Latest Updates

AI Exhibit at the National Museom of China

December 31, 2019

Some of our good friends are exhibiting this month at this AI-devoted show. Running from 2 to 30 November, AS-Helix: Art and Science Integration in the Age of Artificial Intelligence is presented by the National Museum and Tsinghua University. The exhibition features over 120 works by international artists including fuse* Refik AnadolOnformative, teamlab and Tobias Gremmler. The show focuses on the potential of Artificial Intelligence as a catalyst for new and thought-provoking interactions between art and science. As part of the exhibition, fuse* present a site-specific iteration of their multi-screen installation Multiverse, which won the Wu Guanzhong Award for Art and Science Innovations at the AS-Helix opening ceremony. The work generates digital paintings in real-time, creating an immersive audiovisual environment which explores the possibility of the ‘Multiverse’ - of infinite coexisting parallel universes. 

Dökk, by fuse: a revelation

May 04, 2019

The Italian art studio fuse* presented the North American premiere of their interactive audiovisual installation Dökk in San Francisco Friday evening, May 3rd, as part of the digital arts festival MUTEK. Herbst Theater, across from City Hall, was full. The Beaux-Arts architecture of the theater provided an archaic frame, a counterpoint to the proceedings. Dökk fulfills the promise inherent in an art form that owes some of its power to theatrical and visual art traditions, but is in other ways quite new. Those who were there won't forget this performance soon.

Sonically, the piece begins with a pounding in the low frequencies, generated by the heartbeat of Elena Annovi, a gifted dancer and aerialist who provides the human center of the piece. She rarely leaves our sight for the 55 minute run of show.

The stage picture is dark. A faint swirl of illuminated particles is seen. A burst of light reveals something like a nebula, accompanied by a spike of white noise that rocks the audience and creates a wave of laughter in the room. This also has the effect of riveting our attention, as it's made clear we're in an unpredictable and unfamiliar world. 

To give a bit of necessary context, the staging involves projection both onto the screen behind the dancer and onto the scrim in front of her. There is nothing new about this way of creating depth-of-field in theatrical staging. What is new is the marriage of this to interactive, digitally generated visuals. A significant part of the fluid and kinetic imagery is responsive in real time to movement, meaning that a plate of star-encrusted, galactic brilliance tilts, twists, and spins when Ms. Annovi turns a bit to the left, or to the right. A swirl of floating, illuminated gas or a spray of particles shiver, retreat, or barrage the lone figure on stage, at times obeying her and at other times seeming to overwhelm her. These effects are not literally holographic, but the effect is fully three-dimensional in a way we have not seen before. This is striking, and, in the hands of these gifted creators, a revelation. 

fuse* are admirers of Joanie LeMercier, the esteemed Parisian innovator, who has created many wonderful works of light art, of projection mapping. One can see the influence, in part, in the stark color pallet. But there is more. As artists are developing the language of digital arts, the evolving vocabulary for these installations and performances is recognized to have a kinship with emergent phenomena, with natural processes.

In fact, generative (digital) art is itself a process like those that result in a lightning storm, or a murmuration of birds. This matters because a process is, in part, what we are seeing on stage in a piece like Dökk. And it matters because the sort of "story" that these pieces tell is more akin to a lightning storm, or the aurora borealis, or to the mathematically precise growth of a sea shell. Though D
ökk is called an"opera" by its creators, I am not sure that the medium they have chosen is well-suited to traditional story telling. They seem to know this, and have created an hour-long stage work where there is no text, and nothing is spoken or sung. Nor is a story "communicated," in any traditional sense, through gesture or pantomime. The dancer at the center of this piece is buffeted by energies that seem to be beyond her control. At other times she is cradled by them, or flies, exhilarated, through the midst of them.

As a story, that may seem threadbare. It's not. The natural processes that surround us - or that take place in our own bodies - are often invisible, but are no less profound or enthralling for that. To see such processes painted in light, in motion, and made the theme of human struggle, this does not require an articulation beyond what is provided here. There is no exposition in a work like Dökk, no plot points. It ends more or less as it began, with the dancer still, on the floor of the stage. But things do not sound or look exactly as they did when the show began. Things have changed along the way, and we have changed with them.

December 11, 2018

From their press release: "The Tech is proud to work with Marpi and the Yves Peitzner Lab, who will be debuting experiences in April 2019 in our Reboot Reality exhibit." This is an interactive, multi-sensory installation for the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, with audio design from Kling, Klang, Klong (Berlin), visual design from Yves Peitzner Labs (Munich), and  funding from the Knight Foundation. Future Fires secured the commission for this global artist consortium. There were several hundred submissions, applying for a total of two new installations to be created for the museum.

The piece will be installed on the upper floor, next to work by San Francisco artist Marpi, part of the same exhibit. We'll detail this further as it moves along toward its April 2018 opening.

