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Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL

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Emergence – Art and Artificial Life

  • On December 21, 2009

I’ve just returned from California where I’ve installed Performative Ecologies at the Beall Center for Art + Technology for the Emergence Exhibition alongside the work of Marc Bohlen, Leo Nuñez, Karolina Sobecka and Jim George. Over a couple of posts I’m going to give a run down of the work on show but I recommend if your in the area to see it in the flesh. The exhibition opens to the public on the January 9th until May 7th 2010.

Curated by David Familian & Simon Penny, “this exhibition features international artists exploring both the biological and computational manifestations of emergent behavior arising from dynamically changing, interactive sculptures. We as human beings are created and create through a process of emergence. Whether these emergent forms originate organically or are man-made, they can illustrate to us the rich variety of mutating systems with all their variety and ability to adapt to a changing world.”

The Universal Whistling Machine, Marc Bohlen.

Marc Bohlen

Under the moniker REAL TECH SUPPORT, Marc Bohlen has been designing and building, over the past decade, information processing systems that critically reflect on information as a cultural value. He calls this “REAL TECH SUPPORT because technology, the dominant vector in the 21st century, cannot solve all the problems generated in its wake; its needs support. REAL TECH SUPPORT attempts to contribute to such a support system.”

Marc’s huge series of investigations over the past decade.

His work is informed by a long apprenticeship in the crafts (stone masonry), humanities (art history) and the engineering sciences (electrical engineering and robotics). The systems he designs are experiments and artworks found here and here and his texts are critical reflections on the works and the contexts they operate in.

The Universal Whistling Machine

Whistling is a communication primitive in most human languages. Whistling is a kind of time travel to a less articulated state. Inhabitants of Gomera, one of the Canary Islands, use a whistling language, el Silbo Gomera, to communicate from hilltop to hilltop. Their powerful whistles travel farther than the spoken word. We share whistling and song with many animals. Mammals and birds carry the means for whistling in them. Just as we carry physical remnants of our bodily evolution in us, we carry the capacity for whistling in us.

U.W.M (The Universal Whistling Machine) is an investigation into the vexing problem of human-machine interface design. Whistling is much closer to the phoneme-less signal primitives compatible with digital machinery than the messy domain of spoken language. As opposed to pushing machines into engaging humans in spoken language, U.W.M. suggests we meet on a middle ground. Whistling occurs across all languages and cultures. All people have the capacity to whistle, though many do not whistle well. Lacking phonemes, whistling is a pre-language language, a candidate for a limited Esperanto of human-machine communication. Beyond alternatives to computer interfaces, U.W.M. also offers the potential for a new approach to human-animal communication. U.W.M. is capable of imitating certain bird whistles as easily as it can synthesize human whistles. Could this lead to new forms of human-machine-animal exchanges?

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