|Year of Publication||2009|
|Authors||Bovcon, Narvika, Aleš Vaupotič, and Barak Reiser|
|Tertiary Authors||Sraka, Andraž, Jurij Porenta, Damir Deželjin, Samo Mahnič, Matevž Grbec, Marko Ilić, and Igor Lautar|
|Full Text|| |
The Forest of Arden
The projects If you look back, it won't be there any more, IP Light and Presence are all connected by the shared exhibition space (Vžigalica Gallery, Ljubljana) and the artistic research carried out by Narvika Bovcon and Aleš Vaupotič in the post 2005 period. The exhibitions S.O.L.A.R.I.S (Bežigrad Gallery 2, Ljubljana, 2004)1 and S.O.L.A.R.I.S.2 (SKC, Belgrade, 2007) recapped the projects from the years gone by - that were joined already in VideoSpace and the archive Mouseion Serapeion - in a similar way and presented the model of their connections through the metaphor of the wondrous symbolic planet, as presented by Andrei Tarkovsky in his film Solaris (1972).2 In this metaphor Solaris is a projection surface that is confronted by the gallery visitor. It also encompasses the model of a personalised relation to unity with which we enter a relation.
Following the reflection on the reconstruction of a logical unity from a world, that has disintegrated into a mass of bordering and permeated archives - on the level of an image, e.g. a computer interface - opened a new field of questions, i.e. how has the world that surrounds us changed? This is the theme of the projects and exhibition entitled Jaques.3 At the overview exhibition entitled Algorithmic Revolution4 Peter Weibel emphasised how all aspects of the world that surrounds us constantly change, and yet the world appears to remain as it had always been. The Jaques exhibition presents three different projects in a new and changed dimension of the world of reacting to spaces and within them it layered meanings and objects that were through Manovichian cultural transcoding shown as something else then before they became subject to manipulation by algorithms. A special factor of this change is included in the concept of the techno imagination (as perceived by Vilém Flusser), which deals with the acceleration of mankind's performance of procedures, e.g. in the form of computer algorithms. For instance, the world appears in different dimensions when viewed through a Google search.
In opposition to the two dimensional image, the border represented by the planet Solaris and the film medium in Solaris – in numerous aspects similar to the 16th century Flemish painting and later to the video surface –, the theme of all three projects found in the Jaques exhibition is the entrance of man with his body and a politically sharpened thought into a space that is not homogenous. The movements around it mean that movements on the level of numerous layers of meanings, desires and constraints have to be made. This space is inhabited by people and objects, both of which exist simultaneously in the real world as well as in cyber reality. The metaphor that we have chosen for this experience is Shakespeare’s The Forest of Arden from the comedy As You Like It. One can enter it, escape into it, or even permanently live in it, just like the former nobleman Jaques, who exchanged the aristocratic material possessions for the openness of the abstract forest.
What should this scene actually look like? Shakespearology explains the Forest of Arden through numerous sources: The Forest of Arden in Warwickshire, central England, where Shakespeare spent his youth, the Ardennes forest in Belgium (used to be in France), in which the play takes place, but it also uses the Sherwood forest as a model, for by mentioning Robin Hood Shakespeare compares the two forests. Additional meaning can be found in the maiden surname of Shakespeare’s mother, which was - Arden.
The Forest of Arden could be an example of Arcadia or the Garden of Eden, but opposed to the forest in A Midsummer Night's Dream it is not inhabited by fairies and elves, but by rural farmers and individuals who escaped the world of politics dominated by the fight of all against all. The play does not start in the forest; it starts in the duke's court. The duke has eliminated his older brother so that he would be in possession of all the power and riches. Even more violent is the relation between Oliver and his brother Orlando, for Oliver wants to murder his brother. Orlando runs into the Forest of Arden, which is where everybody who is in disfavour and manages to survive finds himself sooner or later.
The move from the everyday world into the changed reality of the Jaques exhibition can be found in the project Presence (programming by Damir Deželjin, Jurij Porenta and Andraž Sraka), in which the visitor of the computer video-installation is placed in the position of the person in audience with the king. The video material is taken from the digital animation To Brecknock, while my fearful head is on, which depicts the height of dramatic action in Shakespeare’s Richard III. Duke of Buckingham finds himself in the moment in which King Richard rejects his demand. There is only one way in which this can continue: a confrontation, which – for Shakespeare’s characters who are not in the Forest of Arden – can only mean death.
