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“Drones/Birds: Princes of Ubiquity”. The bird metaphor as a contemporary cultural form

The Digital Now is an exhibition series exploring international current art practices in relation to the contemporary media and digital framework. Drones/Birds: princes of ubiquity, the first chapter of the series, took place in Brussels one month ago, from April 10 to April 21, 2013.

On this occasion collateral events were also held: an opening concert with dj set and an artists talk organized in cooperation with ArtistTalk.eu and Transmedia. Honor Harger, director at Lighthouse, and James Bridle, artist, publisher and technologist, were invited speakers at the aforesaid symposium that was moderated by Michel van Dartel (curator at V2_ Institute for the Unstable Media). The exchange focused on the use of drone-technology from an artistic and curatorial perspective. The Drones/Birds exhibition was curated by Bram Crevits.

The Digital Now series are produced by Cimatics and were featured in Art Brussels’ off-program, Brussel’s international contemporary art fair (April 18-21, 2013). This year’s edition “Drones / Birds: Princes of Ubiquity” relates to the theme “Ubiquitous Art and Music: Art and the everyday” and was organized within the European project ECAS (European Cities of Advanced Sound and related arts) in connection with ICAS (International Cities of Advanced Sound) network.

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Among the international artists on show: David Bowen (US), Marcus Coates (UK), Theo Burt (UK), Paolo Cirio (IT), Christoph De Boeck & Patricia Portela (BE/PT), Dries Depoorter (BE), HC Gilje (NO), Esther Polak & Ivar van Bekkum (NL), Erica Scourti (GR), Addie Wagenknecht (US) and Zimoun (CH).

The exhibition explored the bird metaphor as a contemporary cultural form.  The goal was to better understand how digital technologies are shaping our experience in today’s socio-technological society. Bram Crevits formulted the notion as follows: “This exhibition is a quest for understanding and acting upon the experiential and identity-producing aspects of the condition of residing in this socio-technological system (remoteness, wifelessness, locality, emergence, speech, translation, appropriation…)”.

The bird perfectly fits in the information era we live in mainly because of its immateriality and mobility, but also because of its communicative and symbolic role, or, to put it in the curator’s words: “the bird is remediating contemporary culture to us”. The most obvious example, but not necessarily the most relevant one, is Twitter and its social network model. Some of the works on show were indeed inspired by Twitter and its functionalities.

The drones’ methaphore was also explored. By drones we mean the so-called unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) mostly deployed in war actions, but the methaphore also stirs an interesting query about invisibility, associated with efficacy. The potential artistic connotation of drones was also explored by a number of performers in the past.

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At the exhibition, visitors were welcomed by ghostly presences, namely the works by Paolo Cirio (http://www.paolocirio.net/) that are displayed both in the gallery and in the external surroundings (read at the interview made by Tatiana Bazzichelli to the artist for Digimag in 2011 http://www.digicult.it/digimag/issue-063/paolo-cirio-when-stealing-becomes-art/). Street Ghosts (2012) are life-sized pictures captured by the artist on Google’s Street View and printed in colour, while keeping the same evanescent, spooky appearance given by the satellite view. Originally the pictures were affixed on the wall at exactly the same spot where they were taken.

Google’s Street View also inspired the artwork by Ester Polak & Ivar van Bekkum (http://www.estherpolak.nl/), who created Abstract View (2010) following a journey in Scotland, where they were accidentally captured by the eye of the Google’s widget and consequently reflected on the meaning of “being in Street View”.  Their meditation materialized into artwork images within a revisited landscape, where what is questioned is the very notion of representation, location and identity.

Online media technologies have sparkled the artistic reflection by two more artists. Dries Depoorter (http://www.driesdepoorter.be/) created Subtwitter, a special application that scans subtitle-files of movies or videos – chosen by the audience – and replaces them with associated tweets originated through a computational mechanism. He has investigated Twitter’s dynamics from a creative and computational perspective, thus allowing the user to sub-tweet any kind of movie or series.

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David Bowen (http://www.dwbowen.com/) has operated a new source for entering tweets: the activities of flies. In the prject Fly Tweet, houseflies are placed into a see-through sphere containing a computer keyboard. Though their movements on the keyboard, flies generate tweets that are entered into a text box and sent out in real time. In Bowen’s work a random action becomes crucial to generating messages that are traditionally associated with a cognitive human action. Moreover, the reference to flying objects – animals or web messages – opens up new symbolic scenarios.

