot to me. I’m taking a break right now, but any future decisions/updates/projects will be posted here…

HONFabLab

One exciting theme I encountered during the journey was an interest in fabrication technology. Digital design and fabrication technologies allow not only the engineering and creation of electronics but also the manipulation of other materials such as wood, plastic and paper. One of the platforms that is supporting the accessibility and learning of these technologies is the Fab Lab program.

The Fab Lab began as an outreach program of MIT and now consists of small-scale technology-driven production workshops all over the world. The latest node is the Fab Lab in Yogyakarta Indonesia (HONFabLab), which is hosted by the local media art collective House of Natural Fiber in collaboration with the Waag Society, a cultural center based in Amsterdam whose projects and research address connections between technology and society.

(below: the beginning of a beautiful partnership, members of HONF and the Waag Society signing the Fab Lab into existence)

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I was unable to attend the grand opening in person but I did attend via skype from New York city:

fablab yogyakarta opening!

Niel Gershenfeld, an MIT professor who is a pioneer of personal fabrication and the Fab Lab program, spoke at the opening. I was trying to understand a skype of a skype, so parts of it were unintelligible, but I did make out a few points. He highlighted the idea of trying to make something that can make anything. He talked about machines that can make machines– one example of a self replicating machine is using rapid prototype machines (3D printers) to print more rapid prototype machines (see the RepRap concept). He also talked about CNC (computer numerical control), where a machine can execute a digital design with precision real-world control (e.g. laser cutting, wood cutting). Now an object can be designed, modified and created in separate places. Fab Lab technology allows the creation of sophisticated tools and objects that can be customized for personal or community needs, which probably wouldn’t be practical or economic to produce on a mass scale. Fab Labs around the world are creating devices for health care, agriculture, alternative energy, and custom furnishings.

I was able to attend the soft opening of the HONFabLab in person though:

video conference with Fab Labs around the world at the HONFabLab soft opening

the opening began with speeches, a prayer, and traditional Javanese food

wood chairs cut out using the recently-arrived ShopBot, a CNC cutting machine

more recent creations!

 

HONF (house of natural fiber) and Cellsbutton

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(the view from Borobudur temple)

Last stop– but definitely not least!– a nocturnal romp through Yogyakarta, Indonesia, the second largest city on the island of Java (after Jakarta) located near the volcano Mt. Merapi (which erupted just last year and coated the city in layers of ash). What I thought was beautiful was the contrast between ancient aspects of traditional culture– such as batik, gamelan, puppetry, and cuisine– and the geologically volatile and ever-changing landscape.

I also can’t forget the particular mixture of things that characterized my experience of the city: motorcycles, instant ramen (Indomee), the local beer, Bintang, that can only be bought at Circle K stores, kretek (clove cigarette) smoke in the air, and the delicious tempe that is savory and fried and completely unlike the tempe I know in the States (packaged blocks of hippie food).

The first I was there, I stayed in the city briefly while making an exploratory trip around SE Asia. It was there that I met the kids from HONF, or house of natural fiber, an Indonesian new media collective. They told me an inspiring story about their bio-art project, Intelligent Bacteria: Saccharomyces Cerevisiae. The director of Transmediale (a media art fest in Berlin) saw their work and suggested that they submit it to the festival. The project was accepted, but there was only enough funding to bring two members of HONF to the festival, even though there were four people who were instrumental in putting together the project. So the guys from HONF decided that no one would go unless all four went, and they borrowed money and went to Berlin. The only way they could afford to return to Indonesia and repay the loan was if they won the grand prize at the festival– and they did! The remaining prize money went to funding for HONF.

below: the lab

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The project is the process of making wine out of Indonesian fruits and creating circuits that amplify the tiny noises of the CO2 bubbles created during the fermentation process. It is also a reaction to an alcohol tax which caused alcohol prices to spike and deadly methanol-containing homebrews to enter the market. HONF holds winemaking workshops that explain the process and educate the community: fermenting naturally with yeast only creates ethanol, not methanol.

