Electrohype 2010 – Report from Ystad (Sweden)

Electrohype 2010

Check the Electrohype 2010 photo set here.
After a fascinating snowstorm, the sixth edition of Electrohype, the biennial for electronic art, opened at the Ystad Art Museum in Ystad (Sweden). A point of reference in Scandinavian countries, Electrohype has been operating since 2000. The theme for this edition was “objects”, and, in a way, every exhibited work managed to reference this category. Curated by the Electrohype founders, Anna Kindvall and Lars Gustav Midbøe, the exhibition was spread over the two floors of the Art Museum, even infiltrating its own collection.

In fact, six Apple Macintosh Classic II computers running David Rokeby’s historical “Liquid Language” work were scattered in different rooms, sometimes alone, sometimes surrounded by paintings or sculptures. The work is an old Hypercard stack with a hypertext that is visualized and then quickly disappears, and was derived from talks the author had with a close friend who had experienced a tragic loss. The links within the hypertext are always linked to 3 other texts, which moves the work towards notions of remembering, forgetting and dreaming. The flow of the text result is very liquid and contains much movement. An amazing object built by Serina Erfjord was also on show. Her “Normal.Blue” was formed from a satellite dish-shaped transparent container filled with heavy blue oil paint. The dish turns slowly so the gravity forces the liquid to hang and never drops. The clear, concave surface reflects the surroundings, while the slow, gravity-induced movement of the sky-blue paint mesmerizes the spectator.

Boredomresearch have produced a number of autonomous software objects in the past, with colorful digital lifeforms that usually involve the viewer in an active way. This was again the case with “Lost Calls of Cloud Mountain Whirligigs” where the “Whirligigs” were born and then died, singing beautiful, melancholy, abstract songs, and living in fast day/night cycles inside two white frames that can be perceived as small windows on this artificial world.

It is less easy to clearly define the “object” in a work like Sion Jeong’s “Karat”. This audio and light installation is made of nine teardrop-shaped spheres where crystals grow. The glowing light (slowly going from intense to dark and back) makes the work metaphorically “breathing”, as an organic system, but with no clear distinction among the single elements as autonomous or interdependent.
“Object” may also be a reductive word for describing Yunchul Kim’s “Epiphora”, wherein a couple of kinetic organs were filled with pulsating black magnetic fluid. This complex system reacted to generated electromagnetic fields in a process that involved an obscure symbiosis that left observers wondering how the whole system functions.

Diane Landry’s “Mandalas in series Blue Decline” is a light sculpture. Using disposable plastic water bottles in a flower composition that moves mechanically on an axis, she literally creates enchanting light mandalas which become objects of contemplation. A different attitude towards composition was shown by Enrique Radigales. His “Frieze” was divided into six black Calatorao stone blocks, a type of limestone from the artists’ home region (Spain’s Valdejalón district). He manually carved into the stone the keys “S”, “P”, “E”, “C”, “T”, “R”, “U” and “M” from the keyboard of the eighties Spectrum ZX’s black home computer. This contemporary evocative ruin, in the form of a frieze, is paradoxically much more solid and resistant to obsolescence than the original object it was inspired by.

The celebrated Canadian artist Norman T White was also present, offering two works: “The Music Lesson”, a small cage with drawings of trapped moths and a looped tape of a piano music lesson for seven-year-old kids (who are metaphorically trapped in the lesson as the moths are in the cage); and “Bellevue”, a classic painting that hides a randomly self-activating mechanism that mechanically opens a small hole in the canvas, revealing a menacing eye that maliciously stares at the viewer. Both the artworks are the kind of objects easily digestible in a contemporary art museum, yet they contain mechanisms that make them different and when revealed transform classic works for casual art viewers into a different experience entirely.

On the topic of hidden stuff: can a small box contain a whole world? Nikki Koole’s “Procedural Flat v 2.0″ was quite close to achieving this feat. On a screen as big as a laptop, encapsulated in a white box, around 250 inhabitants (procedurally generated) animated a housing block. This system behaves autonomously, and can be watched as a small window on a kind of 8-bit ant farm that motivates our voyeurism. On the opposite side of the exhibition room to where this white box sat was situated a similar black counterpart. Caleb Larsen’s “A Tool to Deceive and Slaughter” was, in fact, a glossy black cube, eight inches high, with a microcontroller and an Ethernet adapter hidden inside and with two chords that respectively connect the object to electricity and the Internet. The software that controls the cube puts it on sale on Ebay. If it’s sold, the curators have to pack it and ship it to the buyer (this is stated on the artwork’s rental contract), and the buyer is obliged to connect it to the Internet, so the cube will put itself on sale again. If the contract is not respected, the object is not recognized by the artist anymore.

Speculating on the rules and behaviors of the art market, this work embodies the supreme “art object”, which through its inner technology, is autonomously moving from one ownership to another. This potentially infinite path makes it independent, impossible to be collected and difficult to be exhibited, even though it is a simple physical “object.” And this object, sharing a “live” quality with all the other displayed works, perfectly represents the kind of seductive computer-based art that Electrohype has exhibited for more than a decade.