Osman Koç, Nohlab and NOS Visuals at the Zorlu Center

November 09, 2018

Zorlu Center PSM is a performing arts venue in Istanbul, Turkey. It's Europe's largest performing arts venue. Osman Koc and Nohlab were presenting their sound interactive "NOS Visuals" there this week.

Here in SF, Future Fires has been proud to host NOS Visuals in a few ways, and with a few musical partners over this last year: specifically, at DZINE and at The Midway. This is a beautiful and flexible way to turn sound into generative imagery, and one of the best examples we know of machine intelligence generating the visual field from live music. We're delighted to see this continue to evolve and tour.



Some Of Our Favorite Russians

September 22, 2018

From St. Petersburg, Russia, are Kristina Karpysheva and Sasha Letsius. Kristina's work with the Buchla synthesizer and Sasha's digital music are a perfect join to these beautiful and hypnotic dreamscapes.

The culture trip article includes an interview with the artists. 


Projections in Midair: Mission Possible

May 11, 2018

Joanie Lemercier's "No-lograms" do not claim to be 3D Holograms. And the motion tracking that makes the illusion work is an approach unsuited to a roomful of people. Still, the future seem tantalizingly close when you see this constellation of lights, like one's personal galaxy, viewable from close, from far, from left or from right. 

He doesn't want to mislead people about what is at work, so the artist calls the system a "no-logram" rather than a hologram.

As reported in the linked engadget article, Lemercier is working on a new technique, projecting the images onto high-pressure gas and fine water particles, "to create true volumetric impressions." He aims to develop an interactive installation for festivals or special commissions and build a "permanent installation in a public space."


Magic Leap Ships Glasses to Secure Locations

April 01, 2018

Whether as a PR stunt, a security precaution, or both, Magic Leap's augmented reality product shipped this past week with an unusual precaution in place. If you are one of the select developers in line to help figure out the future of augmented reality (and it may be this product), the company has a request of you when your mail is delivered: please own a safe, and please keep these glasses in that safe. 

Magic Leap has been working on a technology that sprays a fabricated layer of imagery onto the retina of your eye, laying that imagery over the "real world" you see around you.
Reports from those who have seen demos of the Magic Leap product say it delivers as promised. Vince Kadlubek, the CEO of Meow Wolf, made a trip to Florida earlier this year to check it out. Though he had to be a bit cagey with the details, he was truly impressed, and described an experience wherein you could circle a a created object, much in the manner of a hologram, and view it from all sides, without the illusion being undermined. 

If you do not see the ways this could rock our world, you just need to visit your local Cineplex more often.

Looking for the Art in Artificial Intelligence

March 14, 2018

The motion detector that triggers when you walk through someone's side yard is not sentient. It's not as clever as, say, a bacteria. But there's profound potential in that simple motion-triggered device. And, in recent years, that potential has been tapped by artists who work in the digital domain.

Artists working with their own more intricate versions of motion detector / side yard technologies are interested in objects, rooms, and areas that take notice of you, and in what may result when notice is taken.

To take an example, consider Random Arts International, who created Rain Room, where it is raining from hundreds and hundreds of individually controllable shower-heads, an immersive environment of perpetually falling water that pauses, locally, wherever a human body is detected. The installation offers visitors what is seemingly impossible: the ability to stay dry, surrounded by perpetual and relentless rain.

In another, more recent, example (see photo, and link to Christopher Jobson article in Colossal) Philip Beesley has created Astrocyte, a "living piece of architecture that responds to the presence of viewers" in Toronto, at EDIT: Expo for Design, Innovation & Technology. 

The piece incorporates 3D-printed, illuminated components; masses of custom glasswork that contain oil, inorganic chemicals, and other solutions, to form a kind of chemical skin. At the core of Beesley research is the question of whether architecture can truly be “alive,” and invites the possibility of self-repairing structures, of deeply responsive organic environments, where artificial intelligence is threaded all through the design.

Rooms, walls, areas that know you're there. Airborne, light-filled globes that gather around you as you walk. A created object with biological properties ... none of these marvels take away from the simple magic of a photograph, a painting, a sculpture. What we do know is that artists are as interested as anyone else in an idea that has been around for millennia, the idea that the world around us might notice we are there, and respond in some way. With sensors, a bit of coding, and the capacity to imagine and carry off something of beauty, one can see that our world of art has begun to gather around it new capacities. 

Digital Art: Go Big or Go Home

January 27, 2018

Organized by David Quiles Guillo, the founder and director of the San Paolo-based independent creative organization ROJO, The Wrong Biennial features a massive amount of digital work, put together by 30 curators and housed in online pavilions that take the form of standalone websites linked to from The Wrong’s main page. Each of these 30 curators have organized and designed one of the digital pavilions, selecting artists from around the globe, totaling over 300 participants. This is a massive amount of content, representing and celebrating the principle of "radical inclusion."