In the project Presence Buckingham's position is taken over by the viewer, who is thus a substitute for the character in the play (in a fictitious situation) as well as the body of the actor on stage. The theatre is a mediator as the model of a new media smart space is being established. As encountered increasingly often through the everyday use of smart devices, in this installation - as an example of a smart space - the visitor finds himself in a gallery space and in a narrative reality at the same time.5 The king's presence becomes even more realistic, for the computer vision is capable of recognising what is happening in front of the projection which it then adjusts accordingly - thus fitting the viewer's behaviour: one should not look the king in the eyes and the installation does 'not work' if we look at it, for the computer vision includes face recognition. At this the double use of the computer vision is important for the installation. The first change is caused as the viewer enters the shot in the active field of the installation as a smudge. At this level it is merely a sensor, however as soon as the computer decides that it is looking at a human and not a faceless object, its vision becomes similar to human vision and thus the computer can play a role in the ideological field in front of the installation. Presence thus opens the complex issues or artificial intelligence that - with a high level of analysing activities - surpasses the mere recording of surveillance cameras and thus poses questions as to the ideological connotation of the supposedly unbiased view of the machine.
From the theoretical aspect of the medium the relations between avant-garde traditions of excluding the actor's bodily presence from the theatre - for instance with the superpuppet (Übermarionette) of Edward Gordon Craig - and the photo-realistic procedures of digital animation are also important for this project. The notion of synthetic realism could represent a bridge between the seemingly opposing sides: if modern theatre excluded the serendipity of meanings that the actor's never fully controllable body carries around (from the statement in the theatrical plural media language), the virtual computer worlds establish »realism« in parts, synthetically, and thus on a completely different level; the image of man carries merely those meanings that are coded within, for there are no remnants of the physical presence of the human body.
Of course, there is a great difference between the apparent rejection of Buckingham’s dramatic role and the actual rejection, e.g. the rejection of the viewer within the gallery. Outside of the Forest of Arden – in the world of the history play Richard III – all consequences are final, while in the Forest of Arden they stop on the level of discussion, without losing the complexity of political and ideological dilemmas represented by Jaques. At this we are not so much aiming at the issue of Rosalind's disguise that is doubled by the young actor who played her on the Elizabethan stage, nor on Jaques' speech: »All the world's a stage,« but on the theory of seven levels of argument presented by Clown Touchstone in act 5, scene 4. Clown establishes that the argument can be calmed down to level six, which is followed by a duel and the serious injuries connected to it, just as we have witnessed in the wrestling that took place immediately prior to Orlando's departure to the Forest of Arden. However, Jaques provokes clown to come into contradiction, for he stated that he avoided the duel on the seventh level, even though he previously stated that it can be solved only on the sixth level; the seventh can be solved on the level of a debate, a dialogue, when the argument is understood on the level of a discourse, into which one can add an 'if' or two. Of course, the seventh level demands for the entire reality to be moved to the level of a dialogue, discourse, thus momentarily stopping the unstoppable flow of time that performs the consequences of human actions, even before one realises this. This can be stopped in such a way only within the Forest of Arden, never outside of it.
If you look back, it won't be there anymore
The Forest of Arden is neither a totality of paradise nor the Arcadia of easy living. The old Duke stated6 that in the forest the inhabitants suffer not only exile but also Adam's penalty, i.e. the four seasons in which they are tortured by the freezing winter cold. At the same time he adds that any kind of suffering is in reality a friendly 'counsellor', as opposed to the dangers of the envious court. Even more, a man in the forest of Arden: »Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks«, which is not merely a metaphor, but a hard and solid fact, when the besotted Orlando carves love songs into trees and hangs poems onto branches. However, the Forest of Arden should not be compared to the cold English (or today French or Vallon region) forest, for palm trees and lions can be found within. It is a semiotic forest, that the melancholic philosopher Jaques does not leave even after the happy outcome of the comedy: he does not consider the fact that he is confronted with an exceptionally complex forest of meanings – for he sees people from all classes and with various problems – in which nothing carries a meaning anymore. On the contrary, Jaques faces the given notions of meanings and tries to make new sense out of them, for instance in the form of a critical approach to violence towards animals, with which he follows the speech of the old duke.
