Saturday, October 25, 2008

Dutch Design Week 2008

I've been roaming around some exhibitions this week in Eindhoven, where the Dutch Design Week, or DDW, was taking place again. Here are some photos I made of the works I found most interesting.

From the Design Academy Eindhoven:

A windable flashlight with an extremely clever texture design that indicates how to turn it.

Studies into materials, the first one being very much like Bart Hess' Future Fur project, the second one being directly inspired by biological forms, in this case probably ear cartilage.

A lamp that is 'overgalvanized', since the almost plantlike protrusions growing from the edges of the copper arise from not stopping the galvanization process at the 'right' moment. Thus, here the 'right' moment is being redefined, because the creator of this lamp thinks the beauty can also be in the manufacturing process and there is no need to ignore it or try to control it. I could not agree more but would have liked this lamp to have shown that in a more exaggerated way, with more edges so it would have been like the lamp was covered with a 'fur' of copper hairs. On the top of this post is a closeup of the copper branches growing from the lamp's edges.

From Design United, a joint exhibition between the Technical Universities of Delft, Eindhoven, and Enschede:

Somewhat direct but interesting hybrid between technology and nature. The snake whizzes his tongue when the water boils. Interesting that they call this 'evolutionary product development' too *smirks. Of course it's a simulated, disembodied evolution in the head of the designer, but anyway, it's somewhat interesting to me.

Another design under the label of 'evolutionary product development'. From studying the history of game console interfaces this modular design was extrapolated. The two individual controllers can be used while attached or detached from each other.

A head model to design for Chinese people. The designer got subsidized a million dollars from the Chinese government to measure 2.000 heads with a 3D scanner, and use this data to create tools for designers of for example helmets, to make them accepted in Chinese markets. The commentary in a CNN interview almost caricaturally signifies the overly rational approach to design once more applied: "I like to chop the body up into pieces". With these amounts of money one might ask whether it's not more interesting to develop an adaptive helmet that adjusts its shape through use, for example with growing and shrinking elements.

Some works displayed elsewhere:

GrowBike; a step that can be changed into a small bike, so the growing child can keep using his bike.

A sculptural wall with an organic shape, comprised of small, unique metal elements. It reminds of Kas Oosterhuis' parametric architectural design process, where a CAD file of a unique element is directly fed into the manufacturing machines. It makes for a very interesting form language, however the bright white light it was surrounded in didn't do it much right. I had already seen this one in Helsinki where it was displayed in a dark space with coloured light, making this piece really the protagonist of the space in a beautiful, subtle and harmonic way. The form always needs the right anti-form, and the light always needs the right darkness.

A clever idea to make it possible to use cardboard packages as origami, instead of throwing them away after unpackaging.

An interesting design for handgloves, ideal for praying or sleeping while hanging from a tree branch, in case you feel the primeval need to do such things. Anyway, it's interesting to explore how the physical shape of technology can valuatively bias our activities.

Showed by TNO, a sugar-basin that is laser sintered at various resolutions, with the comment that often it seems that our manufacturing processes are 'perfect', but inherently they are not. Indeed a very true statement, think for example of television; it gives the illusion of being real, but it's just pixels, and that's what the essence of the medium is. And 3D tv only reinforces this, so we become disembodied avatars in an electronic world, being tricked to living in a technological incubator.

A beautiful process of bonding gold to textiles called electroforming.

Interesting garment shown at 'De Krabbedans', graduation work.

A chair inspired by natural forms for a neo Stone Age, it seems.

A digitally controlled singing teakettle, whistling your favourite tune instead of the usual monotonous, thought-shattering tone.

Incorporating what common culture sees as 'disgusting' with what it sees as 'beautiful'. To me personally pearls are just as disgusting to see as dead frogs, by the way. It's an interesting combination that shows in an exaggerated way the extreme alienation from nature of mankind.

An anthropomorphic music player, that takes a pose corresponding to the genre of music it is playing. Unfortunately it can't dance yet, but is sitting like a plant on the window-sill.

An extremely clever design for a chair that can be folded from one single plastic sheet, and is surprisingly sturdy and aesthetically refined.

