Robots and Art pp 403-423 | Cite as

Robot Partner—Are Friends Electric?

  • Stefan Doepner
  • Urška Jurman
Part of the Cognitive Science and Technology book series (CSAT)


This text examines Doepner’s individually realized works as well as his works within different art collectives from the early 1990s up until today, work that spans the broad field of technology-based art: Van Gogh TV/Piazza Virtuale; Ikit; Playground Robotics: When Robots Play; When Robots Draw: At The Borderline Between Human and Machine; Robot Partner; Living Rooms—Happy End of the 21st Century; Automated Table Modification; DrillBot; NoiseBot, and others. The text focuses on Doepner’s artistic explorations of today’s prevalent reception, use and impact of technology as a materialization of certain systems and techniques that critically influence our daily lives.

This text examines my individually realized work as well as my work in different art collectives from the early 90s until today, work that spans the broad field of technology-based art, including robotics. The text focuses on my artistic explorations of today’s prevalent reception, use and impact of technology.

To discuss my art practice, which stretches over various media and disciplines (art, music, technology, science, urbanism, etc.) within a certain frame—art and robotics—demands a detour before starting to write about concrete projects and the concepts behind them.

The idea of organizing the field of art and its discourse according to a specific medium (sculpture, video, robotics, Internet, etc.) is basically an art historical endeavour, which is still impregnated with the modernist tradition. This tradition is grounded around the idea of medium specificity, which is based on the distinct “materiality” of artistic media and the ability of an artist to manipulate those features that are “unique to the nature” of a particular medium [1]. I studied painting and experimental film, I’ve worked with video, performance, experimental TV, sound, graphics, machines, robots, programs, (kinetic) sculpture, (interactive) installations, urban interventions, etc. I could claim that I couldn’t care less about interpretations of my work, which are medium specificity-based. But, is this really true?

Art historians and theoreticians would probably interpret my reservation to the medium-based approach to art in relation to the so-called post-media/post-medium condition, which undermines the modernist “medium specificity” tradition [2]. But within my daily professional reality (calls and invitations for festivals, exhibitions, catalogues, applications, grants, etc.). I am most often interpellated [3] as so-called new media-, computer-, robotic- or inter-media artist—basically, just with some more prefixes than was usual some 50 years ago [4].

If I had to label (the majority of) my art, I would prefer the broader term technology-based art. First, I am convinced that the technology employed—be it a hammer and chisel or an electronic circuit—shapes artistic expression in an important way. And second, more important, as an artist exploring today’s prevalent reception, use and impact of technology in our daily routine I need to understand the technical aspect of technology as well as different conditions behind it. To be able to explore and better understand complex systems—technical, ideological, economic, social, etc.—which are inscribed within technology and also reproduced by technology, I work with technology not just on the level of content and iconography, but also on the level of its “materiality” and in my working methods. This, for me, is politically crucial, and in this sense I have always been keenly interested in de-constructing and re-building technology. In order to interrupt the automated, mechanical, non-reflexive, consumerist relation to technology, I reinvent technology covering the entire creative process—from developing (often in close collaboration with other artists) electronic hardware, circuits, devices, machines, autonomous systems, and even tools/production means to creating artistic interpretations of technological visions. So, yes, even with some of the reservations I mentioned previously, in the end, the medium does matter in my artistic practice. But more than any single medium by itself, the driving force in my art is the exploration of systems, with a particular interest in technology as a materialization of certain systems and techniques that critically influence our daily lives.

It was already in my youth, my formative years being active in the punk and industrial scene, that ruling systems—economy, politics, religion, media, education, etc.—had their first stronger impact on me and I understood them as something that binds us, that is imposed on us, and as something that needs to be challenged. Today, as an artist, I am interested, on the one hand, in penetrating into already existing systems in order to explore and question their aims, procedures and limits, and on the other hand, in creating my own systems—be they electro-mechanical structures, robots or artist-run co-working spaces.

