presentation by Maja Kuzmanovic & Nik Gaffney at Dorkbot Ghent, in 2003
“ strange - magic - electricity - people-performance - space” FoAM in this context = formant of apparent morphology
FoAM - umbrella acronym with a name generator attached to it - so that it can change as needed
we have been:
so - what is FoAM?
We are a group of ppl organised in a network of two 'official' cells, foam vzw and stichting foam + app. 30 individual artists, scientists, engineers, theorists and enthusiasts working to find new public contexts for cultural expression - through research, production, presentation and reflection of creative practices.
This is very broad working field - to which we apply one not too dense filter: the focus on collaborative and participatory processes and environments - say if we'd do a performance with electricity, rather than us exhibiting our amazing bravado opus of lightbulb swallowing tricks, we'd ask you to use our specially designed tools and stick their ends into the reverse engineered power supply that would cause you to see everything blue for a few minutes.
In the context of this dorkbot, that - we were informed - looks at the new forms of performance - we wanted to talk a bit about txOom, FoAM's major co-production last year in a bit broader context of performative spaces. New forms of performance grow better in 'unusual' public contexts/spaces. They wouldnt work well in a theatre setting - too many prejudices, habits, learned behaviours on both sides of the curtain…
History of performance - much broader range of non commercial performative public spaces than the ones used today - think of medieval itinerant festivals, fairs, circusses, side shows, anatomic demonstrations, witches sabbats, pre-capitalist markets, streets and plaza's that are today used for branded consumerism, rather than active participatory events.
What types of contexts is FoAM looking for:
As we are designing both the worlds, and the tools to build the worlds, these public spaces have an aesthetic span between logic of the technology used and the sensuality of the human bodies that find themselves immersed together in the environment. The logic in responsive environments therefore appears random at first, just to turn into an otherworldly logic-system based on mutation and aberration –> think of Italo Calvino's Cosmicomics - where the main character qfwfq transforms from a beam of light to a strange water creature, to a multitude of identities before the time started flowing unidirectionally….- its obvious that Calvino's world is not following the 'natural laws', but the world still seems consistent, and qfwfq still appears as one character, incorporating a variety of POVs. Same with grasping the evolving media worlds - their logic can only be grasped through synchronicity - when the environments behaviour produces apparently meaningful coincidences with something that you do at a particular moment, or through an activity that is perfectly explained in the speech-act theory by John Searle, where the players have the power to create a world by acting in it and last but not least, there are no observers in responsive environments - if you don't commit to being actively present in them, they will most probably remain beautiful, but silent.
In order to create responsive environments we concentrate on designing technologies for creation and performance, rather than making the versatile computers into static representation machines. –> As Ted Nelson says, remember the analogy between text and water. “Water flows freely. Ice doesn't.” —> we need to design technologies that will analyse, interpret and adapt themselves in accordance to the social conventions, interactions and ultimately informal play –> in responsive environments, the focus is shifted from representation to performance –> from subject/object relationships to transformation
When we talk about transformation in the context of designing media performances, this means that adaptation and translation are the primary means of creation for a responsive environment. The process of designing media, changes from producing a polished piece of art to setting transforming processes in motion: processes that will define the morphology of the space - and here, a lot can be learned from the natural world, which is why for txOom, a lot of the design is biomimetic, looking at creatures adapted at extreme conditions, swayed by the changes in their environments, evolving in an accelerated pace, growing mutation upon mutation in order to survive. Our media entities behave in a similar way - they are not predefined objects, but they are better designed as diagrams of risks and opportunities that adapt to the movement of their internal energies and external obstacles
In txOom, the world logic should try to adapt itself to its host environmnent - for example, a few months ago - The hippodrome circus in Great Yarmouth - the responsive space had to evolve from a rigid circus building, and in the course of its growth, it had to endure intrusions of testers, designers' agendas, and its own intention - so its logic became glitchy, incoherent, populated by creatures existing beyond human systems of classification - hybrid alien forms carved out of imaginary airflows generated by circus acts, cross fertilised from the kingdoms of plants, animals and funghi. The laws upon which the world was founded - tried to defy laws of physics and give the players a perception of floating in a thick environment, with no clear distinction between floors, screens and human bodies - they all became cloth bound entities extending their actions into the ethereal media worlds.
To allow the transformation of the environment, rather than designing all aspects of it, the task for the developers is to design an action landscape, that is created and formed by past and present actions in it. in the txOom space in particular, we tried to inspire an experience of adventure, where the participants get to know an alien and unknown place, while causing unexpected mutations of the space, by approaching it either as an intruder, or a potential mate, or its food, or simply as a detached observer. The designers of the environments (artists/scientists…) had to give up the authority over the evolution of the space, but provide the means, the substance, the stuff from which the space can evolve –> when they are successful, they should inspire activity and creativity of all participants –> the artists CAN play in the environment, alongside other participants, not to perform FOR them, but to inhabit the same space WITH them, loosen the barriers, relax the atmosphere, purge the reality from FEAR - the unfortunate emotion that the western world today made into a default reaction to anything strange, unexpected and unknown. Acknowledging fear, and allowing it to pass through us (see the Litany Against Fear) makes the responsive spaces potentially subversive, as they loosen security barriers between human beings and strangeness.
Responsive environments materially incorporate the alien - you can experience physical bodily reactions to the topological transformation in the visual, sonic and haptic media, you can feel nauseous, uncomfortable, lost - but thanks to the accelerated (or decelerated) mutation of the media worlds, you adapt to the strangeness, you grow a new sense, to feel stimulated by constant transformation. Instead of lifting up a fire wall between themselves and the environment, the players who manage to play the environment as an instrument are the ones who develop immune systems to allow the interesting strangeness to get through to their senses and change their perception, while keeping the potentially harming noise out of their system. Having said that, the new performative spaces, the new public arenas are the places in which the artists and their products can relate and comment on the world predicated by global capitalism, science and technology, a world as transformed mainly by economic factors, a world that depends on the usurpation of the natural. the difference that we can make is not to be scared of strangeness, and develop spaces that can build upon alien influences, but are also strong enough to withstand harsh blows by the violent intruders.
what we see as necessary for a performative space to become magical, is:
These are environments that perceive themselves and the entities dwelling inside and then proceed to model themselves accordingly… They can watch and look and observe “and in the bottom of each of those eyes i lived, or rather another me lived, one of the images of me, and it encountered the image of her, the most faithful image of her, in that beyond which opens, past the semiliquid sphere of the irises, in the darkness of the pupils, the mirrored hall of the retinas, in our true element which extends without shores, without boundaries.” (Calvino)