Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Boston Cyberarts produced Virtual Street Corners, a project by John Ewing

Virtual Street Corners

June 8-June 30, 2010, the storefronts of Brookline Booksmith in Coolidge Corner and A Nubian Notion in Dudley Square were transformed into large video screens, providing pedestrians of each neighborhood with a portal into one another's worlds.

The Virtual Street Corners project, created by artist John Ewing, attempts to bridge gaps and break down stereotypes by exploring the commonalities, differences, and shared issues between the two communities.
Coolidge Corner in Brookline and Dudley Square in Roxbury are only 2.4 miles apart. Though the Route 66 bus links these two communities, they are home to different socio-economic, ethnic and religious groups. People living in one neighborhood rarely visit the other.

Throughout the month, citizen journalists in Dudley Square and Coolidge Corner created videos, set up exchanges between figures of both communities, and anchored live broadcasts. Stories on each neighborhood
were shown in the other, to give residents a view of the other community.

On June 11, reporters from the project were at both storefront locations to engage the public and celebrate the project. Content was streamed live to both locations and is now housed on the project's website at www.virtualcorners.net.


Virtual Street Corners received a Knight News Challenge grant, awarded to projects that use innovative ideas and technology to report community news, from the Knight Foundation in 2009. The project is produced by Boston Cyberarts Inc. with additional support from Black Rock Arts Foundation and the New England Foundation for the Arts. The interactive video technology is provided by Providea Conferencing.

John Ewing is a Boston-based digital media artist who focuses on public art that creates platforms for social dialogue. His past projects include Ghana Think Tank, currently a finalist for the Cartier Award, and Symphony of a City, portraying Boston from eight different perspectives with "headcams" on residents, that was projected 30 feet high on Boston City Hall and streamed on the web.

Six citizen journalists with backgrounds in traditional and non-traditional media, activism, and social
work participated in the project.


For more information, visit www.virtualcorners.net or contact John Ewing

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Dead/Live Video... 5/2/09

Dead/Live Video at Mass Art was incredible, at least the half hour of it I was able to catch made me wish I had gotten there earlier....
Thanks to Zebbler for organizing this event.

Dead/Live Video...5/2/09 from Boston Cyberarts on Vimeo.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

"Children of Arcadia" at Cambridge Arts Council

Walk into the gallery at the Cambridge Arts Council this week and you might kick yourself for forgetting your umbrella. Children of Arcadia, currently on view as part of the Cyberarts festival, immerses you in a digital tableau that suggests Lower Manhattan’s financial district reborn as a pre-industrial utopia, albeit one subject to the vagaries of current societal upheaval (which is manifest as, among other things, lots and lots of rain).

Human figures wander aimlessly across the landscape, and if you visit the gallery, you can take your turn navigating its ridges and rivers. The experience suggests your first visit to Second Life, and part of the fun comes from reconciling your avatar’s point-of-view with the omniscient POV projected on the gallery wall.

If a work of art can reflect society at the moment at which it’s created, then cyberart can reflect the evolution (or devolution) of society as the viewer experiences it. The landscape of Children of Arcadia is constantly changing based on data from the New York Stock Exchange and Google headline searches. If more “socially good” keywords show up in the search, the figures, or AIs, act politely with one another. If the Dow is gaining points, the sun comes out. (Viewers who attend the exhibition after the market has closed, however, will see uniformly rainy skies that reflect the downward trend of the last year.)

New media artist Mark Skwarek, working with digital animator Joseph Hocking, created Children of Arcadia as his Master’s Thesis project at RISD. “The work gathers real-time information from the internet related to the American economy and society and translates into either a utopia or an apocalypse,” explains Skwarek in his thesis defense. “A combination of the parsed information, the user’s actions, and those of the AIs…form the moral fabric of the society. This allows for multiple outcomes in similar apocalyptic situations.”

At last night’s First Mondays reception, this made for an interesting social experiment, as gallery-goers politely deferred to each other’s joystick-hogging and the live, acoustic accompaniment of bluesy Jahn Sood lent a resigned note to the apocalypse.

Working the joystick, I struggled futilely to transcend the boundaries of the Financial District ruins, and to connect with the other AIs with whom I crossed paths. I began to feel like a hamster going faster and faster on a wheel even as the glass cage surrounding it begins to shatter.

You can experience Arcadia at the Cambridge Arts Council Gallery through May 15, or view a demo at www.childrenofarcadia.com.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Makers Revolution

"We are obsessed with rapid prototyping," said Bre Pattis. On the table in front of us sat a CupCake CNC- a wood framed box filled with all manner of wiring and miniature motors. The conglomeration of parts came together in a surprisingly aesthetically pleasing manner. Inside the box, a plastic extruder was literally printing a three dimensional miniature airplane wing. Rapid prototyping was right. Bre added that they had shown up that morning without the tweezers they needed to complete setup of their display, so they had the CupCake make a new pair for them. He said it had taken less than three minutes.

Talk about resourcefulness.

But then- resourcefulness is the name of the game at this weekend's Maker Revolution, a two day event focusing on Do-It-Yourself (DIY) technology. It's the brainchild of local hackerspace Willoughby and Baltic, and is held at the Microsoft Startup Labs in Cambridge.

The entire eleventh floor of the Microsoft building was packed with all manner of gadgetry for the event- a rather schizophrenic looking sound station stocked with modified toys, a laser triggered art installation, a low frequency sound listening box, and my favorite- a hardware hacker station.

