The fusion of art, science and technology that appeared in the middle of the 20th century has defined the course of art up to the present day. Considering the historical development of science and technology, and especially their influence on the society, artistic interest in such fields is logical. On one side, this interest is of formal nature because new technologies can open new doors to creativity (like in the case of early light ambient and kinetic art). The medium is an import-ant, if not the most important factor of a work’s modernity — for example, before certain discoveries and social conditions it was impossible to create a work made of plastic operation residue or robotics. Besides this formal interest in new media, artists are also intrigued by ethical issues that the development of science and new technologies imposes, particularly in instances where the society is unable to cope with its own technological advancement.
The Device_art exhibition takes off from this somewhat romantic concept of the artist/inventor reflecting on the society he or she lives in — a concept that already sparked similar exhibition projects elsewhere in the world. Device_art probes the Croatian art scene in search of creative reflections on technology.
Out of the need to contextualize the Croatian situation (to compare in likeness and difference) with the closest area of similar experience, we extended our focus to Slovenia, where a platform for technology-based art has been developing for years. Our bureau of contemporary art praxis is only attempting to create such a platform in Croatia (since neither the Croatian educational or gallery practice, nor the “art world” in general, have a clue about technology/science-related art), while in Slovenia two strong intitutions have supported technology-based art for some years — Kibla in Maribor and Kapelica Gallery in Ljubljana. Typically, the few Croatian artists who work in the field of technology-related art have all developed a close working relationship with these Slovenian institutions.
The relatively weak response we& rsquo;ve had to the Device_art open com-petition was probably the result of insufficient media coverage. We recieved works from a number of artists already affiliated with the Kapelica and Kontejner “brands”, and several innovators submitted quite functional technological devices albeit lacking the lucid element needed for them to be included in the show. We would have probably achieved more by “searching through the artists’ attics” as suggested by Klaudio Štefančić, the director of Galženica Gallery.
The main difference between the Slovenian and Croatian group of artists at the Device_art exhibition (besides the fact that more Croatian works are exhibited) is that the Slovenian works represent the whole 90’s — a period in which Kibla and Kapelica begun with their acitivity. Therefore, in the Slovenian selection we find some “historial examples” such as the ASCII camera by Vuk Ćosić, a device which translates ordinary photo recordings to ASCII code, a trademark-piece by a world-wide recognised net-artist and activist. The works of Croatian artists are generally more recent — older technology-based pieces are rare and most proved difficult to assemble for this occasion.
However, our main categorisation of the works has nothing to do with geography or history — it combines the criteria of media/ technology and topic. The first, interactive art category, covers al-most half of the works. Due to its overlapping with other categories we only included game platforms in it, disregarding the difference between responsive and interactive, that is between works which only register the visitor and those in which active participation is required. Other categories are simpler — robotic art, audio works, and works related to film and photography.
Interactive art, the largest category on the exhibition, enables the spectator to enter the space of an artwork, which otherwise doesn’t function. This active role of the spectator is typical not only of technology-based art — this phenomenon, labeled by Nicolas Bourriaud as relation aesthetics, can be detected in the entire field of artistic creation in the 90’s. The participation of a spectator becomes relevant even to works which are not technology-based, and in interactive art it is absolutely necessary. Interaction often seems like a game, and many artists literally use the game interface, which they customise to express a certain new idea.
Davide Grassi reprogrammed and redesigned a pinball-machine with the purpose of creating a device with a new function. Like Grassi’s pinball-machine, which needs to be fed with chips in order to start a game based around financial issues of art production, Silvio Vujičić fashion performance also allows monetary interaction. While Grassi grants profit to whoever winns, Vujičić & ldquo;slot machine” works only for the benefit of the artist. At the same time, it is a lucid contemplation of the authors main subject — constructing clothes for the cyber-society. The erotic subtext of mechanical stripping draws comparisons with Stahl Stenslie’s cyberSM masterpiece.
