Sputniko! interview: “I just can’t stop crossing borders”

Sputniko! is an artistic name based both on technology (Sputnik) and surprise (o!): and that is in some way a good definition for her work too, mixing design, technology, art and many other disciplines to cause our amazed surprise and constant delight. Hiromi Izaki, real name of Sputniko!, mathematician by career and artist by profession, seduced us with the softness of her manners and the strength of her ideas during our conversation at Sónar +D Barcelona. An Assistant Professor at renowned MIT Media Lab, while keeping her allure of “Woman of the Year 2013” by Vogue Japan Magazine, she shared with us her thoughts about technology, design, art, pop culture, and society in the world to come.

P.N. You are constantly mixing different areas from video to music to technology: how do you like to define your creations and installations? Is that wide mixing of techniques something deliberate to enhance your message, or just a way to feel comfortable to develop your work?

S. If I need to explain what I do and why I work with so many media, also working with many different genres of people, I think that artist would be a very convenient word that covers everything for me. I guess the reason why I work in so many different formats is that I have always been a hybrid, I grew up mixing techniques. I like just working with different ideas and genres because it give me an inspiration. I just can’t stop crossing borders, I just like it.

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RE.WORK Berlin 2014 – Day Two

RE.WORK Technology Summit was held during two days in Umweltforum (Environmental Forum). This church venue, situated near Berlin Alexanderpatz, is over a hundred years old and has been renovated with high-spec environmental technology.

Day Two opened with the Start-Up Stage. From the six participating start-up companies, all of them with interesting proposals, we highlighted the Berlin-based start-up LUUV, who presented a “bits and atoms” project looking very promising. They are aimed to produce and market the first 3D-Printed plug & play camera stabilizer for smart phones and action cameras, that allows to everybody to shoot steady footage at any time. Now, they are in a prototype stage and “looking for hardware-loving investors”.

Following the Start-Up Stage, Béatrice Marquez-Garrido presented us Future and Emerging Technologies (FET), an EU-backed funding programme whose mission is discovering new technologies with an emphasis on inter-disciplinary, collaborative and high-risk projects. During her brief presentation, she showed some innovative projects where FET is working on as the computer-controlled brain stimulation technology HIVE and the new generation of neuroprostheses Brain Bow. A call is open to submit novel ideas for radical new technologies.

“Meet the New Makers” session gathered to three noted speakers: Ronen Kadushin, Peter Troxler and Sebastien Bourdeauducq, discussing about topics as Open Design, Maker movement and Open Source. 

Starting this session, the Israeli, Berlin-based industrial designer Ronen Kadushin enthusiastically talked about Open Design, to which he defined as design behaving as software. He also regarded Open Design as an opportunity for industrial design “to join to the network” and be part of “the cutting-edge society”.

Ronen Kadushin comparing designers and makers at RE.WORK
Ronen Kadushin comparing designers and makers at RE.WORK Berlin 2014

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RE.WORK Berlin 2014 – Day One

RE.WORK is a far-reaching proposal for all those who are interested in how new technologies will affect our lives and business. It is organized in diverse cities during the year, bringing some of the most promising professionals and researchers on diverse high-tech areas. Last week we joyfully attended RE.WORK Technology Summit in Berlin: the easy-going nature of the city fitted so well with the relaxed, comfortable atmosphere of the gathering. It was the evidence that breakthrough ideas can be spread cleverly as well as peacefully.

First exciting proposal of the day came with Jamie Paik, contributor on École Polytechnique Fédérale de Laussanne and Harvard Microbotics Laboratory, who introduced us into the polymorphic universe of soft robotics. Robots’ softness can be extrinsic (by the way it is designed) or intrinsic (by the material chosen): they are conceived to act there where people or hard robots can’t reach, with a high level of accuracy. This research area is demonstrating itself highly useful in many different applications, as the soft robots are more adaptive, multi-tasked and re-purposed than the “harder” versions. They are ready to revolutionize many professional fields: from comfortable exoskeletons to exploratory robots, soft-robots can be an essential tool in the future. For a more graphic explanation, this video from Harvard University is really eyeopening:

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Collecting Data from One’s Own: an interview with Daito Manabe

After his enthralling speech at Sónar +D, we were eager to have the chance of speaking closely with internationally renowned artist Daito Manabe. A multi-faceted creator, so many are his specialties that it is difficult to name them all: programmer, designer, VJ, researcher, technologist … Seeing his cutting-edge projects succeeding one another, it seems that a perpetual storm must occur inside his head. Nevertheless, face to face and with the company of his translator, Daito Manabe was a calm and collected man, with warm manners and fresh thoughts.

P.N. With so many facets of your creativity running on your trajectory, which is the one that would define you better? An artist, an engineer, a researcher?

