FCMM 2003 : SELECTED MOMENTS AND WORKS
The Festival of New Cinema and Video, or FCMM, has long-since made a reputation for itself. Its film programming becomes richer and more stunning with every passing year.
The "New Media" section, however, often garners less attention than its "New Cinema" counterpart. And yet, this 32nd edition of the Festival could have satisfied the most voracious appetite for digital images and other such new-uses-of-new-media!
The many talks, round table discussions, and exhibitions on the program were held at the SAT, under the theme "narrative and interactive experiences." The vast majority of the pieces presented were open to audience participation and, as such, examined the changing roles of spectator and author alike.
SELECTED MOMENT: ON "PUBLIC ART DAY,"
RAFAËL LOZANO-HEMMER PRESENTS HIS WORK
Artist Rafaël Lozano-Hemmer, who produces monumental works, gave us an extraordinarily rich presentation, at once funny and unpretentious. The Canadian artist of Mexican origin began his presentation with a discussion of his influences, from "sensitive" architecture to progressive net art. He especially commented Building on the Wind, a wind-sensitive building that reacts to photo-chromatic variations. He also mentioned the influence of such works as Masaki Fujihata's Light on the Net, a work that straddles the real and the virtual. Composed of a light panel strewn with 49 light bulbs, the work is located in Gifu, Japan, but is also presented live by webcam on the Net. Web surfers are encouraged to take part in the work by clicking directly on the light bulbs to turn them on or off, and thus create figures in real time.
It's the creation of this close relationship between the tangible world and the international, virtual world of the network that captivates Lozano-Hemmer. Vectorial Elevation, Relational Architecture 4 is a magnificent example. The work was presented in Mexico at the turn of the year 2000. Divided equally between (or united by) the real and the virtual, this piece invited users to compose models with a 3D-image generator. Once the drawing finished, it was fed to an automated system capable of producing an identical real copy. Eighteen laser projectors placed around the great rectangle of Zócalo square shifted accordingly to reproduce Web surfers' light constructions in the Mexican sky. The ephemeral sculpture was then photographed from different angles, and retransmitted onto the Net, where it was displayed next to the original models on a separate Web page specific to each surfer. And so on. . . The scope of the work's success matched that of the work itself, for nearly 700,000 people participated.
With Body Movies, Relational Architecture 6, Lozano-Hemmer falls yet more in line with Public Art. Presented in various European festivals, the work was shown on the facade of a building located on a busy thoroughfare, like a movie theatre or museum. A projection then lit the facade, and passersby situated in range of the work saw their silhouette appear at various scales - from 2 to 25 m, depending on their position between the light source and the wall. Images, invisible until then, and composed of full-length shots of anonymous individuals, started appearing within on-lookers' shadows. The "aim of the game," so to speak, was then to merge one's own silhouette with those projected on the wall. When it occurred, the automated system changed the image, giving the audience new possibilities. It was very amusing to observe, with Lozano-Hemmer, how playful the piece was and how willingly spectators participated, giving rise to comical situations, like that of the giant bearing down on a diminutive figure.
Lozano-Hemmer also presented a project he and his team are currently working on. Entitled Amodal Suspension, Relational Architecture 8, the work will be based on a principle of free communication.
Greatly inspired by Vectorial Elevation in form, with its use of laser beams, Amodal Suspension differs in concept. The laser projectors no longer form an architectural light show, but become instruments of communication. Audience members may participate via the Internet, but also through their cell phones by sending messages that the lasers then translate into Morse code. The messages can then be intercepted, again by Internet or cell phone. An ambitious and masterly project that we can't wait to discover and engage in once again.
SELECTED WORK: FROM THE INTERNET GALLERY: CIVILITIES
Civilities, How to live together? is an on-line piece that brings together the work of various Montreal artists, under the direction of Eva Quintas and Guy Asselin.
Thanks to a somewhat intuitive navigation, users follow different modules, each presenting one of the artists' vision of problems related to the idea of "living together." From basic and polite courtesy to religious and political differences, from a mother's rushed demeanour with her child to crowds swamping individuals, Civilities takes a hard, uncompromising look at contemporary life. In the course of navigating the work, it speaks to us, sometimes provoking a slight malaise. It brings together and connects elements that foster the universal division and separation of men and peoples. The work unpretentiously examines our roles as individuals, our daily behaviour or social involvement. Things aren't going very well, it seems to tell us, and what are you doing about it? Such a personal realization is surely at the root of the malaise. But users, like citizens, aren't condemned to silently witnessing the state of the world. One's point of view is constantly sought with questions such as "are you ready to give up freedoms for the sake of greater security?" or "how can we live together?" Suggestions, drawings, and photographs are sent and displayed on-line to complete the participatory work.
