Tripping through Las Palmas

Mild disorientation and a ringing in the ears. Those were the effects of a visit to the Dutch Electronic Art Festival exhibition, on show until April 29 in Rotterdam. Up to now the exhibition has always been better than the previous year’s offering. The eighth DEAF whose theme is ‘Interact or Die!’ is no exception.

‘Interact or Die!’ examines how networks function, how flexible and strong structures can be created without any predefined aim or central coordination, and how inefficient parts are allowed to die. The installation SE/30 on show in the Las Palmas exhibition, illustrates perhaps best what ‘Interact or Die!’ is all about. SE/30 consists of twenty Macintosh SE computers. In the installation, designed by the Code31 collective, every computer functions as a cell in a network. Each cell produces images and sounds on the basis of its own logic. At the same time, each computer responds to the computer next to it and changes owing to this interaction. Patterns are therefore in a state of constant change, and the result is not predictable and chaotic, say the makers. The result: a long row of old Mac computers that emit fascinating images and ‘noise’.

Curator Stephen Kovats brought together a number of stunningly beautiful installations in an exhibition staged in both Las Palmas and PakhuisMeesteren. You need a whole afternoon to take in everything. So here are a few tips for people short on time.

The show, particularly in Las Palmas is a cacophony of electronic sound. One of the sources is Harddisko by Valentina Vuksic. This installation looks like a mixing panel on which an invisible hand scratches the hard disks of computers. For this Noise & Disturbance Amplifier System the protective cases of the disks were removed and the disks were then connected to one another. The explanation tells us that they differ in terms of brand, model, year of production etc. The initiation procedure for the read/write heads differs per disk, too. Different patterns are created as a result, and so each disk emits its own unique sound. The result is an intriguing soundscape.

Zhang Peili’s installation Lowest Resolution is of a totally different order but no less disturbing. Lowest Resolution consists of a long, narrow, dark alley with a small LCD screen hanging at the end. Projected onto the screen is a video of a girl in a red school uniform. The distance makes it difficult to see exactly what the girl is doing or to hear if she’s talking or singing, or maybe crying. The visitor is drawn to the screen like a bee to honey but punished for his curiosity. The closer you get to the screen the more the quality of image and sound deteriorates before eventually turning into a fuzzy snow and murmuring noise.

Ondulation by Thomas McIntosh looks similar to the installation Notion Motion by Olafur Eliasson exhibited in the autumn of 2005 at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. Eliasson caused water to vibrate in a mechanical manner. Light shining on the water was reflected and caused projections on the walls. McIntosh adds another element: sound. A big, white, rectangular container holding a shallow layer of opal-white liquid is placed in a darkened space. Sound sets the surface beneath the liquid in motion and, indirectly, the liquid too. Changes in the frequency and strength directly influence the movement of the liquid. The 'sound waves' in the container are dramatically illuminated. The light projects these onto a large white wall, new patterns form, and large sound boxes in the space ensure that the sound is also palpable for visitors: see it, hear it, feel it.

The installation Common Ground by Workspace Unlimited (Thomas Soetens and Kora van den Bulcke), on show in PakhuisMeesteren, is complex, layered and utterly hallucinating. The real world is linked to the virtual, thus creating, says Workspace Unlimited, an intermediate space.

PakhuisMeesteren is on show in a virtual simulation. At the same time, visitors in the real space are projected into the virtual space as ghostly figures. The installation possesses a memory: someone who was previously in the real space can suddenly turn up in the virtual realm.

What’s more, Common Ground connects intermediate spaces located elsewhere in the world. You can step from Rotterdam into a space in Montreal. The lobby is a faithful representation of reality, while the lift is the only imaginary addition. The lift launches people upwards, ever higher inside the building without walls. Stairways and corridors along deep voids carry visitors past projects they can read about or they can ‘jump into’ to experience like Alice in Wonderland. After a while, people become totally disorientated in these Piranesian surroundings. One of the designers of Common Ground reassured a worried player: 'Getting lost isn’t bad; it always leads somewhere. '