Carrières de Lumières: Time Travel, Art and Tech

January 07, 2018

Carrières de Lumières is an exhibition in Les Baux-de-Provence that's just closed. But there's more to come from this wonderful, visionary team, who integrated "more than 2,000 digital images projected on a total surface area of 7,000 m2." The AMIEX® platform was used to animate paintings by Bosch, Brueghel and Arcimboldo.

This marriage of a deep visual tradition with projection and animation is inspiring, a kind of time machine of imaginative practice. David Quayola has been involved in similar explorations in recent years, recreating in original ways the art of Michelangelo and others. 

Georges Méliès (1861–1938), a pioneering film-maker, was also the subject of a tribute at this festival. With the help of special effects that he pioneered, Méliès - incredibly - made over six hundred films. Extracts from some of Méliès most well-known films were shown, including A Trip to the Moon, Conquest of the North Pole, and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.

Fondation Culturespaces were integral to funding and support of this exhibition.

Satire and Beauty in 3D

January 06, 2018

The first in our occasional 2018 "Profiles of People We Like."

Ronald Rael of UC Berkeley just saw the publication of his book "Printing Architecture: Innovative Recipes for 3D Printing" (Princeton Architectural Press, 2018), which is right up our 3D printed alley. But, wait, is this the same fellow who fathered "Borderwall as Architecture: A Manifesto for the U.S.-Mexico Boundary" in 2017? It is. Borderwall is "a reconsideration of the existing barrier dividing the U.S. and Mexico through design proposals that are hyperboles of actual scenarios that have occurred as a consequence of the wall," and it was one of the satirical high-points of a year with far too many lows. 

MIT Holiday Present: Bio-Art

December 28, 2017

Perhaps because of the controversy guaranteed in making bio-art, or perhaps because it is difficult to do, art that is built from living things is underrepresented in the world. Here's a novel use of bioluminescence, channeled through genetic engineering., and brought to you by MIT Media Lab.

Melting Wall by Marpi premieres at LUMINARY: EXPANDED

December 03, 2017

One of twenty artists bringing exhibits and performances to the recent "Luminary" event by Future Fires at The Midway in SF, Mateusz Marpi Marcinowski did remarkable work with the help of Epson (projectors) and World Stage (rigging). Melting Wall is a dreamlike, interactive swirl of brilliant color and endlessly varied patterns. Alternating sets with NOSVisuals (thanks Osman Koc and NOHLab), we saw people install themselves here and stay for a long, long time.

Drones: 1. Entertaining 2. Useful 3. Lethal. Now Choose

November 19, 2017

 U.C. Professor Stuart Russell and the Future of Life Institute have created this video. If the quasi-news footage is not quite up to the level of the Marvel franchise, it's good enough. You can see what's arriving in weaponized swarms of small drones: an explosive charge aboard and facial recognition software allow targeting of anyone considered hostile. Which means, of course, anyone at all. 

The Future of Life Institute released the video this week to put pressure on diplomats attending the United Nations Convention on Conventional Weapons in Geneva, Switzerland. The video screened on the first day.

"This short film is just more than speculation," Russell says. "It shows the results of integrating and militarizing technologies that we already have."

Future Fires is about people who create evocative and beautiful art, and it's about sharing that work. But we're all living in the world we make and are making. "Futures Fires" - our name - came about because fires are what people have gathered around to tell stories, to find warmth together, to create light in darkness. We advocate for - and believe - in drones and A.I. as ways to enable aerial art.

Obviously the military has a lot more money to spend than artists and media art festivals do. But the profit motive is not the only motive we have. Atomic weapons have been limited and closely regulated. Poison gas is not something you can make or use without some very serious consequences. Not anyone can buy a bazooka or a flamethrower. You can see where we're going with this. There need to be tight limits placed (and now) on weaponized drone development, manufacture and sales.

In 2015, Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking and thousands of AI and robotics experts penned a letter calling for a ban on autonomous weapons. The letter states that the deployment of autonomous weapons will be "feasible within years." That time's come. It's here, and so is the need for this generation to say "no, thank you." Again: just because it's possible does not mean we want it.

We should be working worldwide to keep this technology from taking off. What we make can be turned on us. What we point at others can be used immorally, or in error. 

LUMINARY: EXPANDED on Saturday, November 4th

October 31, 2017

For those tuned into our news channel, I'm more than happy to announce LUMINARY: EXPANDED, the second in our series of events, coming up this Saturday, November 4th, at The Midway in San Francisco. The Midway's been our partner this year and I'm terrifically proud of what we're doing together. 

The list of projects and artists, bands and DJ's, are all on this website. No need for lists. Let me just take a moment to share a few reflections.

