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Golan Levin and Collaborators

Press Clippings

Garassini, Stefania. 'Between Nature and Artifice'. Domus, December 2007

The projects of today's most innovative creative people show how the art world is now embraced by the digital

The switch to the Digital Age and the proliferation of bits to the detriment of atoms are interpreted in creative ways by many electronic artists, who work on the world's characteristics within the computer and construct interactive spaces to be explored. In some of these projects the digital acquires a new kind of concreteness. It becomes more comprehensible and reveals aspects that are not shown by pure technology. In other words, it lets itself be "tamed", and experimented with, in its innumerable facets. Art has explored various avenues to represent this digital "embrace" that characterises our contemporary world. Among these, a highly significant space is that of installations and virtual worlds, where bits are made into a universe to be explored in three dimensions using increasingly sophisticated interaction technologies.

In her installation in September at the 2007 edition of the prestigious Ars Electronica festival in Linz, Austria, Sonia Cillari's Se Mi Sei Vicino (www.soniacillari.net) referred to embraces - also physical - and to the mutual fascination between humans and technology. This work, which can also be seen at the Florence Biennale from December 1-9, is set in a space equipped with giant screens and with a person at the centre who acts as an "antenna". Approaching the piece triggers a visual and sound change in what is happening on the screens. When actually touched, a whole storm of sounds and images is unleashed, with abstract, fluidly animated representations on the monitors that seem to acquire a form of life. The storm abates as the visitor moves away, like a metaphor of human contact rendered ever more marginal by the interposition of machines in personal relationships. "I am interested in exploring the use of technology," explains Sonia Cillari, an Italian who has settled in Amsterdam, "and more precisely, in how it can 'mediate' the experience of our existence." Her reflection and work is focused on the study of how we interact with one another and our surroundings. In this work it is the body that is the real interface, showing how the "boundaries of our being extend beyond the skin", as Sonia Cillari says. "But it is also a way of 'gauging' encounters."

The work of Franz Fischnaller (www.fabricat.com) aims instead at constructing a sort of "wonderland", emphasising the potential of digital technology to build worlds. His work was recently presented at the View Conference in Turin. With SOE - Space of the Earth Project, Fischnaller - who teaches at a number of American and European universities and shows his installations around the world - seeks to propose a sort of perfect architecture, a space where human creativity is not subject to limitations. He does this through a virtual world with hyper-technological characteristics that can be explored using interactive tools.

Another extremely lively and fertile artistic trend that spotlights unusual aspects of the digital is software art. Here the accent is on the program rather than on the final result, which, however, is not infrequently made up of images of excellent aesthetic quality. The task of programming gives rise to forms that evolve on the screen, the artist's job being to create the conditions whereby a process can be started, of which not even he or she knows the outcome.

Examples are the works of Casey Reas (http://reas.com), for years a researcher at MIT in Boston and currently a teacher at UCLA in Los Angeles. He is among the authors of Processing, a programming language conceived as a tool for artists working on software. «In my works the structure is not imposed or set; visual forms with unforeseeable characteristics are generated through the continuous exchange of information," explains Reas, whose works can be seen in interactive animations or installations but also in print format. To his mind, these are three ways of showing the characteristics of the same process. “Printing my works is a way of capturing an exact point in this evolutionary process," he continues. «Animation on the other hand allows whole process and its constant variations to be seized; while with installations the reIations between the system's inner processes and the body and architectural spaces can be explored." One of his latest works,Natural, is indeed an installation, on view at the Bank Gallery in Los Angeles. Images representing unreal forms are projected onto a series of discs placed on the floor. The images are generated by the system and vaguely resemble a pond in an autumn wood. Visitors passing between the discs set up variations in the flow of forms. Reas's work is just one example among many. but perhaps one of the most emblematic. The continual change follows the program's inner dynamism and is apparently meant to translate the variable and unpredictable mechanism of biological life, and it is this change that constitutes the high spot of the an form. The primary sources of that process are the data stored in the computer's memory, providing a sort of raw material to which different artists give form, in a fruitful marriage between nature and technology.

Marius Watz (www.unlekker.net) is a Norwegian artist now living in Berlin. He was a recent guest of the Bevilacqua La Masa Foundation in Venice at the event "Tomorrow Now. Engage the Code", which featured the new frontiers of generative art. He insists on the “organic" qualities of software, perhaps in a desire to make the border between nature and the artificial increasingly transient. Significantly, Neon Organic is the title of one of his most celebrated installations: a projection of evolutionary images onto the front of the Vattenfall building in Berlin. Watz works with the Processing software and concentrates on the creation of algorithms that generate visual and richly detailed forms drenched in colour. His quasi-baroque aesthetic contrasts with Reas's minimalist style and displays a different side of "artificial" life. It can also be made of sound, with compositions generated directly by the data-processing program. One of the most interesting artists in this field is Alexander Rishaug, also present in Venice. He and Watz staged the Algorithm performance.

These software artists do not neglect the Internet, as an inexhaustible source of computer data to be moulded in a variety of ways (see p. 80). In this light, the work of Golan Levin, of MIT, should be mentioned. A pioneer of visual computing, he recently exhibited The Dumpster (http://www.tate.org.uk/netart/bvs/), a piece of software that for a year kept track of love stories which started and ended within global blog conversations, and later showed a graphic representation of them in the shape of bubbles of different colours and sizes. Viewers click on these bubbles to read excerpts from the various messages between lovers notifying the end of a relationship and those who have been left. Love in the age and style of the Internet is considered nothing more than just another type of data.