August's salon at the CAM Project Room

Ursula Endlicher aims to give the flat, screen-based experience of the internet a “physical expression.” She kicked things off with a video of her ‘Website Impersonations – The Ten Most Visited’ project. For, the #2 most visited website that day, Endlicher had dancers interpret the HTML source code of the site live on stage, translating each tag into a movement of their choosing. Along with the audience members, Endlicher entered descriptions of these movements into her “html movement library”. The dancers then re-interpreted the descriptions to create the movements anew. Endlicher’s experiments with translating text to dance reminded me of Bauhaus-era experiments with movement ‘alphabets’ where poses corresponded to letters of the alphabet. But unlike these attempts at a definitive dictionary of pose and movement, Endlicher’s art is participatory, leaving room for interpretation on the part of the performers and the audience.  She earned the biggest laugh for her Facebook Re-Enactments, a virtual residency undertaken through Location One where she re-enacted the Facebook photographs of her collaborators and their namesakes (image above). Presented with a wry humor that verged on absurdity, her work had me wondering what she might do with…

Daniel Beunza gave a raconteur-style history of his collective Derivart. The brainchild of a painter, a programmer, and an academic (Beunza himself), Derivart had its genesis in a bar in Barcelona where drink prices fluctuate like the stock market. Their projects include FinanceSketch, an Etch-A-Sketch that traces real-time stock price charts; a reverse mortgage calculator that grotesquely ages your icon according to how old (or dead) you may be when you finally pay off your mortgage; and Casas Tristes, or Unhappy Houses, a Google Maps mashup displaying vacant houses in Spain that exposes the effects of the housing bubble. Derivart’s projects have had some unexpected responses from the public. Beunza recounted how he received an email from a recent immigrant to Spain who was struggling and had been evicted. She thanked him for providing such helpful information on vacant housing, and requested that he follow up with information on how to break into the houses. This tragicomic story was the perfect summation of Derivart’s projects, which rely on humor but are genuine in their desire for social equity and social change. “Wall Street trades in representations of the economy”, Beunza said, “and we wanted to create our own representations”.

Benton-C Bainbridge was unable to present due to illness (we hope he can join us again soon), so LISA co-founder Scott Draves stepped in with a presentation on his work with open-source generative algorithms. Inspired by a 1991 internship which included unlimited access to a Silicon Graphics supercomputer, Draves created the fractal ‘flame’ algorithm. Described as “the first application of the GPL to art”, the abstract artwork took on a life of its own and became The Electric Sheep, a distributed, collaborative project with thousands of participants, who vote and contribute to the ongoing evolution of the project. The results have turned up in such far-flung locations as a GIMP plugin, a Google Chrome theme, the film The Singularity Is Near, SyFy channel posters, visual attempts to represent string theory, and on the desktops of anyone who installs the Electric Sheep. The name, of course, is an homage to Philip K. Dick’s novel, and Draves describes the output of all the sleeping computers running the program as “a collective android dream.”

Jack Toolin, who is also currently exhibiting at the CAM Project Room, focused on his work with C5’s Landscape Initiative. Sometimes described as “experimental geography”, C5’s landscape projects reflect on the ways in which our perceptions of the world is mediated by technology and data. For ‘The Other Path’, C5 conducted an extensive mapping expedition to the Great Wall of China, and then attempted to locate a corrollary terrain for in the mountains of California. (Apparently they found about half a mile that matched perfectly.) For his project ‘The Perfect View’ he sought input from geocaching enthusiasts, asking them to submit GPS coordinates for places they deemed “sublime”. He then selected 25 locations from the list, and traveled across 33 states and 13,000 miles to document what he found. The documentation is presented in triplicate, as a photograph on the ground, an aerial photograph and a 3D digital image. Some locations were more sublime than others, he reported, and some were rather banal, but all allowed him – via technology – to share someone else’s definition of the sublime. In an era where mapping and GIS coverage  is spreading over the world in increasing detail, his work reflects on what these massive quantities of information may actually teach us, beyond the practical. The map (whether it be a piece of paper, a rapid prototyped terrain or a multi-gigabyte GIS survey) is, still, not the territory.