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This laser artwork was part of the Trajectum Lumen project that lights up the Utrecht city centre untill 2018.

Picture taken by Jeroen Bosman at flickr.com

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How do you carry your water with you? I was made aware of this question in the past when a non-Dutch classmate asked me whether he understood the message on my water bottle right. “Neem mij mee in je leven” did that mean “take me with you in your life”? Upon confirming, my classmate gave a concerning smile. And he explained me the irony. However healthy it is to drink water, most consumers do not know that with the water they consume tiny amounts of dissolved chemicals from the plastic bottle it is stored in. The medium is the message.

The result of my fear for plastic bottles.

The shock of learning this came back to me today at the Sustainable Living Festival in Melbourne. The event’s booklet provided a list of what to bring as a visitor: A hat and sunscreen (because we are in Australia, of course) and a reusable water bottle. Now, my water bottle was reusable, because I always refill the bottles of mineral water I buy in the supermarket, but I suspected this was not what they meant. And numerous other visitors confirmed by proudly walking around with their stainless steel water bottles. So I gave in and bought one for myself. After all, I prefer the taste of (Dutch) tap water over mineral water anyway.

Peter Gabriel’s concert in Gelredome made good use of screens in the performance. They were used to hide the orchestra, visualise song themes and to create depth on stage. See this short clip with fragments.

Today’s GATE symposium featured two interesting projects that can speed up the design process of simulations:

From sketch to virtual worlds by Rafael Bidarra from Delft University of Technology:



Animating virtual characters based on foot placement by Ben van Basten and Arjan Egges from Utrecht University.

Not so much fun: rejoicing cheers come in through the open balcony door as I witness the registration of a throw in on my television during the match Brazil – The Netherlands. What happened? Correction: What will happen? Answer: a goal on our side that the celebrators saw seconds before me because they were watching the soccer match through cable television.

The visual advantages of digital TV don’t seem to win from liveness at this summer’s collective national television moments. Watching digital transforms my living room into another time space. One that is interrupted by the broadcasting reality of an older technology. Realities that can be switched between and that are both live in the sense of their ongoing showing of sport images. Realities that are both delayed in their transfer from South Africa, but choosing the one that is closest to the live reality pays.

Second goal, seen by me in real cable time.

This evening was one of goodbyes as Setup hosted its final party to celebrate their three months try-out. They expect to return in the beginning of 2011.

ABN AMRO door stamp.

Because of the nice weather, every visitor received a stamp before entering to prove the guest list check at a return from a refreshing outdoor chat. And the stamp came from a rare gadget, probably found in one of the left desks of the building’s former inhabitants: it stained the address of the ABN AMRO bank on your arm. An ink bread crumb to find our way back to the party: this evening and in Setup’s future.

Media scholar Lev Manovich visited Setup today to present his new research project of cultural analytics for which he uses computer power and screen capacity to analyse large amounts of visual data. The advantage being, he argued, that no longer this work had to carried out by quantitative researchers who would only use a small selection of the rich amount of data. Examples: Capturing the first and last frame of each shot in a film, shot length, amount of movement in a shot and displaying them chronologically. Or taking screenshots of a play session of a computer game every three seconds and displaying a composition of their vertical middle lines. No data will be lost anymore.

Admittedly, the images looked very interesting from the beginning. But my mind started to wonder when Manovich presented graph after graph of the same media text. This indicated to me that the same text had to be analysed repeatedly to highlight different aspects of it. Perspectives that could not be presented at the same time on the enormous screens designed for the task. But much worse: perspectives that analysed only a part of the text. Because how can a collection of samples of the original ever be as good research material as the original itself?

Display wall visualising analysis of fifty thousand Manga pages.

Not to say that Manovich did not have a point. The new techniques provide a way to actually process all the data a text contains. However, I cannot agree that this solves the problem that qualitative and quantitative research methods face. Every way you approach it, researchers still have to take decisions of what intervals to measure, and thereby bias their research. This was illustrated best with Manovich own example of motion. Moving his hands in an inimitable sequence, he stated that different types of movement are hard to compare. Tracking the speed and reach of movement enables this, as he said, forgetting that it loses the richness of the aesthetics which incorporates many more features. Virtually uncountable ones.

