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Ciber@rt, Bilbao: casting a wider net

Maria Miranda


Fernando Rabelo, Insomnia, 2003 Fernando Rabelo, Insomnia, 2003
Bilbao is a city well suited to exploring the “Challenges to a Ubiquitous Identity” theme of this year’s Ciber@rt festival and conference of digital art, since the city is in the midst of transforming its own identity from industrial powerhouse to cultural centre. It is the site of the new Guggenheim Museum, designed by Frank Gehry (with the aid of computer modelling), a wonderful building that stretches out along the river in a sculptural medley of titanium, limestone and glass.

Ciber@rt is a biennial event that began in Valencia, Spain in 1996 and relocated to Bilbao in 2004. This year’s festival was held at 2 different venues about 15 minutes walk apart. The exhibition was located in an old indoor market place, The Mercado del Ensanche. A total of 237 pieces were on show, most of them screen-based internet works providing an exhilarating investigation into internet culture in the broadest sense. The organisers were able to draw from a wide range of activity happening on the internet, thereby dodging the impasses of territorial contests. The works were divided into 5 separate categories: Net-Art, Multimedia, Minimisation (which included narrative and experimental work), Animation and Interactive Installations.

Christane Paule also curated a small show of 3 interactive installations entitled Evident Traces. The most dramatic and popular of these was Between Bodies: wearables for the telepathically impaired (Canada), a real-time interactive in which participants exchange data and sensations of muscle contractions through computer devices embedded in skirts which you wear. Quite an uncanny experience! Between Bodies is a collaboration between Thecla Schiphorst, Sang Mah, Robb Lovell, Susan Kozel, Norm Jaffe, Gretchen Elsner, Jan Erkke and Diana Burgoyne (http://whisper.iat.sfu.ca/).

The Net-Art part of the festival consisted of 26 works. One of the most enjoyable was Italian Francesco Michi’s Thebigear Project. Reminiscent of conceptual art strategies of the 60s and 70s, it asks you to build a soundscape by “imagining...such a powerful ear that it can perceive sounds coming from an endless acoustic horizon.” To participate you only need describe the sounds that you can hear wherever you are, which has the effect of making you stop and actually engage with your audio environment (www.aefb.org/thebigear).

Rosanne van Klaveren and Herri Behereak’s Braintec—Memoires of a Testee (Holland) is a very elaborate and quietly humorous work in the tradition of The Museum of Jurassic Technology. It is the sort of site that has a peculiar attraction for internet artists working in a medium where identities can so easily be fabricated or mimicked. Think Mouchette. The site creates a ‘scientific’ world of research scientists, labs, projects, even publications in reputable science magazines, and of course test subjects or ‘testees’, with diaries and pictures. The project asks you to believe that memes, or memory cells from the human brain, can be copied, removed from the brain and stored as binary code outside the body, an idea reminiscent of early cyber-fantasies. The slippage between fact and fiction creates a strange dual sensation of belief and disbelief (www.memoires.braintec.info/).

The multimedia section was also screen-based, consisting of 22 separate works, 8 of which were by the legendary Nicolas Clauss from Paris who has been working on the internet since 2000 (www.flyingpuppet.com/). In this short time he has produced an amazing quantity of work, often in collaboration with composers, sound artists or programmers. At a time when so much internet art is concerned with programming or networking, Clauss’ work is delightfully different. He focuses on the human, the fragile, the whimsical and the sensuous. Most of his pieces are small and exquisite, inviting you to engage through rollovers, which can set off unexpected sounds or shift an already strange image. One of my favourites, Le Cri, is a powerful reworking of Munch’s The Scream, conveying an inconsolable anguish.

David Crawford’s Stop Motion Studies need to be experienced in order to feel the full effect of their mesmerising power (www.stopmotionstudies.net/). If I were to say they are pictures of people on subways in 5 different cities, this would not convey the addictive fascination these studies inspire. Crawford has used the unique capacity of the digital to examine the tiny gestures and body movements of people as they sit, stand, run, walk, or sleep on subways from New York to Paris. In the Tokyo series people sleep standing up as well as in their seats, businessmen smoke in an odd nowhere place as if performing a strange ritual, young girls exchange secret messages and a woman appears and disappears as tiny figures behind her scuttle across a vast and empty space. There is a wonderful filmic sense to these studies, where the setting is just as vivid as the tiny animated movements of the actors.

The Minimisation section of the festival turned out to be vector animations done in Flash. There were some great examples of this small but lively art form. Insomnia (Fernando Rabelo, Brazil, 2003) is a hilarious interactive exploring the endless obsessions and irritating noises that we’ve all experienced while trying to sleep.

Another very quirky piece was Just off the A40 (Mantlepies, England, 2002, (www.mantlepies.com/fancyteeth/fancyteeth.html). This peculiar animation is part of a series of equally strange and surreal animations done for Channel4.com in London by the duo Mr Wellington and Mr Peters. The series is entitled Fancyteeth.

Ciber@rt Bilbao was a lively, if exhausting, event. It was exhilarating to see so much work collected in one place and good to see all the internet-based works given their own computer. However, there are still many challenges to overcome in showing internet and digital work. Curator Christiane Paul touched on some of the issues in her talk at the conference. But the greatest challenge from the point of view of artists is still the question of sound; as it is not a containable element there is always unwanted spillage. It will be a challenge for the next generation of architects to go beyond the weird shapes and materials of the Guggenheim Bilbao to spaces that really work for sound, image, video, internet and networked art.


Ciber@rt Bilbao 2004: Challenges for a Ubiquitous Identity, Bilbao, Spain, April 23-30, www.ciberart-bilbao.net/home_en.htm

RealTime issue #62 Aug-Sept 2004 pg. 27

© Maria Miranda; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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