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Space: Planetary Consciousness and the Arts, Yverdon-les-Bains, CH

The 9th Workshop and Symposium on Space and the Arts happened between May 19 til' 21, 2005
at the Château d'Yverdon (where Pestalozzi lived for 20 years) in the beautiful town of Yverdon-les-Bains at Neuenburgersee in Switzerland. It was organised by Leonardo/OLATS and Maison d'Ailleurs.

This was actually the very first conference that was "made for me". It wasn't about computers or HCI, nor was it strictly speaking about Arts and meta-contexts, but about a trans-disciplinary interest that connected most of us: Global consciousness. So i met for the first time people that had the same (exotic?) interest as i do: global consciousness and the overview effect (some had even read Frank White's book). Intriguing. These are my - necessarily subjective and incomplete - notes.

It could be seen as barking up the wrong tree to criticise that there were no politics or sustainability issues on the schedule, but, why should they? And quite often these were implicit in the subtext.
(On the way to CH i read a wonderful interview with William McDonough; about their (McDonough's and Braungart's) activities in China. Very interesting! )

Since Schmidt-Bleek, "Faktor 10" and "Revision des Gebrauchs" (Revision of Use) sustainability has come a long way.
Print version of the interview here:
And try to get your hands on a copy of "Cradle to cradle" which Nick Roericht made me read. Thanks Nick)
There is also an interesting exhibition at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum about "Extreme Textiles" until October 30th 2005. The smaller of the two available catalogues has a text by William McDonough. >

02005/05/20 Day One

Andreas Vogler kicked of the symposium by telling us about architecture in space and the similar affordances to state-of-the-art sustainability trends here: Passive houses, solar houses and lowest energy houses. What he said dovetailed very well with my reading on the way. Modern technology allows us to do more with less. Modern vacuum toilets use 1/5th of the water of a common one. They are used in some modern houses - and in Space. Some of his assumptions were a bit shaky from my point of view. That 50% of the worlds drinking water was transported on women's heads; and that 50% of all energy was used in domestic houses. His website is

Kathy Marmor made in her presentation the remark that some participants of her exciting DNA kitchen workshops were very sceptical that what they saw in the test tube were real strands of DNA - as its appearance was so much different then what they knew from images in the media. The image is substituting the original. This is the perfect example of what i mean that we do something with computers - but in fact computers are doing something with us as well. They change our expectations towards artefacts and what we consider "real". Whereby reality is negotiated anyway, an illusion we have agreed upon. The same could be said about Tanya Fraga's comment that her images of vegetation reflections in the water taken at the Amazon resembled a stupefying similarity to those recursive, self referential images (memories?) we have of fractals. The important issue about this is that "fractal" mathematics is much older then computers: Only then it wasn't possible to VISUALISE them in this significant fashion. The image we think of when we think of fractals is already the computer mediated result and not the "original." The original is a recursive geometric formular.
Kathy showed examples of interaction with satellite imagery as in google maps or keyhole and about the interesting possibilities that remote sensing and contactless examination provide.

I find that the Sputnik telemetric (UHF) tone resembles the sound of a cricket. Listen yourself:

Marco Bernasconi told us that morals were connected to societies religious beliefs.
He quoted Sturgeon (1953) that ethics were "societies code for individual survival" and asked if we could also turn it around: as ethics being "the individuals code for societies survival"? What is good is relative. Maybe we could also see it as: "Ethics, as set of rules by which an individual lives in such a way as to help his species." And this was just a circular definition, not circular reasoning. When was it that Jefferson said that a Democracy needed some democratic blood once in a while to keep the democratic spirit alive?

Lynette Wallworth and Amanda McDonald Crowley presented their project of connecting with the complex underwater life and lifeforms of the Great Barrier Reef at the Australian east coast. I find it an very interesting example how recent scientific discoveries initiate artistic thoughts and projects. Lynette's work has been initiated by a new understanding (fuelled by recent scientific discoveries) of the intricate and inter-depended web of life of the Great Barrier Reef. Until recently it was barely understood how the ecosystem functions let alone how the corrals reproduce.
Obviously in just one or two single nights during the last full moon of November all species there start their reproductive cycle. Lynette described it as a system that does not exists without the viewer and her art practice as an activity that challenged the scientific world view. Our senses would not allow to understand the intricate relationships of these systems. The techniques necessary were similar to those used in space technology.

Her interactive installation tries to create a sensation of how interconnected and delicate these systems are. And, one important lesson was that it is impossible to observe these systems without becoming a part of it - so her work reveals itself only when participants, not viewers, interact with it, just as the corrals, the algae and polyps cannot survive without each other. She concluded that the circa 300 tribes of aboriginal people must have some knowledge of these delicate interconnected systems - but never have been asked.

The afternoon session began with Daniel Sciboz and his research and practice of travelling with synchronised camera and GPS. Inspired by Paul Auster's "Solitude" and Michael Naimark's "Field Recordings" and stereo-grams of walks. The technologies allow to create 3D data-scapes. Daniel created his software in Director and Processing and the results seem to be very interesting, especially the differences between how and what people remember - and the actual recorded data. The brain is not a recorder. We see what we can see, what we want to see. Just as in the movie "Final Cut" where the memory is different then the objective recorded reality. Karl Heinz von Förster would have liked that ...