This is such a new kind of work, this merge of art and technology, that I still get blank looks when I tell people what we are doing, what Future Fires is all about. When I think about it, my exposure was through videos, and only later through live experience. If someone had tried to tell me what Behnaz Farahi was doing (whose work as at our show this Saturday), or Random Arts International (who installed Rain Room at NYMOMA a few years ago), there would have been a struggle to explain, and the point of it all would have eluded me, too. 

And what is the point?

This is the most imaginative and exciting creative work happening on the planet, that's the simple truth. This is what has made our team of Bravehearts work so very hard, making a place for people to come together in San Francisco and experience that work. It does not take away from the beauty of more traditional art forms. Not at all. But this is all so new, and so disorienting in its newness, that it can take more than a minute to absorb what it means to live in a time when art is becoming experiential. 

We're bringing bands to these events, too, of course, and DJ's, and people are coming out who don't really know what this art is all about. But they find out soon enough. It's all fine. We don't have to proselytize. The projection mapping and the VR; the interactive, immersive environments and the 3D printed garments; the dance and code: all this speaks in its own language, a language that grows from more familiar traditions (everything grows from something), but is quickly developing its own vocabulary and dialect as this domain of practice gathers momentum and its own emerging tradition.

Art and tech has its own special qualities, which have to do with the capacity to be generative, responsive, interactive, and to erase the boundaries between the audience and the work itself. It's profoundly moving when it works. Can anything be more dreamlike than a room that knows you are there? Or a wall of light and color that is responding, in real time, to a dancer? That special boundarylessness that we may remember, distantly, from being children, can set in. We are set adrift, outside our thoughts and whatever we were doing a moment ago. Astonishing objects and extraordinary occurrences can have that effect on us, as human beings. We like to be astonished. I'm so glad to be in touch with the artists (and artist-coders) who are preoccupied with how to astonish, how to make the extraordinary happen, how to make possible now what was impossible yesterday.

Clark Suprynowicz
Artistic Director
Future Fires

Magic Leap Conjures New Valuation

September 16, 2017

Magic Leap has captured the public imagination with its spectacular demos, and its revolutionary (if mostly hidden and top-secret approach) to Augmented Reality.

To say that another way: Magic Leap is working on a head-mounted virtual retinal display which superimposes 3D computer-generated imagery over real world objects, by projecting a digital light field into the user's eye (thank you, Wikipedia). 

Magic Leap also captured significant start-up funding in its first round (2010), raising $1.4 billion from a list of investors including Google and China's Alibaba Group: Investment which it is now looking to top off.The Plantation, Florida-based startup is reportedly in talks with Singapore-based Temasek Holdings to raise upwards of $500 million, valuing the AR company at around $6 billion, Bloomberg reports.

There's a question that naturally arises after seven years. Is Magic Leap a convincing illusion that is beginning to waver and flicker, or is it going to deliver on a dream? ML claims its revolutionary take on AR will be ready to ship this year.

AA and AI: Machines and the Artists They Work For

August 12, 2017

Algorhythmic Art (AA) was a movement that caught fire in the 1960's. Artists began to wonder if machines - like plotters used by weather services - might help create fresh results and transform the act of art-making. Computers were seized on for the same purpose, once they were commercially available, with Andy Warhol being an early adopter. His weapon of choice was an Amiga 1000 personal computer, created by Commodore International. To color in this picture a bit, the Commodore was released in 1985. It contained 128 KB of RAM with an option to expand to 256 KB. 

It's interesting that as computers have gotten faster and the programming more sophisticated, the response to AA made by AI has not altered appreciably, with skepticism and condemnation running about equal from the human community. And yet art and music generated by computers is often rule-based, and/or involves human intervention. It's hard to imagine it otherwise, as we seem to need art to resemble something a human being would make (if you want to know what computer music might sound like, unmediated, Google "Donald Buchla").


When we complain that the result produced by AI is not "as good as" human efforts - which some do - we need to ask what the end-goal is. One goal may be to do what Deep Blue did with chess; to approach, or surpass, human efforts, as a kind of contest. AI can and does serve another function, though, which is to make us aware of possibilities we may not have considered.

Sex and the Single Robot

August 05, 2017

The UK Guardian has done a great job profiling Sex Robots, the men who make them, the men who buy them, the women who are organizing against them, and the women who are posing as templates for them.

Is "Planet of the Apes" Really a Parable for Cinematic Evolution?

July 23, 2017

"Visual effects technology has come mind-bogglingly far," says Variety, writing of the new Planet of the Apes movie. If you want to enthuse about the thing, that's the note to strike.  