A witty and playful dimension is present in Marijan Vejvoda’s surrealistic construct that shows Duchamp—Magritte traits. A combination of ready-made tools for time-consumption is “hooked” to a showel — the symbol of work. This reinterpretation of simple, everyday gadgets is a frequent strategy in technology-based art — an example that instantly comes to mind is the fortune-telling table by Crispin Jones (An Invisible Force) shown at Ars Electronica 2002.
The Device_art exhibition includes a number of robotic works, some of which are interactive. Sašo Sedlaček created a complex biotopic system simulation, a partly autonomous system reacts to digital stimuli by moving its robotic legs, and prompts the visitor to participate in the feeding process. Branko Zupan’s robots are very simple beings whose only function is to move around in space they detect through sensors. Just as Sedlaček’s system resembles a chameleon, every robot by Zupan resembles some animal (spider, frog). Even these likable little robots make one contemplate the purpose and need for constructing a robot. The same question is posed by slightly more sophisticated robots by Paul Granjon or Jim Whitings — the question of man’s “Pygmalion” need to breathe life into dead matter. In Zupan’s case, “life” is limited to the simplest functions, like perception (sensors) and movement (mechanics, el. current).
All the mentioned works could be filed under “constructive devices”, which sets them apart from the powerful destructive strain among robotic artists. The trend that has reached its peak with robot fights becoming a regular TV show [http://www.robotwars.co.uk/], has it’s most prominent figure in Mark Pauline and his group Survival Research Labs, whose machine fights are terminated by actual destruction. Robot fights have found their Croatian exponent in Vedran Relja, the organiser of the Zaprešić robot fights, which have gained local cult status. Automation of painting, i.e. the drawing robot has always interested artists. After The automatic artist by Jean Tinguely — the first of its kind — a number of “robot artists” have been constructed, the most complex example being Fish and Chips by the Australian biotechnological art group Tissue Art & Culture Project which links a robotic hand with fish neurones. Our exhibition shows two such devices: Raymond — the designer robot by Lina Kovačević which produces drawings on screen and on paper, and a machine that draws com-positions based on circular forms, constructed by the best known inventor on the Zagreb art-scene — Dubravko Kuhta-Tesla.
Audio works form a separate category at the Device_art exhibition. Berislav Šimičić created a witty audio device in which a microphone is used to produce sound. Ivan Marušić Klif presented an audio-visual performance that incorporated various audio and video devices. Apart from the construction of new instruments and audio events, the method frequently employed by technologicaly-based artists is the customisation of existing instruments. Device_art shows three such works: Borut Savski’s custom-made phonograph, Tomać Pipp’s gas-fuelled organ that produces both sound and fire, and a device by Tomislav Brajnović which is also constructed around a type of organ — the harmonium.
European artists seem to favour the organ as their choice of instrument for customisation — several artists produced a version of the fire organ almost simultaneously. The most famous of these is a work by the Dutch artist Erik Hobijn— his Dante’s organ produces spectacular images and sounds.
The final category shows works incorporating photography and film, like the already mentioned ASCII camera by Vuk Ćosić. Nenad Vukušić-Sebastijan presents an interactive show directed by a “brain” made of programmed technical equipment (cameras and computers). This reinvention of film abolishes the functions of director, screenwriter and actor. The rules for this game (there we go again) were created by some of the worlds’ biggest names in the movie bussines.
Although most of the works at the Device_art exhibition (particularly the works from Croatia) have a witty, poetic or abstract subtext, this doesn’t mean that it is impossible to create socialy important work on this crossroad of art, science and technology. Hopefully, next year’s edition of Device_art will show domestic artists tackling subjects of larger social relevance. And according to the classification in the all-encompasing edition of Information Arts by Stephen Wilson — artificial inteligence, bionics, nanotechnology, biological weapons, artificial life, surveilance, science as information system, invisible corporations, autonomous robots, computer and telephone integration, autonomous flying devices, virtual communities and telecooperation, telepresentability, remote museums, telemedicine, synthetic picture and telecommunication, autonomous software agents, portable computers, smart spaces, houses and highways, generation of synthetic images, automated video interpretation, 3D sound — are just some of these subjects.