My technology-related art practice and artistic exploration of systems started with the Van Gogh TV/Piazza Virtuale, “an interactive television project that could be received all over Europe via four satellites for 100 days during documenta IX in 1992. Visitors of the documenta could beam themselves in via videophones and cameras that had been permanently installed in Kassel and other European cities to the live broadcast called ‘Piazza Virtuale’. It was possible to use telephone, fax or modem to dial into the broadcast from home. The aim of the project was to transform the mass medium of television into an interactive medium that reverses the relationship of one broadcaster and many receivers” [5]. The project consisted of several broadcasting units—so-called Piazzettas—in cities all over Europe, as well as in North Africa, the U.S. and Japan. I was part of the Piazzetta Telematica in Bremen, where I was then a student at the art academy (Hochschule für Künste Bremen). Using the latest communication technology available at that time, we were co-creating content and communication with and for the TV users. The 3Sat public television station was the main host of this interactive TV platform, which intended to interrupt the prevalent, one-way use of TV and to experiment with social relations established through mass media. But, what struck me is how strongly the meta level of the project—mass media system—determined the perception and possible use of our interactive TV platform by the TV audience. Today, active media participation and co-creation are inherent to the Internet and also already well economized, but within the traditional TV channel, the possibilities of this project were very limited; the more we tried, the more I felt constricted (Fig. 1).
Fig. 1

Piazzetta Telematica Bremen, Van Gogh TV, 1992, photos by Piazzetta Telematica Bremen

Kicked by this experience, I co-founded the Media Access Bureau in Bremen in 1993 (with Ronald Gonko, Tobias Küch, Tobias Lange, Ole Wulfers, Malcom Dow and others), where we could establish our own conditions. The place grew instantly into a public media atelier equipped with a fax, Internet, picture phone, Amiga and Mac workstations, and a restaurant/bar. It functioned as a social and a co-working place, but not that long, because our idealism soon led us into financial problems and we had to close about half a year later.

At the same time, new collaborative relations that developed through the Van Gogh TV project enabled us, a group of students, to invite artists like Mike Hentz and Nicolas Anatol Baginsky to the independent inter-media program that we were organizing at the Bremen art academy. The collaboration with N.A. Baginsky, who became my mentor for the artistic use of electro-mechanical technology, was crucial for me. Nick soon invited me to participate in some of his projects and I had the pleasure to learn by doing under his mentorship. Through working with him, I acquired an understanding of working with machines, robots and electronic systems from the perspective of a sculptor—how to develop, construct and use this machinery in order to sculpt a situation or a space.

By working with Nick, I also got the opportunity to work with some acknowledged artists from the so-called machine art scene [6], and that prompted me to define my own position in the world of art and technology. Furthermore, it became even more clear to me that the complexity of working with/in technology would require me to either learn programming and designing electronics on a professional level (or at least a self-sufficient level) or to find partners with necessary technical skills and expertise. I guess because of my affinity for teamwork as well as due to my life course, I found that team in Hamburg, a city that played an important part in my artistic formation.

In 1995, I joined the Trojan Ship [Das Treujanische Schiff] in Hamburg, a 6-month long project initiated by Mike Hentz, who was at that time professor at the Hamburg Academy of Fine Arts [Hochschule für bildende Künste]. The project was conceived as a kind of a Trojan horse into the academic education system, which often lacks active connection with life outside academic ateliers and classrooms. It took place on a ship, which was docked in the city centre at the famous Fischmarkt and used as a meeting and collaboration venue for students of the Hamburg fine art academy and also for other interested parties to intertwine education, art and life. Concepts that fuelled the Trojan Ship—the idea of art as a research into/for culture, the importance of establishing artist-run spaces, of carrying a full circle of artistic production, of self-organization and taking individual responsibility while working in cooperation, and the importance of making processes public and an important part of the art work—manifested in numerous exhibitions, concerts, lectures, symposiums, performances, parties, etc., and overlapped with my own artistic credo. I was literally living all of that within the medialab@sea, a small shack on the ship filled with ISDN Internet connection, computers and a handful of enthusiasts.

The Trojan Ship brought together Gwendoline Taube, Lars Vaupel and me, and in 1996 we founded the f18institut for Art, Information and Technology as a collaborative platform for artistic exploration of contemporary technology. The core unit of the f18institut soon expanded, integrating additional artists and programmers, with the composition of the group changing over the years, depending on the needs and interests of specific projects (Ole Wulfers, Jan Cummerow, Tom Diekmann, Joachim Schütz, Stora). Teamwork was, from the beginning, our modus operandi, since it creates the most dynamic processes, increases exchange and know-how and fosters individuals towards self-positioning. Already in our first projects we learned how to work collaboratively while at the same time leaving space for individual expression.

