Rejane Cantoni is an artist and researcher who focuses on semiotics, human-computer interaction, virtual reality, and the connections between art, science and technology. She works with Leonardo Crescenti in developing interactive installations.
As an artist, how would you evaluate the impact of a competition such as VIDA in the current trends in art? Has it generated more interest towards the intersection between art and science?
Since 1999, VIDA helps artists, scientists and technologists to experiment, explain, describe, express to a large audience, ideas that are exploring new trails and unconventional practices. An incredible important task when we take into account humans need (and hunger) for knowledge.
VIDA awards artistic projects that explore the concept of artificial life. How would you define this concept?
The concept of generating life by unnatural means has a long history. Since the Greek Epoch, the myth of artificial life is present in stories like: Talos, the giant who protected the Greek island of Crete; the golden young ladies of the Hefestos’ frigate; Galatea, the beauty, sculpted in marble, who became alive when her creator treated her kindly; Golem, the earth man, who was blessed with the breath of life by a rabbi; or Pinocchio, the little wooden doll, sculpted by Gepetto.
In computer history, artificial life is frequently associated with the ideas of John von Neumann. In 1954, von Neumann speculated on imitating life in hypothetical experiments. In the first experiment a robot inhabits a lake full of mechanical devices. This robot is a universal constructor. It can gather the properly related parts and build any other machines, including self-replicas. The new hypothetical machines can also produce other machines. Besides the copies, minor arbitrary alterations can cause mutations in the replicas –hence, an evolutionary process, where matrix machines originate other, more complex ones. The second experiment, the ‘cellular automaton’, is a mathematical model of this imaginary factory. A classical example of von Newmann’s ideas is the Game of Life created by John Horton Conway, in the 60’s.
A consensus of what constituted artificial life emerged in 1987, during the First World Conference on Artificial Life (A-Life) at Los Alamos, New Mexico. The researchers stated that an artificial organism is qualified as ‘alive’ if it possesses these 4 capabilities:
1. evolves according to an idea of natural selection;
2. has a program with instructions for operating and reproducing;
3. develops complexity;
4. and engenders self-organization.
The current developments in science and technology are confronting us with unprecedented ways of conceiving life itself. Can art provide a better understanding of the consequences or possibilities brought by these new technologies?
Sure it can, and artists do it through different strategies. In our research, for example, Leonardo Crescenti and I focus on developing and implementing devices that make it possible to transform aspects of complexity from the physical world, from the symbolical world and/or hybrid environments in sensory information that anyone could understand. Practically it means to design and develop devices capable of making it possible for the visitor to experience, perceive and understand, naturally and intuitively, ideas, theories, sensations and/or physical phenomena. It means researching, developing and implementing audio-visual-tactile interfaces centered on the “human being”, interfaces that consider the perceptive and cognitive capacities of the interactor in the face of situations which demand or reflect adjustments in the perception and behavior, such as, for example, time, space, energies, human-human, human-machine or machine-machine communication systems.
Creating an artistic project with custom-made technology is complicated. In your experience, is funding a primary concern when conceiving an art project, or is it more important to acquire the knowledge to be able to develop technological solutions oneself?
It comes all together. To develop and implement audio-visual-tactile interfaces or, if you prefer, immersive and interactive devices that produce images, sounds, smells and haptic sensations in function of the choices of the visitors we use methods, strategies and input coming from all areas of knowledge. In general supports, theories, languages, materials and teams are defined in function of the problem to be confronted. In this process the key questions are: what is the idea? Where will it be implemented, in what space? What is the execution time? How long is the exposition? Who will use it? Who are the interlocutors? Has anyone ever done this before? Has anyone tried to do it? What are the available funds? Among others.
Could you describe three projects from previous editions of the VIDA awards that have been, in your opinion, particularly interesting?
My list is much bigger.
It consists of awarded projects that had evolved and reproduced .
That is a list of projects that I had the opportunity to see and experiment in many places, many times:
La Cour des Miracles
Bill Vorn and Louis Philippe Demers
Christa Sommerer and Laurent Mignonneau
Leandro M. Nuñez
Philip Beesley and Rob Gorbet
Guy Ben-Ary, Philip Gamblen, Peter Gee, Nathan Scott, Brett Murray, Dr. Steve Potter
Cod.Act – Michel and André Décosterd
and, of course,
Rejane Cantoni and Leonardo Crescenti