(Also see this article, Indonesia raises a glass, HONF creates)

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above: Akbar teaching a wine making workshop

below: Timbil teaching my friend Sam and I how to eat snakefruit, one of the fruits used in their wine. the skin looks just like snakeskin

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below: another winemaking workshop, and some large jars of banana wine fermenting

yeast for winemaking measured out into small vials

When I landed the second time, it was dawn in Yogyakarta, clear and crisp. I was so jetlagged from the trip from Spain (which took several days and included stops in Qatar, Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur) that I immediately fell asleep at a friend’s house and didn’t wake up again until dusk. I called Andreas of HONF and told him I was in town. He told me it was the opening night of Cellsbutton and I had to come over! I told him that I was completely exhausted and I would come over the following morning. I immediately fell asleep again. I woke up again about three or four hours later, looked at the clock, and saw that it was 9:30 pm. I decided: screw it, I might as well go to the opening party for just an hour or so and say hi. I ended up hanging out all night, chatting in the cool night air, drinking Bintang, and watching a Javanese puppet show. When the sun rose, I fell asleep again. And thus began my stay in Indonesia, the only time in my life that I lived nocturnally for an extended period of time. (And trust me, this made my trip really difficult to photograph.)

One of the first activities of Cellsbutton, an international new media festival put together by HONF, was a continuous 48-hour stretch of workshops. (The workshops I wanted to check out were in the middle of the night and at dawn, so luckily thanks to my nocturnal beginning, I was already on schedule.) The workshops were about tools for media artists, both hardware and software, and covered topics ranging from using game design techniques in projects, using VJ and DJ software, and building homemade audio circuitry.

below: Effi and Stahl from the Swiss Mechatronic Art Society teaching a workshops about creating electricity from lemons, oranges and potatoes, pure data and modul8 workshops

creating electricity from fruits

creating electricity from lemons, oranges and potatoes

pure data workshop

modul8

The programming for Cellsbutton was also combined with an edition of Breakcore Labs, an ongoing series of experimental audiovisual and breakcore events. The performances and DJ/VJing were by both local and international artists.

bkrlabs

bkrlabs2

above: breakcore_labs

below: view the canal that runs through Yogyakarta during a night motorcycle ride

canal by night

the map kl

I was reminiscing about my travels to Malaysia, a beautiful place that less than a year ago, I didn’t know I wanted to go to. I passed through Kuala Lumpur at least six times (it features the hub airport of Air Asia, arguably the world’s best airline), yet I wish I had a chance to stay long enough to scratch more than the surface.

Coming from India, I was braced for chaos, only to suddenly find myself in a place that was clean and quiet, with wide streets and some of the largest shopping malls I have ever been in. There was beautiful scenery, good cheap food to be found in Chinatown, and everywhere I went people were really, really chill.

view of kuala lumpur featuring the petronus towers

one of the many giant, gleaming shopping malls

malaysian kite store

The highlight for me was definitely visiting the map kl. The map kl is an art and cultural space made up of two parts, the white box, which is a large well-lit gallery space, and the black box, a theatre space. Peter, one of the owners, explained to me that he was interested in creating a place that could curate itself and serve as a catalyst for the growing Malaysian contemporary art scene. The idea is that artists and organizations propose the programming themselves.

The activities are really varied. Nani showed me some industrial wooden spools for an upcoming event, where groups of people find ways to reuse them in an art project.

An exciting place. I met a group of fun and talented Malaysian artists. Here are some photos of the white box (thanks to my friend Sam for taking these!)

the map kl

the map kl

the map kl

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Thanks to the map for having me! (And an extra thanks to Sze)

Re-working Jaagaad

I couldn’t bring myself to post this at first, because no matter how much fun it was to build and interact with this project in person, I couldn’t stand how obnoxious it sounded on the videos! Well, maybe it was actually kind of obnoxious. But I do like the fact that it turned out like a giant toy.