The first productions of the f18institut, which took place outside of our Blue House [7], where we were living, working and organizing public events, were connected with the Kampnagel cultural factory, Hamburg. From the late 80s till the late 90s, this former crane factory was an important producer and promoter of technology-related art, not just on a local or national, but also on an international scale. For a young art group such as f18institut at that time, it offered a priceless environment for our early artistic explorations. Besides supporting our work [8], Kampnagel was important for us also as a hub for the international scene of technology-based art. Through Kampnagel, f18 was able to establish connections and in some cases also collaborations with other artists whose projects we supported with our artistic and technical knowledge. No doubt our most important collaboration was in 1998 when f18institut developed and constructed in collaboration with Stelarc his Exoskeleton, a 3-m in diameter, insect-like six-legged robot that supports the artist who navigates the robot. Exoskeleton initiated a string of further collaborations with Stelarc: in 2000, f18 developed the Motion Prosthesis, a pneumatic robot unit for controlling the upper body; and in 2006, the WalkingHead, a 2-m in diameter, six-legged autonomous and interactive platform with an avatar head by Steve Middleton displayed on a monitor. Then, in 2014, I started to work with Stelarc on Microbot, a six-legged autonomous robot and performative intervention into Stelarc’s mouth that thematizes the growing intimacy of machines and the human body, and depicts a possible future in which the body will be colonized by micro- and nano-sensors, devices and robots augmenting our bacterial and viral populations (Figs. 2, 3 and 4).
Fig. 2

Stelarc and S. Doepner, Microbot, 2014, photo by Miha Koron

Fig. 3

Stelarc and S. Doepner, Microbot, 2014, photo by Miha Koron

Fig. 4

Stelarc and S. Doepner, Microbot, 2014, photo by Miha Koron

f18’s own artistic work has explored systems and techniques characterizing contemporary society (e.g. work, leisure time, science, art, etc.) with a special interest in technology, the promises it carries and the belief it serves. The procedure we have followed was to dive into the world of technology, to explore it through hands-on experience and to achieve our own decoding within it. One of our approaches has been the development of our own tools (computer controls, programs, devices, etc.), which enabled us to enter the world of technology through the “back door” and to create our own positions and possibilities in that context. We have strived to overcome technological glorification and mystification. For this, we believe, it is necessary to work from within—to examine and grasp technology through reinventing it. We have also been interested in giving a twist on the application of technology taken for granted in our daily lives, while at the same time also showing a daily routine as a kind of machinery. In our collaborative projects and also in my own work, familiar situations are interrupted and objects are ripped out of their actual contexts and entrusted with new tasks and meanings.

Works that I realized within the f18 projects create a poetics of everyday routines, which may at first seem absurd: Buddha Machine and Jesus Walking Over the Water—two motorized installations dealing with religion as a kind of automatization (within the Drop Outs exhibition, 1998); Midi Shelf, version 1—household appliances turned into a sound orchestra played by a sequencer (within the project, 1999); moving forest—autonomous platforms with trees (within the project, 1999); Exploding Wardrobe—computer-controlled performative object, 1999 (Figs. 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9).
Fig. 5

