Digital Art Research Blog

A blog researching the digital art careers of Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau, David Rokeby.

Artificial Life: Christa Sommerer & Laurent Mignonneau, David Rokeby

Sommerer and Mignonneau are an artistic team that have been collaberating on projects together since 1992. The focus of their work is Artificial Life and interactive computer installations. Although I couldn't find anything about their personal backgrounds or childhoods, Laurent attended university in France and Christa attended university in Vienna, Austria as well as in Newport, United Kingdom. They lived in several cities in Japan and were visiting researchers in Illinois, USA. Sommerer was originally a biology(botany) student at the University of Vienna and then received a masters degree in modern sculpture and art education at Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. She completed her PhD degree at the University of Wales College of Art in Newport, United Kingdom.Mignonneau received a masters degree in modern art and video art at the “Ecole des Beaux Arts� in Angouleme, France and later went on to finish his PhD degree at the University of Kobe Japan. Right now they are both professors heading the Department for Interface Culture at the Institute for Media at the University of Art and Design in Linz, Austria. According to Christa her job as an artist is to look at technology from a more social/cultural point of view that scientists often don't think about.

Some of the pieces done by Sommerer and Mignonneau:
1) "Interactive Plant Growing" 1992-1997 is a computer-based piece that was developed using special algorithms. The installation involves 5 different real plants sitting on columns in front of a 4x3 meter video projection screen. The way the human touches the real plants affects the way the plants on the computer screen grow. The human touch determines color, size, appearance, rotation, and positions of the plants on the screen. Since it takes the interactive viewer some time to figure all the different ways he/she can alter the digital plant through touching the real plant it hopefully will result in the person developing a higher sensitivity and awareness for the real plants in nature.
2)"A-Volve" is another interactive environment created by Sommerer and Mignonneau between 1994 and 1997. It's a blue water-filled glass pool and the visitor can almost play God in a way by creating a virtual ecosytem. The viewer starts out by drawing any shape onto a touch-screen located next to the pool. This 2-d shape is immediately changed into a 3-d shape and is now a creature in the pool o its as if the viewer actually created, or gave birth, to this creature. The way the creature moves in the pool and interacts with the water is dependent on its shape. The pool follows all the rules of a real animal environment. There are predators and prey. Creatures that are not able to move well quickly become prey. Two strong animals can reproduce together and create a new creature, or a mutation. The viewer is allowed to interact with the animals. They can capture them in their hands or they can protect the weaker creations from the predators or they can push the virtual creatures together to promote mating.
-View the artist's work

David Rokeby was born in Tillsonburg, Ontario in 1960, making him 45 years old. He is a sound and video installation artist based in Toronto, Canada. Although Rokeby's works have been shown in exhibits all over the world. He has lived in Canada his entire life. David Rokeby graduated with honors in Experimental Art from the Ontario College of Art in 1984. The technology that Rokeby developed for his best known work, Very Nervous System (1986-1990) is now widely used by composers, choreographers, musicians, and artists. It is also being used in music therapy applications and is currently being tested for people suffering from Parkinson's Disease as an activity enabler.

Some of the pieces Rokeby has done lately:
1)"Very Nervous System" was done between 1982 and 1990 and is probably Rokeby's most well known isntallation winning several awards and being used in people's everyday lives as I stated above. According to the artist himself he created this piece out of contrariness. He wanted it to be with computers but to deal with things that aren't normally associated with computers such as intimacy and body-interaction. He used video cameras, image processors, computers, synthesizers, and a sound system to create a space in which the movements of the viewer's body creates sound/music. For instance, if the viewer moves their arm down and to the left, it's a completely different sound than if they raise their right hand above their head and leap backwards. Every movement creates a different sound and it's all happening in real time.
2)"Sorting Daemon" created in 2003 is a site specific installation commissioned by the Goethe Institut Toronto for their "Surveillance Terrorism Democracy" program in the spring of 2003. Rokeby was inspired to do this piece because of his concerns with profiling people using automated systems as part of the "war on terrorism" and to raise questions about the appropriate usage of technology. The installation consists of a camera that pans, tilts, and zooms across the street outside looking for moving images that might be a person. When it locates one it takes the image out of its background and portrays it on a screen inside of the museum where the person's movement can be monitored by the visitors to the museum.
-View the artist's work

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The first pair of artists are doing some really interesting things in their area of work. They're the not the first artists to work with the theme of the environment, but the ways that they are getting their ideas across is completely innovative. They seem like they would draw the viewer in and keep the occupied long enough to teach them something.

Rokeby's work is also pretty neat. "Very Nervous System" sounds like a great piece to experience. I could see myself interacting with it for hours just to see what I could produce by chance.

I think it's really interesting that they are using nature with technology. It's kind of ironic but we often try to control nature with machines. It makes you think about the future and what might be out there when technology gets so advanced it could give birth to something living.

I was happy to find it!
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