bienvenue dans un monde qui pline !
february 2nd 2001
le devoir d'une avant-garde ou d'une arrière-garde ne consiste pas à s'avancer ou à reculer, mais à manœuvrer
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The International Festival of Multimedia Urban Arts
mis en ligne le 02 février 2001
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The International Festival of Multimedia Urban Arts
December 14th - 20th , 2000 - Belfort, France

This multimedia and digital art festival is an ambitious and visionary
undertaking organized by the Pierre Schaeffer Center (CICV) of France and
funded by the French Ministry of Culture. Over 350 artists from 41
countries descended upon the village of Belfort, France. Here’s the tally;
6 theater pieces, 63 installations, 30 performances, 20 cd-rom
presentations, 37 internet sites, 70 videos, and 30 animations. Check out
the tip top web site to get an idea of the breadth of work presented. The
festival compares favorably with other European venues such as Ars
Electronica or the Net Condition show put on by the ZKM in Karlsruhe,
Germany. I was lucky enough to be invited to participate in 2 different
ways. In the section Mark Tribe of rhizome <>
asked me to go in his stead and present rhizomes site and do an off the cuff
remix with the artist Mouchette <>. I was also there
with Peter Sinclair to premiere our new collaborative piece Heartbreak Hotel
<> OK , enough horn tooting.
The festival was partially held in the Novotel in Belfort. An ultra modern
hotel/ convention center that somewhat resembles the TWA Saarinen terminal
in New York. The feeling of the crowds attending the festival reminded me
of the Sci-Fi movie Logans Run. Next door to the Novotel is another large
loft like building housing a choreography center. I was able to catch a
wild theater piece by the US/French troupe , Faim Du Siecle. This involved
dancers in primary color body makeup moving in various geometric containers.
The effect was of archetypal Bhaghdavaghita characters set in minimal
sculpture. The space was enormous. The dancers were being videoed and their
images projected on large screens around the walls. The music was de rigeur
techno. The best bit was a steam contraption that had video projections of
demons floating in the mist. The crowd wandered though the piece and one
male dancer in particular took it upon himself to confront the audience with
aggressive gesturing and positioning.
On the main floor of the Hotel there were a number of installations and a area. American museums might take a cue from the way in which the was presented here. The CICV’s web people designed a minimal browser
interface that allowed one to link out to the web but not shut down the
browser. A back button floating on the screen always returns the browser to
the festivals front page. This solves the problem of people using
installations to check their email. The organizers also understood that free
email and chat are an intrinsic part of a networked environment and they had
a different bank of computers set up for people to check their email and
chat. I didn’t see all the web pieces but I was able to catch Nezvana
Netochka <> nato.O+55 et nebula.m81 presentation,
PAVU.COM <> and of course Mouchette
<>. The New York city crowd were well
represented with sites by MTAA <>, Kevin & Jennifer McCoy
<> Yael Kanarek <>
and Maciej Wisniewski’s alt browser Netomat <> as well
as Jon Ippolito’s peripatetic collaborative piece with Janet Cohen, Frank
Keith and Joline Blais, Adversarial Collaboration. <>. I
mention these because they are the ones most familiar to me. Which brings up
an interesting point about the phenomena. It turns out that a
rather important component of is the web demo remix in which a
person presents a site or several sites to a group of other people. The
demonstration of an aesthetic seems to heighten the appreciation. This is a
sort of low level performance that has the potential to develop in all sorts
of directions, stay tuned for further developments when broadband becomes
My favorite web demo was PAVU.COM. Three representatives from, Jean-Philippe Halgand, Clement Thomas and Paul Dupouy plus DJ028
did a biingual rap/demo accompanied to techno. It was a lot of fun and was
only sullied by the fact that the previous presenter NATO took twice as long
for her/his presentation, which Iwas perhaps the least interesting web
presentation I attended.
Everyone was cheered up by the PAVU.COM crowd who were wearing dayglo fake
fur vests and cheap wrap-around shades. Their site is a sort of napster for
net art and truly innovative in the best communitarian sense of the
internet. They’ve figured out a sort of virtual money system for art
patronage that promises to build into a real alternative system for 21c
digital art. Way good. Two thumbs ups.
Part of the concept of Interferences was to extend the idea of multimedia
arts out into the social fabric of the street and disperse it throughout the
town of Belfort. This was done in a number of striking ways. There were many
projection pieces thrown on the walls of buildings. These tended to be
people talking in confessional tones about relationships. What was
interesting was the idea of externalizing private interior conversations in
a public space via an audio/video projection. Walking past these various
works one was indeed interfered with. One of the more interesting projected
confessional pieces was a work by Anne Vauclair called The Secret.
A peculiarly French phenomena is the nomadic studio. This is where artists
encapsulate their art in a way that it can be transported via caravan.
