A Machine to See With is coming to Minneapolis this week

Blast Theory’s A Machine to See With is coming to Minneapolis April 15-19, 2011. Buy your tickets now. The experience begins at an appointed location at St. Anthony Main in Minneapolis. Allow 60–75 minutes. It’s worth it.

Blast Theory, A Machine to See With

Blast Theory is a UK-based artist group (led by Matt Adams, Ju Row Farr and Nick Tandavanitj) who use performance, gaming, and interactive media to create participatory experiences that explore the social and political aspects of technology. One of their better-known works is Ulrike and Eamon Compliant, which premiered at the Venice Biennale in 2009 and invited participants to take on the persona of Ulrike Meinhof or Eamon Collins as they walked through the city directed by calls to their cell phone.

Blast Theory, Ulrike and Eamon Compliant.

While less political in its premise, A Machine to See With is similar in that it’s a cell phone led experience that takes place outside on city streets. I experienced the work when it premiered in San Jose, CA at the 01SJ Biennial last September and was able to observe and participate throughout the concept and testing phases of development. I hesitate to reveal too many specific details about the work because I want to avoid spoilers. This is an artwork that you must experience yourself.

As opposed to a site-specific work that is crafted for one particular geographic location, A Machine to See With (AMTSW) is better classified as a site dependent work. The premise of the work is the same from city to city, but the work isn’t explicitly about responding to a particular location—the narrative is a stencil overlaying a place and the artists are location scouts who scour an area to unearth the characteristics and spaces that support their narrative to the desired effect.

According to Nick Tandavanitj, the artists feel a sense of jeopardy each time they stage the piece because the work is so dependent on geographical details and physical properties of a place. When the artists arrived in San Jose (a city they had never visited—all scouting was done via Google Earth) they knew the narrative would center around a bank, but were still determining how the work would resolve. In Park City, Utah they had to scale the experience to a smaller city and make accommodations for the snow and harsh weather. In Minneapolis (which they did visit in advance), Blast Theory looked at three different locations to serve as the anchor point of the work, and admit that they could have rewritten AMTSW as a different experience at each of the three locations.

The work relies on maintaining an air of intrigue and anonymity to what is going on. Playing yourself, you are challenged to imagine the previously unimaginable and question what and who is behind every corner. Blast Theory clearly designs the work to allow spaces for people to craft their own experience. When I participated, it was left up to me to decide when and how to follow the instructions delivered to my own personal cell phone and at times the work reminded me of the “choose your own adventure” stories I used to love as a child.

Blast Theory, A Machine to See With. Still from San Jose.

Blast Theory is highly adept at blurring genres and mediums. AMTSW connects to urban gaming in that it enables interaction, but the work does not have the structure or clearly outlined goals of a game. In the context of a film festival like Sundance, the work takes on a cinematic element where the city is cast as set and participants as live actors in a reality-based action thriller.

In the end, I left feeling like the work was about taking a risk—not knowing who is playing along, but following directions anyway. As impersonal as the mechanism of phone calls seems to be, AMTSW crafts a finishing point that becomes a starting point to a moment of real personal connection with someone.

A Machine To See With is a Locative Cinema Commission from ZER01 for the 01SJ Biennial, the New Frontier Initiative at Sundance, and the Banff New Media Institute. It is being presented in Minneapolis as part of the Walker Art Center‘s Expanding the Rules of Engagement with Artists and Audiences initiative.

The Responsive City – Fact or Fiction?

Archigram, Instant City. In the exhibition Edge Condition, 2008 01SJ Biennial

Archigram, Instant City. In the exhibition Edge Condition, 2008 01SJ Biennial

CAA 2011 Conference

Thursday, February 10, 2011, 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm

On site at the Hilton Conference Center, 3rd Floor, Trianon Ballroom
Free and open to the public


Steve Dietz, Northern Lights.mn

This panel will examine the experience of artists and presenters with large-scale, long-term interactive art in the public sphere and the pragmatic, conceptual and philosophical issues such projects engender.

