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CAN 2016 – Highlights and Favourites

At its best, creative inquiry can offer intellectual nourishment, empowerment and solace. At the end of 2016, we need all of those, which is why remembering – and celebrating – the outstanding work done this year is all the more important. From devices that measure microclimates, to super-fine 3D printed particle clouds, to recreating cinematic space in VR: we added so many great projects to the CAN archive. With your help we selected some favourites.

Readers’
Choice

The community has spoken: over the last two weeks, a total of 1,898 votes were cast for the one-hundred projects we’ve covered on CAN this year. Counting down, your top eleven favourites were:

11Random Access Memory by Ralf Baecker
Rather than use semiconductors, a rotating platter and robot arm arrange grains of sand as the basis of rudimentary computation.

10Codex Anima Mundi by FUSE*
Starting with the site-responsive installation Amygdala (present at CUBO in Bologna in January), Italy’s fuse* talks process and performance with Federica Patti.

9Spectra-3 by FIELD
Under bright spotlights, this satellite dish-like sculpture inquisitively rotates and readjusts its orientation, creating a dazzling choreography of light, shadow, and movement.

8Lull by AV&C
Waves of viscous light undulate on the sides of a transparent structure in this organic projection; visitors step inside its splashing currents and lose themselves in the complexity.

7Current Times by Peter Buczkowski
A deconstruction of ‘control,’ videogame actions are distributed across multiple controllers to underscore labour and force collaboration.

6MASSES by Quadrature
A pair of string-spool-motor assemblies incrementally adjust the location of a rock on an inclined steel plate in a never-ending search for equilibrium.

5The Aerographer by Luiz Zanotello
Created within the Digital Media program at the University of the Arts Bremen, this installation is a system of connected mechanical modules that recalibrate themselves based on airspeed and temperature of the room they are housed in. Tightly tethered to the local microclimate, its creator describes it as “trapped on groundless air, seeking to sustain a place inside of the clouds.”

4Deep Web by Christopher Bauder & Robert Henke
A marriage of two singular talents, this kinetic installation saw the creation of luminous lattice forms with 175 motorized spheres and 12 high power lasers for an audiovisual performance at Berlin’s CTM festival last winter. Robotically choreographing a multi-channel musical score by Robert Henke, its piercing beams and whizzing spheres articulate 3D wireframes above a rapt audience.

3Artificial Afterlife by Amy Whittle
Inspired by the electric stimulation of muscles and Frankenstein, this ArtEZ Interaction Design thesis project creates a circuit that draws energy from an animal corpse. Artificial Afterlife not only patches into recently departed sparrows or ducks, it visualizes their low-voltage signal oscillation, creating an uncanny feedback loop between the technological and the spiritual.

2Soap and Milk by Waltz Binaire
Making online chatter into a burbling stew, this complex vvvv shader pipeline calculates real-time fluid dynamics, volumetric ray casting, and ambient occlusion while reconstituting tweets as bubbles in soapy froth. Using an infrared camera shooting at 170 fps, bodies moving within the scene cause it to ripple and react, making twitter into something that is experienced rather than read.

1Palimpsest by Takashi Torisu, Haavard Tveito, John Russell Beaumont

While ‘scan, upload, discuss’ is not the standard workflow in architectural research it is exactly the type of provocation you’d expect to be hatched in the Bartlett School of Architecture’s Interactive Architecture Lab. Inspired by anicent documents with layers of information inscribed into them, Palimpsest 3D scans urban spaces (and the communities that live in them) and recreates their rich history in VR.
Capturing 3D data at urban (LiDAR), building (Project Tango and AutoDesk ReCap), and personal (Microsoft Kinect) scales, the project’s first iteration engaged the residents of a Camden neighbourhood that were being displaced by a new high speed rail line. These assets were used to construct an explorable VR environment – a template for more inclusive modes of architectural representation.

Field
Notes

Great work isn’t created in a vacuum. From the enduring influence of work done by early pioneers, to new tools and emergent technologies, to the latest or persistant trends – six bite-sized observations we made about this year:

VR’s Growing Pains
Strap your phone to your face, buy a $1,000 GPU – VR has arrived! Amongst the pablum, projects like Molleindustria’s A Short History of the Gaze reveal the medium’s potential.

