VIDA: New Discourses, Tropes and Modes in Art and Artificial Life Research

For this panel, we will analyze new discourses and modes in art and artificial life research. This will be placed in relation to recent outcomes of the computational sciences together with the most revolutionary developments and discourses of the life sciences.
Dates: 
Saturday, 17 September, 2011 - 09:00 - 10:30
Chair Person: 
Nell Tenhaaf
Chair Person: 
Mónica Bello Bugallo
Presenters: 
Sally Jane Norman
Presenters: 
Paul Vanouse
Presenters: 
Sonia Cillari
Presenters: 
Jose-Carlos Mariategui

Chair: Prof. Nell Tenhaaf
2nd Chair: Monica Bello Bugallo

For this panel, we will analyze new discourses and modes in art and artificial life research. This will be placed in relation to recent outcomes of the computational sciences together with the most revolutionary developments and discourses of the life sciences. The focus will be specifically on: creative modes engaged with dynamic living processes that have been affected by simulation, explorations in synthetic life systems, environmental visualizations, hybrid spaces, augmented and mixed reality landscapes and prospective methods and devices.

Contact emails: mb@monicabello.org
                                   tenhaaf@yorku.ca

Paper Abstracts

Theatres of/as Art and Artificial Life

by Sally Jane Norman

Staging artificial and hybrid lives is the stuff of the ancient human pursuit called theatre. This art form has left us a legacy of puppets, automats, effigies, corporeal and intangible agents which inhabit and compellingly bring to life un- or other-worldly spaces. Consequently, theatrical creations and metaphors provide useful frameworks for setting current art and artificial life endeavours into a broader cultural perspective, serving as sounding boards for our notions of liveliness. For Gilbert Simondon, "The living entity maintains within itself a permanent activity of individuation; it is not just the result of individuation, like the crystal or molecule, but it is the theatre of individuation." (L'Individu et sa Genese Physico-biologique). Theatre is thus posited as a locus of constant emergence, identified with live being and with being alive. Notions of boundaries, of open and closed systems, of dynamic models and more or less autonomous, in vivo projections, are common to theatre and artificial life research. Evolving definitions of theatre which accommodate contemporary live arts and artifacts, that engage (with) living processes beyond the confines of static institutional architectures, can nurture and productively inform the ways we think about art and artificial life. My panel presentation will focus on a number of VIDA projects, reading them through the lens and terms of theatre to enrich interpretations of their manifold meanings. In this way, I hope to underline the conceptual originality of these recent experiments in art and artificial life, while indicating their genealogical connections to the more archaic cultures and practices of theatre.

Biology and Post-biology

by Paul Vanouse

This talk will address a few thorny issues key to VIDA's mission and my own work in emerging technologies of art: the tensions between complexity and reductionism, emergence and determinism, and living and non-living via another dualism, Biology and Post-biology.  Central to this discussion are two projects Relative Velocity Inscription Device (a VIDA prize winning project, 2002) and Ocular Revision (2010). The former project is a live scientific experiment in which DNA from my own family's skin color genes are literally raced against one another in a DNA fingerprinting gel, implying a valuation of their speed such as genetic fitness. In the latter project, the notion of Genetic Mapping is turned upside-down, as I create satellite-like images of the Earth's hemispheres by inserting uniquely processed E. coli DNA into a custom, circular electrophoresis apparatus. These projects reflect upon epistemic differences in the life sciences between the Biological and the Post-biological periods. Whereas Biology defined the cell as the basic unit of life and thus took upon itself a new object, life itself, Post-biology shifts the focus of the life-sciences to non-living matter, DNA. Furthermore, this Post-biological turn takes a further cybernetic twist as the non-living matter of DNA is increasingly treated as a pure code, rather than a material substance. The differences are not simply a matter of scale in which more powerful tools allow us to look deeper, but rather a shift from the primacy of vision altogether toward a hyper-rationalized, statistical observation.  I believe that these issues reflect a changing vision of organic life, a topic fundamental to emerging artistic practices and the VIDA mission.

