Monthly Archives: November 2014

Gdansk Man|Machine Workshops

I just came back from running a Man|Machine workshop organised by Laznia Centre for Contemporary Arts, Gdansk, Poland, 17th to 23rd November 2014.

“The Man|Machine workshops will concentrate on the creation of robots as works of art. The workshops are meant to enhance interdisciplinary attitudes among young artists, engineers and designers. They open to all audiences, with a special focus on students of art academies and technical universities from Poland and Norway. They will be lead by three robotic artists. The participants will form interdisciplinary teams, each of which shall create at least one robot under the supervision of a chosen artist.”

I lead one of the groups. The other artists were Jim Bond (UK) and Anders Eiebakke (Norway).

We worked for 6 days in a technopark in Gdynia and created a thing out of arduinos and Polish electronic waste. The students called it “Sasza – the love machine’. It has heart that moves and beats, a mouth made of felt that comes to kiss people who touch Sasza’a hands, and two excitable vibrating pets. Sasza will be exhibited in May in Laznia Centre for Contemporary Arts, Gdansk, then in Oslo in September.


Geek Cool song

November 4th 2014


Geek Cool

The Junction, a live art venue in Cambridge UK, has teamed up with the Raspberry Pi foundation to commission 10 songs and pop videos by artists as part of the Sonic Pi: Live and Coding project. I have made a propaganda song called Geek Cool, to encouraging innocent children to become geeks.

Each song is 3 minutes long and was programmed on a Raspberry Pi computer using Sonic Pi, a music software that uses code to make music. Sonic Pi is installed by default as part of the Raspberry Pi suite of applications.

The songs and code will be released as a pack in primary schools, for kids to play around with and gain a better understanding of computer programming.

Geek Cool

All pop pi videos

After the circuits died

After the circuits died

On Sunday 26th October I was in the Victoria and Albert Museum Art Studio in London with three other artists (Jonathan Kemp, Madaleine Trigg, Dani Ploeger) improvising with a large pile of electronic waste.

The day will concluded with a presentation of the work in progress and discussion with cultural theorists Neil Maycroft and Toby Miller.

Details will be uploaded soon.


After the circuits died: exploring electronic waste is a free event where “Visitors are invited to follow a group of artists and cultural theorists in a one-day exploration of electronic waste”, part of an AHRC research project lead by Dani Ploeger

Digital Revolution

barbican01Squeezed in just in time in the Barbican Arts Centre in London to see the Digital Revolution exhibition. According to the website “this immersive and interactive exhibition brings together for the first time a range of artists, filmmakers, architects, designers, musicians and game developers, all pushing the boundaries of their fields using digital media.” The show comprised a few pieces commissioned by Google (as part of their Dev-art initiative which generated some direct-action controversy).

Altair 8800, 1970

Independently of Google’s possibly evil takeover, the show was interesting as it featured a large collection of artworks and artefacts related to creative technology from gaming, visuals, audio, interactive, fashion… I spent around three hours in Barbican’s packed Curve Gallery, trying to get a sense of electronic art history and future directions. All in all I was not struck by much originality, but it was nice to see old kit like an Altair 8800 and a Commodore PET as well as classic work by Paul Brown or Joshua Davies’ orignal Praystation (not as good version here).

As for more recent work, I enjoyed playing with Zach Lieberman Play the World audio installation (2014) where keys on a standard music keyboard trigger feeds from a worldwide selection of web radios. The keyboard is located in the middle of a circle of speakers, which provide the radios with a spatial direction. I liked the feeling of instant global connection and the sense of variety, a slick use of the resources offered by contemporary data that would be worth exploring further.

Also of interest:
Exquisite Clock, by João Wilbert and Andy Cameron (2008), an online clock made of photographs supplied by visitors to the website. Excellent use of crowdsourcing, simple, elegant and always changing clock.

Assemblance, an interactive laser show by Umbrellium. High-tech mobile lasers linked to a 3D vision system play tricks with visitors in a dark misty room. Very effective and playable, well programmed elusive beams.

Treachery of Sanctuary, by Chris Milk (2014). An interactive installation capturing the viewer’s silhouette and fitting it with wings, or getting it pecked at by birds. Effective display linked to some mythological elements, clearly endebted to Philip Worthington’s Shadow Monsters (2006).
More original was Milk’s other piece, an online music video for Arcade Fire’s The Wilderness Downtown that can be personalised to the viewer’s birthplace (or whatever google map’s destination). A bit clumsy but promising.

