Report from Super Flying Tokyo – February 2014

Five years in the running, organised by Rhizomatiks and curated by Daito Manabe, Flying Tokyo has been the home for international artists working in the field of art and technology to present their work to the Japanese audience. Over the years the event has grown in interest and for the first time since it’s launch, now supported by the Agency for Cultural Affairs, Flying Tokyo has taken a new shape, in the form of – Super – Flying Tokyo with a larger space and audience, more speakers and a workshop programme. CAN was there and we are pleased to offer this recap of the proceedings.

The event took place at La Foret Museum Harajuku with Day 1 conference and Day 2 workshops in the lively atmosphere of Shibuya Hikarie. Featuring artists included Jussi Ängeslevä (ART+COM), Ivan Poupyrev (scientist/inventor/designer), Aaron Koblin (artist), Jono Brandel (Google Data Art Team), Filip Visnjic (founder/editor-in-chief of CreativeApplications.Net), Kyle McDonald (artist/openFrameworks community) and Byeong Sam Jeon (media artist/KoIAN).

Byeong Sam Jeon opened the event, talking about the crossovers between practice and creative exploration. He shared his personal experiences on how he successfully manages his artistic activities, technology development, and the business side of things—all running in unison. Having broke the ice between the audience and the speakers through a brief exercise of sharing each others business cards using balloons, Byeong Sam quickly turned to discuss the convergence of art, technology and business. Focusing on the notions of watching, connecting and actualising, Byeong Sam explained the importance of understanding new technologies, identifying trends and seeking out opportunities.

My talk focused on making a case for the artist as a researcher. Kicking off with the 16th century divorce between science and humanities and the recent struggle by our education systems to classify the divergence of creative professions, I highlighted the importance of programming and the fact that to shape the world around us, we need to know and understand the systems that govern it. Going through some of my past students’ work, including George Domitrakopolous and Edward_Lancaster, it was an opportunity to explain that even though the digital technology is a central feature of art and design education, the implications and developments of these technologies continue to provide scope for new research and innovation in design. Over the last five years my objective has been facilitate a productive scenius that nurtures creative intersections, exchanges and networks between practitioners in art, media, design and technology. As the web has become the platform of choice to share, distribute, communicate and debate topics in this field, the production and dissemination of work becomes affected by how online content is consumed. I asked the audience to consider the project as a vehicle rather than a product and recognise that research is an integral part of creative enquiry. Referring to Christopher Frayling’s paper classifying what kind of research happens within art and design, I suggested that we are mostly interested in Research through art and design – materials research, development work, action / process based research. Part of this process also includes dissemination, to be able to be communicate the work in many shapes and sizes – aimed at specific audiences. Whether this is workshops we engage in, tutorials we share online, talks we give, conversations we have. Finally I closed by proposing that we should be creating outputs not projects – scattering the seeds so to speak (dissemination wiki), my concern was to remove ourselves from aesthetics and be concerned with the process. We should try to use projects as vehicles to develop a thesis, a position. Only then, the work that we make will provide a valuable precedent for others to follow.


Kyle McDonald began his talk by describing the work he does using “Doing it with others” analogy. Starting with amateurs, someone that doesn’t get paid, doing it out of love. The first community he participated in, Processing forums, sharing code, critiques, and working together. This was followed by Instructables, posting tutorials on how to build electronics, sensors, etc. he found it interesting to discover that the top part of the page that he was creating became less important as the discussion grew. It was as if the topic moved away from the poster towards the community. In 2009, he wrote about structured light, a technique he was developing to scan scenes without using a scanner. He released the code, basic instructions and people would send the videos they made. Dance movies, intros, music videos. Most recently, was his Face OSC project which resulted in many people creating different things. The second category was working with “Friends” – people he met online and then in the real world. Meeting Arturo Castro resulted in projects such as face substitution, taking a face from one person and pasting it onto another. Most recently Openfitlab – making custom jeans for people by scanning and cutting out the pattern. They threw a party and made six pair of jeans that fit perfectly. The next category included followers, the one directional relationship with people. It started with keytweeter, where Kyle was posting every character he typed on Twitter. The project lasted for one year and Kyle learnt a lot about public and private space online. This experiment led onto his most recent exploration of identity online – making all received DMs turn into his public tweets. He wanted to see if he could dilute personal identity and if someone else could become him. Other collaborations for Kyle included festivals and organisations giving life to projects such as RAM Toolkit, ExR3 at NODE Forum with Elliot Woods, CLICK Festival for Light Leaks and many others.