Art Forms of Nature

In 1904, biologist Ernst Haeckel published his work 'Art Forms of Nature', which contains 100 of among the most beautiful illustrations of natural forms, from monocellular amoebas to corals to bat heads. The good thing is: it is now freely available as a download, and however it is the original German version, only the opportunity of looking at the wonderful illustrations is well worth the 260 Mb of disk space it takes.

Here is the link to the download: Ernst Haeckel - Kunstformen Der Natur.

At the time it was published, Haeckel's work served to inspire designers, and the Art Nouveau movement. I hope that it at this time, the scope of design practice being in great expansion, can once again inspire designers with the beauty of evolution.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Plant that walks on its roots

This development makes me quite happy. Plantbot, as this hybrid little device is called, is the latest creation of The Play Coalition, a designer trio who like to let their creativity roam freely.

It makes me happy because for it shows the simple beauty of pure being in an interesting way. Plants often escape our attention in our media-saturated information-overloaded visual-focus-demanding lifeworld, but they embody a lot of wisdom, and this technology elegantly externalizes that. All a plant needs is light, it is in a sense an embodiment of light reception because it completely adapts to the supply of light. A tree grows towards the light, minimizes structure and maximizes receptive surface in order to optimize its efficiency. Of course domesticated plants face entirely different light supplies than those in the environment for which they biologically evolved. And this solution is exactly what liberates the plant and gets it one step closer to successful survival in a planet that could well become fully technologically metamorphosized by man.

Also it is interesting because it is quite a direct extension of a plant's roots, in McLuhanesque terms. But an extension with an individuating bias, and in this it follows most contemporary technologies, which is a bit of a shame. I would like to see complementary technologies that do not individuate, but rather connect things globally. This is a bit more difficult to see, because it would be a lot more calm and holistic, and we are conditioned to be short-sighted and focus on our direct perceptions and whatever seems to look most interesting in a certain place and at a certain time. But in principle it's easy. To take this example; the plant can find more light by individually, locally adapting, but it could also, if given the channels, get light from a plant that already has enough from the environment that plant is in, and selflessly shares what he can miss. Plantbot, in that negative sense, is egoic luxury for plants. But despite my usual criticism it's still a great, fresh development.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Adidas' surreal sneakers

Some imagery sparkling the imagination, from Adidas' campaign 'All day I dream about sneakers'.

Could we really genetically engineer the chameleon-head shoe that catches bugs and licks organic material from the ground, subsequently processing this into energy to be used by our hybrid body?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A fundamental principle for "Second Nature"

"Second Nature" is an exhibition currently held in ‘21_21 design sight’ in roppongi, tokyo until january 18, 2009. It is curated by Tokujin Yoshioka, a designer who also contributed to the contents of the exhibition with a chair that was grown from crystals. Also Ross Lovegrove shows some objects that use a minimal amount of materials through processes he has called 'netification' and 'coralization'. 

Yoshioka sees the beginning of an era of manufacturing where the product does not leave the assembly line as finished, but as open to adaptation and change by the end-user:

"a design is not something that is completed through being given a form, but rather something that is completed by the human heart. I also feel that incorporating the principles and movements of nature into ideas will become something important in future design."

His feeling is aligned with what I aim to set up a framework for: incorporating wild biological evolution and neocortically controlled, rationalized technology design into a new evolutionary process that takes happiness as the measure for survival. I won't elaborate on that much further, but I can give you the definition of happiness I like to attain. A concept of happiness that I believe is universal, everybody strives for, but that one can only attain when one has experienced this form of happiness. This definition is:

Happiness is the state of being when one's self is fully aligned with one's actions, the two mutually shaping each other in perfect resonance.

Here with actions I mean any intentional conscious move, incorporating motor actions but also thoughts, which are merely actions in the 'internal' realm, if you want to make a distinction between the internally and the externally perceived. After all, as confabulation theory explains, the brain is just another, but very complex, muscle.

My definition of 'self' requires more elaborateness of explanation, as I have developed it myself and haven't found it in any piece of literature yet. For you experts in self-psychology out there, please direct me to it in case it does exist; I'd be eternally grateful. I think it cannot be classified among either one of the four 'forces in psychology'; it does definitely not conform to Freudian psychology, not to behaviorism, not to humanism such as Maslow's psychology, and even not completely to transpersonal psychologies.  My main inspirations for this idea of the self did come from Eastern thought, namely from Buddhism, which arose originally from Hinduism, but has remained more pure, and is better explanable to Western minds, in my view.