Jaagaad in progress

I set up the the piece I did at Jaaga in India a second time for Jaaga Sound and Lights. This time I put a switch after the voltage regulator and changed the analog circuit, so when you turned the bicycle wheel, the voltage regulator either powered a three-voice sine wave oscillator or the voltage regulator acted as a sensor input for an Arduino.

The project was inspired by my interest in “jugaad”, or improvising with limited resources. I was curious both about local attitudes and whether or not I could put together a project myself, traveling with limited resources.

an image that came up when I googled "jugaad"

After asking around, I discovered that jugaad in India is very different from Brazilian gambiarra. Whereas I met artists in Brazil who embraced, reinterpreted and elevated gambiarra to a sort of hacker/kitschy cool, the only people who mentioned jugaad either used it as a passing joke, or were foreigners like me who were interested in it. As my friend reasoned, for example, perhaps you have a security guard and he doesn’t have a desk. Maybe the only thing he can find for the time being is a cardboard box. He would probably keep going about his business, and wouldn’t purposefully bring up the fact that he’s actually using a cardboard box. He’d rather just have a desk.

Driving on Indian highways, I saw amazing feats of transportation I wouldn’t have thought possible. And I would have to agree that if the workers I saw had access to another form of transportation, rather than perched atop a truck loaded to the brim with cargo, it would probably be safer and more comfortable. They would probably rather have their desk, or bus, in this case. But at the same time, I had never seen truck balancing acts like this, and I also had to marvel. These were solutions that I didn’t even realize were possible!

The original idea was to only use cheap, secondhand, or recycled materials. I think the second version accomplished this, except, debateably, the Arduino. I incorporated some resourceful ideas inspired from friends and travels:

making musical instruments out of broken hard drives --Panetone, Brazil

using recycled DC computer fans to generate power (open energy supply, Fran Gallardo) ...they didn't generate enough power but I noticed they made sound just like the hard drives

3-voice sine wave oscillator circuit --Daniel Llermaly, Chile

sonifying household objects with sensors and Arduino tone generators --Felipe Calegario and Simples Coisas Sonoras, Brazil

Andy, artist-in-residence and programming whiz, also helped me with the code.

I’m surprised the installation lasted as long as it did. It was right at the beginning of monsoon season and the installation was at a juncture in the building where the rain came pouring in every late afternoon. I opened the casing for the Arduino and it was filled with water and…  something really gross. (I’m guessing algae or mold. I’m not a biologist.) I immediately shut it again and put it back. Unbelievably it was still making sound. Someone called it the Mildew-ino, heh..

A few more scenes from the set-up of Sound and Lights, not specifically my project but from the chaos that was going on around me:

andy and corin testing the sound-- tricky because they had one soundsystem and two separate pieces

freeman soldering led lights in a late night work session with the guys from power up electronics

last but not least, kiran.. being kiran

And, the installation up and running during sound and lights:

Bicycle wheel –> dynamo –> voltage regulator –> arduino sensor input –> arduino loaded with a tone generator program

 

Also, thanks to Kiran for helping me set up and the nicest guy who was co-working at Jaaga and stepped in to help me with some last minute problems, everyone at Jaaga for including me in a great project.

La Maquina Absurda / The Absurd Machine

A project my friend Arturo showed me that happened a few years ago at a workshop called Summerlab, at Laboral, a huge art space on the North coast of Spain.

Each element triggered the next in an endless loop. Most were built out of open source software and household objects, and one of the rules was that each hardware piece had to be followed by a software one and vice versa.