S. Doepner, Buddha Machine (Drop Outs), 1998, photo by f18institut

Fig. 6

S. Doepner, Midi Shelf (, 1999, photo by f18institut

Fig. 7

S. Doepner, Midi Shelf (, 1999, photo by f18institut

Fig. 8

S. Doepner, moving forest (, 1999, photo by f18institut

Fig. 9

S. Doepner, Exploding Wardrobe, 1999, photo by Tinka Scharfe

Our interest in technology and its implementation in everyday life, in the phenomena of automatization, and in the notion of a system, directed us more and more toward robotics. f18institut’s first own bigger robotics project was Ikit, which we performed in a public park in Zürich in the year 2000. The project was part of an educational exhibition Playground 03, which was presenting computer games (under the leitmotif of playing and learning) and was organized by the Migros Culture Percentage. Ikit was one of the artistic “interventions” in this exhibition and was a kind of jump and run computer game translated into the real world. It consisted of three robot platforms that could move autonomously across the lawn and establish contact with the public; a huge server-station, which served also as seating accommodation, referring to the famous supercomputer Cray-1 from 1976; and a large display consisting of 512 bulbs showing coarse video images transmitted by the robots as well as texts and graphics. The robots looked for “obstacles” (people), went towards them and, if people moved, robots followed them. The basic idea was to translate typical chase and escape computer-game activity into a bodily and playful experience. In addition to this, we were interested in observing what kind of relations and communication the public would establish with our robots. The interaction ranged from teenagers ignoring the robots after they did not immediately fulfill their expectations to a very playful discovering and intuitive use of functions by younger children to a more technically interested approach and “appropriation” (using the “following mode” for a walk with a robot through the park) by pensioners. Through these observations, we obtained direct feedback regarding our artistic and technical concepts, and this feedback proved invaluable for it gave us a clearer picture of our own understanding of autonomous robots and of the relations people are establishing towards them—a kind of a second-order cybernetics situation according to which an observer is always a part of the observed system (Figs. 10, 11 and 12).
Fig. 10

f18institut, Ikit, 2000, photo by Dominik Landwehr

Fig. 11

f18institut, Ikit, 2000, photo by Dominik Landwehr

Fig. 12

f18institut, Ikit, 2000, photo by Dominik Landwehr

In the year 2004, f18institut realized an exhibition series under the title Playground Robotics: When Robots Play, an overview of our latest robotic works. Three exhibitions in three different Swiss cities [9] were presenting our works, robotic works by Swiss artist Jürg Lehni (Hektor) and researcher Raja Dravid (Stumpi) as well as artistic services which f18 realized for other artists (Stelarc’s Exsoskeleton and Andres Bosshard’s rotating loudspeakers Rotobossophone, 2003).

Within the Playground Robotics: When Robots Play exhibition project, I would like to point out the exhibition When Robots Draw: At The Borderline Between Human and Machine [Wenn Roboter Zeichnen: Im Grenzbereich von Mensch und Maschine] displayed at the Kunstmuseum Solothurn. The exhibition examined the unclear boundary between artistic process and mechanical design and included works by Dieter Roth, Jean Tinguely, Roman Signer, Jürg Lehni, f18institut and others. f18 was involved in the selection of exhibited works and participated with Drawing Spiders by Lars Vaupel and PaintBot by me. PaintBot is an autonomous mobile platform (40 cm in diameter) equipped with a brush and an exchangeable container filled with oil paint, with the color to be chosen each day anew by the museum technicians. The robot moves within a given area that is covered with canvas, simultaneously dipping a brush into the paint and then leaving traces behind and thus slowly covering the canvas day by day. So, there was a space, dominated by the robot that was painting and then painting-over every moment a new image, a canvas and the intense smell of oil paint. Probably the first scent of oil paint in this museum, filled with Ferdinand Hodler’s oil paintings since long ago. The question arises as to which part of the process was under my artistic authorship, what was my decision and what was the result of the continuously running automated procedure? From my perspective, the painting was never a piece of art, rather more a byproduct of the artistic process sculpting the situation and the space. Or as the authors of the accompanying text for the When Robots Draw exhibition put it: “With this collection of drawings, sketches and design processes [e.g. codes for computer programs], not only the visual thinking of the participating artists are made visible, but also those transitions where the artistic process takes shape within the borderline between man and machine. The works shown here present not only their poetic content, but also a critical and ironic conflict with the possibilities and limitations of technology as well as with the definition of the concept of art” [10] (Figs. 13, 14 and 15).
Fig. 13

S. Doepner, PaintBot, 2004, photo by Jörg Mollet

Fig. 14

S. Doepner, PaintBot, 2004, photo by Jörg Mollet

Fig. 15

S. Doepner, PaintBot, 2004, photo by Jörg Mollet

With the Playground Robotics tour, the collaboration of the initial f18institut group ended. We continue to support older projects and work in individual teams on new developments, sometimes still under the f18 label.

