Archive for November 2008

Zero to Infinity – connections are made

November 24, 2008

I was invited, by a friend, to attend the Zero to Infinity event at the Dana Centre South Kensington (Thursday 20th November 2008).

A quick look at the panellists and the topic for discussion sparked some interest with me. These panellists included:

Paul Prudence, generative artist
Eleanor Robson, historian of mathematics, University of Cambridge
Marcus du Sautoy, mathematician, University of Oxford
Jane Wess, curator, Science Museum
Facilitator: Rachel Thomas, Editor, Plus magazine


From this list of names only one stood out to me and that was Marcus du Sautoy. I had recently viewed his documentary “The Story of MathsThe Language of the Universe” on the BBC (thanks for telling me about it Simon) and thought he was great at explaining math related theories in a friendly and an easy to understand way.

The four very different backgrounds of the panellists was great as it provided different views on the same subject. It was clear that different uses of the mathematical theories relating to infinite numbers, the idea of multiple infinities and whether the number zero is something real or abstract can allow for connections in different areas of practice and study.

Midway through the talk we were split into two groups to participate in a short workshop first off with Marcus du Sautoy. This was a brilliant and practical demonstration to help us understand how one infinity could be larger than another. Ok there were many things floating about such as how fractions and decimal numbers could be used to check against whole number and negative numbers and this was delving into scary territory for me – maths not being my forte. So these further explorations into different types of numbers, rational and irrational, and the stark statement from Du Sautoy that there are different types of mathematics just completely lost me. At one point I had to just accept that there are many possibilities out there in the universe numbers and mathematics are perceived and manipulated to prove various theories using various methods.

Even then, Du Sautoy’s enthusiasm made the workshop enjoyable. Even though there were, well lets say, some brains participating too who were determined to prove something by asking questions that could only really lead to a debate that the rest of us wouldn’t be able to keep up with, it was quite funny to see that not everyone had the same views. And I’m pretty sure one man was actually flirting with him and using his mathematical knowledge to impress him!

Anyway so the next workshop was more of a historical look at how the number zero came into existence and its early use by the ancient Babylonians who kept records of how many different types of cattle were collected and received for the king. This part of the workshop was overseen by Eleanor Robson of Cambridge University. She explained that the Babylonians used to make marks representing different numbers on chunks of clay. This allowed for the accounts to be preserved for thousands of years. An empty space basically represented a zero. Of course their idea of the number zero was used merely for counting that something was not there but not in the same way it is now used for example for negative numbers and calculations of the abstract kind.

Twelve German Jetons - The Science Museum

We also looked at some of the shapes included in a mid 17th century wooden learning box – based on the teachings and principles of Euclid’s geometry. These were original items from the Science Museum’s collection and explained to us by curator Jane Wess. The collection included abacuses from China, Japan and the West where the base numbers for counting were all different.

Euclid's geometry - wooden box of shapes from 17th century Abacuses

Having reached the last part of the evening we heard from Paul Prudence; a generative artist and Video Jockey (VJ) whose work was displayed on the screen in the room. The display was of moving tesselated digital imagery. These images were based on geometric forms relating to the theories we had been hearing about earlier in the evening and in the workshops.

View a video of his work here:>/a>

Fast Fourier Radials - A spectrographic visualisation of sound
Fast Fourier Radials

I was in awe. He had succeeded in creating digital work based on geometric shapes and from this were produced beautiful patterns. So obviously all of this started ringing bells in my head. I was thinking to myself ‘I need to ask this guy some questions and find out what processes he is involved in, what software, which techiniques, etc etc’. I was very curious. So I waited till most people had started dispersing after the talk and told him about the MA and why his work was of particular interest to me in relation to my project. He gave me some of his business cards and encouraged me to take as many as I wanted, as he had so many and each had a different image on the back (stills from his work). They were really cool so I took six 🙂

Talysis 2
Talysis 2

I found a lot more information about Prudence’s work and recent project history on his website:

And I don’t think I could be any more amazed and slightly jealous. He uses Flash and ActionScript to write programs which then produce the patterns and some of them in real time!!! The use of algorithms and mathematics (written into the ActionScript) means that numbers can be used to produce 3d effects of shapes within certain spaces. These have boundaries in which the pattern might become curved along the outer curve of a sphere or within the inner curve and so producing both a convex and concave look with the shapes getting smaller or larger as they move along, further toward or away from the x axis. Ok I’m not sure if I explained this the right way.

Heres what he’s got in the biography section of his site which pretty much sums up his skills quite impressively:

Artist and real-time visual performer working with computational and visual feedback systems and video. Uses VVVV, Flash & processed Digital Video. Lecturer on visual music and syneasthetic art.

Researcher and writer at Dataisnature.

Freelance Interaction Designer and ActionScript Developer. Authoring chapters in a few books relating to computational design with Actionscript.

I’m glad to see a clear example of how a contemporary approach using the latest in technology and programming skills can be made the most of in order to produce something that connects all the ideas that are bought to light in the subject of geometry, shapes, and space (more specifically numbers and their connection to the theories of science and physics of the universe). I mentioned in an earlier post that it was hard to make the connections between the different subject areas as they could become very diverse and branch off into their own projects all together. But this is a great example to show that it is possible to make those connections apparent in one piece.

I feel inspired and have a positive feeling about achieving something great, as a result of this project. God willing 🙂

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer

November 8, 2008

Prepare yourself – this could quite possibly be my longest post so far. I always say to myself that I’ll make them more short and snappy but they never are.