D.M. I really don’t mind, I tend not to label myself. Actually I spent most of my time programming…

P.N. Your researches and inventions involving motility are really a bright step forward. Are you planning to apply them in implementations for everyday life, for instance using them with therapeutic purposes?

D.M. I’m open to work for any purpose. I have not a license as a doctor, but I will be completely open to work with some. I’m doing anything that keeps me interested, and that would be interesting too: so if someone ask me, I will be glad to explore that practical application.

P.N. Your works are always filled with technical challenges. Which technical problems use to hinder your projects?

D.M. Usually most difficulties come from non-existing hardware, as software is easier for me to develop. Sometimes it is difficult to control: for instance, on the physical electrical stimulus you can’t see everything on the screen, as the real impact of the power you are administering, so these are really important issues.

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Sonar + D – Day Three

The last day of Sónar +D Creativity & Technology Conference was maybe a quieter one, with less talks and workshops. Anyway, we discovered some really interesting stuff.

Data Cuisine, Helsinki-born research project by Moritz Stefaner and Susanne Jaschko, was one of the most surprising projects presented during these three days. Using food as a medium, they represent data and tell stories from the local context where food is cooked.  On stage, they presented the results of a 4-day workshop done at Barcelona as part of the CCCB’s Big Bang Data exhibition. Expressing data on a physical medium beyond the screen, they managed to get our attention on important issues as the unemployement rate or the state of scientific research in our country.

Moritz Stefaner and Susanne Jaschko from Data Cuisine on stage
Moritz Stefaner and Susanne Jaschko from Data Cuisine on stage

We missed the Friday live demo of Belgian creative studio Superbe but on Saturday we visited them at their stand at the MarketLab to know about the two products they presented at Sónar +D: Geometric Music is an app that enables to make music with sounds you record in a very intuitive fashion by using geometric forms and colors. On the other side, Minimom are Arduino-based little boxes to play with 8-bits recorded sounds. There are different models with different functions . By combining some of these little boxes you can have a physical experience and create real music. Superbe is also working on a prototype with more advanced features.

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Sonar +D – Day Two

On Friday, as music at Barcelona’s Sónar Advanced Music Festival stages kept sounding non-stop, we had the chance of attending some cutting-edge presentations on the frontier between art and technology at Sónar +D.

The first stimulating proposal of the day came from Japanese artist/designer Sputniko!. Now working as Assistant Professor at MIT Media Lab for the Design Fictions Group, she is also a highly renowned pop-culture personality in Japan, with a wide expertise as developer of hybrid projects addressed to question boundaries between technology and everyday life.

Coining the term “New Pop”, she talked about the importance of creating controversial works and challenging proposals using the power of new media, specially the social ones. In her experience, you can develop an influential position as a popular figure and take it to make a difference through insightful projects with an actual meaning.

She usually makes known her innovative projects through music video-clips full of imagination and humor. Sputniko! exposed some of her more celebrated works, as the Menstruation Machine, a device which simulates the symptoms of menstruation for those who wear it. Also, she talked about her Lunar Girl project with space agency NASA, a project meant to approach young girls to space sciences.

A real designer for debate, Sputniko! gently shared with PostDigital Node some other thoughts in an interview that we will publish in the following days.

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Sónar +D – Day One

Besides the internationally renowned Sónar Advanced Music Festival, simultaneously this week Barcelona celebrates Sónar +D, a Creativity & Technology event, where some of the most cutting-edge artists and researchers get together in a wondrous kaleidoscope of highly talented people. Eager to know new stunning proposals, we were there from its Day One.

Our first discovering was the successful Belfast-born project Patchblocks , programmable mini-synth modules that caused a backing storm at Kickstarter. It has everything to delight inquiring musical minds: it is modular, it is funny and it is open. These modular synth units can be joined as puzzle pieces, and even they can be plugged to other musical instruments and gadgets, creating a wide range of sounds. Just “playing” with them, you realize the incredible variety of possibilities that these low-fi artifacts provide you, in a nearly-infinite constellation of combinations. There is a strong emphasis on the community side of the project, to share experiences and sounds. The perfect instrument to turn a musician into a maker!

After this, Andy Goodman and John Alexiou discussed about new trends on wearable devices, with witty statements like “In wearables importance is not on the device, but on the experience”. Andy Goodman, from the design agency Fjord, placed wearables on their very initial stage, remarking the issues their development still implies: recharge difficulties, tricky use of too small screens, and ugly appearance. He pointed out the great importance of the evolution of materials as the real way to improve actual wearables: to insert an electronic artifact on a textile piece, he said, doesn’t seem to him as interesting as making the materials of the textile piece fulfill a given function. “There’s no a killer app in wearables yet”, he stated.  Would it ever appear?

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