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Delicate Balance

'Delicate Balance' (1995) is an interactive installation by Ken Rinaldo.

Delicate Balance

Delicate Balance

A fishbowl that moves in the direction a Siamese fighting fish is looking. That is the concrete description of Ken Rinaldo's installation Delicate Balance. More generally speaking, the American artist connects a fish and a machine without the fish being aware of the interface.

Another name for the Siamese fighting fish is Betta Splendons or, in Thailand where people bring them together for a life and death fight, pla kat which means so much as 'to bite or rip a fish apart'. Just like most other fish, 'Bettas' have excellent sight so they can see far outside the bowl. Rinaldo: "I wanted to give the Betta Splendons the possibility to virtually leave the bowl by moving it. The fish determines the direction by swimming past microchip sensors." The sensors notice the fighting fish and start a motor that moves the bowl in the direction in which the fish is looking at the outside world.

Says Rinaldo: "The best real or virtual interfaces are those that are transparent to the user. Be it a fish or a human. When we can't see how we communicate with the machine and instead the interface notices our presence or wants or needs that widen our view, then that interface can be called transparent." According to the artist, interfaces become increasingly transparent. Eventually this might result in closing the gap between the organic and anorganic world.

Using visual, written and spoken language, man has already created a complex virtual world. But language as a carrier of information is hampered by all kinds of deviations that deform reality. Messages in mass media are thus deformed by commercialism. Therefore the French urban planner and theoretician Paul Virilio said that linguistic messages are designed to infect rather than to inform. Due to commercial forward-thinking, a fundamental discussion about ecological and social long-term effects of technology is never started 'even if these technologies are known to be harmful to natural systems'.

"Intelligent systems that can understand our body language and their personal histories are the next logical step, next to systems that already understand our human language." Therefore the artist pleads for a system design that takes into account ecological principles to give birth to 'sustainable and mutually dependent systems of humans, animals and technology'. Systems with a delicate but vital balance that Rinaldo has poured into a creative and visually attractive form in his installation.

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