There is a significant history of festival and exhibition-based public programming of interactive works but long-term and permanent installations are less common. The possibilities for large-scale, interactive art in the public sphere are increasing exponentially, however, and this panel will consist of at least two artists and a presenter, who will discuss their projects in relation to the pragmatics of production and the histories of public and new media art practices, as well as the intersection with civic and economic imperatives embodied in the notion of the creative city. A respondent will critique these projects in relation to issues of agency, free speech and spectacle.


Barbara Goldstein
Public Art Program Director
City of San Jose

Barbara Goldstein will trace the evolution of interactive cities from early utopian concepts, comic books and Archigram’s “Plug In City” through the manifestation of interactivity in contemporary urban form and the unique role that technology-based art has played in the activation of space and place.

Barbara Goldstein is the Public Art Director for the City of San José Office of Cultural Affairs and the editor of Public Art by the Book, a primer recently published by Americans for the Arts and the University of Washington Press.  Prior to her work in San José, Goldstein was Public Art Director for the City of Seattle.  Goldstein has worked as a cultural planner, architectural and art critic, editor and publisher.  From 1989 to 1993, she was Director of Design Review and Cultural Planning for the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs.  From 1980-85 she edited and published Arts + Architecture magazine.  She has written for art and architectural magazines both nationally and internationally, and has lectured on public art throughout the United States, and in Canada, Japan, China, Taipei, Korea and Abu Dhabi.  She is currently Chair of the Public Art Network for Americans for the Arts.

Cameron McNall

Cameron McNall will present 18 topics in 18 minutes, including: Tracking Basketballs; Everybody likes Chic; Hug a Sign; Mr. Zoggs Sex Wax; Restricted vs. Sterile; Fox Tossing; College Faces; Get Smart; Observers, Participants and Performers; RELAX; Urban Nomads; Don’t Try This in Boston; Avatars; Real-Time; Drive-By Disaster; Day and Night; DON’T FREAK OUT

Cameron McNall is an Architect and Principal of the group Electroland. Every Electroland project is site-specific and may employ a broad range of media, including light, sound, images, motion, architecture, interactivity, and information design. Electroland works at the forefront of new technologies to create interactive experiences where visitors can interact with buildings, spaces and each other in new and exciting ways. A pop sensibility, expressed through whimsy and play, helps Electroland to achieve projects that are accessible and that invite visitor participation.

Ben Rubin
Ear Studio / New York University

Beacons, Semaphores, and Panoptical Spires:  illuminating the urban skyline

Ben Rubin presents his public illumination projects and discusses the ways changing light technology has altered the fabric of urban life for more than two centuries.  With the explosion of LED and other dynamic (and potentially interactive) lighting technologies on city skylines, what is the future of night in the city?

Ben Rubin (b. 1964, Boston, Massachusetts) is a media artist based in New York City. Rubin’s work is in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the San Jose Museum of Art, and the Science Museum, London, and has been shown at the Whitney Museum in New York, the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain in Paris, and the ZKM Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe. Rubin has created large-scale public artworks for the New York Times, the city of San José, and the Minneapolis Public Library.  He is currently developing a site-specific sculpture called Shakespeare Machine for the Public Theater in New York, and just completed Beacon (2010), a luminous rooftop sculpture commissioned for National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia.


