Posts Tagged ‘robots’

Art that explores questions raised by modern society – about privacy, surveillance culture….

September 23rd, 2012

STANZA’s art explores questions raised by modern society – about privacy, surveillance culture, and who owns the data that is regularly collected about all of us – often using modern technologies to create his pieces. Since he first started exhibiting his works in 1984, STANZA has strived to create cutting edge art that deals with current issues. In the process he has won several impressive awards, including an AHRC arts fellowship, and has seen his work featured in over 50 different exhibitions globally.

Ahead of a installation of one of his works “Capacities” in Ghent, Belgium in September, Solomon Radley met with him, in front on a computer monitor at his studio in South London, to talk in depth about what he does over coffee.

Hey, how’s it going? Would you begin by telling me a bit about what you do?

STANZA: The things that I’m interested in are ‘surveillance space’, which is the idea of the city as having become a panopticon – this idea that we’re in a prison and we can be observed at all times, from all perspectives, all at once, and particularly in real time.

I use various technologies to do that, like CCTV and wireless sensor networks. Over the years, firstly I’ve developed a strong understanding of what these technologies can do in terms of learning about them, but also I’m having to develop for them, so I’ve learned how to develop hardware and software. You may think I’m a technologist – I see myself as a creative technologist, and I also see that artists are engineers, so they have to understand the technologies that they use, and the mediums that they use in order to get output.

To bring that into perspective, we can look at some artworks…

Sure thing. Would you expand on your thought that the city is a sort of prison?

STANZA: Urban Generation is a piece I did in relation to this idea of the city being a panopticon. Let’s say, in modernist terms, an artist would go out and collect assets – he might use a recording device or a camera – it would be a still, linear asset, and it would never change. It’s possible to actually conceive of the city as a moving physical entity, moving forward in time all the time. How is it possible to use new technologies to actually gain a representation of this, and use it in a culturally meaningful way?

Urban Generation attempts to imagine the world from everyone else’s perspective all at once. If I’m giving a talk, what I try and do is – to illustrate the conceptual shift – I say: “I’d like you to close your eyes, and I’d like you to imagine yourself in a place in London. I’m going to do the same and I’m going to take a single mental snapshot, and I’d like you all in the room to take your single snapshot. Now, I’d like you to imagine the view of the people sitting next to you to your left and to your right, so you have three images multiplied together. There’s 300 people in the room; I’d like you to merge all of these 300 images together. And now not like a film, (because if we used a film we’d be recording the same images) what I’d like you to do is to move these images forward in real time.”

This is the idea I’m trying to capture with this piece of work.

A lot of your work is concerned with the question of who owns the information that is regularly collected about people, and with re-claiming that information. Tell me about this idea.

STANZA: I make artworks that arise from my research into these themes – the themes being ‘control space’ and ‘surveillance space’ and issues with privacy. What I’m doing, which is sort of new ground, is that I’m hacking access to a network and re-appropriating the data and information, and I’m re-contextualizing to give it a wider meaning. I want to show that you can do something positive with this data.

Other works where I’m interested in the control and ownership of data include this website called GenoMixer, where I fully sequenced my blood. In a sense this looks like artist self-portraiture, but I was interested in thedomain space – the public domain space – that’s inside our bodies.

We have this huge line of code – 3.3 billion letters – and it basically has an economic value. The proposal here is to IPO (Initial Public Offering) the project on the stock market, and to give everyone a share of the derivable intellectual royalties. For example, if somebody else wanted to investigate your DNA in a medical program they’d have to pay you. If some other company discovered the cancer gene because you were on the police forensic database you could say “No it’s copyrighted – it’s on the GenoMixer database”.

It just so happens that I also made a series of self-portraits with them…

One of the most obvious types of information that is commonly collected about the general public is video images gathered by CCTV, and this is something you often look at. What are your thoughts about CCTV?

STANZA: Let’s look at “Urban Generation – trying to imagine the world from everyone else’s perspective, all at once“. What we’ve got here is: each square on this four-by-four grid is making calls to over 100 cameras in London in real time. This is a parallel reality, using live network data to re-appropriate it over the network and use it for something else. For example, this could be used as an extension on landscape painting.

Why this has become quite interesting, and the reason I mention these modernist aspects that are fixed, is that this work is never the same. You could look at it even now, on a different monitor, and it would be different: It’s not the Mona Lisa – where every time you look at the work you experience the same thing – there’s an added problem here.

