banquet _nodes and networks, interactions among art-science-tecnology-society in Spain´s digital culture

By Karin Ohlenschläger

Santiago Ramón y Cajal (1852-1934) discovered that neural networks are not the closed, continuous circuits his contemporaries believed them that days [1].

Cajal defined each nerve cell as a unit, connected to others through contact or adjacency. Neural networks, then, are open, changing systems with temporary or permanent connections, depending on the intensity of the stimuli received. Their networks can grow in one direction and atrophy in another, producing new branches and generating other connections that are always pre-determined by genes, modulated by the internal hormonal system, and driven by external stimuli and movements. Cajal discovered these dynamic and evolving constructions of the brain, in spite of having only primitive scientific visualization technology available at that time, such as selective staining and the microscope.

A century later, our knowledge of network dynamics is no longer limited to neural circuits. Today’s information and telecommunications technologies have made us see that life as a continuum is a process whose movement began millions of years ago and continues onward. And all thanks to networks. [2] .Today, the fabric of relations comprising the Web can be observed both at large and small scales of time and space. Like neural circuits as Cajal knew- the organizational networks among atoms and molecules are constantly changing [3] as are networks of relations among persons, communities and cultures. [4].

The network pattern, present at all levels and spheres of life, organizes its parts in an open, dynamic, selforganized and evolving system. From water molecules to the world wide web, this organizational pattern runs throughout the continuum inhabited by life.

However, as members of societies undergoing techno-scientific development, we are faced with a significant change: current information technologies allow us not only to access networks but also to generate them. In the radio and television era, production and distribution were still based on dominant centers and distribution channels from the few to the many (broadcasting). Since the late 20th century, via mobile telephones and the Internet, we have built networks of one to one relations (peer-to-peer) on a scale of time, space, distance and speed without precedent in the entire history of humanity. In his extensive research and analysis on the Information Age, Manuel Castells reached the conclusion that networks (...) constitute the new social morphology of our societies, and the diffusion of how their links are created substantially modifies the operation and results of production processes, experience, power and culture (Manuel Castells, La era de la información, Vol.1, La sociedad red, p.549.)

Given that technological systems are produced socially and that this social production is determined by culture, in the current Digital Era, culture is increasingly defined by a renewed network of transdisciplinary interactions among the arts, the sciences, technologies and societies. Today, the production of images, the collective imagination and discourse are equally in the hands of science, the audiovisual sector, and individuals. Any user of mobile telephones, digital cameras, computers and/or an Internet connection is also a potential producer and broadcaster of discourse, images and knowledge.

In fact, a portion of the projects exhibited in banquete_nodos y redes (banquet_nodes and networks) are fed by the Internet, the great archive of our collective memory. Others arise from the collaboration between artists and scientific research centers. Some participants have been trained as architects, computer scientists, engineers or musicians; or they work collectively with activists, biologists, sociologists or urban planners.

That is because banquete_nodos y redes ventures into precisely those areas where stagnant borders and divisions among experiences and fields of knowledge are opened and reconnected. These are areas where identities and information are decontextualized and reconfigured, to which we cannot apply traditional methods of analysis. In fact, as things stand today, we are still lacking a science of information understood as epistéme, able to conceptually integrate the diversity of informational sources and processes. The construction and perception of reality is no longer carried out exclusively as mentioned above- at the centers and axes of dominant powers. With the new information and telecommunications technologies, other structures have emerged: new spaces for communication and relations among experience and knowledge that nourish multiple plural and collective emerging dynamics.

The projects comprising this banquete_nodos y redes exhibit explore, visualize, or generate these networks of relations on the border areas among art, science, technology and society; between physical and digital spaces; between urban and social networks; between the commons and informational dynamics; between biological and technological connections:

The emerging connections between physical and digital spaces, territorial networks, local environments and their interdependence with global dynamics are investigated and visualized in different ways by these groups: Hackitectura, Escoitar, Influenza, Kònic Thtr, Clara Boj and Diego Díaz, and Pedro Ortuño.

The relations between urban and social dynamics; the creation of new participatory methods and tools to serve as catalysts for processes of selforganization, production, and distribution of experiences and knowledge have been proposed by Antoni Abad, Alfredo Colunga, and groups such as Platoniq, and Neokinok work is about the ideological, conceptual, and functional relations among education, creativity, and life.

Informational networks are the subject of the works by Aetherbits, Dora García, Concha Jerez and José Iges, and Joan Fontcuberta. The question of authorship, originality, and veracity is posed by some of their works; others look at new links among current artistic practices and their relation to other micro-producers and citizen distributors through the Internet. The network of codes and free software culture are part of the project by Joan Leandre, Technologies To The People and Daniel García Andujar.