As Albert Hanken explains in his excellent synthesis "Balanceren tussen Boeddha en Freud" (which translates as "Balancing between Buddha and Freud"), traditional Western psychology always analysed humans as being in a dualistic state, in a continuous tension between desire and satisfaction of that desire. Then Maslow introduced the need for self-actualization, which emerges when the lower, dualistic needs - needs that arise from a felt deficit such as hunger, sex, or social support, and that can only bring humans into a state of neutrality rather than positivity - have been met. Self-actualization is a monistic need, because an opposing force is not felt, which makes it more like a unidirectional, positive force.

Now I am not an expert in this at all, so I can only talk from intuition, but I feel
that the main lack in Maslow's theory is that the self he is talking about can still be a local type of consciousness; people can actualize themselves as in having the characteristics Maslow described of unity, meaningfulness, spontaneity, and so forth, but these arise from a self that is limited to being aligned to a local pattern, such as a culture or organizational structure. Instead of it being aligned to a more universal pattern it is merely aligned to an abstraction thereof. Of course this is very much related to Sartre's existentialism, stating that people create their own essence.

What happened after that, and is still happening, is a merging of Western science and ancient ideas from the Eastern mystics. As Stanislav Grof explains in "A Brief History of Transpersonal Psychology", humanistic psychology did not take 'altered states of consciousness' very seriously while it was more and more evident that an incorporation of these was necessary for a more holistic, comprehensive and cross-culturally valid psychology. Especially those states of consciousness Grof has termed 'holotropic' have "heuristic, healing, transformative, and even evolutionary potential", mentioning that "In holotropic states, we can transcend the narrow boundaries of the body ego and encounter a rich spectrum of transpersonal experiences that help us to reclaim our full identity".

But what is a 'full identity'? First of all, I want to avoid using the word 'identity' since to me that signifies more of a constructed concept, inherently too abstract and narrow, rather than a holistic representation of what we are. It is a self-concept, while I prefer to use the word 'self' in order to denote that it is not condensable in a concept at all, and doing so is only meant for communication purposes, not for bringing about directly an internalized understanding of what it stands for. That has to come through one's lived experiences and reflections.

What I understand transpersonal psychology, but also quantum physics, to mean with the self, is that people are not separate entities, but parts of a universal dynamic energy field. Karl Pribram introduced the hologram as a metaphor for how the brain works, and this metaphor is also used by modern physicists to rationalize mystical ideas and describe how the universe works according to quantum physics. The remarkable aspect of a hologram is that each part of it contains the whole, so there is not really a distinction between the whole and its separate parts. For example, if you cut a holographic sheet in half, you will get two holograms that are halved in size, but still contain exactly the same, whole, image. General systems theorist Ervin Laszlo speaks of an Akashic field that is absolute and contains all the information in the universe, our experiences being only moments where we tap into this field. This is very much related to the Buddhist notion of 'Atman is Brahman', which roughly means that the soul or essence, called Atman - literally, the breath -, of each person is connected to a universal, metaphysical, divine field called the Brahman, but is also equal to it. In stating that there actually exists something beyond our perceptions, it is also related to the Vedic idea that Swami Prabhupada called 'Krsna' and was the basis of the Hare Krishna movement in the 1960's. He preached that people should free themselves from the material world's conditionings and revert themselves to the metaphysical to gain true happiness.

It may already be apparent, but I am not satisfied with this definition of self as being indistinct from the whole, the main reason being that it is biased towards the mental, and treats the body like a material burden instead of a means to derive the deepest meaning we can derive in our lives. It seems to be more of an antagonistic statement to Newtonian-Cartesian materialism than a full incorporation of it, too. Since metaphors are all we have, I would now like to briefly pose my own view, entertaining a metaphor I have already introduced in an earlier post on this blog, called "Who Are You".