Mark Shepard
University at Buffalo

Mark Shepard is an artist, architect and researcher whose post-disciplinary practice addresses new social spaces and signifying structures of contemporary network culture. His current research investigates the implications of mobile and pervasive media, communication and information technologies for architecture and urbanism. Recent works include the Sentient City Survival Kit, a collection of artifacts for survival in the near-future sentient city; and the Tactical Sound Garden [TSG], an open source software platform for cultivating virtual sound gardens in urban public space, both of which have been presented at museums, festivals and arts events internationally. In 2006 he organized Architecture and Situated Technologies (with Omar Khan and Trebor Scholz), a symposium bringing together researchers and practitioners from art, architecture, technology and sociology to explore the emerging role of “situated” technologies in the design and inhabitation of the contemporary city. In 2009, he curated Toward the Sentient City, an exhibition of commissioned projects that critically explored the evolving relationship between ubiquitous computing and the city. He is the editor of Sentient City: ubiquitous computing, architecture and the future of urban space, published by the Architectural League of New York and MIT Press.


Sentient City: ubiquitous computing, architecture and the future of urban space.

Sentient City exhibition
An exhibition critically exploring the evolving relations between ubiquitous computing, architecture and urban space. Organized by the Architectural League of New York in 2009.

Situated Technologies Pamphlets Series
A series of pamphlet-length publications that examines the implications of contemporary mobile, embedded and responsive systems for architecture and urbanism.

West End interactive art project

Camille Utterback, West End project

Back in April, Forecast Public Art helped organize an invitational competition for two public art projects at the West End complex in St. Louis Park, MN.

Duke Realty is redeveloping approximately 40 acres at the southwest corner of I-394 & Highway 100. The $400 million mixed-use project is called “The West End”. The first phase includes a 350,000 square foot lifestyle retail center and approximately 30,000 square feet of office space. “The Shops at West End” will include fashion boutiques, a wide variety of restaurants, a 14 screen, state-of-the-art movie theater, and a grocery store. This unique shopping and entertainment destination began in April 2008 and is expected to be completed in September 2009. Later phases of The West End will include 1.1 million square feet of class A office space distributed between several buildings and a hotel.

Camille Utterback won the commission for the “state-of-the-art movie theater” with a proposal for hanging interactive full spectrum color light columns, which are activated by people touching a balcony handrail. Here is an early mock up of the project from her proposal.

And here are some pictures of the site under construction.

I recently received a note from Camille that she will be installing the final project the week of August 30. An incredibly short timeline! Here she is in her San Francisco studio with one of the prototype columns (still with some packing around the joints, and no lights). Can’t wait to see the results – and plan to see all my movies at The West End.

Entertailment and Architainment

La Vitrine – Montreal from steven bulhoes on Vimeo.

via Urban Prankster

Moment Factory, which produced La Vitrine’s installation pictured above, claims that it is North America’s “first permanent ineteractive giant exterior LED wall.” There are probably enough qualifiers there not to aruge too much.

La Vitrine is in a section of Moment Factory’s website called “Entertailment” – Entertainment + Retail, get it? They also have an “Architainment” section – no bonus prize for guessing this one – with “permanent exterior multimedia environments including building facades, public parks, urban entertainment installations and theme parks.” I wish I’d seen the Michael Jackson tribute at the Moon Palace in Mexico. They’ve also done quite an amazing “vast choreography synchronizing and harmonizing light, sound and video (giant screens, LED and architectural projection), creating an ever changing visual symphony” for “Perkins Rowe, among many other literally spectacular projects.” Watch a “behind-the-scenes tour of Moment Factory below.

Poeme electronique

Interesting vid about Le Corbusier’s Poème électronique pavillion for Philips at the 1958 Brussels World Fair. According to interactive architecture.org

The whole project was initiated and directed by Le Corbusier, who also created and/or selected the images for the audiovisual show, with the organized sound composed by Edgar Varèse, and the stunning surfaces of the building designed by Iannis Xenakis. The result was a ground breaking immersive environment, since the space of the Pavilion hosted the audio and the visual materials as integral parts of the architectural design.

via interactive architecture.org

The Emotional City

Here are some images from Marina Zurkow of Will Pappenheimer’s and Chipp Jansen’s Tampa Public Mood Ring.

Living City :: environmental responsiveness

The Living is a practice by David Benjamin and Soo-in Yang, which emphasizes open-source research and design, seeking collaboration both within and outside the field of architecture.

