Feedback: 2010 SRTP Festival

The fourth edition of the STRP festival, which is devoted to bringing together music and artistic and technological practices, drew more than 30,000 visitors to its many concerts, performances, exhibitions, conferences and workshops in November 2010. As for the rather strange name for the event, it relates to the industrial site of Eindhoven that used to house the Philips brand before it revolutionised the cultural industry with its inventions.

Imprecision as a rule
Oddly, a security barrier is placed just after the main entrance to the exhibition. We owe this biometric installation, which is entitled Physiognomic Scrutinizer and similar to those used in airports where fear can be used to justify all kinds of experiences, to the Dutch artist Marnix de Nijs.
Exposing oneself to the camera of such a technological installation means accepting the idea that one is perhaps guilty of something. One therefore puts on one’s best smile so that the door finally opens. But the machine is quite unaware that its biometric algorithms are just as imprecise as those of its kind that have already been withdrawn from certain airports. A synthesised voice tells us the name of the person we supposedly, and of course erroneously, incarnate. The faces that make up its database are in fact those of controversial personalities. The voice takes it upon itself to list some of their transgressions and misdeeds. This is how you can get yourself incarcerated for resembling the wrong person! And to think that Facebook is preparing to launch a new application involving automatic face recognition…

An aesthetic of fragility
If there were a low-tech festival it would have to be STRP as so many of its exhibits abound with works that blithely do without the powerful
calculation of machines. Double O, by Zilvinas Kempinas to whom we also owe the majestic installation Tube presented at the 53rd Venice Biennale, needs only to be switched on. Two fans are directed towards one another and between them float two circles of magnetic tape similar to those used in the audiocassettes that Philips invented
a few decades ago and that were manufactured on this site called Strijp. Coincidence! Two circles whose apparent instability echoes the instability of the media that the tapes might contain; two circles that are drawn to one another and push each other away while depending on the same flux. The Lithuanian artist has conceived quite a number of works using only magnetic tape.
And we recall their relative fragility when this same fragility appears as a central element in
Zilvinas Kempinas work. Confronting these works, one is often tempted to touch them, even though one holds back, because self-restraint at times also participates in aesthetic pleasure.

Perpetual reconfigurations
Then there is the magnificent exhibition devoted to the works of Lawrence Malstaf, all of an apparent simplicity but all relatively complex. There is Nevel which means “fog” in Dutch – a reference perhaps to the semi-transparency of the nine mobile
partitions that are constantly reconfiguring their environment. Rotating on themselves in various pre-established configurations, they make walls that then become openings. However, when they stop moving, the space continues to be transformed slowly, inexorably, by a play of light.
Nevel could be likened to a stage set that changes between two uncertain scenes. There is nothing menacing about it. Too slow in its metamorphoses, it nevertheless seems like it might close in on itself at any moment, trapping an imprudent or fearless visitor. Given that it transforms itself ceaselessly,
it condemns us to ceaselessly moving about also and to modifying our points of view. Because within these few square metres of the work, it’s about managing to lose oneself, just as one might in
Venice in order to make the experience complete.

From the grid to chaos
One must look to ancient Greek for the meaning of the word Boreas, which refers to the god who brought the “wind from the North”. The work seems in fact to be subject to a breeze whose power is only slowness. It is composed of a matrix of tubes that when stretched to their height, form a grid whose alignments are geometrically irreproachable. But it is an invisible force that could just as well be magnetic and that makes them bend towards the spectators, as though kneeling in reverence.
They overlap one another. From order, chaos is born without one being able to identify the exact moment when it shifts from one state to another, the transformation being so slow it is almost imperceptible. Like the hair of a giant, they then wait for order to return through tension. A dramatic tension is produced, without any suspense for the visitor patient enough to observe several cycles. Boreas is among the works that induces one to sit down while it inexorably mutates, moving from one state to another. It is in constant transition, autonomous, and its extreme slowness invites us to slow down, the better to grasp it.

The sum of unpredictabilities
The Territorium installation might be considered the sum of Nevel and Boreas if it had not initially been conceived as a set for Arco Renz. Lawrence Malstaf frequently collaborates with choreographers like Meg Stuart. This involves an environment that is in perpetual reconfiguration, a space divided into four parts by two mobile partitions. But these are all the more immaterial because they are comprised of alignments of long vertical straws. When the lattice defining the space and evoking the centre of a three dimensional world determined by X, Y and Z coordinates starts to lower itself, chaos appears as it does in Boreas. The straws bend in straight segments without anyone being able to predict how or in which direction they will fragment. As for certain spectators who replace the dancers of the Carte Blanche Company, they have all the time in the world to move about within this environment of uncertain divisions and adapt as best they can, while others, on the sidelines, prefer to watch. It is indeed good to watch before acting if only to better adapt oneself to these most unpredictable situations.


Any resistance is useless
Then there is this strange machine called Compass that one needs to put on and that converts the entire body into the needle of a compass. The spectator is invited to freely move about within a clearly defined surface area. But the machine doesn’t understand anything and knows how to make the participant change direction violently pivoting on itself to the right or left. It only responds to the blueprint that was recorded in its memory. It takes care then to avoid collisions with walls that only exist within itself. The rotations hampering the participant wearing the machine evoke the changes in direction of a compass needle around its axis.
These sudden changes are governed by some of the forces of the invisible. Any resistance against this machine is useless, which is the perfect metaphor for the powers that enable the strongest to constrain the weakest when they are based on rules beyond understanding.

When gravity takes over

One of the pieces of “machinery” entitled Shaft invites the spectator to lie down placing their head under a transparent plastic tube. The cone of vision then seems to be channelled as it seems to narrow towards the distance. Once you are comfortably installed a mediator then introduces a ceramic saucer into the tube inside which the air is being sucked upwards. The saucer starts to dance and spin about, rising and descending according to its position in space. It escapes gravity until another saucer is introduced into its space so that together they crash into each other and end up breaking. Reduced to fragments, they are finally sucked down by gravity.
The spectator’s eyes are protected by a bulletproof glass screen. But one’s eyes close by reflex when the enchantment of the spinning objects is broken by this tragic end – when the light, crystalline sounds of shock give way to the heavier sounds of falling broken pottery that then pile up in the bin.

The scattering of the son

Lastly, apart from the exhibition devoted to Lawrence Malstaf, there is an immersive 360° installation conceived by Jeffrey Shaw that has been named the AVIE, for Advanced Visualisation and Interaction Environment. It is Jean-Michel BruyËre who has taken it over with La dispersion du fils (“The scattering of the son”), produced for this purpose. We discover here a slender, hollowed out three-dimensional object. Though it is smooth, its shape is twisted.
When the virtual camera approaches, we perceive that it is comprised of countless fragments of video sequences produced by LFKs. When its multiple blocks of memories disperse, they literally go through the bodies of the spectators wearing stereoscopic glasses. Jean-Michel Bruyere is pursuing here his work on the myth of Diane and Acteon. According to Ovid, Diane, surprised by Acteon while bathing, transformed him into a deer that was devoured by his own dogs.
They then wandered about the mountainside looking for their master and so “scattered” him about through their droppings.

Dominique Moulon

Published in the Digitalarti Mag #5.

Digitalarti Mag, the international digital art and innovation magazine.

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