In my experience, designing and building robots is a good way to learn about technology and cognition on the basis of trial and error. I have always embraced mistakes and failing as an important part of creative and cognitive processes as well as a conceptual tool with which to address the ideals, promises and beliefs closely attached to technology. What makes it so inspiring to work with robotics for me is that it provides a chance for self-reflection, for understanding your own concepts of behavior, perception, intelligence and corresponding processes like mistakes, routine, prejudices, misinterpretations and the like. When it comes to a situation where a certain circuit, program, etc., does not work according to your aims, you have to look at your own patterns of understanding. Developing robotics involves dealing with a whole bunch of system modules like sensors, behavior, control and mechanics as well as with the factors of human-robot interaction and of the desired or expected environment. In a way, it leads to a kind of artistic bio-digital exploration, a striving to understand the relationship between human beings and digital-electronic associates throughout the whole process, from development to application.

An important project that questions ideals, promises and beliefs that are closely attached to technology as well as exploring the relationship between human beings and digital-electronic associates is Robot Partner. It is a long-term project, or better: a conceptual frame within which I have realized several works that relate to the promise of robots to facilitate our daily living, to make it more efficient and thus better. The project focuses on the concept of partnership between humans and machines and also on the contemporary ideas and images of fortschritt (progress).

Hegel once wrote that the progress of the mind is not yet the progress of happiness. At the present time, it seems obvious to me that promised progress is also only promised happiness. TheLiving RoomsHappy End of the 21stCentury (2006, with Jan Cummerow) [11] addresses this ambivalence, since any kind of progress also produces new contradictions and conflicts, and any kind of promise produces new expectations and desires.

The installation takes the form of the interior of an apartment in which home appliances and furniture take on a life of their own. TheLiving Rooms consists of a kitchen, bedroom, bath and a living room. Each area is equipped with ubiquitous items—furniture, home devices, accessories and tools. Items function “correctly” to a certain degree; however, their function is not determined by their usability, but they are programmed as if they were subject of their “own” dynamics. The apartment seems to generate a potential inhabitant in a virtual state. A course of action involving furniture and devices arises, which then increasingly runs into an escalating independence—kitchen devices, tools, chairs and tables, etc., jump into a rhythmic state and absurd dance. Part by part, the objects slowly calm down, the mobile furniture moves back to its original location and the virtual inhabitant goes back to bed, the light fades. This performative installation creates an image that we can relate to our past, present and future. It offers the visitor the possibility to explore his/her own everyday world as a type of machinery, as well as to reflect on the ideas and dreams of the improvement of our daily lives and environments through the help of technology (Figs. 16, 17 and 18).
Fig. 16

S. Doepner, J. Cummerow, Living Rooms, 2006, photo by Kathrin Doepner

Fig. 17

S. Doepner, J. Cummerow, Living Rooms, 2006, photo by Kathrin Doepner

Fig. 18

S. Doepner, J. Cummerow, Living Rooms, 2006, photo by Kathrin Doepner

TheLiving Rooms works with absurd, travesty, humor, and also with the sense of the uncanny [das Unheimliche], which is achieved especially with the sound element of the installation. This sense of the uncanny includes a peculiar mixture of the familiar and the unfamiliar. According to Freud, who elaborated on this concept, the uncanny derives from the known, the familiar, which has at one time gotten suppressed. The uncanny is nothing foreign, or strange per se. It is something that is familiar to our psychological life but has been alienated through the process of suppression. The uncanny is something that should have remained hidden but came to light.

Similar to TheLiving Rooms, Automated Table Modification (2008) [12] refers to the idea of an augmented environment. It is a kind of tableau vivant where objects displayed on the table perform their own motion and sound choreography. It consists of 400 electromagnets underneath the table’s glass top, which is covered with several everyday items usually found on a work desk at home. The items start, one by one, to make one or more steps towards a possible goal. Eventually they create a chaotic, and thereafter a seemingly orderly, structure. Like TheLiving Rooms, this work was often perceived as an interactive or even intelligent installation; nevertheless, it is based on a loop of programmed steps, such as, for example, a car-welding robot. Any interference is disturbing the system and endangering the efficient workflow (Fig. 19).
Fig. 19