I can add, in all sincerity, that Civilities is a very beautiful work, as much from a technical as from a visual point of view, and demonstrates a refinement and an intelligence that I wish we could see more of on the Web.
SELECTED MOMENT: IPL 2003 PROJECT PRESENTATION
IPL, or The Interactive Project Lab, is an organization made up of several players in the Canadian new media industry, including the BANFF New Media Institute, the Canadian Film Centre, and INIS, Institut National de l'image et du Son.
IPL's mandate is to give financial and technical support to the projects selected by its committee. Some of these projects were presented at the Forum, including UrbanFace, a production by the Montreal-based organization Simbioz. Here, a giant interactive screen reacts to presence and movement without making physical contact. The demonstration was astonishing. Motion detectors lodged in the upper corners detect the user's every move. That, together with the extraordinary breadth of the screen, practically submerges the user in a virtual space, with an interactive interface that he or she can navigate, clicking from one's finger tips, sliding/placing objects by a turn of the hand. The most surprising however, was a small ball-game interface in which one could use arm movement to toss a ball and direct its throw.
UrbanFace is a rather magical device, harbouring in it the very human fantasy of making things move from a distance, of interacting with the environment by a wave of the hand. One may regret, however, that such projects, given the costs they incur, are mainly subsumed in commercial endeavours, and destined to become yet another promotional medium.
In Situ, also an IPL-supported project, deals with the notion of "augmented reality." Here a computer screen, used simply as a monitor, is placed in a developing urban space. In Situ takes on full meaning in a city constantly under construction like Montreal. Often, while strolling through a neighbourhood, we come across a gaping hole where an abandoned building had once stood; In Situ plans to fill this hole with a 3D model of the future building integrated into its immediate environment. Projected on the screen set up on the site is the live video image of the street with which the future development melds. Supported on a single post, the screen can be swivelled horizontally to provide a panorama of the urban scene.
The In Situ project becomes particularly interesting when it proposes to reconstruct a landscape that has long-since disappeared, fully justifying the project authors' use of the expression "magic window" during the presentation. The screen can offer its users a visualization of historic sites as they were in there heyday.
SELECTED WORK: INTERACTIVE FILM EXHIBITION:
Some of the pieces presented as part of the "Interactive Cinema" and "Public Art" exhibitions were shown in the shadowy light of the SAT basement, which lent an underground, almost secretive mood to the exhibition.
One of the works I selected from the four that made up "Interactive Cinema" - despite the quality of the other three - is Office Voodoo, which I chose not for its degree of interactivity, but on account of its construction. The work is presented in the form of a narrow space built of polystyrene in which spectators are invited to sit. The installation is designed to be operated simultaneously by two people. Users become quickly familiar with Frank and Nancy, two apparently overworked, irritable, and stressed out work buddies. Two voodoo dolls, rigged with sensors, are connected to a computerized system. The manipulation of these dolls affects the characters by changing their mood and level of aggressiveness. Then begins an intuitive, playful (and perhaps slightly sadistic) experimentation with the various emotional states that Nancy and Frank can be made to undergo, depending on how skillfully one handles the puppets. Nancy goes into a depression while Frank is about to chew off the keyboard. . . Admittedly, interactivity is rather limited, and the characters quickly loop through the emotional registers, but the mode of interactivity explored here is nonetheless original, and reminds us of long-held fantasies of black magic. Who hasn't once dreamt of sticking needles into the cloth-doll effigy of a colleague, or of one's boss? Office Voodoo is a playful, but nonetheless caustic mirror of our behaviour at work, relationships necessarily influenced by our stress level and by our ability to handle emotions in a professional context.
Public art, and more broadly the addition of interactivity to a work of art, directly calls upon and encounters spectators in different ways, taking them by surprise - particularly in the case of public art, with open works on the street that surprise and yank them out of their individual context -, inviting them into a virtual world, or into a real environment in which they have a place - and a role to play -, creating situations that are as cunning as they are playful.
This original, or nearly original place given the spectator was a major preoccupation in this edition of the Festival, and was as evident in round table discussions as in the works themselves - a reflection of current issues in media arts.
Of this rich and varied program, I have only discussed a few chosen works and moments - not that the rest of the program deserved any less attention. Far from it. The FCMM has given us an extraordinary crop this year, whetting our appetite all the more for the year to come!
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer: www.lozano-hemmer.com
Office Voodoo: www.mle.ie/~michael/research/voodoo
Translated from French by Ron Ross