There's a conceit embedded in the script - and in all the movies in this franchise - that the apes want to leave well enough alone. It's the humans who can't seem to keep from waging war, and so force the apes to deal in. But this is an idea that does not save the movie from what it chooses to be at its heart, which is a war movie, and one that we feel we've seen many times over. Everyone gets to enact revenge. And blow lots of shit up. And live to fight another day. Well, everyone except Woody Harrelson and a few battalions of soldiers, who you know are going to be toast as soon as they show up. They're digital creations, and much less care was lavished on their inception than is the case with the apes. 

The truth is it's the apes that carry the film, and by that I mean that what the apes do, they do well. They emote. They ride horses. They wrestle.They aim and fire weapons. And with the magic of motion capture, they do these things as the actors playing them do: in a way that is compelling and convincing.

Just a decade ago Manohla Dargis wrote, of another motion picture: "The largest intractable problem with "The Polar Express" is that the motion-capture technology used to create the human figures has resulted in a film filled with creepily unlifelike beings ... none of the humans have the countless discrete fluctuations, the pulsing, swirling, twitching aliveness that can make the actor such a pleasure to watch on screen." No such issues impede the pleasures of watching the apes in the new Matt Reeves movie saddle up and ride into battle. The eyes glitter, the lips curl, the facial muscles twitch. There is simply nothing to disbelieve.

It's hard in any given historical moment to know when a page has been turned, but this may be one of those rare times when we know exactly what's happened, and when. Summer of 2017! A theater near you! We now know that actors can become anyone and anything that an ingenious filmmaker decides on. The trick - in the future, and now, and for as long as our civilization decides to endure and to make movies - will be to come up with stories and scripts that justify the movie magic we can spin, around and over and beneath them. There's no doubt that the supply of available magic has just been ramped up. There is now ample magic.

Some Help With Your Housework. And Killing People.

June 26, 2017

Google is looking for a buyer for Boston Dynamics, with its agile fleet of robots that are - take your pick - either marvelously clever or creepy and horrifying. Interesting that Boston Dynamics already had contracts with the military when Google acquired them.

They (Google) are not going to go public on this, but there seems a good chance that they've decided, on balance, that potential bad press connected with killer robots is just not worth the trouble and long-term profit.

There could be other reasons Google is getting out, but it's hard to argue that Boston Dynamics is not executing on its mission (if you'll excuse the pun, which I am regretting deeply already). These robots run, go up stairs, recover from a fall, and stack your dishes. With a bit of imagination, they also initiate firefights, plant bombs, traverse dangerous and radioactive terrain, and are the remaining inhabitants of a sterilized landscape. As stated: either marvelously clever or creepy and horrifying.

Don't Like Your Friends? Why Not Create Some New Ones?

June 10, 2017

Let's talk about the potential - and, now, the capacity - to remake subjective reality. This emerges from the ever-expanding field of immersive digital experiences. Potential defines purpose in this realm. There are no troubling questions about where this is all going that are going to impede its execution. For example, why employ a team for a year to develop "Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare" (the most popular video game of 2016) if you're not, in the end, going to remake the first-person experience of an impressionable young man? 

Let's talk about the capacity to change our world, viewed more broadly. With the military already developing and deploying robots to wage war; with robotic sex-workers coming to market; with Elon Musk proposing to tap into the brain to make one's phone experience more seamless, it's clear that it is not just subjective, first-person reality we are hacking. It's that reality we share. The world outside the goggles. Our own bodies.

Provocative. Controversial. Morally troubling. All good ways to describe a world comprised of people interacting with clever robots and digitally fabricated creatures. And that's exactly the topic of the Digital Art exhibition from Art Futura currently on view in Rome.

Industrial Light & MagicPixarSony Pictures and the Creators Project (aka Intel) have all partnered with Art Futura over the years. What's their view on all this? Do they have a view? Or just a product? One is much less inclined to examine the implications if one is shilling for a movie, a media platform, a product launch.

Perhaps we can lay aside that concern, at least for this summer, at least in Rome. 
"Digital Creatures" (as Art Futura has aptly titled their current show) has primarily gathered together artists rather than game developers or Fortune 500 companies for the exhibition. This means, in theory, that commerce is less in the equation and we are, instead, experiencing the inspirational, the visionary and that which is strange for its own sake. There are many realities to be fashioned besides those found in first-person shooter games. 

To make art is to explore. It can mean to examine and question. It can mean to meet with others around complicated questions and themes, in this case transhumanism: the increasingly blurred line between what a human being is, and other kinds of being and beings.

In time, it may turn out that we were afraid of nothing. Cyborgs may stroll (and sleep) next to us. We will share a laugh with them. In the interim, populating the world with the products of our imagination and technological ingenuity is an activity that shows no signs of slowing. If we can't get used to it, we can go to a festival that shines a light on it. And bring a friend. 

