USE AND REUSE, PixelAche 05 in Helsinki, by Heiko Hansen published in Cluster Magasine issue 05, Torino, Italy, January 2005

More and more knowledge is accumulated online, such as the compendium Wikipedia, “a free, open community, united by technology, where increasingly vast amounts of content are actively written, reviewed, and debated for public consumption”. In this prospective scenario we can freely use and reuse ideas, but we can also change the information. Are we already constantly recycling knowledge? The critics of recycling claim that this process implies a slow degradation of quality over time. However, information that is recycled has a specific function in its first life and a new function after it is recycled. But, what role is played when this process of re appropriation, using and reusing knowledge take place within cultural processes?

These questions are addressed by the “Used in India” exhibition, presented by Aditya Dev Sood at this year’s PixelAche festival in Helsinki. “Used in India” creates knowledge. The project originated from the idea to transfer the model of the applied art museum to India. However, ‘Used in India’ sympathetically leaves the well-trodden path of categorised historical displays and instead takes into account the vast subcultures and economic realities found in contemporary India. Very specific local production processes are going hand in hand with techniques of modifying, reverse engineering and ways to personalise technologies.


Fig. 1 Used in India study by CKS [Photo credit: ©CKS]


“Used in India is a multimedia installation, which showcases both media devices and narratives of their use, to illumine the nature of street innovation, technology production and social exchange in India. Used in India has been conceived of and produced by CKS, a research and design practice in Bangalore. Our collection of actual devices and inquiry into user practice suggests that local users are infinitely well versed in innovatively re purposing, repairing, reworking and refurbishing technology to suit their social practices and contextual needs. Be it the use of LED (light emitting diodes) to adorn pictures and idols of local deities or the creation of a mosquito-repellent-cum-mobile phone, India abounds with examples of ‘jugaad’ or street innovation. Such user creativity thrives on informal knowledge networks of production, consumption and transaction, and has largely remained hidden from the view of technologists, product developers and designers in the mainstream.”

Vanessa Gocksch a Colomian based artist, presented at PixelAche her project about Syncretism, in which she looks at fashion as a vehicle to reveal cross-cultural assimilation. In her own documentation of the life and craft of the indigenous people, for example that of the Kuna women of the San Blas Archipelago, on the Atlantic side of the Republic of Panama, she shows how interwoven this native culture has become with the rest of the world. Exemplary for this is the Mola (fig.2), the Kuna Indian blouse, which is still made in its traditional form. In this cut and sew technique of different coloured textile pieces, the Kuna women have started to integrate international symbols ranging from Santa Claus to Japanese comic figures. These symbols are often so ‘embedded’, that they are hardly visible for the unexperienced Mola viewer.


Fig. 2 Mola shirt with “embedded” graphics from global culture [Photo credit: ©Vanessa Gocksch]


Vanessa Gocksch:
“Is there a way for indigenous tribes to integrate themselves into western society without loosing what is essential to maintaining their cultural heritage? A good example of an indigenous tribe that has been able to do this are the Wayuu of the desert peninsula of La Guajira which, are the largest indigenous community remaining in Colombia. The use (by the Wayuu) of the Tommy Hilfiger logo for the decoration of hand made items is particularly strange. I asked why they made such items, and the reply was that it was fashionable. Tommy is expensive and the image that this company has created for itself is representative of the ideal Brit-American yuppie lifestyle. Westerners are being manipulated through semiotics to buy these products as it provides them with an identity they like. Yet the Wayuu are not a part of western culture, don’t see Tommy advertisements, or have any idea what a yuppie might be. So much so, that they do not understand the importance of having an original Tommy and not an imitation, much less a strange hand woven version. But yet they weave Tommy bags, hammocks and shoes because they have recognized the power of the logo, which is also a symbol. Symbols conform the discreet and secret language that manipulates the people. When I asked Mamo Ramon Gil (a Wiwa shaman) what he thought of computers, he said “There is nothing new or bad in this world, all has always been here, things just change in form.” A tree becomes a chair, a copper mineral becomes an information circuit, a moment becomes a poem. Re-appropriation has always been the way that humanity has evolved, it is a natural process that was only challenged last century with the invention of intellectual property. Being the soul owner of an idea is impossible, illogical, so why attempt to develop “new” ideas. In my work I certainly do try my best to recycle ideas and images, specifically those coming from people who’s intellectual legacy is well on its way towards disappearance.”

The PixelAche festival opened with Erich Berger’s performance “Tempest”. Tempest, is a US secret intelligence programme created to explore potential surveillance techniques based on the Van Eck Phreaking (VEP) phenomenon. VEP allows us to decode the electromagnetic fields of electronic devices and the Tempest project aims to use VEP to eavesdrop : for example providing an EM-field fingerprint of any image that is displayed on a computer monitor can be decoded. Erich Berger has used the VEP phenomenon for his audio-visual performance Tempest, named after the intelligence program. In the performance he plays a program that generates abstract graphics and picks up the EM-field from the visuals with four analog modulated radios (fig.3), which are attached to the screen. The audio signal is exposed through a standard analogue filter, to be played straight back to the audience. The graphics are in black and white, to create a sharp contrast and to maximise on the colour of sound. (fig.4). This together with the inherent feedback loop of the graphics, their speed, acceleration and the corresponding sound, creates a highly structured rhythmic experience, where audio visuals inter-relate, without beginning or end.


Fig.3 From Erich Berger’s ‘Tempest’, Analog modulated radios tuned into the flatscreen [Photo credit: Heiko Hansen]

Erich Berger:
“The image generating part of the tempest performance is based on reusing/cycling and recycling is a nice word in this context as I utilize a circular process in which the image from the frame before is used again. VEP like other intelligence utilities is a meaning generating process, floating between the notions of paranoia and desire. I am very much interested in this process. Intelligence services and generative art or even occult numerological practices like Kabbalah have this in common (and some take it more serious than others), the desire that the order they filter out of the noise has a deeper meaning and that this deeper meaning has something very important to tell about something we are deeply involved with - which is the paranoia part of the story.


Fig.4 Screenshot from Erich Berger’s ‘Tempest’ [Photo credit: ©Erich Berger]


In tempest there is an instant synchronous relation between sound and image that ties them together in an immediate manner - it becomes a very bodily experience. The bodily experience is a very important factor for me and that is why some parts of the performance might be a bit harsher. I want that the sound can be also felt when people wearing earplugs and even if you close your eyes you still have afterimages from the high contrast graphics. I was very pleased in Helsinki when the 85 year old relative of mine told me how much she enjoyed the show, she turned off her hearing aid but she still could feel the sound vibrating in/on the body”.

In transposing cultural values into our own observations, ideas and forms we always inteprete and shine our subjective light on what we use. CKS from Bangalore, Vanessa Gocksch from Columbia and Erich Berger from Norway treat their subjects of observation with a great personal curiosity and respect. That is why their investigations are so engaging, because they remain objective, but are very sensitive to intimite forms of exploration at the same time.

What will we use and reuse in the future? Most probably the past. The PixelAche 2006 festival will be in Paris, until then, we should better recycle.