DEAF95 - Interfacing Realities

DEAF95 Dutch Electronic Art Festival - Interfacing Realities

DEAF95 - Interfacing Realities

DEAF95 (poster)

Nov 1995
Nov 1995
location: V2_ and various locations, Rotterdam

DEAF95 is presented under the main theme of: Interfacing Realities. Interface literally means "cutting edge". In man-machine relations it refers to the hard- and software that is used to facilitate and optimize the coupling of man and machine. During DEAF95 the interface in machine and computer art take center stage. The development of the interface is approached from different disciplines, including art, robotics, medical industry and virtual reality.



DEAF95 (Dutch Electronic Art Festival) is a continuation of the Manifestation for Unstable Media that has been organised by the V2_Organisation since 1987. During this art- and mediatechnology event, interfaces with other disciplines, like science, will be investigated. In the course of the years DEAF95 has matured into an interdisciplinary exchange and meeting place for a varied audience. Scientists and artists meet during symposia, and for the less knowledgeable there are special seminars. The exhibition, on the other hand, is designed to help the general public to find their way easily. The subtitle of this year's festival is 'Interfacing Realities'. It intends to re-evaluate current notions of reality in the light of the electronic media which increasingly influence our experience of reality. DEAF95 also wants to contribute to the improvement of a (new) media critique, which is why an outstanding group of artists, scientists and critics has been invited for a symposium which is supported by the Royal Dutch Academy of Science.

Interfaces have been designed to simplify the use of mechanical and digital devices. In the broadest sense, the interface is a coded matrix which enables communication between different systems, mechanic or otherwise. The interface between man and machine is determined by the physiological, psychological and cultural conditions of man and the technical, mechanical and electronic structure of machines. Both are subject to historical, social and cultural conditioning, which leads to a vast spectrum of functions and ways of interacting. Information engineers who are confronted with the difficulty of designing a system of interfacial metaphors to connect man and machine increasingly collaborate with artists and graphic designers to find viable and creative solutions. Beside the symposium dedicated to this discussion, DEAF95 features special presentations by research centers for artists like the Tokyo-based Art Lab, the Canon Culture Program where engineers co-operate with artists, and Telepresence Research from Palo Alto, Ca., where artists develop interfaces in the areas of telepresence and virtual reality.

The DEAF95 international exhibition is more extensive than in other years. Fourteen works will be presented in the V2 building, the Lantaren/Venster theater, Marine Safety's harbour simulator and the Erasmus University, and will try to give an overview over the ways in which artists currently approach the question of the interface. Bar codes, specially designed keyboards for chickens, body movements and even Pinocchio-style fancy dress are employed to connect the different preconditioned worlds between man and machine. We are convinced that DEAF95 will result in a fertile exchange between the realities of the artist, the scientist and the audience. The challenge is great since, more than ever, electronic media are at the center of attention, and more than ever they determine the organisation of our living and working environments and our views of the world and of ourselves. It is high time, therefore, for critical and creative reflection.


Interfacing realities

With the rise of electronic media in our living and working environments, different lifestyles and ways of thinking are juxtaposed without forcing their integration in a global social and political system. There is a slow shift from the 'top-down, few to all' system of television, radio and papers to the grass-roots 'bottom-up, many to many' system in which the questions of interactivity and identity are high on the agenda. The concept of the mass as a homogenous, shapeless group can now, in the light of the new media, be seen as a domain of dynamic and complex interaction between small groups and individuals, each with their own identity. The individualisation of the media goes hand in hand with the rise of an increasingly intuitive, and more individual, interface design which aims more and more at the cultural differences in the interpretation of what we percieve. Also, studies and scientific research into the modes and condition of perception are on the rise. DEAF95 examines the different aspects of interfaces or, in other words, with the means that are employed for using the (electronic) machine intuitively.


Interface and the arts

During DEAF95, the relation between art and technology, is explored with regard to machine art: art made with (electronic) machines, and art in which the machines play a dominant part in experiencing the work. The machine is no longer a tool but an integral part of the artwork. The interface that is used is of utmost importance. The pieces in the DEAF95 exhibition display a great variety in interfaces, both in hard- and software. Interactivity and virtuality are key concepts in this context, since they point to important changes regarding fine art practice and theory. Machine art is here closely linked to a changed view of reality which can best be described as complex, dynamic and interactive systems. A reality where the connectivity of the individual, as shaped by electronic networks and virtual environments, takes center stage and where reality is nothing more than a crossroads in a collection of virtualities (possible realities), be they machine generated or not. The rise of rational sciences during the Renaissance meant the start of a quest for a new Holy Grail: the one mathematical formula expressing the essence of all physical processes. The French philosopher and mathematician Descartes, the founder of a rational, methodical and dualistic paradigm, still influences the way in which we experience our world. Descartes claimed that sensory perception is an insufficient and fallacious way to come to an 'objective' interpretation of reality. Science needed instruments and devices. In this Cartesian view, the domain of numbers is more reliable than sensorial perception when a description of reality is needed.