I saw their prototype for a responsive “breathing” building skin as part of the Vapor exhibition at Southern Exposure. As curators Jordan Geiger and Alison Sant wrote:

“Living City is a full-scale prototype building skin designed to breathe in response to air quality. David Benjamin and Soo-in Yang have been developing one of the first architecture prototypes to link local responses in a building to a distributed network of sensors throughout the city. The prototype will be exhibited at SoEx, opening and closing its gills in response to information the sensors collect.”

David Benjamin + Soo-In Yang, The Living City, prototype
David Benjamin + Soo-In Yang, The Living City, prototype, installation view, Vapor, Souther Exposure. via Shotgun Review

The breathing facade is an R&D project, essentially, of a larger investigation about the “living city,” which they see as

  • A platform for the future when buildings talk to one another
  • An exploration of the vitality of the city through new forms of public space—air and facade

Or as they subtitle their explanatory video Buildings Talk, “From the old model of local input with local output … to the new model of local and global input with local and global output.”

River Glow

Another environmentally responsive project The Living has prototyped is River Glow, “a network of pods that float in public waterways, sense water quality, and send a signal visible from the water or on shore.”

The Living, River Glow

Nuage Vert

River Glow, in particular, reminds me of HeHe’s Nuage Vert, which won the Green Prix for Environmental Art at the 2008 01SJ Biennial and is a literally spectacular effort to use responsive visualization to motivate the local population to change their electricity consumption patterns, thereby affecting the amount of pollution produced by a nearby powerplant.

HeHe, Nuage Vert

Fade to Black

A more conceptual, less spectacular, but nonetheless important version of responsively visualizing environmental conditions was the Bureau of Inverse Technology’s BANGBANG network from 2000, in particular the Fade to Black [FTB] node or capability.

“Fade to Black is a network of webcams oriented skyward. Image on the webcam fades to black as pollutant film accumulates on the lens. Provides visual and empirical information on air quality; viewable in live stream or archived [concatanated] format. Test deployments: Houston TX, Hollywood CA, Bronx vs Broadway NYC. Additional sites/host computers being actively sought. This project is part of the BangBang camera network.”

The Lab at Rockwell Group

Former Minneapolitan Joshua Walton is a “New Media Lead” at the R&D Lab for the New York-based Rockwell Group, which has been doing some very interesting work in the public sphere.

In 2008, Rockwell Group, in collaboration with Jones + Kroloff, had the prestious assignment to design the entrance installation to “Out There: Architecture Beyond Building,” the main exhibition for the 11th annual Venice Architecture Biennale, an immersive and interactive environment constructed from iconic films.

I was particularly interested in their “Mauboussin Kaleidoscope,” for which they created an algorithmic kaleidoscope generator using live video of the boutique’s jewels, rear-projected on the 2nd and 3rd story windows of the building.

Mauboussin Kaleidoscope from labatrockwell on Vimeo.

Also of interest is their prototype installation at the Toronoto Sheraton, which involved three elements: a reactive frieze tryptich, a reactive mirror and digital ticker.

On a very different scale, Rockwell Lab created a totally knit environment for the Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS 2008 Dining By Design program.

Looking forward to see what the Lab works on in 2009.

“The Lab represents Rockwell Group’s mission of making. It is a mixing chamber of ideas encompassing digital interaction design, the material and image library, modeling and prototyping resources. The Lab provides a space for the 250 designers at Rockwell Group – who are also artists, sculptors, chefs, opera singers, architects, playwrights, and set designers – to collaborate to create a cross-disciplinary approach to design, and generate a cross-pollination of ideas. The ambition of Lab is to explore and promote understanding of the relationship between human interaction with technology, and its effect on experience. This activity includes: science and technology consultation, in house design and creation of interactive environments/objects, and maintaining networks of technology solution providers.”