There I posed the metaphor of the 'fractalic universe', with my vague definition of a self being a "dynamic, active, ever-evolving self-organizing pattern within an infinitely complex larger pattern". This metaphor is in my view more precise, since it takes into account people as unique beings while at the same time being part of this whole. Before continuing I must first say again that this is merely a metaphor; nothing like this whole exists since we cannot perceive it, it is only a construction of the mind to put people into the stance that is the most fulfilling, thus the most useful. I take the pragmatist stance of truth being what is most useful, that truth being only a crutch to cope with the complexity of being.

What makes a self unique is its embodied transformative creativity, i.e. the way an entity contributes with his whole being in bringing his perceptions in alignment with a vision of the future that transcends the current mode of being. An individual self tries to align his perceptions with his thoughts, and in my definition one is only happy when this alignment is complete.

I will talk to you from my own experience to make this less abstract now. I have gone through a period where I studied Buddhism and meditated until I truly saw that I had to transcend my ego and become selfless in order to do the things I deeply wanted to do. But in a selfless state, it was not satisfactory to just do things completely selflessly, for the divine whole that is larger than me. I did accept the current world and did not desire for a better one, but I did see that the accepting stance was not enough, since I believe that we can transform the world, and moreover that there is no end to this transformation. I do not believe in an immaterial, absolute highest point to attain, and that beyond that the only thing to do is to get others to this highest point. I believe that we as humanity embody this highest point, and that we need to seek ways to uplift it actively, through interacting with our whole being, our thought-like actions and our motor actions - as stated before I do not see a body-mind dualism, and therefore see everything as actions, but can occasionally still distinguish between two different kind of actions that I now called 'thought-like actions' and 'motor actions' only for the sake of communication. So after experiencing states of selflessness, I started looking for ways to be a unique and active part of cosmic evolution, to transform the world, and so I slowly developed my mission. At the same time, the mission always keeps on changing with each action. I see all consciousness as integrative, the only thing we can do being continuously re-integrating our experiences into a comprehensive and cohesive framework and projecting that onto our perceptions through continuous interaction. I see everything I do as circling around the mission I attain at the present moment; it is the measuring tool I use for everything I experience. Then I think complete happiness is the process of selflessly and completely embodying the intention to carry out this mission, and we are shaping our world so that everything in it contributes to this purpose. The purpose can never be fulfilled, since there is no absolute point to attain; it always keeps shifting as we continuously transform our selves.

Happiness is in the process, and that, as roughly sketched as it is now, would be the kind of happiness that a hominized evolution would take as its measure for survival.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Homo Minifigus

I've seen more biologized, 'scientified' translations arising from a probably implicit feeling of aversion towards our essentially still superficial, appearance driven approach to technology design, but little did I know that this could be done with such originality and strikingness as Jason Freeny does with his digital imagery.

I would actually like LEGO to go more towards a biological approach. It could already start with giving each LEGO a tiny sensor and actuator, and have the thing shape itself through use. Of course there's already programmable LEGO, but this would be self-reprogramming LEGO where the physical and the mental development of an element are not separated in time or space.

I have the feeling that much of the Aristotelian residue in my head has emerged to a substantial extent from playing with LEGO, building my own world and society from a finite set of elements that are all based on an underlying principle, the geometric law of LEGO nature. A simplified, rationalized world that I can understand and control. It is time for LEGO to go wild and get children ready for a complex world that will not be the same anymore after one day.

Of course LEGO wouldn't be LEGO if it wouldn't have its iconic simplicity, but it at least could reformulate its simplicity in terms of the intrinsically generated dynamic behaviour of the elements, instead of their externally imposed form. I await the day that LEGO goes nano, but I am patient. I also await the day that we can create babies in the form of LEGO minifigs, by the way, and humanity has transcended its present-day understanding and self-concept, so many pointless barriers can finally dissolve. But again, I am patient.

Here is some more work that links to the merging of the biological and the technological by Jason Freeny:

Thursday, October 16, 2008

It is...a post-human skin disease?

If these things would pop out of my body overnight, and I could use them as a huge exo-lung, I wouldn't even mind. I could blow myself to work.

And there's the next obvious idea: a wearable helium balloon flying costume. Could be used in a goodbye ceremony for ex-presidents, too.

But seriously, this is the latest creation of Lucy and Bart, called 'Dripping Color'.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

More moving structures

Nothing new here, just listing a few nice moving structures for the sake of inspiration.