Connections between biological and informational networks, given that the infosphere and its networks of codes and languages are not only found in the field of information and telecommunications technology. Our biosphere is also an infosphere, and life itself is a network of communication and the transformation of matter, energy, and information. In this field, we find projects that significantly broaden the art-life discourse toward the micro-spheres of cellular nodes and networks, or toward the hybrid macro-environments of the body-machine connection. The work and interactive installations by Eugenio Ampudia, Marcel.lí Antúnez, Pablo Armesto, J. Manuel Berenguer, Daniel Canogar, Álvaro Castro, Ricardo Iglesias, Laboratorio de Luz, Marina Núñez and Raquel Parício and José M. Moreno look at new modalities of conception, perception, and interaction between living and technological systems.

banquete_nodos y redes gathers over 30 digital and interactive art projects that address a set of critical reflections and participatory experiences which explore this new common pattern of the network. Photographic works, videos, virtual reality installations, artificial life robotic actions, or net.art participatory projects offer a broad overview, taking us from networks of interactions among genes or software codes to the global dynamics arising from new relations among persons, communities and cultures.

Visitors to the exhibit begin with territorial and urban networks, where they can investigate a series of works and projects that take an open and plural approach to the new dynamics of collective organization. The Hackitectura group is presenting two works connecting the virtual environment of networks with the physical space of places. Their architectonic urban project, Wikiplaza, transforms a space of bricks and concrete into an open space permeable to communication flows. Videos of the Geografías emergentesaction portray the successful experience of the time spent together and collaborations by artists, free software developers, and the inhabitants of a rural area in Extremadura, and the temporary laboratory installed in the area outside a dismantled nuclear power plant.

The city becomes a source of information and raw material for the creation of soundscapes in the production workshop Aire, sinido y poder (Air, Sound and Power)offered by the Escoitar group in the weeks prior to the inauguration of the exhibition at LABoral. They will invite the inhabitants of Gijón to explore their urban environment and to collectively generate an interactive and participatory sound map of the city, which will be accessible to exhibit visitors, and available online to Internet users.

In Observatorio(Observatory), Clara Boj and Diego Díaz use augmented reality devices to visualize nodes of free access to wi-fi networks in the city. The close links between urban space and virtual communication connections also serve as the conceptual base for the interactive installation titled Madrid Mousaic by the Influenza group. Their work is a living, changing mosaic that portrays quite diverse social environments in Madrid and is sensitive to the sound intervention of visitors to the exhibit space at LABoral.

Incessant migratory flows and their influences on individual and group identities in an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world is what the interactive installationmur.muros/distopía#2 from colectivo Kònic Thtr group invites visitors to experience.

In Terre di nessuno: Arenas Movedizas (No man’s land: quicksand), Concha Jerez and José Iges confront the user of their interactive installation with the uncertainties, tensions and conflicts generated on a virtual Parcheesi board where certain squares sink the player into the shifting sands of global information networks.

To stimulate the self-organization of new social links, Antoni Abad has been developing his artistic projects under the common denominator of zexe.net. Its theme is an operative system for mobile telephones and the Internet to serve the most marginal populations in urban settings. Two of his recent experiences, Canal*MOTOBOY andGeneve*Accessible, carried out with motorcyclists in São Paulo and the disabled in Geneva, are another example of how the visibility, self-management and selfdetermination of urban groups can be fostered by current artistic practices, using communication networks.

Direct participation in collective indexing of all kinds of knowledge, whether a recipe, a software application, or a relaxation course, is the subject addressed by the Platoniq group in Banco Común de Conocimiento (Common Knowledge Bank) (BCC). It is a platform for exchanging experiences and knowledge and for connecting everyday oral culture with online digital communication networks that lie outside commercial, speculative circles. BCC is also a laboratory for experiencing new forms of production, learning, and citizen participation.

The NeokinokTV group works on creating educational tools and methods, generating communication networks and links to foster self-determination among those persons most disadvantaged by the growing digital gap. One of their most recent projects, calledTVlata, joins art and education to create an experimental online television channel with a group of young people in Los Alagados, a peripheral neighborhood of Salvador do Bahía, Brazil.

La intención(The intention) is another artistic project joining art and education. This videoinstallation by Marta de Gonzalo and Publio Pérez Prieto is a critical review of certain educational principles increasingly tied to the discourse of efficiency, competitiveness, and profitability. As an alternative, they offer an audiovisual education program that aims to restructure ideological, conceptual, and functional relations among education, creativity, and life.

Todas las historias (All the stories) is a pioneering work of micro-stories in blog format, conceived by Dora García as a work in progress. Since 2001 this project has continued to publish short stories about anonymous men and women, experiences, feelings and events interconnected by dates and keywords on the Internet.

In contrast, Blanca sobre Negra (White on black) tells just one story, a unique tale of certain characters that could be synonymous with many other stories. It is about rural lives plagued by isolation, poverty, and employment and existential uncertainty that are growing as fast as connectivity and wealth are for others.

The Googlegrams Ozono and Prestige by Joan Fontcuberta use images tracked by an Internet search engine to visualize the new iconographies of a collective memory that is increasingly globalized, interconnected and interdependent, which has both positive and negative aspects. E-day for energy, an Internet project by Alfredo Colunga, invites us to reflect individually and act collectively to support new energy sources for a planet with limited resources.