Featured artists: 

Universal Everything, Can Buyukberber, Chico MacMurtrie / Amorphic Robot Works, Esteban Diácono, Sachiko Kodama, Paul Friedlander

May 27, 2017

Ken Knowlton did a scan of dancer Deborah Haye that resulted (we are told) in the first nude ever published by the New York Times. It was October 11, 1967. The creation of art with a computer had become news worth printing.

Knowlton relates that Bell Labs - who he was working for, whose equipment he used - said the image could be displayed, but not to associate it with Bell Labs, for fear of it being seen as pornography. When the image ran in the Times, their attitude changed. "You may distribute and display it, but be sure that you let people know that it was produced at Bell Telephone Laboratories," Knowlton was told.

Ken Knowlton seems to have been the first person to come up with what we'd now call a bit map. Of course, it was the mapping of Haye that led to the iconic image. Ms. Haye is rarely mentioned in any of the accounts, which seems more than little unfair, if all too predictable.

As we're commemorating this year, all over the Bay Area, the Summer of Love, Deborah's Haye and Ken Knowlton should be acknowledged for their contribution. The NY Time got it mostly right in their rather musical headline: "Art and Science Proclaim Alliance in Avant-Garde Loft."


Fashion and Tech, Berlin: Star in an Emerging Galaxy

May 26, 2017

July 5th in Berlin, a deep dive into what we're (literally) getting ourselves into.
Sensors, LED's, 3D printing. Unusual fabrics. And no shortage of ingenious, talented designers.

Pictured is the "Ambient Skirt" by Lina Wassong.
Coming soon to a city street near you. 

"Well, that didn't last long." Oculus Shuts Down Its VR Studio

May 05, 2017

So, our take on this, just to get the speculation out of the way, is that Augmented Reality is forming so clearly on the horizon - like a gathering, art-directed storm cloud - that anyone who's got big money riding on VR right now has got to be getting uncomfortable. That may include Oculus, famously acquired by Facebook for 2 billion dollars only three years ago.

Competitor Microsoft, with its HoloLens, may have experienced more trouble than anticipated coming to market fully formed and raging, but there is always Magic Leap down in Florida. People who've tried that demo have the oddest look on their faces, like someone who's seen into the next world.

“We’ve been looking at the best way to allocate our resources to create an impact on the ecosystem,” said Oculus VP of Content Jason Rubin in a blog post. “After careful consideration, we’ve decided to shift our focus away from internal content creation to support more external production. As part of that shift, we’ll be winding down Story Studio.”

So that's the official line. You can make up your own mind. Meanwhile, don't be too surprised if Lucky Palmer and the Oculus Company he started announce their own entry into the AR sweepstakes later this year. If they go into the chute right, it could be that Facebook will see some extra growth from that.

And that would be interesting. From a crass, money-driven POV, I mean. 

You're welcome.

Art and Technology at LACMA ... and Beyond

April 27, 2017

A new "miniretrospective" at LACMA commemorates a groundbreaking exhibition from the days when an intersection of art and technology was a quite new beast. The ongoing and often uncomfortable dance between corporate support and art is illuminated. Was there an evolution in this relationship, and this discomfort? Undoubtedly. As Peter Lunenfeld writes in his insightful piece on the show (see link) "through the 1960's, technology carried the sheen of modernity, with such figures as R. Buckminster Fuller, Marshall McLuhan, and Nam June Paik expressing utopian aspirations for expanded modes of communicating and new ways of living." By the early 1970's, though, technology was tainted by its association with Vietnam and the military industrial complex. Today's cynicism and skepticism for the message that "technology will transform our lives for the better" can be seen as growing out of that time and that disgust. 

The show includes extensive documentation of the process behind several of A&T's best-known projects, and the sometimes antagonistic relationships between artists and corporations. An example is the written record of a feud between artist John Chamberlain and an increasingly intolerant collection of RAND Corporation technocrats, part of the LACMA exhibit.

RAND: "I'm searching for ANSWERS. Not questions!"

CHAMBERLAIN: "There is only one answer. You have a warped, trashy idea of what beauty and talent is." 

Designing for 3-D Printed Buildings

April 24, 2017

Gilles Retsin, of Britain, was part of the small group of architects featured in "Building, the Future," an exhibit at Luminary in San Francisco last month, hosted by Future Fires at The Midway.  And that's a graphic by Retsin, part of a feature story in the new UK issue of Wired, which takes a look at 3-D printing and what that will do to open up design and build capabilities. The answer seems to be "a lot."

Creating VR For Everyone, and From Earth Orbit

April 16, 2017

The headline pretty much says it all, in the case. What a great idea! Space X is about to provide the experience of being an astronaut and to make that experience available via VR. 

What Neural Lace Is, and How It Will Replace Your Smartphone

April 07, 2017

Voice recognition software is just one of the ways we'll be seeing profound changes in coming years to the ubiquitous smartphone. Augmented reality is emerging that can give us the visual information we're looking for, directed into the retina. No need for screens. And Elon Musk is one of several people working on the idea of an overlay to the cerebral cortex. This would eliminate the need for a keypad or physical manipulation of any kind. 