Kyle also discussed the importance of working with corporations, which besides project outputs also enabled giving back to the community in the form of open source projects or solutions for others to use. Finally, Kyle talked about doing it with loved ones. In this instance referring to his recent collaborations with Lauren McCarthy, and including projects such as the Google handouts plugin. Kyle also discussed the nature of collaborative process, emphasising code as something temporary, that comes together and gets taken apart, comparing GitHub to Japanese tea rooms, where people do everything everyone else is doing. These “tea rooms” have no decoration, they are sparse different to western form of decoration. In tea rooms the visitors are supposed to complete it, project meaning onto it. When you find code online, maybe it’s not compete and you job to complete it, Kyle said. “The community was bigger than any of the individuals”


Next up was Jussi Ängeslevä, vice creative director at ART+COM and an honorary professor at the Berlin University of the Art. Originally from Finland, living and working in Berlin, Jussi talked about the work that aspires to discover digital quality in analogue things. Discussing ART+COM work that is reproduced by others without permission and how the “soul” of work is lost in this process because only mechanical or technical principles are copied. Works such as Kinetic Rain at the Singapore’s Changi Airport, and RIVER IS in Gwangju, South Korea, where a chrome-plated surface with complex wavy facet structures reflects light to form words on the wall – both embody poetry that is very difficult to reproduce. It is one thread that manifests itself in many ART+COM projects – ideas transcend projects, Jussi said. The work is about material qualities combined with computational control that bring poetic order. Jussi also showed some of his students work, including Beyond Repair, thinking different about 3d printing where instead of replication the focus is on elaborating how objects may adopt new functions. In the similar manner, inVases by Alyssa Trawkina is a web platform that enables the generation of customised vases, where an algorithm determines the shape and the aesthetics.

Another beautiful project, Screw Lock by Daniel Dalfovo and Gaspar Battha looks at tools as symbols for human culture with the screwdriver probably being amongst the most famous as it is found in any household. Screws have seen a very exciting development considering the almost endless amount of different kinds of screw heads, each of which with certain advantages but also disadvantages. Screw Lock is a service taking this idea and creates always unique screws that can only be opened with the exact counterpart, the matching screwdriver. An infinite amount of screw heads can be generated and produced based on everyone’s individual input, her’s or his password. Jussi closed his talk with an anecdote related to the Kinetic Rain at the Singapore’s Changi Airport. When the piece was installed, and although the 608 lightweight aluminium drops were perfectly fixed, the health and safety required the installation of the net below should one of those drops ever decide to “drop”. What no one expected was the woman who was so taken by the installation decided to climb the net to take one of the drops for herself (and here), ten meters off the ground, risking her life.

Ivan Poupyrev, having moved from Disney Research to Motorola’s special projects arm, now part of Google, talked about how the experience of using technology has changed. Whereas once the focus was on functionality, referring back to consumer electronics of the 80s and 90s, the emphasis now is on experience. While at Sony in the early 2000s, Ivan developed some of the earliest touch screens even before the company knew what to do with them. One of those early devices was a remote control that duplicated the function of the buttons in the form of a touch screen. When Ivan asked why this was being done, why not just have the touch screen, the opinion was that people simply like buttons. Fast forward to iPhone, being just useful is just not sufficient. New experiences, Ivan said, don’t require technology. His focus for many years was to invent technologies that create experiences not functionalities. Ivan went on to show examples including Touché, exploring possibilities how can we add new experiences to everyday environments.