Most interesting is the iris dome by Chuck Hoberman. This design seems complex, but it is based on a simple invention; a scissor mechanism with angulated members, so the angle of the elements the scissors connect to remains the same, which allows the structure to expand and collapse to and fro a central point, as in the iris dome. 

Here are a few interesting table designs. The last one is based on the Chebyshev walking mechanism.

Chebyshev walking mechanism, from "Sandler, B.Z. (1999). Robotics. Designing the Mechanisms for Automated Machinery":

What can I say about the following movies. I love these kind of Japanese comments, because not understanding them is ok; you understand what they're saying anyway because of the typical way they're saying it. This was never meant to become a very serious post.

The commercial partly shown at 0:14 of the following movie, about Hoberman's toy expandable spheres is one of my all time favourites. If anybody finds a link to the full movie, I'll post it on this blog.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Robotic prosthetic legs

This is exactly what it looks like; people having motorized robot legs to help them walking. More Japanese crotch-robotics. I wonder what  happens when these things get a will of their own,  and start evolving their own ways of walking. So your 300 pound bearded boss might suddenly start hopscotching around the office like his 7 year old granddaughter.

Anyway, this is the next development by Cyberdyne, and the 'hybrid assistive limb' suits are for rent for 2,200 USD in Japan as from last Friday.

No question about it, but it's now really evident that we are already post-human.

Zeno, saver of humanity

It's 2027, the singularity has been passed, and machines have realized they are evolutionary superior over those fleshy humans in every aspect, the latter merely remaining sentimental relics, which has led them to create destructive plots against humanity. Of course the three laws do not work, and there is nothing that keeps them from acting out these plots. But there is cute little Zeno, a cross-over between Harry Potter, John Connor, and Furby, who is training at an academy and about to save humanity from doom.

That's roughly the story behind this consumer robot currently being developed by Hanson Robotics, and intended to hit the stores in 2010. Zeno has voice recognition and voice synthesis, so you can have conversations with him to some extent. Zeno's bodily movements are generated through state of the art artificial intelligence software which is also used for character animation in the movie industry. Not only that, he also has the ability to recognize faces and facial expressions, and is able to respond with his own facial expressions and call people by their names.

I wonder (those are the usual kind of words with which my criticism starts) if Zeno was named after Zeno of Elea, the ancient Greek philosopher who was famous for his paradoxes with which he meant to destroy arguments of others, and that in a way show the ridiculousness of logic itself. His arguments often involved an application of the logical concept of infinity onto the real world, which leads to absurd conclusions such that a person could never catch a bus or even move in any way, since to get there he would always have to reach half the distance first, and to reach that distance reach half that distance first, ad infinitum. Maybe there is an underlying message to Zeno about the apparent absurdity of the claim that this robot should save humanity, while the developers do seriously consider the potential of humanity being wiped off the planet. Maybe the name is a self-mocking statement that nevertheless should make people think. In that sense it has the same message as movies like 'I, Robot', but might be more impactful since it's interactive, and both physically and emotionally closer to humans. If this product could arouse debate and stir up thought among the regular 'consumer public', that would be an enormous step, since people are in my experience usually still quite ignorant and clueless about the future.

That is the positive criticism. My negative criticism would be a very general rant about products being developed for the 'infantile consumer', as Benjamin Barber calls it. I'll spare you most of it because I hope it is unnecessary to lay out the obvious. What I can add to general anticonsumerist talk comes from a Buddhist perspective, that of a transcendence from the ego to the ego-less Self. If you cannot follow what I am saying, please read into Buddhism, because I am not here to teach that, would not be able to, and am merely inspired by it. I am here to criticize technological developments and make sure we can learn to develop enlightened machines, beautifully attuned to cosmic evolution.

Developments like Zeno only make people aware of the issues around robot development and AI, but they don't facilitate the transcendence that is truly needed and instead reinforce the mode of being that people are already in. To state it more simply, Zeno's story is one of people being in a self vs. other relationship with robots, the latter being either friends or enemies. This is a judgmental approach that most people so desperately cling on to in their lives, also against other people, in order to try to protect and preserve their own egos. But the fundamental issue is that people must learn to overcome this ego-centered thinking, and transcend their ego to start living with a positive attitude that has no external conditions for the positivity to arise. The sad thing about consumer product development processes is that they do not facilitate this process at the core, but merely at the surface, the old pattern at the core being reinforced. This leaves people with no clue and increasing internal tensions about how to align their superficial processes with contradicting related processes at the core. And the brain's usual coping strategy for cluelessness is escape and ignorance.