The project If you look back, it won’t be there anymore is a continuation of the research of virtual spaces that was carried out through VideoSpace and its continuation, the installation Friedhof Laguna.7 In opposition to the search for unity, the project of the new virtual space - that through various interfaces entered the real space and turned it into an augmented reality or mixed reality - demanded to exit the closed scope or realistic elements and open up. The project was a result of the cooperation between Narvika Bovcon, Aleš Vaupotič and the artist Barak Reiser (programming by Igor Lautar). The creators of the Jaques exhibition also saw the link to the project Mouseion Serapeion as important. This project finally opened up in Wiki 2.1 (2006)8 and tested the algorithm construction of the relations within one archive on the base of its use on the internet. The core of the project If you look back, it won’t be there anymore is a three dimensional computer generated space Data Dune, in which the objects appear as a result of the user's manipulation and movement through space. Even more important is the meta-level of the project, in which the dialog between two artistic starting points has successfully materialised: the concept or the 'script' of Barak Reiser and the execution of the space in the context of researching virtual spaces by Narvika Bovcon and Aleš Vaupotič. The importance of the critical consideration of political and ideological implications of individual spatial elements was always in the first place.
The projects Presence and If you look back, it won’t be there anymore activate the volume of the gallery space in different ways. The projection of the virtual - in real time - drawn space in Data Dune is on one hand linked back to the ‘media historical’, into the direction of video and video-installations in which the viewer used his imagination in order to ‘see’ the co-existence of two realities, and, in a negative way, it establishes a relation towards hardware interfaces such as CAVE,9 EVE (by Jeffrey Shaw),10 as well as the data helmet and similar. The project addresses the issue of video on two levels: first through the projection of the digital video, in which the authors place themselves into the digital model of the installation by Anton Henning,11 and secondly through the sole issue of the digital and at the same time high resolution video in the project In illo tempore (hi-res data video)12 that is a part of the ‘rooms’ of virtual reality. It consists of a ready-made video simulation of the creation of the universe (that could be executed only on super computers) and the recordings of the interview with a research cosmologist who explains the physical cosmology in his home kitchen, outside of the scientific institution. With this the video explored the borders of the visible, i.e. the view at the beginning of time, space and matter. At the same time, to some extent unintentionally, it also explored the art and political border of video as an author’s media manipulation of images, especially in the form of practices such as remixing and found footage.13
As an installation the project If you look back, it won’t be there anymore opens into the direction of digital objects, of which one is actually present in the gallery space – as an animated model in the video and at the same time in the form of a three dimensional print on the machine for rapid prototyping. The digital image thus appeared without a stitch in reality, in which it can - as a piece of information - vaporise once more.
Two referential projects place the digital object context into a political perspective. Trigger Happy (2005) by Tim Stolzenburg consists of a file which includes information on how to make a model gun. At some point in the future this information could make any object available at any time with the use of the ‘printing’ objects technology. The potential contradiction of the project is shown in Cameron’s film Terminator 2 (1991), when the good terminator (Schwarzenegger) says that the bad one cannot make guns from liquid metal because: »It doesn't work that way«. Maybe the various characteristics of materials such as metal springs, oils, etc. are still far from technical realisation through three dimensional prints, and Stolzenburg’s gun is thus merely a metaphor that has proven to be of no interest for Jaques’ political consideration of ideological values in the Forest of Arden. Julius von Bismarck’s Image Fulgurator (2007/08) - the emitter of flashes of light - seems more dangerous. This project was the last winner of Ars Electronica in the field of interactive art. With the aid of reversing the technology in a photographic camera reality was subverted at a point where it was most vulnerable, in its media mediation: what is on a photograph is true, but with von Bismarck photographs lie.