School’s In
Daniel Shiffman’s burgeoning YouTube stardom, the relaunch of OpenProcessing, and new school MOOCs like Kadenze – 2016 was a year of online knowledge sharing and collaborative learning.

Democracy Sucks!
Citizens voting against their own interests loomed large this year; while art and design can be an oasis, we will surely see more work like R. Luke DuBois’ “The Choice is Yours” in 2017.

Machine Learning Mania
Machine learning seems less and less esoteric with each passing month; Gene Kogan astutely likened its integration into the artist’s toolkit to the propagation of computer vision.

Volumetric Capture
Forget video, LiDAR and Kinect represent the future of recording space; many methods are emerging – Claire Hentschker used photogrammetry to extract a 3D model from The Shining.

In Memorium
This year saw the loss of two computer art pioneers: Harold Cohen, inventor of AARON (a drawing machine he worked with for four decades), and the prolific academic and artist Georg Nees.

Editors’
Choice

Choosing eleven favourites from one-hundred noteworthy projects unsurprisingly leaves many great works unchecked. In addition to our reader selects, we recommend giving the following six projects – or thorough articles – a(nother) look:

Jller by Prokop Bartoníček & Benjamin Maus
Using computer vision and a robot arm, this machine takes an unruly mass of pebbles (collected from a German river of the same name) and methodically sorts them by geological features – rendering the history of the river visible.

Politics of Power by Automato
How does power get distributed across various systems? These custom designed triangular, circular, and t-shaped power bars elegantly demonstrate hierarchical, egalitarian, and even humanist models of resource allocation.

Data-Driven Material Modeling by Mediated Matter Group (MIT Media Lab)
Seeing heavy use in the production of Björk’s recent Rotlace masks, this experimental workflow draws on complex point-clouds, scalar and vector fields, and tetrahedral meshes, to produce elaborate multi-material 3D prints.

Terrapattern by Golan Levin, David Newbury, Kyle McDonald
Water towers, tennis courts, rooftop solar panels! Harnessing the power of machine learning, this web application allows for bespoke searches of satellite imagery to find visual (and infrastructural) patterns across several major cities.

Our Time by United Visual Artists
Commissioned by MONA as part of Dark Mofo, in Hobart, Tasmania in June, UVA explored the subjectivity of the passage of time with a matrix of mechanical pendulums that hypnotically swung back and forth at varying tempos, drifting back and forth between order and disorder.

Behavioural Complexity by AADRL
An overview of recent work within the Architectural Association’s Design Research Lab, a post-professional program focused on mobility and self-organisation as explored through weird architectural machines emerging from contemporary software and fabrication workflows.

Further
Reading

We happily looked away from our RSS reader for several noteworthy publications this year. The following books, magazine, and ‘3D PDF’ caught our eye and sustained our attention:

The Stack
How do software behemoths like Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google – they permeate our lives, policy, and the world – impact culture and politics? Benjamin Bratton’s 528 page tome is an mind-expanding, deep dive into into this very timely question.

The 3D Additivist Cookbook
Three years in the making and produced by dozens of artists and theorists, Morehshin Alllahyari and Daniel Rourke’s sprawling ‘3D PDF’ and torrent trove is a radical call for the ‘weirding’ of 3D printing and digital fabrication.

Dear Data
A hand drawn remedy to the cool and impersonal age of big data, information designers Stefanie Posavec and Giorgia Lupi present the year of weekly postcards they sent each other that artfully represent data cultivated from their everyday lives.

HOLO 2
Hot off the press: 236 pages strong, the second issue of our periodical ponders the prominence of randomness, tours residency programs at research hotspots like CERN, and encounters seven luminaries such as Vera Molnar and Rafael Lozano-Hemmer.

2017 can’t come soon enough! Still: we at CAN would like to thank you – the readers, the voters, the many artists and designers – for another inspiring year of (dis)covering amazing work. We’ll be back in early January doing just that.

        • Kris Meeusen

          What’s striking me in this overview is that all these projects look more are less the same. The concept and work may be creative but the look and feel is always the same.
          Sterile, very clean, black and white, … would love to see more colourful crazy projects in 2017.