C. Suprynowicz

Amon Tobin's ISAM: a first for music & projection art, both in size and amazement. Who are these people?

April 07, 2017

Amon Tobin's show ISAM premiered at MUTEK June 1st of this last year, and knocked out everyone who saw (and heard) it. In size, ambition, and sheer visual force, it set a new bar. So who are these folks? Director Vello Virkhaus, designer and programmer Peter Sistrom, and Leviathan chief scientist Matt Daly. Also Bryant Place, who built a custom application that runs the visuals of the entire Amon Tobin show end to end. Isabelle Rousset does a very nice job interviewing them all in this article from Derivative, pulling together the story of how history was made. The "behind the scenes" video can be found, also, in Future Fires "Brilliant" channel.

When Computers Write Music

April 06, 2017

UC Santa Cruz Professor David Cope has accumulated 5000 works composed by the software program known as Emmy in the last few decades. And those are just the ones that are supposed to sound like Bach Chorales. They are rendered on MIDI software, and without the attention to detail that a music producer would lavish on the project. But they're not bad, and some are pretty convincing:

Cope's goal, like most researchers, was not to rush a product to market. It was, initially, to find a way around a particularly bad case of writer's block. The question was and is: could the complex (but somewhat predictable) tropes of a signature composer's style be rendered? By hardware and software? 

Flash forward to circa 2017 and we find several competing products offering to render convincing music with high production values, without actually needing to make all those detailed choices that a human composer would need to make along the way. These are commercial applications and are based on the same simple principle. Once you've told a robot what needs to be done, it can do it. All that's needed are detailed instructions. Amper (see link) is the latest entry in the field, and they've raised 4 million in start-up money as of last month.

What's most interesting about this to me - and I'm a composer - is how upset people get by the story. Well, yes, if a robot can score the music to a detective show, that's one less gig for a human being. But as with all things robotic, doesn't this leave more time to write and perform the kind of music that robots have a hard time with? Meaning music that's not, um, robotic. 


Robots and What They Do While Vacationing In Mexico

April 05, 2017

What is the SCI-Arc Robothouse? Who is Curime Batliner? What are those robots doing inside those beachballs? Curime is the newest addition to the Future Fires family of artists and creators. His work has been exhibited at Design Miami. He has worked with clients such as Creative Artists Agency (CAA), ETV and Apple. With his compatriot Jake Newsum, with support from Staubli (robotics) and the Southern California Institute of Architecture, Batliner installed in Mexico City - at the Mextropoli Festivall - an elegant and whimsical exploration of Creative Robotics in the patio of Laboratorio Arte Alameda. Centrally located in Mexico City, the four-day festival "brought architects, designers, urbanists, sociologists, artists, and citizens together to interpret public space through art, design, and dialogue." And what are those robots doing inside those beachballs? They're drawing. Robots do that sometimes.

Virtual Bjork Bears Resemblance to Catwoman

April 03, 2017

The voice and the eccentric loops that lie beneath are familiar. The fantastical night that swirls, partly lost in shadow, looks like the sort of Icelandic spirit-world that iconic, Icelandic singer-songwriter Bjork likes to conjure up in her videos and stage-shows. The song's of a piece with her previous work, too, modal and undulating. But in choosing an avatar for her latest foray into Virtual Reality, Bjork has chosen a masked character with a form-fitting body suit that reminds us more than a bit of a Marvel Comic creation. Here's what Spin has to say about it: "Björk has become known for offering up expanded packaging and multimedia enhancements of her albums whenever possible. With her latest state-of-the-art video from last year’s Vulnicura, the Icelandic singer/songwriter is continuing that rich tradition. Vulnicura has been supported by a live albuma strings-only version of the album, and several other visuals, and now its track “Notget” will become a VR experience, in the same vein as “Family,” “Stonemilker” and “Black Lake.” Today, she’s released a preview for the video, directed by Warren Du Preez and Nick Thornton Jones. It features an avatar version of Björk as a sea witch with insides full of fire ..."

Why Wait For the Future? Just Go Ahead and Fabricate It!