S. Doepner, Automated Table Modification, 2008, photo by Miha Fras

In the context of the Robot Partner project, DrillBot (2009, with Lars Vaupel) deals particularly with the ideal of service robots facilitating and simplifying human labour and the everyday routine as well as serving people as partners in an alienated, mechanized and systemized society. The robot consists of a grid to which four drill machines are connected, driven by computer-controlled pneumatic actuators. It moves autonomously on the wall holding itself there by drilling holes in it. With the accompanying text, the project aims its critique at economically conditioned propaganda-like advertisements, like the kind we see everyday everywhere, ads that promote tentative technological innovations as effective and promised perfection, despite whatever elusive benefit or possible unforeseen problem might be associated with them. Opposite to the notion of efficiency, DrillBot performs partly slow, almost meditative motions, and partly abrupt violent disturbances. And opposite to the hyper-designed, contemporary technological items, DrillBot’s aesthetics is pure function-based and appears anachronistic, whereas it does still perform its “awesome” service of “drill-climbing” the walls (if I may borrow from the usual advertisement vocabulary) (Figs. 20 and 21).
Fig. 20

S. Doepner, L. Vaupel, DrillBot, 2009, photo by Miha Fras

Fig. 21

S. Doepner, L. Vaupel, DrillBot, 2009, photo by Miha Fras

In my aesthetics, form usually follows function, and the artworks often have a kind of a shabby appeal. While examining everyday routine and everyday application of technology, I like to use ordinary items in my works. Living Rooms, for example, does not look like a high-tech, upscale, designed apartment that would rather refer to a near future or a very expensive apartment, but looks ordinary, even cheap or démodé. Objects used in the Automated Table Modification or in the Midi Shelf are also very ordinary, the kind of items one can buy in a corner store and not in a design shop. The aesthetics of my works is also connected to my working methods—I often re-use material and work with whatever might be at hand, which is also a matter of urgency and of finances when one prototypes a lot—as well as to my rather critical position towards the superficial role aesthetics and specifically design can play in our consumerist and commodified culture. In the case of technology, design often predominantly serves the purpose of branding, beautifying and polishing the object of desire—the object that should meet our desires for a better, up-to-date, easier, happier, more efficient life. Design importantly supports constructing these desires that cover a void in a consumerist society. And if design constructs a phantasmatic “surface” to cover this void, then perhaps I am trying to reach through and work with this very void itself.

Even if the Robot Partner project has a certain dystopian view towards technology, especially when it comes to the human-machine relation in the context of consumerist society, I have always found that it is also important to work with a positive attitude towards the utopian aspect of technology—to explore the potentials of technology in its ability to seek for the “different” ways possible. A new degree of value, one that is not in the service of accelerated production, but is a tool for social action. This social function would not be implemented in the tool itself (e.g. as in Facebook, Twitter, you name it!); the tool would just cause the moment or situation wherein these social functions would actually have to be a matter of discussion.

In recent years, I have focused on creating robotic tools for acoustic interventions and performances. These artistic endeavors take the shape of robotized sound instruments and of moving sound and speaker systems (different rotating sound speakers and rotating instruments) that I use on different occasions—concerts, installations, theatrical and other performances.

Part of my ongoing research on different possibilities of dynamic sound performing is also NoiseBot (2011–14, with Lars Vaupel), an autonomous robotic sound object on wheels that navigates with the help of ultrasonic sensors. In contrast to prevalent sound systems, which, by “aiming” sound, patronize the listener towards a static perception and “imprison” us into a homogeneous way of experiencing sound, NoiseBot does not “throw” sound from one single static point to another, but is a tool for shaping sound in space and space through sound in motion. By moving in the space, executing its own programmed behaviour, NoiseBot is a sound actor that creates a dynamic sound space. Rather than just virtually moving sound to desired places, like in case of multi-channel sound systems, the idea is to play with the acoustic effects of the given architecture using the physical movement of the powerful sound source. NoiseBot can be used as an instrument for different occasions—music and sound, dance and theatre performances. Most of NoiseBot’s applications in these areas required an extended navigation system. That is why the robot was equipped with a kind of indoor GPS, an infrared positioning system that was developed by Lars Vaupel. The system makes it is possible to mark-out a space using several infrared beacons with individual tags that can be used to trigger different behavior patterns as well as to remote control directly the motion of the robot (Figs. 22 and 23).
Fig. 22