Finally, in the Forest of Arden one cannot escape deus ex machina; at the end of the play Hymen (the god of weddings) arrives and joins couples in a group wedding. At the exhibition the fictive Jaques finds a challenge in the new media object, i.e. a light that is at the same time in real space as well as a unique entity on the internet – it has its own IP address, in the same way as servers do (programming and hardware by Matevž Grbec, Marko Ilić and Samo Mahnič). The light provides for at least two practical uses: it can be used as a reading light, or it can transfer a message as it is turned on and off over the internet. The project contemplates the so-called »internet of things«, where each of our possessions will be found in real space and cyber space at the same time.14 This will result in the fact that these objects (and the people who are linked to them) will be easily traceable and their actions documented, as everything will
be reflected in the changes of the positions and conditions of objects. IP Light is merely one type of object that enters the cyber world; it is an electrical appliance to which we, without larger expenses, add some circuitry that manipulates it as an object that has a specific place and task in our world. At the same time the objects in the »internet of things« are accessible through computer manipulation, and this increases human capabilities to magical limits. The second type of integrating objects into the »internet of things« is computer vision, whether in the form of standardised code for object recognition or through the analysis of models of the various states of visibility of individual objects. In fact any sort of sensor can pass on data to software, which, with a skilful analysis of various manipulations of an individual object – for instance a smart table that a person touches – forms a piece of information and offers an additional understanding of the situation to which one or the other object can respond with regular practice (if we borrow the term coined by Michel Foucault, which was of course coined for describing human operations). An important consequence arises from this: as we will regularly meet with for instance smart responsive walls, non-living matter will be given life. The feeling for materiality will change, for we will read it as an interface object in our dialogue with the environment.
The exhibition Jaques used three gallery spaces in which three different ways of how technology changes the living space of the contemporary man were presented: IP Light is an object of the world as we knew it, but it includes something more; If you look back, it won’t be there anymore is an example of mixed reality, used as an independent artistic medium, as a language for considering the reading of the world; Presence realises the two edges of the sword controlling the individual – in his novel The First Circle (1968) the Russian novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn talks about photographic cameras, integrated into doors – and the fulfilment of the dream of artificial intelligence, which will grow as an archive of symbols from the detailed analysis of the regularity of the everyday world. In his book Search15 John Bartelle searches for an answer to this enigma, in the relation between the intention and the search. At this he turns to the debate with Danny Hillis, in which he stated that it is not hard to find something:
“My problem is understanding something.” That, he continues, can happen only if search engines understand what a person is really looking for, and then guide her toward understanding of that thing, much as experts do when mentoring a student. “Search,” he continues, “is an obvious place for intelligence to happen, and it is starting to happen.”
1 Subtitled Archive and Interface, webpage <http://solaris.bovcon.vaupotic.com/>.
2 The authors looked at the connection between Tarkovsky’s films and new media art as the curators of the Pixxelpoint festival: 8th international new media art festival, Nova Gorica, Gorizia, 2007, <http://www.pixxelpoint.org/2007/icns/katalog.pdf>.
3 Two-syllable English pronunciation as used in the play As You Like It by Shakespeare: dʒeɪˈkwiz.
4 Die algorithmische Revolution, ZKM, Karlsruhe, 31.10.2004 - 7.9.2006, <http://www.zkm.de/algorithmische-revolution/>.
5 The project Presence simultaneously realises the point of communication termination and touches the borders of the researches into personal attitude towards reality as a visage (concept of Emmanuel Lévinas) as found in the projects Mouseion Serapeion and S.O.L.A.R.I.S.
6 II, 1.
7 In cooperation with Gašper Jemec for the 50th Venice Biennale, 2003, <http://black.fri.uni-lj.si/recyc/flr/>.
10 Extended Virtual Environment (1993) <http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/works/eve/>.
12 2005, <http://black.fri.uni-lj.si/inillotempore/>.
13 The authors applied with the video In illo tempore (hi-res data video) to Medienkunstpreis in 2005. Because of this application the ready-made video Millennium-Simulation (2003) by Volker Springl from the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics Garching received the award (they even asked us on the phone whose is the ready-made). The festival curators therefore ignored the artist-curator and awarded the original video material, as quoted in the video In illo tempore.
14 Cf. Neil Gershenfeld, Internet 0, ˂http://cba.mit.edu/projects/I0/˃.
15 Penguin, 2006, pg. 16.