“All the ideas for the elements of the machine were thought and created during the week. At the end there were a hairdryer inflating a trash bag triggering a proximity sensor, a little robot wandering around the space who was seen by a camera which produced sounds. A plastic cup telephone transmitting sound from one computer to another. A cloth line moved by motors activated by some software that was looking for a laser projected on a wall. Some particle system visuals generated by lentils jumping on a speaker. And several more.”

more cool people and projects related to Hangar

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Below, amazing things made by amazing friends I met in Spain…

Takahiro Yamaguchi is from Japan, was a resident in Hangar last year, and happened to be back in Barcelona visiting at the same time I was there. He has a project that’s called Urbanized Typeface where he constructs fonts out of letters made out of GPS data collected while biking around various cities.

(Below, Urbanized Typeface in Tokyo)

He also makes fabulous grafitti devices like this one:

 

 

 

Alex Posada is a talented artist, engineer, and researcher, and a very busy man. Not only does he coordinate the Interaction Lab in Hangar, organize dorkbot Barcelona, have an interactive design company and participate in a slew of other projects, he was also instrumental in helping me put together my trip to Barcelona– showing my project to the people in Hangar, and helping me find places to stay! So a giant thanks…

The Particle, which will be at Ars next week, is a kinetic sculpture of light sound and movement. On one hand its impressively heavy-duty and physically powerful, yet at the same time it has qualities that are subtle and mesmerizing.

open hardware lab taught by alex posada

I also went to an Open Hardware Lab that Alex was teaching, about basic electronics and how to hook up an Arduino with sensors.

open hardware lab taught by alex posada

This workshop was at an interesting place called Laboratorio Symbolon, a place that is host to a variety of holistic endeavors, from yoga classes to experiments with biological processes and assemblages of electronics. Sebas, of the lab, showed me around briefly. Lots of fabulous and eccentric objects which really reminded me of gambiarra, from Brazil. But perhaps my point of view is forever tainted since Brazil was the first place I traveled– and now everything reminds me gambiarra. (It could be the other way around..)

@ laboratorio symbolon
@ laboratorio symbolon
laboratorio symbolon

Last but not least, I can’t not mention the blablabLAB boys, whose projects were refreshingly different from the majority of the things I’ve ran into this year.

Raul and Gerard, with their biologist friend Triambak, took into account issues like the need for sustainability, increasing urbanization, and projected population growth, and reacted with a creation called Haberlandt, a vending machine that grows its own food (!). Specifically, it makes cute little balls of spirulina algae:

 

The latest blablabLAB project, Be Your Own Souvenir, was first shown as an intervention on La Rambla, a (the) crowded touristy street in Barcelona. (I believe they’ll next be setting it up at Ars Electronica this coming week). Using 3D scanning and printing, visitors can walk away with their miniature likeness.

(plastic for the 3D printer, and the printer being assembled)

plastic for 3d printers
building 3d printers

(a test printout)

3d printer tests

Hormigas and the Interaction Lab in Hangar

Forgive my slight neglect of TMATM (though if you’ve been following me, I’m sure you’ve noticed that posting regularly is not my strong suit, though I try to be thorough and precise when I do post– i.e. the exact opposite of what matters in the blogging world!). Its been a rocky transition back to the States and I’ve also been overwhelmed by the news. (Where’s Gaddafi!? East Coast earthquake and hurricane!? Is Steve Jobs ok?! Why has 2011 been so eventful???!!!) Really, why has 2011 been so eventful?

Back to smaller (but no less interesting!) stuff.

Actually, its funny, I was giving a talk about my project several weeks ago and there was a time limit. I realized I only had two minutes left to talk, and I thought, instead of finishing the current topic and wrapping up, it would be more fun to try to squeeze in as much as possible, so I started talking faster and faster. Near the end of the talk, this picture came up on the slideshow:

And I only had time to yell breathlessly at a confused audience: andthen,inSpain,therewereGIANTroboticANTS!!

So, to finally explain, while I was volunteering in Hangar, I helped the engineers build the electronics for some giant robotic metal ants. (!) This is how I met Raúl Martinez, the nice and unassuming guy behind them.