Tania Fraga showed us her very humane work about the Amazon rain-forest and her artistic ethos based on consciousness and human-machine interaction. The transformation of scientific ideas into artistic ones. I loved her remark about the reflections in the water and Fractals. (see above)
It is another support of my perception that while we think we are doing something with computers - computers are actually doing something with us ...
Tania quoted Max Planck "Science can't exist without art" which goes well with Albert Einsteins remark that "Science can not exist without intuition."

Michael Mautner continued with the still very hypothetic (and controversial) suggestion of how and why to seed the universe with "life." Not with a replica of human life or an Moravecian' vision of cyborgian hybrids - but with the most simple molecules that took the first billion years to take shape. In other planetary systems this could give appearing lifeforms an advantage. His explorations were received with mixed attitudes.

Gavin Starks introduced his transformation of interstellar radiotelescope data into music. We learned that an array of only the british radio telescopes alone produce 30 Gb of raw data each second. Radio telescopes don't produce images automatically. It is NOT imaging technology. It takes special computer mediated methods to create images or - sounds.
Gavins domain, beside being an astrophysist, is the mapping or transforming radio telescope data into the audible domain. Unusual from my media design perspective is the artistic approach to treat the data as basic raw material to which nontransparent and unreproduceable rules are applied until the result resembles (classical) music. This is very different to my media design approach where the computer mediated transformation usually aims to provide an insight or create a transparent interface that elucidates the nature of what is being perveived; to possibly reveal the information "hidden" within the data. And critically reflect on the rules, contraints and affordances. It is an approach from an artistic side. From my design view the current state is an interesting and pleasant experience in its own right - but misses the opportunity to go beyond that. Classical music has been around for a long time now and many other genres have been explored after that. This is mimicking some tradition hundreds of years old, but not creating anything new. Some people explore "sonification" others prefer "mapping." Treating raw data as a maleable "dough" until it resembles classical music is something new and different ... i just do not understand what.

After Gavin i presented a snapshot of my current stage, some first results from the Pilot Study at SIG MM at Columbia University.

Andrea Polli spoke about her exciting collaborative work using weather data as a raw material for her installation pieces. For example wind data is turned into a sound sculpture.
One of their pieces can currently be seen at the Site Gallery in Sheffield. Again i think that the underlying rules should be more transparent so people can get a real understanding what is actually being visualised or transformed. Every map also has a legend where ratio and colours are explained. Only isomorphity of data is not enough, but maybe that is the difference affordance between design and arts?
Here is an URL to the singing or aeolian kites used in the far east.

02005/05/21 Day two

Unfortunately i missed the first session on Saturday morning given by the Japanese presenters from Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). But i took an image of their ZeroG sweets for the Space "Tea Ceremony."

"The book of the thousand and one balloon": Nin Brudermann continued with a (preview) presentation of her beautiful and poetic long-time project of a daily event of unique international and global collaboration: The start of 800 weather balloons at 12'o clock GMT. Worldwide. Mostly these synchronised events are recorded by the weather researchers themselves to whom Nin sends video tapes with instructions how to present. One sees them entering their special buildings (which are constructed very similar all over the world) fill the balloons, attach the equipment and so forth. Then we see the synchronistic event happening as the balloons take of and disappear into the skies. (Update: 02009/09/25 The project just went online here:
Nin also presented beautiful footage shot by cameras attached to balloons.
All the different movies are presented simultaneously on two big screens resulting in an beautiful, cryptic and somewhat synchronised tapestry of global activities, including her own worldwide travels to remote and remotest weather stations celebrating these synchronous daily events. Her thoughts include the recursive paradigm that if smallest actions matter - how do so many weather monitoring balloons actually effect the weather phenomena that they try to measure and remind us that there are no closed systems; That the observer is actually entering the system and distoring the data, influencing the world. "People worry about butterflies - but what is the input of so many balloons?" "And never forget: Twice a day our planet is emitting these bubbles."
The beauty of the project is that it is not about maps and technology, but about people, stories and nature. A rhythm of the human individual and the world, about our way of being in the world and another world that emerges between human actions and the world itself. How we perceive the Universe - and how we SEE it. Also these bubbles are miniature planets, carried along with this moving planet. When i started to understand her project the beauty of it struck me like a load of bricks. I still get goosebumps when i think of it. Events like this let me believe in meaningful art again. Thanks Nin!!

Annick Bureaud introduced us to the training exercises of a space dance choreography in ZeroG and the final results of these on stage. A very poetic and mind altering performance about inertia, slow motion, altered states, critical points and friction.

Then Luke Jerram from Bristol made us all marvel about his wide variety of different projects including a meteorite catcher, a self-extinguishing candlestick, and his use of a gravimeter reacting to the moon to control an installation piece that reacts to the tidal range of Bristol; Giving us a sense that the Earth is turning, that the Moon is spinning around the Earth.

Just a few days earlier Luke had shown his balloon project "Sky Orchestra" in Yverdon. A number of hot air balloons cross the city during the early morning hours at low altitude playing music. The aim of this poetic exercise is to influence peoples dreams at the edge of sleep to make them have a happy and relaxed day, free of anxieties.

Later that day were presentations in French that i did not capture.

A list server to stay in touch can be found at

BBC Documentary Series:

The century of the self at BBC about Edward Bernays and the manipulation of society with the help of psychology. Someone brought this up ... very interesting.

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country… We are governed, our minds molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized…”

Read how Propaganda became Public Relations:,6903,664666,00.html

Download the presentation here:

Suggested reading:
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Overview/Pilot Study Leonardo/OLATS, Yverdon 2005 (1.2 MB)

Some impressions:
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last update: 8/11/02013 22:26

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