Another interesting question here is: Is what we’re looking at the artwork? On July 7th in 2005 they switched this entire network off because of the terrorist attacks. Well my system still worked, it’s just that the output – which is what connects a viewer to the system – is shifted.

This [Public Domain Responsive Architecture Facade] is the same concept using CCTV, observing the whole of the city but making it transparent. Why would you want to make your movements open and transparent? Why would you want to let CCTV be seen by everybody? This is a building with its outer surfaces displaying images that are embedded in the city – all the stuff on the outside of the building is shifting in terms of the real time properties of that city. In a sense, you (as the observed individual) become part of the building and part of the city, and this opens up the idea of transparent architecture and transparent space.

Public Domain is another work along the same theme, where I gave CCTV cameras away to members of the public, to open up this idea of CCTV networks. People sometimes say that they’ve got nothing to hide, and to nothing to fear…I think that’s a problematic statement. I’m not coming down on a particular side of the fence here, but it seems to me that we’ve opened Pandora’s box, and there’s a whole series of legislative and ethical issues that aren’t being addressed.

Hopefully what I’m doing in these artworks is to draw attention to the fact that there’s a whole series of potential problems that we’re walking in to.

You also play with collected data, which you use to create interactive works or installations where real-time changes are caused by environmental factors…

STANZA: We’ve already looked at my CCTV system. There’s another one, which uses wireless sensors/wireless nodes. You scatter them across the city, and they talk to each other in a network grid.

This research started in 2004 as a result of an AHRC grant that I was awarded, and I was trying to find a system I could use as open source hardware and software, that would monitor the whole city space. I’ve scattered these sensors around a city to generate visualisations and sonifications in various cities. For my first project [Sensity] they were output onto a visual globe.

So, now what I was interested in doing is looking at this real time data, that’s now everywhere, and seeing if I could do something else with it – if I could make art with it.

Equally, in Sonicity I deliberately put a whole load of speakers on the floor and connected them all up to make it look like a map, and somewhere else (in another part of the world) that data is being collected from my network and being spat out onto the internet via an XML stream. In arty terms, maybe I’m “painting with data” – the data has become the medium. With this data I’m painting a sonification of the real time landscape.

The second thing I was trying to think about, as part of this thinking process, was all the stuff that’s being collected about us – not just my data, but tax data and medical records – which could be used because of the way it changes and shifts from one thing to the next to power other events:

With CapacitiesI made…let’s call it a sculpture…a sculpture of computer parts that looks like a city, and would be powered by events changing somewhere else in real time. In this version of Capacities, all the lights and fans, and all the parts that change, do so because of other things happening in the world in real time.

The reason I’m trying to do that is that there seem to be other values that people are missing in terms of the things that are happening to us, and the world, in real time. We’ve become bodies residing in a ‘data space’. Everything around us is the data space and by default we interact with it – even small movements displace millions of atoms.

I conceive of this post-modern world in which movements are just moving a series of 0s and 1s. I can measure the 0s and 1s that I’m displacing by moving around. This interactive process is embedded in the work by default.

Visitors to a Gallery… is quite an important work, in that it opens up the gallery space as an artwork. For example, these two people that are pictured aren’t actually in this room – they’re in another room in another part of the gallery, so they’re embedded in the artwork that you’re viewing. Everybody in the architectural space becomes part of the artwork, and this happens in real time – it’s not recorded, and it’s not a film. So I utilize the technology in the space (the CCTV system).

Secondly, what’s happening here is that there are a series of proximity sensors that affect this as an algorithm – as you walk around this space all of these images oscillate/vibrate slightly.

So when you’re in the room, viewing this artwork, you’re at the same time generating an artwork for someone else in another room?

STANZA: And you’re in the work you’re viewing yourself, through your interaction with the sensors.

That’s also happening in Seeing Through Walls, where there are little cameras and monitors, so you become embedded in the same artwork as it’s being broadcast live, or in this piece where you can see through to people on the other side of the wall.

I was actually in a Greek club where they had something like that – the mirrors in the toilet let you see yourself, but also the women doing their makeup in the adjacent toilets…

STANZA: Ha! No wonder their ecomony’s gone down the pan…

Moving on from that, my work splits into this idea of using real time networks and investigating different ways of interacting with public space.

