Floating Structure: A Platform for Artistic Measurements and Research
This text is the preliminary outcome of a research project going back to 2003/2004 and developed jointly by Franz Xaver and Armin Medosch. It has a theoretical and artistic dimension as well as an activist one. At the point of its inception stood questions relating to the crisis of art in informational capitalism. The project sets out to bring some clarifications by word and deed about the relationships between art and technology, art and science and the role of the artist at the beginning of the 21st Century.
A first step was the conception of the Waves exhibition and its realisation in Riga 2006 and Dortmund 2008. Parallel to that a long term research project was started into paradigm changes in media art and the relationship between art, technology and social change. Practical and experimental work was done by fitting out the MS Franz Feigl as a research vessel and by working with wireless technologies and energy systems.
The first prototype, MS Franz Feigl
This culminated into the two months research residency Liquid Territories at Laboral, Gijon. This text is a shortened version of a research report written after the end of the residency in German. The project gained new urgency through the adaptation of the vessel Eleonore as a research platform. The Eleonore is currently lying in the winter harbour at the river Danube in Linz and through its ongoing adaptation the project has come a good deal closer to realisation.
The autonomous artistic measurement ship Eleonore in the harbour in Linz. Some more images and documentation (in German) by Franz Xaver Eleonore@stroem.ungat
Floating structure is conceived as a swimming platform for conducting artistic, theoretic and curatorial work, blurring the boundaries between those areas and opening up new areas for artistic explorations. The project proceeds along a close link between practical and theoretical work thereby developing new experimental methodologies.
In a first step a set of parameters, restraints and requirements was developed, defining the basic range of possibilities for the project. These are:
The floating structure should be an autonomous system, that is, in particular it should be independent of energy which it does not produce itself. It should use renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and wave energy and it must not use more energy than it can produce itself.
The floating structure should allow people to live on it. It should serve as a basic habitat which allows people to live and work there, if only for limited periods.
The floating structure should be capable of producing food and water. While aiming at full autarky, it is also okay if it does that only to a certain degree in an initial test phase.
The floating structure should be able to communicate with its environment. It should be able to produce and process data about its immedeate environment and communicate with the outside world. (This was originally conceived as a sort of status report, a daily transmission of data about its 'being' in the world; this has been extended considerably, see section on measurements below.)
The floating structure should meet all the requirements of safety on water and it should peacefully coexist with its environment causing no damage or pollution in the short and long term.
The floating structure should serve as a base for artists who both collaborate in the building of the floating structure and its usage as a medium of artistic research.
The floating structure should be built at minimum cost using pre-existing parts and recycling technologies where possible.
Prototype 1, MS Franz Feigl, radar reflector and solar panel, 2007
As it became clear that the floating structure is a long term project which implies mobilising considerable resources, a complimentary project was conceived. In a first phase a research buoy could be built. This buoy should fulfil a minimal set of requirements. It should also be energy autonomous, conduct some measurements and communicate with the enviornment. The buoy could be equipped with WLAN (5.2 - 5.6 GHz), a sonar, GPS, webcam, a power saving linux board and a set of sensors for water salinity, wind and air humidity; it also needs a radar reflector and should provide optical warning signs for swimmers and water vehicles. The research buoy should be built first as a proof of concept. As it turns out, a research buoy is currently being built at Stadtwerkstatt, Linz, in parallel to the adaptation of the Eleonore which both can be expected to be operational by summer 2010.
Proof of concept: the project needs to be realised at whichever level to provide proof of concept; it needs to be shown that it makes sense that artists engage with the uncertainty of water and waves to enrich the vocabulary of arts. Theoretic speculation and book knowledge is not enough.
Water and Information: Water is not only the basis of life, it was also created at or shortly after the moment of the Big Bang. Nowadays, in the information society, "information" is considered the most important "raw material". In the current economy, characterised as informational capitalism, information has taken on a very dangerous dimension. Information technologies are at the heart of the surveillance society and financial markets. Information technologies are developing a powerful grip on markets, natural resources and human subjectivities. Is there a possibility of relating the concept of information - based on information theory (Shannon and Weaver 1948) - with water? Water is said to be capable of storing information, but only for nanoseconds. This property is based on the structure of the water molecule which serves as an electrical dipole. Could this capacity be expanded or further explored? This property of water is also linked with myths about water in different cultures where, for example, water is seen as a two-sided mirror, through which another reality can be reached (there are of course many other myths about water; those myths can be more systematically collected as one axis of research).
The floating structure serves as an artificial coastline, a borderline between land and water, nature and culture. By creating the floating structure an aquatic civilisation is postulated. Water covers 9/10s of earth's surface.Not the outer universe, the oceans are the final frontier. We need to engage with this 'borderline' where water and information meet. Thus, the borderline is not conceived as a strict separation but rather as a crossing, a meeting point, a zone of transitions - a line whose full meaning we have not yet understood. In information theory information is created by difference, out of redundancy. Art is also redundant, insofar as it does not create any use value. Can artistic engagement with water break the hegemony of informational capitalism? Can we gain new insights by studying the borderline as a zone of various transitions? Is the floating structure as an object a sort of a semi-conductor?
The floating structure will be equipped with underwater loudspeakers to transmit sounds responding to the rise and fall of stock markets.
Art, Money, Information: the artwork has no financial value before it enters the market. Certain strands of contemporary art in the 1960s can be understood as a move to avoid market capitalisation. Some artists came close to complete de-realisation. Was this an early warning about the onslought of information? Is it possible to create redundancy, to 'undo' information?