In Social Synthesizer_Prototype, by the Aetherbits group, calls received on a Skype Answering Machine are transformed into a collective composition of images and sounds that are fed back and evolve constantly, with participation by the public or Internet users.

The political, social, economic, and social implications of free distributed software on the one hand and centralized proprietary software of the other form part of two settings and two narratives that make up the complete installation X-devian by Technologies To The People and Daniel García Andújar. This project stresses the cultural controversy about software, which some see as a product and others as an open and participatory process.

Joan Leandre offers a tribute in his installation nostalG2 \\ L’AGE D’OR NFO.EXE o the seminal rituals and protocols of digital contamination; a global dataflow that no node can stop; an ambivalent network, both creative and destructive.

As mentioned above, the biosphere is also an infosphere comprising the network of codes, protocols, biochemical languages, and electric impulses. Among the works related to neural networks, Águeda Simó presents her virtual-reality installation, Reflecting JCC Brain Research II, which invites us to explore the mind, memory, and turbulent emotional life of a person with mental illness.

Minds connected to a playful, intuitive communication system called Tecura 4.0 are the theme of the work by Evru. In this net.art project, the artist turns his own visual and sound language into an open code that he shares with Internet users.

The video installation Reina (Queen) by Francisco Ruiz de Infante, in contrast, leads us to disturbing reflections on neural networks and spaces connected via delocalized, omnipresent control systems with restricted access.

Complex systems are the subject of Vacuum Virtual Machine by young architect Álvaro Castro. Through artificial life graphics software, it visualizes the changing reticular self-organization of atoms and molecules. This project gives a visual form to the network as the structural, dynamic, and evolving basis for life.

The research project POEtic Cubes by Raquel Paricio and J. Manuel Moreno draws its inspiration from cellular communication networks, represented by nine luminous robotic cubes that behave as a sole artificial organism. Each robotic cell changes its behavior and relations through the process of interaction among all parts of the system -including the audience at their performances- illuminating a communication network that simultaneously includes robots and humans.

The version of the series of Secuencias 24(Sequences 24) by Pablo Armesto transforms the recombinatory relations of 48 chromosomes on luminous screens made of fiber optics. This work refers to the vast number of combinatory relations of the code of life, still beyond our grasp. The interactive installation Luci. Sin nombre y sin memoria (Luci. With no name and no memory) by José Manuel Berenguer invites us to explore a network of luminous and sound interactions inspired by the behavior of fireflies.

Modulador de luz 3.0(Light Modulator 3.0) by the Laboratorio de Luz research group turns the exhibit visitor into the protagonist who explores and experiences the lightspace-time / reflection-shadow-movement relation to generate new time, space, and sound relations.

Communication links between users and machines become disturbing in José, un robot autista(José, an autistic robot) by Ricardo Iglesias. This project is part of his series of investigations about Evolutional Machines. In this case, he turns a meek robotic vacuum cleaner into an animated machine with dysfunctional behavior dictated by fear and autism. Interacting with this poorly adapted robot is an unusual experience for those accustomed to the servile machines in our everyday surroundings.

The relation between humans and machines is also the central theme of Marcel.lí Antúnez´s Protomembrana, an interactive, visual and sound lesson on systemplaywriting -literally, playwriting for computational systems- which serves to weave a tale brimming with fables. Satellite dishes, satellites, and other devices used in global communication networks give mobility to bodies floating in space, with which Marina Núñez [Sin Título (ciencia ficción)[No Title (science fiction)]->http://banquete.org/banquete08/Sin-Titulo-ciencia-ficcion-No] is referring to the contemporary myth of the Cyborg, being with expanded fields of action and perception.

In contrast to this more optimistic view of our prosthetic and interconnected condition, the exhibit also includes other critical and skeptical works regarding the relations between humans and machines. In one of his most recent installations, Tangle, Daniel Canogar proposes a reflection on how technologies create complex emotional connections that unite yet at once silence the contemporary being. Across from this work, the visitor finds Crédulos (Credolous), an interactive installation by Eugenio Ampudia where the user discovers other levels of existence, by experiencing a certain perceptive disorientation upon seeing him or herself projected as a tiny being surrounded by gigantic amoebas who respond to his or her presence in real-time.

This overview of the banquetes_nodos y redes exhibit invites us to experience the emerging connections between living and technological systems. These connections are present not only in science, art, or our everyday environments, but also in the continuum of discontinuous, open, and variable connections that make up a life and the relations among the parts. This common pattern, which links the microscopic, the macroscopic, the biological, the social, and the cultural is explored in a plural and diverse way by all the exhibit participants. These works show the intense and fertile synergy established on the border areas among art, science, technology and society in the digital culture of today.

banquete_nodos y redes
13
Mar
2008
27
Jul
2008

Interactions between art, science, technology and society in Spain’s digital culture

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