– The Year’s Midnight by Rafael Lozano Hemmer (2011), a slick augmented reality mirror where the viewer’s eyes start spewing smoke. Reminded me of Jim Campbell’s pioneer piece Hallucination (1988).


Dartmoor Art School Robotics

Demo in the pub

At the end of July I ran a workshop as part of the original and friendly Dartmoor Arts Summer School, an independent organisation that runs art courses on a variety of subjects in or near Drewsteignton, Dartmoor, UK. For the first time the team included a drawing robot course in addition to more traditional subjects like drawing or stone carving.

7 participants registered and over the course of three days we covered the basics required to build and start programming an Arduino-powered drawing vehicle. All went well. Robotic drawing happened, culminating in a semi-chaotic demo in the local pub on the last night.

Deershed festival wrekshop2

For the second year I was invited to run a Wrekshop in the Deershed festival in Topcliffe, North Yorkshire UK. Deershed is festival for families, with a science tent specially for the kids. It is in that tent that I ran my shop, deconstruction of used consumer electronic items. The most persitent of children re-constructed something from the parts, and we included all creations in a lo-tech programmable kinetic portal.

The activity was very popular and I had to fight continuously to prevent my tools and laptop from being digested by the frantic activity. I was more prepared and, with the help of a great team of volunteers, we managed to get our electro-kinetic portal on the go. The portal started from the Big E-Waste Tech Head that we made in Brentford in May.

A sequencer based on an Arduino Mega and some controlling electronics allowed the portal to be programmed, all bits and bobs moving and sounding in turn. Kids loved to see their item added to the mix, but the majority of children and grown-ups got their kicks from the taking apart/destruction of the items. At the end of day 3 pretty much everything that could be taken apart was.

Interview with Michka Melo

At the occasion of a week of citizen science research with my friend Michka Melo in Foam Brussels, I took the opportunity to record an interview. Michka talks about his atypical background, urban gardening, biomimicry, upcycling, future scenario, art and science collaboration. Inspiring and very well informed views on cutting edge topics!

An account of our experiments is available here. Thanks to Robert Murray Smith for valuable info on DIY supercapacitors.

Brussels visits: Foire aux savoir-faire

After another citizen science experimental day in Brussels, Michka and I went along to a recycled goods workshop in the premises of la Foire aux savoir-faire (know-how fair). In a similar way to Hacker Space Brussels we visited two nights before, la Foire aux savoirs takes over several levels of a town house in the city centre. We arrived at the end of the workshop, where a small group was assembling Brazil inspired ornament with recycled corks and bits. We had a good chat with one of the main organisers, Damien, about the vision for the organisation.

As implied in the name, members and visitors are invited to share skills in all sorts of domains, from cooking to knitting to designing alternative energy sources. The top floor is crammed with donated material to be upcycled. The attic also hosts an ominous methaniser tank, a device that generates usable methane gas from organic waste, potentially enabling the operation of a cooker or other heating device.

La foire aux savoir-faire is always on the lookout for volunteers and driven by an enthusiastic team, pay them a visit if you are around this part of the world!


Brussels visits: HSBXL

While in Brussels on a DIY supercapacitors experiment with Michka Melo, we visited local organisations related to creative technologies. First we went to HSBXL, Hacker Space Brussels. The organisation occupies a whole house in the city centre, complete with a pleasant garden. We had a chat with local hackers who hang out in HSBX every Tuesday evening, very competent with feral networking and GNU.


Typically for such a place, there were piles of old IT becoming e-waste, a few 3D printers in various states of operation, soldering irons and scattered workstations. The bar was well stocked, with bottles of mate in different flavours seemingly the drink of choice among coders in these quarters. An open source stock management system rules the fridge, and a cavernous voice announces new visitors.

We saw a book-scanning device, an in-progress ominous suitcase server with self destruct capabilities and an hydroponic tank full of healthy tomato plants… We walked out with a bunch of dead laptop batteries for our experiments, thank you HSBXL!!


On the garden table I found a sticker for Phaune Radio, an internet station that plays engaging mixes of non-mainstream music and animal-themed spoken material, recommended.

Experiments in DIY supercapacitors

Just back from Brussels where I worked for 5 days on DIY supercapacitors with my inspiring friend Michka Melo. We worked on the premises of the equally inspiring organisation Foam, trying to build supercapacitors from upcycled computer batteries and other methods including chemically altered cuttlefish bone, in a true citizen science spirit!

[Supercapacitors are electrical storage devices that become a viable alternative to conventional batteries, making up for lower capacity with a very fast charging time and much longer life.]

Michka compiled a detailed account of our experiments. Thanks to Robert Murray Smith for valuable info on DIY supercapacitors.

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