Marcus Coates’ work deserves a special mention. The English artist’s video The Plover’s Wing (2009) (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BfBgWtAIbRc) was projected in a separate room and features Coates himself while performing a sort of shamanic ritual in front of the Mayor of the Israeli town of Holon, who had previously asked him a question concerning the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. The artist’s attempt to provide an answer based on the interpretation of some animals’ responses, explores the potential role of shamanic investigation in today’s technological society, which, unlike ancient cultures, leaves no room for the animal soul. Coates bizarre performance questions the role of animals from a spiritual and mythological perspective.

Going from fauna to flora, Hortus (2012) the recent work by Christoph de Boeck and Patricia Portela (http://www.deepblue.be/), interviewed by me at the end of 2012 (http://www.digicult.it/it/news/overtoon-a-new-sound-art-space-in-the-earth-of-europe/), was installaed at the Botanique (http://www.botanique.be/en). It is an artificial garden that turns into an invisible soundscape inhabited by elements such as wind, light, plants and birds. This effect was achieved by placing sensors throughout a real garden to record and measure the photosynthetic process of plants in the interaction between light and wind. The inputs are subsequently translated into bird sounds.

At this stage, human interaction ensues: when human visitors enter the garden, the variation in the environment is registered and the sound data are reshaped, thus producing a completely different soundscape. The data variation is processed through a financial algorithm, making the contrast between the original and the artificial even more manifest, both on a theoretical and perceptive basis.

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Pussy Drones by the american artist and feminist Addie Wagenknecht (http://placesiveneverbeen.com ) is a project in which the fascinating idea of Digiphrenia is explored: because technology enables us to be aware of and have control over multiple conceptual spaces simultaneously, our attention is increasingly divided. With this idea in mind, the artist shows a crazy and coloured list of web visual objects (lolzcat, memes, gifs) showing a clear connection with closed systems of the patriarchal structures which control the physical world: if the very essence of the web (programming, the code structure itself) is still ruled by men and corporations who control and own it in its entirety, drones can be considered merely cocks controlled by pussy sharing, until the end of our digital world, the same mission: endurance, control via autonomous means and to nail their targets.

Erica Scourti (http://www.ericascourti.com/) presented two works: Woman Nature Alone (2010), a video project uploaded to Youtube where the artist is performing actions based on key words taken from titles of stock video sites. The inspiring key words are “woman”, “nature” and “alone” and the whole performance turns around these concepts, in an emotional and visual ‘human landscape’. Her second work is Life in Adwords (2012), basically a daily journal wrote by the artist on her Gmail account where, with the help of a webcam, suggested ads are displayed depending on the key words used in the text entries, on the basis of the Google’s Ads Algorithms. After Twitter and Google Street View, another tool is questioned through the use of words and their semantic potential, from a different point of view.

Drones, on the other hand, are the protagonists of the video by Noor Behram, a Pakistani video and photo journalist, where a drone getting over his own house is showed. This is part of the documenting work he did during the US drone strike in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan. Remarkable were also some artworks that completed the exhibition at the best: the sound installation Woodworm of Zimoun Studio, interviewed some time ago by Marco Mancuso http://www.digicult.it/digimag/issue-061/zimoun-leerraum-sound-organisms-in-evolution/, focuses his research on worms, exploring the sound they produce inside wood while eating, resulting in a sound landscape originated by an invisible and intangible movement, the and the artwork of Theo Burt as a part of The Automatic Group (http://www.automaticsgroup.org.uk/).

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And to finish, another project about the theme of birds, more specifically woodpeckers this time: Wind-up birds (2008) by HC Giljie (http://hcgilje.com/). In this installation mechanical woodpeckers are connected in a wireless network. Each woodpecker is linked to an electronic circuit and a radio modem. Every time one of the woodpeckers’ pecks, the other ones start answering, stimulated by the electronic input. This work presents a sort of unusual mechanics of birds within a network context, simulating communication.

Extremely impressed by the artistic and curatorial outcome of this first chapter of the series The Digital Now, we are now looking forward to the next exhibition and the next step into the contemporary artistic exploration of our digital realms.


http://thedigitalnow.be/

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