Over at the hardware station I ran into Mitch Altman, who had been somewhat of an idol of mine ever since I read about his TV-B-Gone in the AdBusters magazine about a million years ago. It's a key chain remote control that can turn off any TV. This is the gadget I've wished I had countless times at the bar when subjected to FOX News or some lame sports show (sorry sports fans).

Mitch's greying hair had been died a deep neon blue and purple and he wore a shirt from NoiseBridge- a hackerspace in San Fransisco that he founded last year. He was in Boston teach people to solder. "The TV-B-Gone provides me with enough money to do this full time," he said, "my goal is to make this stuff intriguing enough that even if someone has never made anything before they want to become involved."

Well, they succeeded with me. Within 45 minutes I was seated at a table with four other tentative beginners in what was my first ever circuit bending workshop. We were deconstructing a Staples "Easy Button" to modify the sounds it makes. Armed with soldering irons and an endless supply of electronic components, instructor Jimmie Rodgers guided us through the creation of our very own noisemakers.

I have to confess that initially, I was pretty apprehensive about handling the soldering iron. Visions of third degree burns ran through my head. Luckily, Jimmie put me at ease and soon I was well on my way to my first ever circuit bended toy. I outfitted it with two contact distortion points made from a penny and a Mexican 20 centavo piece, and I attached a pretty nifty looking red knob.

Immediately after completing my project, I decided that circuit bending is positively amazing and I needed to do more of it ASAP. I was one of those kids that used to take apart all of my toys, and it really appealed to that geeky part of me that liked to see how things work.

As I left the Microsoft building that evening with modified easy button in hand, I couldn't help but feel like I had just discovered a very empowered community of people. Willoughby and Baltic could certainly judge the success of their event by the substantial crowds, but I think a more important gauge would be the amount of DIY spirit and philosophy that permeated everything and everyone in the space.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Nourishment, Art That Feeds the Soul and Makes Strong Funny Bones will be an exhibit at Art Institute of Boston @ Lesley University featuring the work of two artists, Ellen Wetmore and Jeff Warmouth.

Last week, I interviewed Jeff about his work and what he has in store for his part of the show.

MCE: Can you tell me a bit about what you have planned for the Cyberarts Festival?

JW: I’m creating competing fast food establishments. The gallery is going to be divided into large interactive video installations that represent two different fictional fast foods establishments, Jeffu Burger and JFC.

Both of the video components are going to have myself, as representative of the establishment, as a sort of a cybernetic agent. There will be a touch screen ordering system, so the public can come up and make a selection from a bunch of different fast food combinations

MCE: Why did you choose to incorporate technology? Why touch-screens and cybernetic agents?

JW: I’ve been doing food-based work for forever -- for a decade at this point -- but I’ve never really done fast food, per se. But I just began really thinking about fast food as a cybernetic experience. You know, from almost the micro-level, you drive up to the drive-thru window -- and there is technology. We don’t even talk to a person anymore; we’re mediated by technology at that level. You pull up to a window, speak to a little voice in the speaker and you have a menu that you are looking at.

Even on a much larger level, fast food as it exists in the world is totally dependent on 20th century technology. Just in terms of the way cows are grown to produce beef -- that could not exist without a lot of machinery, inventions like fertilizers, and lots and lots of technology that wasn’t around before the latter part of the 20th century. Fast food is all wrapped up in technology.

I work with comedy, and of course, there are jokes, culturally, about “Oh, fast food… it’s all the plastic. It’s all the same. It’s robotic.” Even though it really is humans serving things up to you.

But, in a sense if you drive up to a fast food window or you walk into a McDonalds and order, the workers, reading scripts, are almost like cybernetic entities onto themselves. They are not really enacting the roles of humans anymore. They are sort of enacting this cybernetic, robotic role.

MCE: Can I interrupt you for a moment and ask what you mean by cybernetic?

JW: I’m probably not being consistent in my use. I’m certainly familiar with Norbert Weiner’s definition of cybernetics and how in its original, literal sense it’s all based on feedback.

I guess also I’m using the word in the sense of a cyborg. I mean, when I say the role they are playing is no longer a human role, they’re playing a robotic role. Also, when I’m thinking about cybernetics and fast food as a cybernetic experience, I’m thinking about both the sense of a feedback loop but also, I suppose, a dystopian sense that a computer or a machine is implicitly part of that feedback loop and is moderating that feedback -- ..

MCE: That’s funny, actually, feedback is like feed and food …

JF: Food—exactly. Absolutely. I definitely think about it. I think that one of the brain storms for a name of the show had to do with feedback, like a pun, on “Feed bags” or something…

Speaking of puns, I’ve heard you talk about the importance of comedy in your work. Why do you think this is an effective way to subvert everyday practices for you?

Of course, it would be great to have a funny answer.

Why is it effective? I’m not sure. I think our society accepts comedy. I think it’s maybe the only place that society really accepts these deep subversive messages. So, I suppose, it works in terms of audience. Because we are kind of prepped for it.

With all of my pieces, whether I'm really heavy on technology or not, for me the comedy is what it all comes back to. It's the way that I’ve found to get the message across. It's playful and I like playing. It allows for the comic and for the subversive. It allows for the poetic. It allows for concrete things but also abstract and philosophical things but without having to be philosophical.

MCE: Thanks, this has been really great. As a final question, any words of advice for people coming to see your work?

JF: Enjoy it. Play around and enjoy it.