Theater + sci-fi video game

Jack Arnott, The Guardian [UK] Theatre Blog, 9/2/11

Scrambling up a narrow stairway, I momentarily pause for breath only to hear a blood-curdling groan a few paces behind me. I daren't look back. A hand, or at least what I think is a hand, grabs at the bottom of my trouserleg. Usually, this would be the point where I press pause, make myself a cup of tea, and wait for my heart rate to slow back down before re-entering the world of video games. But this isn't a game. This is a piece called "... and darkness descended", the latest project from immersive theatre pioneers Punchdrunk. Collaborating with PlayStation for the upcoming release of Resistance 3, Sony's flagship sci-fi horror series, the company has created a terrifying and brilliantly authentic-feeling world beneath the railway arches at Waterloo station. Carl Christopher-Ansari, head of sponsorship for Sony Computer Entertainment Europe, said that Punchdrunk had been on the company's radar for some time, and Resistance 3, a post-apocalyptic zombie shooter was the perfect fit. Christopher-Ansari was keen to stress the effort made to recreate the "emotions" of the game in the production. Which raises an interesting point - doesn't a real-life horror experience only highlight the limitations of video games as a medium? After all, ultimately you're still just sat there looking at your television set. Having been elbowed out of the way by fellow journalists running for their lives, I'd have to say a game has never quite manipulated my emotions to this extent. For all that they're getting better at it, video games can't compete with these sorts of tangible attractions just yet. Though they do at least have a pause button.


Contemporary dance + Japanese comic strip

Laura Thompson, The Telegraph [UK], 8/30/11

A show based on the work of Japanese cartoon artist Osamu Tezuka - revered in his homeland as "the god of manga" - is a prospect apparently designed to raise the hackles of anybody wary of contemporary dance. It certainly raised mine. Despite the lofty reputation of Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, the half-Flemish, half-Moroccan choreographer whose new creation, TeZuKa, is currently in rehearsal in his native Antwerp, I was ready to be baffled by the sight of dancers "becoming" Japanese calligraphy, mimicking strokes of the pen with their bodies, and by the unfamiliar culture of an artist whose best-known character is a robot child named Astro Boy. Yet within a couple of minutes of entering the theatre, all scepticism was blown away. It is clear, even at the rehearsal stage, that Cherkaoui is giving us an entire world in TeZuKa, one that is both alien and resonant. The piece offers segments from stories by Tezuka, which generate a serious rethink of what animated art actually is (in Japan, of course, no such rethink would be necessary, but the British view of manga is rather less elevated). Tezuka began work in the bleak years after the Second World War - he died in 1989 - and saw what it meant to rebuild a society, how progress brings with it both good and evil. His stories are like little myths. At times, they are also incredibly dark and daring - "One story can take on four taboos," as Cherkaoui says - and deal with issues such as homosexuality, incest and religion. It is ambitious. To render one art form through another is not easy. The separate parts of this show are certainly mesmerising; one hopes that the whole will convey what Cherkaoui intends. "As an adult, we sometimes try to undo our childhood. We are discouraged from saying what we really care about - things like cartoon books - but now I want to uncover it instead."


Museum exhibitions + urban graffiti

Los Angeles Times editorial, 9/4/11

Graffiti straddles the line between vandalism and art. Los Angeles spent $7.1 million last year cleaning graffiti. Meanwhile, this summer's controversial "Art in the Streets" graffiti exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art had the highest attendance of any show in the museum's history. Steve Grody, a curator of "Street Cred: Graffiti Art from Concrete to Canvas" at the Pasadena Museum of California Art, distinguishes between gang members marking territory and graffiti writers artistically expressing themselves in public places (although it's all illegal). He also says there is an unwritten code of ethics among many graffiti writers, who believe it's wrong to paint on houses or cars, or over a public mural, but acceptable to use an abandoned building that seems to belong to no one - or everyone. Still, in the world of graffiti artists, Grody says, there's a sense that you're not one of them if you've never taken any legal or physical risks. That outlaw culture needs to change, and graffiti artists should be held accountable if they break the law - by having to clean up the surfaces they've marked or pay restitution. It may be the older artists, now working legally and being exhibited, who stand the best shot at convincing the midnight wall writers that the true artistic challenge is not scaling a freeway overpass but successfully facing a blank canvas.


Arts festival + androids

Kat Austgen, New Scientist magazine's CultureLab blog, 9/2/11

Linz may have been turned into a big playground for Ars Electronica, but it's not all fun and games at this year's festival. The exhibitors have ambled into existential territory, and their works raise some of life's biggest questions - what does it mean to be human? Android-Human Theatre: Sayonara explores the relationship between a dying girl and her android companion. It was quite obvious the android's face was not human, but her - I should say its - hands were most realistic. My reluctance to treat the android as an object was not unique. Speaking to Bryerly Long, the android's co-star, I learned that she sometimes slips into thinking of the android as another actor. This is less of a problem when the android's lines are spoken by an actress offstage, but for the Ars Electronica performances, Long is acting alongside a recording of herself, appropriated by the android. I met TalkTorque-2, a guide robot who filled me in on what to expect from the rest of the exhibition. Hideaki Kuzuoka, one of the team behind the cute little blue-eyed robot, explained why I had taken such a liking to it. It was all body-language: it paused when I wasn't paying enough attention, and engaged me by facing its feet towards me. Kuzuoka explained how TalkTorque-2's movements and gestures were designed to steer the audience to the correct areas, without their being aware of it -- much as we unconsciously react to another person's body language.


A new hybrid: Augmented Reality art

Kyle Chayka,, 8/31/11

Right under our noses, or perhaps under our fingertips, a new art medium has been springing up. Augmented Reality (AR) refers to smartphone, tablet, and computer applications that mix the real with the digital, using mobile devices' built-in cameras to take an image of a user's physical surroundings, and adding in digital graphics or information on the viewing screen (it's important to note that this differs from "virtual reality," as AR depends on a physical environment to function). AR has been gaining in mainstream appeal as ever more art-lovers adopt the appropriate technology. From public art installations to advertising initiatives, AR is everywhere. Perhaps the most visible -- and most commercial -- AR art project has come in the form of an advertising campaign for middling beer brand Beck's and its Green Box Project, which has the aim of establishing "the first ever Augmented Reality Gallery across major cities like New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Rome, and Milan."  Engaging similar ideas of public art... the "110 Stories" project by Brian August uses augmented reality to create a public monument invested with the memories of those impacted by 9/11. The free application will render the missing silhouette of the World Trade Center as seen from anywhere in the city, and allow users to take a picture of the simulated towers, add their own comments and stories, and share them on a Web site. The emotional and physical aspects to this project easily surpass the abstract nature of its medium; in this way "110 Stories" seems to point a way forward for augmented reality applications that truly shift and interact with their physical contexts in a way that no ordinary sculpture could.

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