We went on a bit of a school trip last week Wednesday (29th Nov 2008). Ok, I know we’re not in school and we didn’t have to hold hands with partners but still; it just reminded me of school.

Our first stop was at Haunch of Venison near Bond Street to see Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s collection of work. These were spread over three floors and amounted to 7 very different projects. I won’t talk about all of these in detail so here is a brief description:

Microphone (2008) – spotlight on solitary microphone. Speak into it, your voice is recorded and then a previous message recorded maybe a couple hours ago would be played back to you in response. This cycles through so that later in a similar situation your message will be played to someone else.

Alpha Blend Shadow Box 7 (2008) – a framed plasma screen television is divided into four blocks. Each block showing a different video of the same view of yourself. An inbuilt camera enables the viewer to be captured and reflected back to them through the television. The images of previous viewers are blended and layered so that it appears that someone else may be standing next to you when there actually is no one there. As with the microphone the image of you is recorded and kept and then shown to someone else later on. Quite spooky.

Glories of Accounting (2005) – The following is taken from

“an interactive installation with a surveillance system that detects the position of the public in the exhibition room. When someone walks into the room, large hands appear on the screen automatically. The hands rotate along their forearm axis, following the visitor with the open palms always facing him or her. As more people enter the room, more hands appear and each follows a member of the public. “

Less Than Three (2008) – This took up a very large wall with the accumulation of tube lights from one side to the other. They formed a network of various paths from one end of the wall to the other. An intercom was placed at each end. It took us a few minutes to figure this one out. When you speak into one intercom your message is converted into electric form to create a flashing path through the network of tubes and then finishes at the other end where your message is repeated through the other intercom. The longer the audio the longer the path of flashes is and the longer it takes to get to the other side.

Reporters with Borders (2008) – The following is taken from the Haunch of Venison Press release

“A new installation Reporters with Borders dominates the top floor gallery. Infra-red sensors detect the presence of viewers, bringing large composite projections of Mexican and American TV news reporters to life within the viewers’ silhouettes. Arranged according to distinctions such as male/female, Mexican/US, light-skinned/dark-skinned, eyes open/eyes closed, the previously still figures begin to report the news animatedly, their voices rising to a cacophonous chorus.”

Airport Cluster Plot (2001) – Ok to be honest I really didn’t get this one. It was not interactive as the others were and didn’t seem to do anything which was a stark difference as well. This was a graphic representation of the floor plans of 35 international airports all overlaid by a computer programme. According to the leaflet we were given at the reception desk, this piece “suggests the accelerated movement and hyper-activity of the contemporary global condition“.

Pulse Tank (2008) – I was very impressed by the interactive elements of each piece but my favourite was the ‘Pulse Tank’ which uses different elements including water, light, electronically controlled pistons, sensors, and a glass tank all connected together in some form but with no visible wires.

At the head of the tank there was a metal panel with the outline to two palms. This indicated that the viewer is required to place there hands upon this . There would then come the sound of a slow heart beat like rhythm which would begin to speed up after a while. There were also small thin plastic tubes around the tank were other participants were required to place their fingers (indicated by small graphic labels).

A metal piston type thing (really not sure what it was) would then jab/tap the water in the tank at the rate of the person’s pulse as sensed through the placement of the finger into the tube. This would create a ripple effect in the water. With all tubes occupied, ripples would meet in the centre of the tank of water to create a myriad of circles, lines and diagonals from all sides. The sound of all pulses could be heard from the speakers and the light shone onto the tank would be reflected by the water onto the floor as well as the ceiling. The overall effect was quite lovely.


Our second stop was the Barbican to see Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s other installation ‘Frequency and Volume‘ in the Curve Art Gallery. Once again this was a highly interactive project using radio technology to pick up on radio signals at different frequencies.

As you enter the space you see a tower of aerials in the shape of a pylon. I almost dismissed this myself. I somehow knew it was just part of the method for obtaining the signals and so carried on till I came to the curved wall section. The spotlights on the inner wall create giant shadows of you as you move past. These shadows would then be outlined onto the outer wall onto a large black projection. As you move the channels change. You become the tuner of the radio and can choose to switch from BBC Radio 4 to some random pirate station for example. Sometimes the signals were strong and clear and you could hear a loud chart hit. At other times you would hear rushing sounds and distant murmuring.

There were a couple of kids mucking about in the middle – experimenting with the effects of their shadows and playing out a sort of drama for their unexpected audience. They were revelling in the attention they got from us few viewers. This made me laugh but I could see the fun. If I was by myself I would have run from one end to the other to see if the channels would change as fast as I was running and if the transition from one to the other would be smooth or erratic.

This was a cool project. Most of Lozano-Hemmer’s stuff is cool. I don’t use the word lightly. He has done something quite different from other electronic/digital artists and combined it with the activities of humans – engaging their interest through sound and movement and most importantly their participation. Therefore I cannot wait for his new project for Trafalgar Square!

You can read up more about Lozano-Hemmer’s history, background, past and future projects on his site:

More useful links:

VITA Islamic Art Show

November 4, 2008

Doing another random search online I found a slideshow with audio discussion of some of the work produced by students at the Prince’s School of Traditional Arts. The video is from the Guardian’s site ( and can be found via this link:,,2122963,00.html

Note to self: Tried in vain to embed the flash into the post. I’m sure there is a plugin somewhere that will allow this to be done but as I am planning to move my blog to my own server some time soon (so she says) I’ll wait before I try to install anything new.

It’s great to see what other students are doing in this area of art and it will be influential in helping me find the niche in which to fit my own work. I like to be quite different with what I produce so it’s necessary to scope out what everyone else has been or is doing 🙂