It was very unlucky that I could not stay until the end to witness the questions from the audience. Reading this new media & digital culture master blog (in Dutch), tells me that a question in the line of my critique was in fact posed by one of the present professors that organised Manovich’s visit (see Skip Intro). And it looks like Manovich had no concrete answer.

A researcher who has put my fears in clear words is William Gaver, who writes:

  • “Asking unambiguous questions tends to give you what you already know, at least to the extent of reifying the ontology behind the questions. Posing open or absurd tasks, in contrast, ensures that the results will be surprising.
  • Summarizing returns tends to produce an ‘average’ picture that may not reflect any individual well, and that filters out the unusual items that can be most inspiring.
  • Analyses are often used as mediating representations for raw data: they blunt the contact that designers can have with users” (p. 7)

Gaver, William W. et al. “Cultural Probes and the Value of Uncertainty”.

More discussion on Manovich’s lecture (also in Dutch) can be read on the website of Setup.

When I found out that today offered the possibility of playing an urban game, I could not say no to the event. And what a feast it was. Playing games like in the old days with your friends but without the pain of chalk fingers and chipped nails. Time to play hopscotch!

My friend Maja taking a turn.

Everdien Breken’s graduation project is just what I look for in a game. To be played outside, drawing in elements from the surrounding (people, architecture) to create the game, and with an eye on the engagement with rules as catalyst for actions and creativity. A project that connects nicely with my research plans that I mentioned before and therefore one worthwhile to follow.

The project is part of Everdien’s graduation for the HKU Fine Art programme. She aims at disturbing people’s everyday lives, if only for a few seconds, by confronting them with playful instances. She favours simple forms in her design.

This month’s Straatnieuws features a lengthy article on her work. Check the project site Spelen op straat (play on the street) for future games if you want to play along, or be surprised by other chalk games that you run into by coincidence.

Reward button after playing (I play along!).

Tonight at Setup, Mash Up The Battle took place. Debaters took place in a boxing ring to fight about actual media topics. From copyright laws (auteurswet), to the internet of things, to a round on a national filter against child porn.

The two debaters in this round were Daphne van der Kroft (Bits of Freedom) against Marleen de Pater (CDA). This resulted in a fierce discussion between Bits of Freedom’s argument that a filter would not have much effect and CDA’s vision that the Dutch deserved protection from this type of disgusting content.

A sneaky way to apply censorship? Why should we be protected from that what we never accidentaly meet online? Why not better hunt the ones who do search for it or place it online? Should we be afraid for a move towards a Chinese situation? Is this really necessary? Horrifying as the problem might be, my stance would be in favour of freedom.

Flyer of the Mash Up The battle event at Setup Utrecht.

This sense of a life free of surveillance came back, in a humorous way, in an article on a new art project in Utrecht on the website of Journalistiekfabriek. Foucault’s panopticum meets Hitchcocks birds in the panopticons. If I happen to see any of the spying birds in town, I will try to capture them on camera and place my own picture here. Hope they don’t catch me first!

Camera sea-gull comfortably sitting down to spy on us.

In 2011 the Performance Studies international conference #17 will take place in Utrecht from 25-29 May. A preview was given during Festival aan de Werf. Title of the upcoming conference will be Camillo 2.0: Technology, Memory, Experience.

Instead of Camillo’s theatre of memory as a wooden construction that makes all existing knowledge accessible, architect Laurent Liefooghe presented his Woonmachine (living machine) installation, glass boxes that made visible miniature households. He explained how after his architecture study, he came into contact with post-structuralism, which lead to an eagerness to play with architecture’s rigid tendency to structure the actions of people inside and outside buildings.

Here are two publications from his hand dealing with Deleuze’s nomad, and with the architectural grid.

Woonmachine will be shown in Huis aan de Werf in Utrecht in October 2010

Other presentations at this preview were:

  • “PSi #15 ‘Shifts’: From Stage to DVD Page.” Presentation by Marin Blazevic (Academy of Drama Arts, University of Zagreb)
  • “Performative Time Travel: The Present Past of Historical Re-enactment.” Lecture performance by Frederik LeRoy (Ghent University)

Logo of Camillo 2.0 - Performance Studies international conference #17.

Tweets (Dutch and English)

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