Currently, we seem to live in a hyper-cartesian world since more and more virtual - i.e. algorithmically constructed, computed - worlds are being presented as increasingly real. On the other hand, we tend to perceive the world less and less from a dualistic point of view where good and evil, ugly and fair, or virtual and real are juxtaposed. For there is a grey area between those extremes, an area that concerns us much more than any of the extremes. An area where the interaction between those extremes takes shape in the form of all kinds of unexpected social, political and cultural models.

DEAF95 suggests that reality can force itself upon us in many different ways and that it is the crossroads of the possible scenarios (the virtualities) where, at this moment, interesting cross-pollination takes place. The quest for the smallest particle in physics eventually led to an important conclusion: not the particle is essential but the interaction between the particle and the observer. At the start of this century, the physicist Max Planck already said that the observer determines the research results at quantum level. Objective observation therefore becomes observer-objectivity. The same physical process will result in different outcomes with different observers. Observer and observed are part of the same system and are interdependent; they interact constantly. This was an important point of departure for thinking about interactivity.

The late Czech philosopher Vilém Flusser, who frequently dealt with media, art and technology, considers the social, political and cultural shifts of today to be indicative of a reality that is less and less singular. The question as to what is real is asked more emphatically at some points in history than at others. Constantly we come up with new answers, depending on the changing insights we gain in ourselves and the world we live in. In an interview with the German magazine ARCH+, Flusser expresses quite clearly how our notion and experience of reality have shifted. For him, virtuality follows from reality. He purposely refers to 'virtuality' and not to 'virtual reality' since he considers the latter to be terminologically wrong. Virtual reality implies a difference between physical and simulated realities. This is, however, a difference stemming from 15th century dualistic thinking. Flusser prefers to see the individual as immersed in an information-ocean of concentric waves that all move in the direction of the individual located at its center. The intensity of the experience of reality is dependent on the waves of information that come closest to it. This information becomes more real than other waves that stay at a greater distance. But, according to Flusser, an event will never become totally real due to new waves (virtualities) that turn up and destabilize the current reality. Random factors become very important at this point, for the random coincidence of waves can give birth to new unexpected realities. Flusser's model is also applicable, for example, to evolution theory. Evolution then reveals man as 'a fantastic accident', as American evolution theorist Stephen J. Gould expressed it. As one of the many possibilities in the evolutionary process. Here, reality is a cross-section of virtualities of, for example, a scientifically oriented description of reality and one based on sensorial perception.

From this vantage point, holography, multimedia, internet and other non-linear technologies find truly new applications which shape this view of the experience of reality. DEAF95's subtitle, 'Interfacing Realities', should be read with this in mind. The interface as an instrument to connect different descriptions of reality. The rise of the machine in art, from film and photography to video and computers, has enabled the construction of an artwork which behaves as a system and in which the machine determines production and perception. The computer as electronic machine has transformed the artwork into a dynamic and interactive system in which spectator and artwork merge. This link between man and machine is enabled by the interface that rises from the interaction between cognitive sciences and intuitive arts. The shift of the artwork from object to system is closely connected to today's shifting view of the world. As such, contemporary machine art is a representation of the rapidly changing view of ourselves and the world around us, a world which we increasingly view as a complex, dynamic and interactive structure. Relations and interactions have become pivotal. It is a shift from a world of constants to a world of variables, as Peter Weibel expressed it. A shift from a closed system to an open one, from an objective to an observer-objective world. Or, as the V2_Organisation expressed it in her 1987 Manifesto for the Unstable Media: 'Instability as a creative force in the artwork.'



The festival program includes an international exposition of electronic art projects and installations at the V2_Building and at Lantaren/Venster theater. In the Digital Dive café visitors will be able to browse the World Wide Web and view recent CD-ROM productions on computer terminals arranged in specially designed booths. A Forum initiates a critical debate about the future development of CD-ROM as an artistic medium.

The Music and Interfaces program offers lectures, concerts and special demonstrations. The Crossings project deals with the representation of computer spaces by computer-animated virtual environment and is presented in the Rotterdam Harbor Simulator. In the Symposium an international group of researchers and artists discusses social, cultural, philosophical and technological questions related to human-machine interfaces, and gives demonstrations of the latest developments in this field. The World Wide Web is the theme of the Wiretap 1.11 program which is presented as part of DEAF95. An Adventures Night at the music venue Nighttown sees a six hour program during which different (art) disciplines are brought together in one event. Two Seminars are held prior to DEAF95 as introductions for the general audience to the technological, artistic and theoretical themes of the festival.

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