Speculations on Openings, Closings, and Thresholds in International Public Media
Monday, June 14, 2010
Blog written by Patricia Zimmermann, Shaw Foundation Professor, Nanyang Technological University and codirector, Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival
Vladimir Todorovic is an artist who installs systems and generative processes to erase romanticized subjectivities in order to unearth new structures.
Todorovic is currently assistant professor in the School of Art, Design and Media at Nanyang Technological University. He received his BFA in painting from the Academy of Fine Arts, University of Belgrade, and MFA from University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB). His installation based on generative media (creating systems to generate images independently of the artists) called The Snail on the Slope is a featured new media installation at the Open Spaces/Singapore/Southeast Asia exhibition for the International Communication Conference in Singapore the end of June.
Todorovic is the founder of the Emerging Art and Technologies Research Group ‘RASTER’ based in Singapore and co-founder of the Institute for Flexible Cultures and Technologies ‘NAPON’ in Novi Sad, Serbia. He explores fields where art and science intersect, working within the nexus of environmental data, sustainable systems, game cultures and technologies.
His works have been exhibited at venues such as Wired NextFest, Dislocate07, ISEA06, Venice Biennale of Architecture, Siggraph 06, Transmediale 05, Wroclaw Biennale 05, File 2004, MuseumsQuartier Vienna, Machinista, Entermutlimediale, and Museum of Contemporary Arts Belgrade. They have been reviewed by Wired, New Scientist, Gamasutra, Futures-labs, Neutral.it, Selectparks.net, Turbulence, Artmagazine, Remont, and Danas. You can find out more about his at http://tadar.net/
Patricia Zimmermann: What drew you to work in new media in the first place? What do new media interfaces offer that are different from more analog ways of making media?
Vladimir Todorovic: I studied painting at the Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade, Serbia. During my studies in a traditional, more analog program, I became interested in generative systems and new media. At that time, I was experimenting with software to generate videos and interactive installations.
The power of code as well as the experience of writing it was fascinating. When you compile code, you get a beautiful and complex system on the screen. Dynamic and different, it has its own life.
One new media course I took during my studies in Belgrade also influenced my artistic development. At the school, we were painting and drawing 4-8 hours a day for 5 years, we had only one new media course that was an elective for no credits.
This course opened up new ideas about art and technology. I am very thankful to the professors from Academy of Fine Arts in Belgrade who ran this course. We had theorists, artists, and quantum physicists presenting their works in the art school. These professors would organize exhibitions for the students with interesting works.
I don’t think that new media interfaces make things easier for artists. They don’t make works more effective either. In most cases, you spend a lot of time working on designing a system. You design a system--- about 80% of your work—and then during the final phase, you see your project being born. You have a very compressed period of time to see beauty and to capture it. The amount of content that you can generate is huge.
PZ: Your work explores and rips open the intersections between nature, the environment, technologies, synthetic worlds, new emerging forms. How did you initially launch into this kind of nexus of ideas?
VT: I was born in a town called Zrenjanin(Serbia) where some connection with nature is still pretty much alive--- you interact with nature on daily basis.
When enjoying nature, I look for aesthetic qualities. In Serbia, during wintertime, you could drive through some villages with not one single person on the streets covered with snow. Everything was black and white. The most vibrant, alive color that you could see would be sepia, usually some dirt or clay on the road.
This monochrome landscape was fascinating because there was no need to search for aesthetic qualities; they were everywhere, they were very graphic, almost like woodcuts, and they were really overwhelming.
Singapore is different. This landscape is much more colorful. During my ‘art journeys’ with very good friend and fellow artist Andreas Schlegel, we would hunt for the formal qualities in our experiences. And in the projects that we (Syntfarm) did here in Singapore, we would discover some formal qualities in single organisms like a pink anemone, and fluorescent green hard corals, and many others that we found here on Kusu Island.