A map of Asia or just some stones at the beach in Asturias, North West Spain?
Some further ideas:
Would it be possible to build the floating structure without digital technologies? Could we find systems of information and energy storage without using computers? Which other possibilities exist, hydraulic, cybernetic, analog? Would it be feasible to make wave energy machines, kinetic art, artificial icebergs (Wesley machines)
Would it be feasible to revert the paradigm of interactive art and completely exclude the public from the floating structure? Could the floating structure claim souvereignty as a state?
Measurements and Experiments
Taking measurements as an artistic process as well as energy, water and food production are key areas to be researched. One wide area are the little researched anomalies of water and their potentials for quasi-natural aesthetic effects. Some possible activities are:
the viscosity of water and the influence of light
the surface tension of water
propagation of electromagnetic fields under water
reception of spherical waves (also called natural radio) under water
electric conductivity of water and very high voltage, artificial water bridges, some examples:
measurment of the intensity of light and its effect on clorophyl and the formation of algae in tanks
prospects of water filtering and making potable water
usage of very high frequencies to separate hydrogen and oxygen using the methods of Stanley Meyer
production of plasm
experiments on water density under the influence of sound and light
aesthetic, speculative applications, reflections and water as mirror and medium
works using energy: wind, waves, solar
biological projects working with animals and plants
sociological projects researching the crew and habitat
the floating structure can be built at various sites in the world and a network of floating structures could come into being
The floating structure will peacefully coexist with its environment
Theoretical Background: Theses on Media Art
Artists should aim at autonomy
Artistic autonomy is not to be mistaken as "the autonomy of art". The autonomy of art was a social category which emerged together with the rise of capitalism and bourgeois democracy. The autonomy of art describes the position of art within a capitalist social system whereby the artist is granted some exceptional status. We reject this concept and postulate instead artistic autonomy. The latter is more closely related to autarky and describes an ethical attitude towards instruments and the work process. Artists should only use means of production which they understand and control as deeply and completely as possible. Therefore it is self-evident that only free and open source software can be used. Artists should avoid using digital tools which by their very structure define the frame of artistic production. The tools and materials of artistic production in the digital age should be as immedeately accessible as stone or wood.
The work of the artist
The main achievement of an artist is not her or his work understood as a final product which then enters the market; it is also not some dubious and vague reference to a 'process', but instead the real meaning and content of the work of the artist is the living labour of the artist. Artists therefore by necessity should avoid the capitalist division of labour. No invisible 'helpers', 'technicians', 'programmers' or else should be used for the creation of work. If one artist does not possess all the necessary skills to produce a specific artwork, the artist can engage in collaboration with other artists to realise those goals. The terms of those collaborations should be egalitarian and self-defined, no artist should become another artist's "foreman"; relationships between more experienced and skilled artists and 'students' are possible but should be free from coercive aspects of 'mastery'; everybody involved should be named as a co-author of the work at all instances when the work is shown or mentioned.
The division of manual and mental labour
The focus on the work of the artist instead of the work of art is designed also to overcome the division between manual and mental labour which is crucial for the maintainance of the capitalist class society and its power structure including its academic and artistic production units and their ideological output. The separation of manual and mental labur is not only foundational for the political economy and the class structure, it has also a significant impact on the definition of what constitutes "knowledge". Currently, academia and the arts are almost completely dominated by the mystifications of bourgeois ideology. By combining manual and mental labour artists have the chance to show possible ways out of the dead end street of informational capitalism and its superstructural reifications.
Artistic Research versus Science
Artistic research is fundamentally different from Science, even if artists use techniques and instruments very similar to those used by Scientists. If artists have just as much as an inch of self-respect and take themselves seriously, they need to distance themselves from the conduct of normal Science. Science with a capital S is deeply compromised by its past as well as by its present subservience to capitalism. Western Science came into being through acts of genocide against other peoples and against women in the so called witch hunts (Federici). It created the Scientist as a specific version of subjectivity: male, white and Cartesian. The specific psychology of the male Scientific subjectivity wants to create life without women (Artificial Life) and intelligence without flesh (Artificial Intelligence), but it only creates death - weapons of mass destruction, genetically modified superweeds and other deadly technologies. Currently, Science's conduct is almost completely dictated by the needs of capitalism and the competitive military nation state. The objectivist tendencies of Science with its eternal and universal Laws of Nature are totalitarian and to be rejected as they carry over the problematic legacy of oppressive religious believes into the present and future.
Artists and Nature
When artists engage with nature they understand that they themselves are nature. Unlike Scientists, artists do not construct nature as a lifeless object, a territory to be conquered. Therefore artistic measurements have a quality very different from Scientific measurements. Artists are investigating the world as it is in a reflective process which includes themselves as well as the other 'objects' of investigation. Artists, as all humans, are both part of nature and distinct from it through the achievements of human culture, such as language, numbers, mathematics and algorithms.
Artistic measurments are processes of reflexive self-creation rather than supposedly neutral fact finding missions about an objective reality "out there". Artists create a framework of references and interpretations distinct from the terror of objectivism, i.e. Science. They can only do so because of the collective nature of human culture which both sets the from for and yet also enables the creative act of the radical social imaginary (Marx read through Castoriadis). Within the narrow limits of the current techno-economic paradigm, artists have the duty to develop new perspectives for self-creation and self-realisation both individually and collectively.
Martin Howse conducting artistic measuerment, seconded by Erich Berger, Gijon 2008. Some of the ideas in this text about artistic measurements are also inspired by conversations had with Marting during the Laboral residency.