Performative Spaces and the Body as Interface

by Sonia Cillari

My work aims to emphasize both the physical and the metaphorical ways in which human beings relate with each other and with their environment, mainly indicating the fundamental relationships between our internal and external worlds. These are all of our experiences that determine how things exist to us and how we make experience of the immense not void that surrounds us, in which we are immersed as body and as agents of emotions. Over the years, my work has fused all these fundamentals into the creation of sensorial and perceptual mechanisms, immersive spatial works that are at the intersection of architecture and performance art; they are what I refer to as performance-space expression - the creation of physical spaces, perceptible to the senses, each segment of which contains potential realities, some revealing natural phenomena, some not. My artistic investigation examines how patterns of consciousness, perception and identity emerge in such settings. I use participation as a continuous mutation of the initial spatial conditions, to reinforce the external-to-you as continuously variable. Over the last years I have been specifically interested in a field of research related to the Body as Interface, therefore investigating bioelectricity and biomagnetism. My concern was to show that the boundaries of the self extend beyond our skin. Specifically, I was interested in what skin consciousness is, and how presence, proximity and touch can redirect the way we understand ourselves and others, exploring experiences of bodily expansion. A mutual element in these works is an experimental practice revealing a sense of instability and impermanence. From our individual subjective position we gain access to undiscovered shared phenomena.

Art and Artificial Life in Latin America: the Historical Legacy Takes on the Artistic Establishment

by Jose-Carlos Mariategui

The history of media art in Latin America dates from the avant -garde movements of the early 1920s, in which Latin America played a key role both locally and internationally. To give a full account of this history some experimental scientific proposals that laterally expanded the dimensions of media art in Latin America need to be incorporated. For example, in the 1970s the Chilean biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela introduced the concept of autopoiesis which defines and explains the nature and complexity of living systems and which today has become a fundamental tenet of artificial life. The scientific contribution of Chile is complemented by the contribution of the countries in the Amazon basin, which have a strategic geographical location and represent the biggest laboratory of biotechnology in the world. My presentation is intended as an account, within the context of artificial life, of the last decade of artists and projects that form part of the electronic art scene in Latin America. I will offer a timeline of the development of Latin American electronic art in the last decade based on a group of VIDA projects that have won awards and incentives for production. Most of these projects offer an innovative stance that expand the field of artificial life: the chaotic assemblage of large cities that inspires and reveals complex urban and informational processes, the context of recycling technological waste and the development of antagonistic ways of life that create hybrid ecosystems where both biological and synthetic species co-exist. I will discuss how the assimilation of artificial life is often affected by social and cultural patterns that process and analyze it in different and complementary ways, allowing not only a critical perspective but also an innovative path.

Bios of the Participants

Nell Tenhaaf

Nell Tenhaaf is an electronic media artist and writer. She has exhibited across Canada, the US and in Europe. A survey exhibition of fifteen years of her work entitled Fit/Unfit opened in April 2003 at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery in Oshawa and then traveled to four other venues. Tenhaaf’s works created between 1989 and the mid-1990s were aimed at deconstructing the dominance in mainstream biological and biotechnology discourse of DNA as the master molecule. The discourses themselves have evolved since then. Later works attempt to represent some of the complex dynamics of life and involve the viewer as one element in a continuous flux, for example in Push/Pull (2009), Flo’nGlo (2005), Swell (2003) and the touch-activated video installation UCBM (You Could Be Me, 1999). Tenhaaf has recently been collaborating with sound artist John Kamevaar and computer science researcher Melanie Baljko. Tenhaaf has published numerous reviews and articles that address the cultural implications of biotechnologies and artificial life. She has been a jury member for the Vida/Life art and artificial life competition based in Madrid since its inception, www.fundaciontelefonica.com/vida. Tenhaaf is an Associate Professor in the Visual Arts department of York University in Toronto, Canada and is represented by Paul Petro Contemporary Art.

Monica Bello Bugallo

Monica Bello Bugallo is a curator with a special interest in the area of art and science. She is currently artistic director of VIDA, the art and artificial life international awards founded in 1999 by Fundacion Telefonica, Madrid, Spain, having been a board member since 2006. She has curated several exhibitions, seminars and workshops on art, science and technology in society. In 2005 she co-founded  Capsula, a platform for research into, and production of, cultural events involving art, science and nature. From 2005 to 2007 she curated Res-qualia, a web project promoting research in art-science and evolution of consciousness. From 2007 to 2008 she collaborated with the Digital Research Unit (DRU) of Huddersfield University to curate the Biorama event, organizing fieldwork explorations and debate platforms on digital culture and natural phenomena. Between 2008 and 2010, she held the position of head of educational programs of LABoral Centro de Arte y Creacion Industrial in Gijon, Spain, in which she lead experimental programs in digital media and education, research on new formats which facilitate artistic production, as well as promoted the collaboration between art and academia with the initiation of the postgraduate studies Innovation in Culture: Art, Digital Media and Popular Culture with the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC). She participates in different advisory boards and she has published articles on art, science, technology and new education modes on arts. In the academic area, she has lectured in Art and Technology seminars and has given talks on the merging of art and life sciences nationally and internationally.