When we did a Bukit Timah hike, we were in this natural amphitheater, where several hundred cicadas performed. They were so loud and fantastic. It really felt like we were at some experimental noise performance. In both cases--the very monochrome Serbian landscape and the very alive and direct songs of cicadas in Singapore--I could not remain apathetic. For me, it was important to transform those experiences and to reframe them into an art form.
With the development of information technologies, scientists and artists were able to simulate or mimic various systems from nature. When I see these emerging forms and synthetic worlds in the art galleries or museums, most pieces that strike me are the ones who are not mimicking the natural with a gimmickry of a fancy conceptual idea, but the ones that address nature in a kind of classical manner, where you don’t modify nature much and where you see some individual and unique quality of a creator.
In Syntfarm’s project (with Andreas Schlegel), we tried to visualize nature with synthetic language. Our goal was not to work with this language to do the photorealistic replicas, but to transform our natural experience into synthetic ones. The choice of the synthetic language is very simple: it is the language that you can say is (unfortunately) the closest to our ‘younger’ generation. : )
PZ: Your work blends technological interface invention with environmental exploration, and, in effect, generates new hybridized environments. Can you describe some of the major conceptual concerns that your work investigates in this context?
VT: In my solo projects and also in the collaborative works of Syntfarm, hybridization exists almost as a necessity. Usually, the projects have some reference to nature, but then the outcomes are usually very synthetic. I would say that for Syntfarm projects, transformation is a term that captures their essence. We go to nature, capture as much data as possible, and then transform this information into a synthetic experience.
With my project called Metazoa Ludens, which I did with the Mixed Reality Lab in Singapore, hybridization was very important from the start. In that project, we had live animals interacting with a programmed system that physically shaped their environment – created hills for them and some obstacles. In this project, hybridization helped us visualize our relationship to a technological environment.
In that installation, mice move freely, depending on how the computer generates a 3d physical space for them. Mice positions in physical space are captured and replicated in real time in a 3D game. Everything works like a balanced natural ecosystem. It is better to not talk about this project in front of the animal lovers, because they would all claim that mice are not treated well in that hybrid environment. This project was definitely more about creating a hybrid ecosystem that can make us understand our lives better.
PZ: For the Open Space/Singapore/Southeast Asia exhibition, we'll be mounting your installation of generative work, The Snail and the Slope. Can you explain what generative media is, and why you are attracted to working in this realm? For many in media, the idea of generative media is quite new and difficult to grasp. What traditions does it emerge from? What questions does it answer for you?
VT: I started working with generative media when I was studying painting. My method was to add x amount of liters of oil, water and turpentine and after x amount of weeks to come back and see what kind of painting that system would create.
This method was not so heavily indebted to conforming to the sets of rules that, for example Sol Lewit used in his work. I would say that in his drawings, where he would follow a very clear set of instructions, we witness one of the earliest examples of generative media.
I also worked a lot with video, where the camera was placed in a system that will generate a wide range of variations of audio-visual material. I mounted the camera on an electro-motor, on a tree branch, in a barrel, on a bicycle and so on. I did these very early works without too much programming, but they were still generative projects, in that, I created a system and let the system make the work.
Later on, thanks to Andreas who has shown me the easy and powerful way to work with code, I started working with code and programming, which lead to the project I will be showing at the Open Space exhibition.
The Snail on the Slope is a generative movie, a story I wanted to make into a narrative film. When the script of the film was almost finalized, I was also working with computer language called Processing and generating visual material.
Instead of getting into a huge production and waiting for several months to be creatively engaged, I got the idea to use visuals done in Processing to represent the atmospheres of five different chapters of the movie. The movie is very abstract, but there are some very vague narrative structures.
Some viewers of this movie remark that this is what futuristic cinema could look like. I don’t agree. With the digital platforms available today, what is apparent is that there is a drastic democratization of creative coding environments--- more and more people have free and open access to these technologies. This open access and ease of coding is bound to have an enormous impact on the arts creative media.