I feel rather alone on this mission to transcend humanity through technology, but it cannot demotivate me in any way because for me it's evidently inevitable: at some point humanity will come to face itself when it has externalized its own entire being into technology up to a point that it becomes projected back at them like the ultimate mirror. This might be the point that was mentioned by Stephen Hawking when he stated that the reason we don't find life in outer space might be because at some point, civilizations destroy themselves. 

I don't think, by the way, that the Singularity will be this ultimate point. That in my opinion is an overhyped term that brings about some awareness, but is not to be taken much more seriously than the Y2K bug. But it is a point that is coming, and it is not evident to me that a world full of robots will be 'a lot of fun', as Rodney Brooks so optimistically stated in his recent talk at TED. I don't think that his argument of deliberateness is very rigorous, and that deliberateness is merely an illusory concept we project onto our worlds to make them more manageable and understandable. From a biological and social point of view it works, but not from a Self-development point of view. In other words, egoic machine behaviour will just emerge; like robots are now already 'learning' through physical interaction to develop physical behaviour for a physical environment, they will also 'learn' through mental interaction to develop mental behaviour that helps them succeed in this environment. In yet other words, machines will develop their own religion, their own politics, and their own spirituality.

It makes sense from an evolutionary perspective too, and what I am about to explain here should truly be a key insight. If a species is biologically superior over others so it has no natural enemies anymore, it is safe on this biological level. There is not really a question that the homo sapiens sapiens has attained this safety. Then, if a social meme within the species becomes superior over others, it starts to spread and make humanity sustainable on a social level, so in-species groups don't eradicate each other. We are struggling, but definitely getting there through our global communication web. But attaining a socially sustainable state of being is not where it ends. Humanity must learn to live not only with itself, but with everything, with all the data that enters him, and of which he is part. This is where he needs to learn to think holistically, and selflessly. Then if we cannot attain this holistically sustainable state, it is evident that it is our time to become extinct, since we are apparently not the form evolution is looking for, and another form that is more successful must inexorably be found. Of course, evolution is only a concept to explain things, but I think that it is the most beautiful and succesful one we have and moreover, that evolution-based thinking can help us transcend.

This image I borrowed from Kevin Kelly's website 'The Technium', and describes the landscape of intelligence; a mind is always evolving to an optimum, but this optimum is probably merely a local one, and once at this optimum is stuck there. It can be applied to a spiritual level of ego transcendence, by stating that humanity is climbing a similar mountain, but might get stuck if our underlying biological, social, and intellectual patterns do not allow us to reach higher. And at the point that we reach the top it is almost impossible to change these patterns and explore another part of the landscape, so the only option is to wipe ourselves out. Now my message is that we need soon to evaluate if we are on the right mountain, and complement all the developments that are taking us higher upon the mountain we are currently exploring, developments like Zeno, by developing technologies that have entirely different underlying development processes. It needs to happen, since you might already have gotten my intuition that we are definitely not on the right mountain. If not subsidized by governmental institutions or sponsored by corporations, then maybe it needs to happen silently in our private attics and backyards, as a joint creative project. I think that is the way it can be done; a lot of people are passionate and creative, but lack a unifying sense about why they are doing the things they are doing. A sense that I hope to bring about.

Some directions for development I think can be found in the mirror neurons we have; like us, robots should be able to project themselves in their perceptions. But unlike us, they must learn to be able to project them into anything, and not make distinctions between things on the basis of how much they seem similar to the concept of self the machine entertains. This comes through developing a motor repertoire as large as possible, probably through a shared process, since our motor repertoire storing our highly specific actions for highly specific situations determines when our mirror neurons fire and when they do not fire.

Machines should in that sense be unsurpassably open-minded and open-bodied.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Dr. Pekoppa to the rescue

Sometimes the only thing you need is someone, or something, that listens to you and understands you in an intuitive way. Something that just responds minimally and does not talk back. As most partners do not fulfill this requirement, the Japanese at SegaToys filled this gap in the market by introducing for once not a robotic fembot, fish or chick, but a cute little plant called Pekoppa.