S. Doepner, L. Vaupel, NoiseBot, 20011–14, photo by Miha Koron

Fig. 23

S. Doepner, L. Vaupel, NoiseBot, 20011–14, photo by S. Doepner

Moving sound and speaker systems were also the main focus of the Noise Is Us festival, which took place in 2014 at Cirkulacija [2], an artists initiative based in Ljubljana that I co-founded in 2007. For the festival we developed, in the final step together with the invited artists, an 8-channel sound system composed of different sound-moving and moving sound systems—like turning, swiveling, driving or switching speakers. The user interface has been developed as a kind of technical organism that is conceptually tuned to the social protocol that we’ve been establishing over the years—an interrelated horizontal platform for a free improvisation. It’s based on a very simple bi-directional protocol, MIDI, developed at the end of the 70s as a standard for electronic musical instruments; it is a cross-platform protocol being used by a wide spectrum of applications. Via this protocol, every participating author can connect into the platform with his individual applications and thereby feed and control the motion-sound system, so it is also possible to share control in a group of artists, each of them using their own system but the same protocol. Everyone can connect to this platform, but as it is as unrestricted as possible, any activity could potentially cause problems if it is not “tuned” and integrated regarding the ongoing or planned activities of any other participant, So far, it seems to be an attempt at a wider kind of communication, a step beyond the protocol and a step towards the other, me and the machine.


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    The concept of medium specificity was, in the mid-20th century, most notoriously propagated by the American art critic Clement GreenbergGoogle Scholar
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    I am referring to three oft-cited conceptualizations of the post-media/post-medium condition. According to Lev Manovich, various cultural and technological developments rendered meaningless one of the key concepts of modern art—that of a medium; still, the old media-based typology of art persists (Manovich L (2001) Post-media Aesthetics. Accessed 9 March 2015). Peter Weibel’s post-media condition brings about not only the equalization of individual media (as compared to the historic primacy of painting), but also new combinations and mixtures of artistic media (Weibel P (2012) The Post-media Condition. Accessed 9 March 2015). Rosalind Krauss derives from a critique of Greenberg’s media specificity, which is tied to a physical element (flatness of painting, three-dimensional sculpture, etc.), and elaborates on the “knights of the medium” whose works re-invent what art can achieve through a particular medium (Krauss R (2000) A Voyage on the North Sea: Art in the Age of the Post-Medium Condition. Thames & Hudson, London)
  3. 3.
    Louis Althusser’s concept of ideological “interpellation” describes the moment and process by which ideology constitutes individuals as subjects. According to Althusser, the ideological social and political institutions and the discourses they propagate “hail” the individual in social interactions, giving him/her his/her identity. By recognizing him/herself in that “hail”, the concrete individual is “always already interpellated” as a subjectGoogle Scholar
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    Parallel to these art historical and cultural policy operations that split the art field into different (media-based) branches, I understand the splintering of the art (field) into specific niches and novelties as being determined as well by market operations, through which differences can be easier economizedGoogle Scholar
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    In the year 1994, Nicolas Anatol Baginsky invited me to work with him in Hamburg for a production with NVA (NVA was founded in 1992 by Angus Farquhar, a former member of the industrial music group Test Dept) at Kampnagel, and on that occasion I also built my first publicly performing machine Butter-Fliege. In 1995, I worked with Nick and Barry Schwartz on the I-Beam Music project as well as assisting at Chico MacMurtrie’s The Amorphic Evolution project, both at “cultural factory” Kampnagel in HamburgGoogle Scholar
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    Blue House [Blaues Haus] functioned as the f18 living, working and public space, where we were organizing exhibitions and public events presenting our work and the work of other Hamburg-based artists (Testsequel Present T1, 1997; Testsequel Present T2, 1998)Google Scholar
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    At Kampnagel, Hamburg, f18 realized the motorized and computer-controlled installation Drop Outs within the framework of the Junge Hunde program, 1998; and A Soap-Opera Between Machines, Computer, Video and Sound, 1999Google Scholar
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    Playground Robotics: When Robots Play was displayed at the Kornhausforum in Bern; Kunstmuseum and Altes Spital in Solothurn; and Plug. In in Basel. The exhibition series was produced by the Migros Culture Percentage. Later that year, an excerpt of this exhibition project was presented at the Kapelica Gallery in Ljubljana, SloveniaGoogle Scholar
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Singapore 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stefan Doepner
    • 1
  • Urška Jurman
    • 1
  1. 1.f18institut, Cirkulacija 2LjubljanaSlovenia

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