Folded into this concept is a socialist idea of community art workshops and
outreach programs. This was presented by L’Espace Gantner of Belfort
among other groups. One manifestation by Atelier Nomades was a totally
chopped apart car that had a scaffold structure with video projection
screens and loud speakers presenting art works. This mobile art truck drove
around town during the evenings and was a real upbeat traffic stopper. A
more abstract work was a series of 3d computer generated forms that
playfully greeted people entering the exhibition or passing between the main
Atria to the parking garages where many of the installation an video pieces
were housed.
Installation works using a variety of software and hardware were perhaps the
most interesting part of the whole exhibition. Gebhard Sengmuller did his
Vinyl Video display set-up. This is part spoof on trade show installations
and a bizarre retro application where he creates vinyl lp records to show
video. Two robotic entries were also quite interesting. One from the
L.O.E.I.L workshop at the Ecole D’Art D’Aix-en-Provence’s chief Christian
Soucaret was an inflatable bubble encompassing a mobile robotic projection
device. this beautiful object glided across the floor enticing the audiences
with its ever changing interior video projections. The audience was able to
control the robots movements by dialing a phone number from their mobile
phone and directing the robot with keypad movements (co-creators Aurelian
Oliva, Larent Costa, Marco Joriot, Jean-Pierre Mandon, Antoine Ballasina).
The other from ZKM (Matthias Gomel, Gunther Haffelder, Haitz Martina, Jan
Zappe/ convergence homMACH), a pair of industrial robotic arms that moved
according to emotion sensors placed on a persons head and jugular vein. Most
of the time the robots moved in a fluid ballet except when one subject
received a cell phone call during the demonstration. The ensuing heated
argument caused the robot arms to convulse and flail about wildly in a comic
caricature of mechanical histrionics. Modesty prevents me from talking about
my collaborative piece Heartbreak Hotel but you may access documentation and
a description on line at; <>.
The grand prize winner for installation art was a piece called Atari Noise
by Mexican artist Arcangel Constantini. The piece is a 9 square grid of
TV monitors displaying what looks like animated stripe paintings with
attendant electronic monotones generated by disassembled Atari control
panels. Viewers could step up to a podium with a series of buttons and
change the rhythm, patterns and tones generated. Constantini assembled this
piece by salvaging discarded Atari’s. The piece has a sort of William Gibson
sci-fi sense of the tinkerer artist.
I must stress that this was such a large exhibition for such a short period
of time that it was physically impossible for one person to see all the
pieces many of which are time based. That being said I’d like to talk
performance. Each night a top techno mixer delighted the young audiences
with ambient techno and video mixes in the lobby of the Novotel. Another
location for performances was in the fortress tower of the city walls.
Perhaps the best performance was that of Russian artist Alexei Shulgin. He
also captured first prize in the performance art category for his
performance 386DX, <> Alexi came onstage with a
computer keyboard hanging from a guitar strap slung around his shoulder. He
looked like Joey Ramones of the Ramones punk rock band. A synth voice
announced that the human onstage was merely decoration. after starting up
the first song Alexi pantomimed various guitar playing gestures using the
keyboard as his ersatz axe. A screen behind him pulsed with a cheap
geometric light show animation synchronized to the music. This is one of
those applications one can download from the internet for free. A sort of
kiddie light show. Indeed, the midi sound tracks for each song played are
freely available on the web from pop music midi sites. The first song was a
droll rendition of California Dreamin’ originally done by the Mamas and the
Papas. The male synth voice sang along in the stilted comic manner of
synthetic voice. The high point of the concert was the synth voice singing
the Doors song Light My Fire. Indeed, the whole concert was a string of
mostly American rock hits. The European audience cheered and applauded in
recognition as each subsequent song began. What this points out is a very
sharp analysis of the pervasiveness of American media products throughout
the world. At one point the 386dx band launched into the Sex Pistols song,
Anarchy in the UK. This moved a couple of the audiences young fellows to
start doing faux moshing and slam dancing and yes I know The Sex Pistols
are British.
What I found most intriguing was the subtext of commonailty of experience
created by rock music. This appears to be an epoch just passing and is
currently being replaced by the shared experience of a global internet.
Structurally speaking, Alexei a Russian artists refers to American media but
filters it through both web accessiblilty and a European point of view.
The only comparable festivals in the US are the yearly Siggraph conference
and the Digital Salon hosted by the School of Visual Arts in New York.
Siggraph is a mostly pay as you go trade fair for the computer graphics
industry and The Digital Salon is an interesting venue that is sorely
underfunded (sva covers the costs but thats it).
Interestingly enough, because of the conservative backlash in the US for the
past 15 years most if not all of the art presented at Belfort will never be
seen in the US. This is a consequence of the American congress cutting off
money to the arts or demanding that artists address a specific social
issue such as multiculturalism, under representation or local community
based art projects. Europeans are quite stymied by the fact that America is
viewed as the hi tech wellspring and yet lags behind in venues for
presenting digital art. There are of course efforts by SFMoMA and The
Walker Arts Center to enlarge the arena for the presentation of experimental
digital art which is encouraging. And people in America are watching to see
what develops with John Johson’s digital art museum Eyebeam Atelier. But
so far the Europeans seem to be way out front in the organizing and
presenting of new media art.