This wiggly artefact moves its stem and leaves in a surprisingly expressive way, and because it's shape and movements are so ambiguous it gives people all the space to create their own narrative around this artificial plant, especially because it actually reacts to human voices. The following movie mainly shows some Japanese people getting things of their chest with this little healer, but some simply seem to have a nice social conversation with it, or decide to sing a song for it.

It is interesting that this 'device' is marketed under the nickname 'Healing Leafs', and I strongly believe that such developments can have significant psychological impact on society. It is maybe not very noticeable, but humanity is undergoing an enormous psychological crisis, desperately labeling any anomaly as yet another disorder, and rates of suicides, addiction, and depression are staggering. We lost a connection to our selves, are distracted by all sorts of fairly meaningless chunks of data and abstract goals imposed upon us mainly by the mirror of the media, and society, and I believe strongly that technologies can help us reconnect and have us reflect more, in a playful, empowering, and motivating way.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Muto by Blu; surreal wall-painted animation

Fantastic wall painted animation 'Muto' by Blu studio, touching upon themes like multiple identities, morphing bodies, blending of flesh and technology, metamorphosis, and even mind-body dualism as at some point a man's brain starts living an own life and evolves into a new man with butterfly wings, seemingly signifying that the most beautiful self we can become is hidden in our minds and needs to evolve separate from our body. This animation, definitely inspired by genetic engineering, is sometimes a bit silly but nevertheless highly inspirational once you take it seriously that this sort of art can be a precursor to actual developments that become more and more prevalent in our everyday lives.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Yayoi Kusama's Happiness through Self-Obliteration

Be quick if you have the opportunity to visit an amazing exhibition at the Boijmans van Beuningen museum in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, for until October 19th the work of Yayoi Kusama is displayed there. In my opinion this is one of the most fascinating artists ever, because her work is so intimately connected to her own psyche which represents very much the problems people faced in the 20th century and still, and with which I can very much identify. Frustrated by the superficiality of technology and information overload, Kusama has spent her life escaping this by creating her own repetitive universe of polka dots or 'infinity nets', in a drive to show people how everything is one, and how we can "become one with the Absolute, all together in the altogether" and "lose our egos in timeless eternity, and finally discover the naked truth".

It appears to me that she tried to embody the cosmic energy underlying all of which we are part in one symbol, the dot, which she applied in her paintings, sculptures, but also on her own body and that of others. The latter she did in the 1960's in her controversial 'Happenings' in which she for example gathered up a group of people to dance around naked at well-known sites such as Central Park, while painting each other with dots. Also, she covers spaces with mirrors to create a feeling of infinity, which is quite mind-bending if you stand inside it, as shown in the image above. All this Kusama did to make people see and feel that they are "just another dot" in an eternity of dots, as opposed to having to struggle in developing an essentially illusory self-concept that can be framed into an equally illusory, culturally constructed system.

But Kusama ignores one fundamental notion, in that also representing both the hippie movement and many contemporary escapist cultures like gamers, Otaku, or Harajuku, namely the notion that simplifying life does not come through imposing simple elements onto it, but through mastering the complexity through intelligent thought and action. Human culture and individuality is part of the cosmic whole, which is never an absolute but always transcending itself through processes of chaos, separation, and union. It is through aligning one's ego and individuality into a larger whole to which it can devote itself, that a deeper meaning arises. Kusama, in escaping this and commenting on it in a rather superficial way, has probably done what she could have done as an artist, but when looked upon more critically it is apparent that it is actually quite contradictory that she tells people to be part of a unified whole by ignoring the actual unified whole.

Now that we are ignited by such artists, it is time that we passionately learn to really transcend the brittle systems we have created.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Flowers have Eyes

Here's some visual nourishment for the true fetishist of everything about biological technology, or  technological biology, whatever. I still am looking for a good term for this. I kind of like McLuhan's term 'hominization of the planet' (from 'The Global Village', 1989). Maybe George W. Bush would rather use 'planetary humanification'. Couldn't resist mentioning him at least once on the blog, excuse me.