His project, ferroluar, is a series of animals, built out of scrap and recycled metal. They move mechanically but their movement is very natural, and the animals seem uncannily lifelike; as he puts it, “organic movement reproduced with materials that at first could seem cold and inexpressive.” He only achieves this by using simple elements like gears and springs!

raul y miguel @ interaction lab, hangar

I asked Raul how he is able to recreate various movements. For example, each leg of the ant is welded at a different angle to a plate that rotates, which is a surprisingly simple solution that wields a surprisingly expressive result. But how to figure out the angle? He told me theres alot of trial and error, and sometimes he doesn’t know until he sees it– he painstakingly welds, tests, and re-welds until the part looks just right.

Another interesting thing to note is that he doesn’t paint the metal. Differences in tone are achieved by other techniques, such as oxidizing and texturing the metal.

bart and a headless robotic ant

In Hangar, I got to see the process of creating microcontroller boards for the sensors and the motors. With electronics, each ant has four IR sensors that make them capable of detecting and avoiding people and obstacles.

The Interaction Lab in Hangar is equipped to produce its own circuitboards, and so I got to see how this was done in a better-equipped lab (since I’ve only done this haphazardly or used perfboards… or I’ve been lazy and I don’t use a board at all…).

The design is transferred onto a light-sensitive board, and this is done by printing the design on translucent paper, lining it up, and setting it in a light box to be exposed.

making circuitboards @ hangar

Here, Miguel is putting the board in a corrosive bath, which only leaves the printed design on the board (unless you leave it in too long, and the design gets corroded away too).

miguel making circuitboards

The next step is drilling holes…

drilling circuitboards

… and then the board is ready for the components to be soldered on.

The ants in the lab, doing some (headless) testing of how the ants react to people and objects.

 

And finally , the hormigas working beautifully with all the details (red glowing eyes, pinchers biting)!

Also, for more, I ran across this nice article about Raul.

Hangar

hangar.org

As I’ve mentioned a few times in passing, I spent a month volunteering at Hangar, an artistic production space in Poblenou (a historically industrial area of Barcelona), which was started in 1997 as a response by the Asociación de Artistas Visuales de Cataluña (Association of Visual Artists of Catalonia, or AAVC) to the lack of workshop spaces for artists in the city. Though initiated by and for visual artists, throughout its history, Hangar has supported a wide variety of arts, especially those that push the boundaries of technology and/or programs that provide technological and technical training for artists with a more traditional background.

ADa in hangar

Hangar is arguably the oldest and most established organization that I worked with during my travels, and it was nice to get a feel for how a bigger space with more consistent funding can operate. Hangar has a lot going on; often people working in one part of the space don’t know what’s happening in another part. Some of Hangar’s production services include the Interaction Laboratory (where interactive design projects are developed), the Medialab (with professional tools to edit images, sound and video), studio space for resident artists, workshops taught by visiting artists, an international artist exchange program, and rentals of work areas, a sound-stage and audiovisual equipment.

What I thought was interesting is that not only do they have the day-to-day responsibilities of running a cultural production center, they also support or embark on projects that ask meta questions about how a cultural center can function. Hangar encourages the collaborative management of art events, which gives the users of the space the autonomy to propose programming and collaborate with the organization. It has also joined a variety of networks, including guifi, which is an open and neutral community telecommunications network, Anella Cultural, which is a network of cultural facilities that are investigating how Web 2.0 technologies can create new modes of cultural production, diffusion and experimentation, and the Red de Centros de Producción de Cataluña (the network of Catalonian production centers), which allows various centers to share resources and present their common needs to lawmakers. Hangar supports archival projects, researching how cultural knowledge can be stored in open source systems. Last year, Hangar began a project (the most meta of all) in collaboration with the Parque de Investigación Biomédica (Biomedical Research Park) called Grid_Spinoza, trying to understand the impact of artistic research on research in other fields, and vice versa, ultimately trying to map and create of a matrix of knowledge spanning creative and scientific fields.

(Poblenou, the neighborhood where Hangar is located, at night)

poblenou at night