Here’s a strange project called The Binary Graffiti Club, where I got a load of people to dress up in hoodies with 0s and 1s on their backs, and they go round the city making binary graffiti – painting little coded messages onto the city.

Anything in particular?

STANZA: Well…no. I don’t want to be too specific about this, because… Well here’s a piece going back to the DNA project (the open source bit). If you sit in the gallery for…this has been online for seven years: If it was exhibited in a gallery you could get my open source DNA, and you could go off and replicate me, but it changes a letter once every second so you’d have to sit there for 104 years with a pen and paper. The same is true of the binary graffiti club – if you want to know what the message is, you have to sit there and transcribe it and translate it.

One letter from STANZA’s DNA code – the letters are shown in order, one per second for the 104 year project

This led from another piece of work – A City of Bits – as well as this performance that was laid down in the form of this sushi: I invited 12 people, after the disciples, and asked them to come and eat this coded sushi message. So, this is a coded message that they eat, and then they all put their own message back into a jar which I’ve now destroyed. I’ve transcribed those messages here…

You have a performance coming up in Texas soon – tell me a bit about what you’ll be doing.

STANZA: In Soundcities, using a recording device, I’ve been to all these different cities, recording sounds which are attached to Google Maps, and you can visit lots of cities in the world…

The key to this is the database; you can see the sounds, arranged in different categories, and you can create a performance by picking a selection of them and building up rhythms. This is what I do with my performances, except I have the same thing on a couple of machines, and I might mix it with sounds from churches, etc. It’s basically a live world tour of city sounds as music: the machines are connected to a mixing desk, images are coming from the website projects.

During the eight years I’ve been doing these performances, they’ve been heavily focused on the sounds of cities, the database live and soundmaps.

So this database can be used in performances, but the key here is that the database is open source, and other people can contribute to this community of sounds. There’s lots of other projects that have come from this, but the most important bit is this. This XML feed shows the sound, and its longitude/latitude, and although this is just a line of code it basically means that anyone else can use this to write their own apps.

What I’m doing that’s unique here is: it’s like an artist of the past allowing someone into their studio to work in parallel with them.

Drones and Surveillance

February 27th, 2009

Image of new Police CCTV gear.

Remote-controlled drones are already used widely by the military. And they are coming to a city near you.

Now ministers believe they are likely to become ‘increasingly useful’ for police work. Armed with heat-seeking cameras, the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles would hover hundreds of feet in the air, gathering intelligence and watching suspects.In theory, their advantages are clear. They are cheaper and quieter than conventional helicopters, can circle their target for hours without refuelling – and they don’t get bored on long surveillance missions. The plan to deploy ‘spy in the sky’ planes is outlined in the Home Office’s latest Science and Innovation Strategy. It says: ‘Unmanned Aerial Vehicles are likely to be an increasingly useful tool for police in the future, potentially reducing the number of dangerous situations the police may have to enter and also providing evidence for prosecutions and support police operations in “real time”.Two years ago, Tony McNulty, then a Home Office minister, acknowledged that scientists were exploring the use of UAV technology for a ‘range of policing and security applications’. But the document cautions: ‘We need to investigate how such vehicles could be used, and their ability to provide high-quality evidence for convictions.’ There are also safety concerns surrounding the planes. Those used by the military are prone to crashes on takeoff and landing. Many have been lost over battlefields.

A trial by Merseyside police, of £30,000 ( not inc training costs)  remote-controlled miniature helicopters with still, video or infra-red cameras, highlighted more mundane problems related to battery life and the effects of bad weather on flights. Mark Wallace, of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: ‘I think a lot of people would be concerned at the Home Office looking to use technology more generally associated with the tribal borders of Pakistan and the fight against terror over British towns to watch the British public. The flying robo-constable is also “almost silent” in use, and “allows entirely covert operation”.The distributor spokesman said the aircraft are “military derived…obviously I can’t talk too much about that particular use…they are essentially reconnaissance tools.” Since the microdrone isn’t listed among those used by the regular military, this might indicate that the British special forces have taken an interest in the diminutive stealth-chopper, perhaps in a counter-terrorism role.

This would fit in with the Merseyside police reported plans to test it in firearms operations, as well as for more mundane tasks such as monitoring traffic congestion and crowds. So the CCTV revolution continues unabated. Liverpool has gone from Jamie Bulger ( CCTV abduction)  to aerial surveillance and still big brother and the mother of big brother uses money that  could be better spent elsewhere.