Sally Jane Norman

Sally Jane Norman is the Director of the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts and Professor of Performance Technologies at Sussex University (UK). After obtaining an MA at the University of Canterbury, Aotearoa/ New Zealand, she received a Doctorat de 3eme cycle (1980) and a Doctorat d’etat (1990) from the Institut d’etudes theâtrales, Paris III - Sorbonne Nouvelle. Her work on art and technology has involved collaboration with various organisations including the Performing Arts Laboratory of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Unesco, and the French Ministry of Culture, and has led to numerous publications in French and English. In 1993 she directed the Louvre’s New Images and Museology conference. She has developed research projects at the International Institute of Puppetry (Charleville-Mezieres), Zentrum fur Kunst und Medientechnologie (Karlsruhe), and Studio for Electro-Instrumental Music (Amsterdam), where she was Artistic Co-Director from 1998-2000. As Director General of the Ecole Superieure de l’Image (Angouleme/ Poitiers), she launched a practice-based Digital Arts Ph.D program, subsequently leaving France in autumn 2004 for Newcastle University to create and direct Culture Lab, an interdisciplinary research facility. In January 2010 she went to the University of Sussex to found the Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, a resource designed to nurture and catalyse the radically interdisciplinary, uniquely creative research for which Sussex is renowned, and which encompasses pioneering artificial life and artificial intelligence initiatives. Sally Jane’s work engages with collaborative interdisciplinary practice, relations between art and technology, and disruptive innovation processes. She frequently advises on research and cultural policy frameworks and regularly reviews texts and contemporary creative work for national and international academic and cultural bodies.

Sonia Cillari

Sonia Cillari was awarded the first prize of VIDA 13.0: Art & Artificial Life International Competition (2010) for her project Sensitive to Pleasure. An Italian media artist and architect, she lives and works in Amsterdam. Her work involves the creation of sensorial and perceptual mechanisms in immersive and augmented environments. Her artistic investigation examines how patterns of consciousness, perception and identity emerge in such settings. Over the last years she has been specifically interested in a field of research concerning the Body as Interface. She was an artist in residence at V2_, Institute for the Unstable Media, Rotterdam (2004), at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten, Amsterdam (2004-2005), STEIM: Studio for Electro-Instrumental Music, Amsterdam (2006 and 2010), Media Art Institute/NIMK (Amsterdam 2006 and 2010), [ars]numerica Montbeliard, France (2009) and Claudio Buziol Foundation Venice, Italy ( 2010). Her interactive installations at the intersection of architecture and performance art have been presented internationally. Besides receiving the First Prize at VIDA 13.0: Art & Artificial Life International Competition, she was awarded the Art Division Excellence Prize at 11th Japan Media Arts Festival, and Honorable Mention at Prix Ars Electronica, Interactive Art and VIDA 9.0: Art & Artificial Life International Competition.
She is a teaching advisor at the Frank Mohr Institute, IME Interactive Media Environment Department, Groningen since 2007 and a core group member at Optofonica Laboratory for Immersive Art-Science, Amsterdam since 2010.

Paul Vanouse

Paul Vanouse was awarded the second prize of VIDA 5.0: Art & Artificial Life International Competition (2002) for his project Relative Velocity Inscription Device. He is an artist who works in Emerging Media forms.  Radical inter-disciplinarity and impassioned amateurism guide his practice. Since the early 1990s his artwork has addressed complex issues raised by varied new techno-sciences using these very techno-sciences as his media. His artworks have included data collection devices that examine the ramifications of polling and categorization, genetic experiments that undermine scientific constructions of race and identity, and temporary organizations that playfully critique institutionalization and corporatization. These Operational Fictions are hybrid entities - simultaneously real things and fanciful representations - intended to resonate in the equally hyper-real context of the contemporary electronic landscape.

Jose Carlos Mariategui

Jose Carlos Mariategui is a scientist and media theorist with a combined degree in Biology and Mathematics, and an M.Sc in Information Systems. He is a founding member of Alta Tecnologia Andina, a non-for-profit organization for the development and research of artistic and scientific theories in Latin America. He is also the founder of the VAE Festival in Lima. He has taught, researched and published extensively on the themes of art, science, technology and society. He was the curator of several international exhibitions of media art such as: Nueva/Vista: Videokunst aus Lateinamerica, ViaSatelite and Videografias In(visibles). He acts as a node in the Tester project. He is currently a Ph.D student in Information Systems at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). He lives in London.