Eyeo, eyeo, eyeo – well, where to begin? At the best of times providing an overarching review of a festival is an exercise in exclusion and cobbling together a vague impression of the second edition of Eyeo is no exception. In fact, one could say that Eyeo is pretty much a conference organized around the idea that creative technologists are willing to travel all the way to Minnesota in order to be a room away from great artist talks and public conversations. An attendee simply has to surrender him/herself to the horrible burden of choice and constantly pick between presentations that are outright unmissable or simply very promising – it was a tough week let me tell you! I don’t feel particularly compelled to provide an outright ‘review’ of the festival beyond saying “you should really go next year”, but I thought it would be interesting to share (and expand on) some of the notes I made over the course of the week.
• Paola Antonelli’s talk was a super-savvy introduction to the proceedings. Not only because it was freewheeling and gregarious, but due to some of the underlying provocations she made. Antonelli ‘zoomed out’ from the specificity of the last several years and looked to the radical 70s for inspiration. Although it might be old hat for the architecture/urbanist set, it was great to see the work of Italian upstarts Superstudio serving as discussion fodder for a room full of interaction designers and creative coders. As was the case with Natalie Jeremijenko’s presentation last year, the polemic urging the audience to think big and tackle complex issues was deeply appreciated.
• One of the fun undercurrents this year was accessibility. Self-described “hardware girl in a software crowd” Ayah Bdeir presented littleBits, an opensource library of snappable, magnetic modules perfect for teaching electronic fundamentals. Bdeir described her project as riffing on the logic of object-oriented programming to yield “interaction-oriented hardware” and the interoperability of littleBits resonated nicely with Golan Levin’s presentation of his multi-brand toy construction system hack/augmentation The Free Universal Construction Kit from the night before.
• Another prominent theme: ruminations on the extents of practice and the nature of performance. Kyle McDonald deadpanned that his largest ongoing performance project was email and while this was intended as a joke it underscored the degree to which participation in communities, knowledge and resource sharing (e.g. GitHub) is a key element of contemporary practice. Golan Levin dispelled the mythology of the TED talk and drew attention to the fact that the TED talks that end up online are hyper-edited to the point where “ums” and “maybes”are removed yielding seemingly seamless final cuts. Is the streamlined 17 minute talk a vital part of contemporary artist/designer ‘brand management’? Undoubtedly.
• Andrew Bell (the lead architect of Cinder) gave a thoroughly witty presentation on “how to be a creative coder and not have to underwrite it with something else” that deftly schematized the digital agency marketplace and how creative technologists can be ‘free agents’, invent their own jobs and still make rent each month. Keep an eye out for his slide deck as the last chunk of it has some pretty vital survival tips for those looking to swim with the sharks.
• While I mentioned Antonelli’s talk was an incendiary introduction, Kevin Slavin and Marius Watz’s presentations could be read as the ‘boots on the ground’ bookends to the proceedings. Slavin opened with a sprawling consideration of “that fucking bastard that we’ve called luck” that parsed the history of gaming, the market and the social history of various cultures of control. Watz dedicated a good portion of his talk to outlining the parameters by which he—and the audience—might evaluate algorithmically generated work, in an attempt to cultivate a more constructive culture of self-critique within the (at times prone to back-patting) software art community. Both of these presentations moved well beyond the territory of standard artist talks and the payout was rich.
• Regarding the previous point: Eyeo is where veteran speakers roll out and test their A game material. I would need more than two hands to count the number of speakers I saw revising, reworking and rethinking their talks and slide decks, right up until the very last minute in response to how previous sessions had unfolded. Chalk it up to a combination of nerves and a brain trust audience that ‘gets it’, there were a lot of fabulously earnest, ambitious and innovative presentations at Eyeo 2012.
So there you have it, 5% of my notes on the 45% of the presentations that I attended (and I didn’t even mention several of my favourite talks). The most succinct encapsulation of the event that I saw was tweeted by the aforementioned Sha Hwang, where he described it as a “high resolution, real time flocking simulation of artists, designers, coders, makers.” I’m not going to argue with that characterization as the resolution certainly was high, I’ll just point out that the key to navigating within a flock requires a delicate blend of alignment, cohesion and maintaining a bit of breathing room between you and your nearest neighbours – Eyeo delivered inspiration and provocation on all of these fronts.