Still, as with all things wireless there are workarounds and if you have to  find one lying on the concrete in Bootle its sure to fetch a nice price on Ebay.

Tracking Robots

February 15th, 2009
Copyright Image by Stanza

Copyright Image by Stanza.Tracking robots over time in my studio. 2006

I have twelve robots now with gps. Here is a camera tracking experiment using max to  following the traces of the robots.  I am now using gps on the robots  via the motes to  track them in real time outside.

“Robotica­- Control inside the panopticon” by Stanza

November 11th, 2008
Copyright Image by Stanza

Copyright Image by Stanza: Robots making paintings. 2008.

A world premier of Stanza’s Robotica: Control inside the panopticon playful robot installation – with performative and interactive aspects – that questions ideas of surveillance and tracking in popular culture using, robots, CCTV and sensor technologies.

Twelve robots – each named after prison inmate numbers – roam freely on a canvas on the floor of the Gallery. These robotic prisoners are sent out across the canvas with small tasks to complete. This robotic “wandering” is captured over the evening onto the canvas. They create their own painting in their own little prison. The idea of the Panopticon originated with the English utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham as a prison design that would allow an observer to monitor all the prisoners at all times, without any prisoner being aware of whether he was being monitored or not.Like people, robots have common behaviours and can be programmed accordingly i.e. robots can follow a path (path following mode), the can avoid obstacles (avoidance mode) and they can operate in wander mode. They all try to avoid one another – depending on their proximity to one another – while searching the space. In doing so they demonstrate social behaviour.

In moving through the gallery people create a ‘memory space’- a reference to a past created by the traces and paths left behind. The patterns we make, the forces we weave, reveal different ways of moving through the space. These patterns disclose new ways of seeing the world. All the robots are recorded via CCTV and each is made to wear CCTV which is shown on a monitor which also records the event. Police “tape” keeps the robots inside their controlled space. The robots mimic and trace the patterns people make – but based on algorithms. The robots are tracked – everything is watched and recorded – and unlike people their movements can be networked into retrievable data structures that it can be re-imagined and sourced for information. The digital patterns of the robots are re-made as analogue patterns. The robot path is in effect replaced with a series of ‘brushes’ – and it is these that are wandering around the canvas. A series of actions are applied to the movement of the digital brush across the rectangular canvas to create these robotic generative paintings.

This artwork investigates the relationship between the analogue and the digital aesthetic. The robots wander over the canvas to make the image – and this also protects the floor. The suggested canvas size 2.5 by 5m – and therefore a reasonable floor space is needed. All the robots will see the edges of the canvas and turn around automatically) i.e. they are roped off and will not go wandering off on their own!

Stanza at V&A: Robotica – Control Inside the Panopticon. Robot paintings 2008

November 11th, 2008

V&A Presents Cold War Modern Friday 31 October 2008 Join us for an evening to celebrate the exhibition, Cold War Modern: Design 1945–1970. Cybersonica and Cybersalon showcase an evening of progressive electronic music and audiovisual performance, accessible interactive and digital art, thought-provoking screenings and classic and contemporary gaming.

In more detail:Stanza: Robotica – Control Inside the Panopticon. Gallery 47f or Sackler. 18.30-21.45

Stanza: Robotica – Control Inside the Panopticon

The idea of the Panopticon originated with the English utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham – as a prison design that would allow an observer to monitor all the prisoners at all times without any prisoner being aware of whether he was being monitored or not.

Twelve robots – each identified with a prison inmate number – roam freely on a canvas on the floor. These robotic prisoners are sent out across the canvas with small tasks to complete. Police “barrier tape” keeps the robots inside their controlled space. The robots are tracked – everything is watched and recorded since each robot wears a wireless CCTV camera – and shown on a monitor as a record of the event.

Like people, robots have common ‘modes’ and can be programmed to demonstrate social behaviour. The robots mimic and trace the patterns people make based on algorithms – but unlike people their movements can be networked into retrievable data structures that it can be re-imagined and sourced for information.

The digital patterns of the robots are re-made as analogue patterns. The robot path is in effect replaced with a series of ‘brushes’ – and it is these that are wandering around the canvas. Their “wanderings” over the evening are captured onto the canvas. They create their own robotic generative paintings in their own little prison.

Stanza robot paintings 2008

Stanza robot paintings 2008