Touche-Pinch-LargeTouché is a sensing technology designed to make the entire world around us richly interactive and responsive, easily and inexpensively. Touché can detect touch, proximity, and gestures on a wide variety of everyday objects and even on human body. Unconventional materials, such as water and living matter, can also be sensed to enable new and exciting applications. Any part of human body can become gestural surface also. Capacitive Fingerprinting project explores how the electrical properties of the human body can be used to differentiate users when they are touching screens or other touch-sensitive devices and objects. One of the more recent projects Ivan talked about was also how can we create interactive experiences that also generate power. Using Paper Generators project as an example, our interaction with devices can be used to generate electrical energy. As an increasing number of technologies revolve around touch, Ivan has been wondering how to expand the touch and remove the technology. Called Ishin-Den-Shin, a Japanese expression for communicating through an unspoken mutual understanding, the technology behind this project turns an audio message into an inaudible signal that is relayed by the human body. When the communicator’s finger slightly rubs an object, this physical interaction creates an ad-hoc speaker that makes it possible to hear the recorded sounds.


Last up, but not least, for the day was Aaron Koblin. Aaron leads Google Data Arts team but his projects have a much wider span, between data and the audience’s thinking about interface as a narrative device. One thing that runs through most of Aaron’s work is how data collection, analysis and acting upon it can create new understanding of the world around us. This is far from adding numbers or visualising them. Rather, it is about exploring the creative potential of connected digital tech. Aaron spoke about the ways data can be embodied in different environments, the natural failures of technology and the contradictory relationship we have with technology. Aaron’s long term objective has been to see ways we can begins to “use technology to enhance our mind”. Projects like 10000 sheep, also known as The Sheep Market, is a collection of 10,000 sheep created by the workers on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Like the Ten Thousand Cents project, they explore the circumstances we live in, individuality within humanity and “a new and uncharted combination of digital labor markets, crowdsourcing, virtual economies, and digital reproduction”. Referring to Daisy Bell project, i.e. when computers became “human”, Bicycle Built For 2,000 is a collaborative artwork by Aaron in the form of a song comprised of 2,088 voice recordings collected via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk web service.

Workers were prompted to listen to a short sound clip, then record themselves imitating what they heard. The recorded sound clips were collected and organised into the original pattern. The collaboration was also an important element in projects such as the music video for Radiohead that used lasers and sensors to scan Thom Yorke into a three-dimensional particle-driven data experience. The code and data are available on Google Code as an open source “music video without video” project. This also marked an entry point for Aaron to explore power of music on the web, turning the viewer into the experience. Projects like The Johnny Cash Project, The Wilderness Downtown and 3 Dreams Of Black need no introduction, created a sense of place for people to met.

On Sunday, Shibuya Hikarie 8/COURT was the host to two workshops organised by the Rhizomatiks team. Jono Brandel ran the workshop “Making Shapes Move” – curated by Aaron Koblin and adjacent was Kyle McDonald walking the participants through the techniques for Light Leaks project. In these five hour intensive sessions, Jono explored some fundamental principles on how to animate shapes with JavaScript. Using simple arithmetic, penner easing equations, and audio reactive animations thanks to two.js, each participant was given a word to draw and animate. The session culminated in a collaborative visual poem that was published online and can be viewed here. Kyle introduced participants though basic image capture, interfacing with Canon DSLR cameras, basic computer vision, using structured light to decode projection, using 3d models for calibration, and basic shader programming for true 3d projection mapping. The install included three mirror balls which served as a canvas for participants to project imagery. For this unfamiliar with technique, the process allows for mirror balls to be used as light deflectors into three-dimensional space. Thanks to the structured light technique, the distributed pixels could be located in virtual environment and used as 3d pixels to project into. See this project for reference.

Big thanks to Daito + team for putting this event together. I think it’s safe to say, and on behalf of all the speakers, that we had a terrific time. Likewise big thanks to Ikumi, Rina, Muryo, Akiko, Yusuke and many others…

For more information on Super Flying Tokyo and future Rhizomatiks events, see:

Super Flying Tokyo | Rhizomatiks | Daito Manabe | Facebook | Flickr