April 03, 2017

In this recent article from The Verge, Kyle Chayka details the runaway popularity of technology that looks like something we may invent someday, but hasn't actually arrived yet. In some cases, it's an ad for the imaginary: in other cases, it's a mock-up realistic enough to freak out its uninitiated audience. The United Arab Emirates’ Government Summit, hosted in Dubai, is the setting. Chayka writes: "Urban AI, hologram genie, and smart bathroom were part of the Museum of Future Government Services, a series of seamless interactive installations that demonstrated to attendees — Emirati politicians and civil servants, as well as foreign dignitaries and business leaders — how the UAE would serve its citizens several decades hence. The Museum of Future Government Services was created by Tellart, a technology-focused design agency, headquartered thousands of miles away in Rhode Island. Launched in 2000, Tellart now employs 38 individuals spread across offices in Providence, New York, San Francisco, Amsterdam, and Dubai. The UAE government is one of the company’s largest clients; the two entities collaborate on the Government Summit events and are developing a permanent Museum of the Future in Dubai. Of course, none of the products demonstrated at the 2014 summit actually existed. Rather, Tellart’s job is to create believable, immersive visions of the future based on the needs of its clients, which range from the UAE to Google, Purina, and the California Academy of Sciences — anyone who needs a little bit of tomorrow today. As the company’s co-founder Nick Scappaticci says, “We are the industrial designers of the 21st century.”

Changing the World with 3D Technologies

April 02, 2017

Technologies to scan, model, and print in 3D have created a fundamental shift. We have moved from perspectival imaging to the capture and reproduction (or deconstruction) of the three-dimensional object. "Production is changing, the materiality of production is changing, the micro-design of the materials is changing." Cameras - traditionally, perspective-rendering machines - actually are doing something different and world-changing now. They are capturing in three dimensions, giving all that's needed for three-dimensional rendering, object recreation, byte-by-byte revisioning of the object, the manifestation of that object, even the option to build up from the world of pure imagination rather than the captured reality. A paradigm shift.

"This is going to change the way we use the world, and the way we relate to it."

Mario Carpo uses the future tense, but it may have been a slip of the tongue. The future is arriving, one rendered atom at a time. 


Why You Won't Be Seeing Robert Henke in San Francisco Anytime Soon

April 01, 2017

Robert Henke is an artist based in Berlin who creates hour-long entertainments for a seated audience, involving his own music and Class 4 Lasers. If you’re intrigued and would like to experience his work firsthand here in the States, you’re out of luck. Henke has announced that “in solidarity with” travelers and refugees affected by new and evolving U.S. border controls, he’s not traveling to the U.S. anymore.

Activism in which the privileged surrender privilege has a venerable history. We can inconvenience ourselves for reasons of conscience. We can suspend our own freedoms to advocate for those who are denied freedom.

Meanwhile, the Luminary Festival that Future Fires puts on here in SF has suffered its first casualty to the Trump Administration’s immigration policies. Next up: we’re working on Visas for several artists from Italy for our summer show. We’ll keep you posted.

The STRP Festival in Eindhoven, Netherlands

March 05, 2017

Though the Luminary Festival is coming up in San Francisco in just a few weeks, and that's great news for those who've noticed the City by the Bay is lacking a major digital arts festival, other notable festivals are on the horizon. Eindhoven is planted in the remote middle of Holland, with nothing notable for kilometers but cows and the wind. But every year one of the preeminent multi-day festivals of innovative digital art comes to this rather remote place. 

From the just-published program: "The program of STRP Biënnale, from March 24 to April 2 at the Klokgebouw in Eindhoven, is complete. Senses of both man and machine, Senses & Sensors, are the focal point of the largest event for creative technologies in the Netherlands. "

For those who can cut loose in the heart of winter, you may want to feast on new and emerging work here on the Left Coast at Luminary on March 18th, and then head off to Holland for the next course. 


What Projection Mapping Looks Like in San Francisco, 2017

February 26, 2017

What's happening in San Francisco in March? Artists-in-Residence at the upcoming Luminary Festival on March 18th are Yagmur Uyanik and Can Buyukberber, who are preparing a large-scale mapping installation in The Midway Gallery, enabled by Britelite Immersive. You can get an idea of the scope of the piece from the rendering they've prepared, shown here. There will be an audio component, as well. 

This is just one of a collection of installations and performances representing artists from the Bay Area and beyond. Complete details:

Five More Days of Celebrated Grace Cathedral Light Art in SF

February 23, 2017

Only five more days for a piece that is a crown jewel in the long career of Bay Area light artist Jim Campbell, working here with Benjamin Bergery, a French cinematographer who has collaborated on other occasions with Campbell.

The exhibit was installed in the cathedral December 11 of this past year, and it's made friends. Charles Desmarais, art critic at the San Francisco Chronicle, celebrated this work as “a worthwhile special trip”. Read his storyKCBS reporter Megan Goldsby described Jacob’s Dream as “a beautiful new art installation,” and read into it a special significance in the wake of the recent warehouse party fire in Oakland that killed 36 young people.

"Jacob’s Dream: A Luminous Light" is a 47-foot ladder of light, the eponymous pathway between heaven and earth. One more weekend for this journey. 

Seeing in the Dark: Bioluminescence and Architect Jenny Sabin

February 22, 2017

Sharing the front page with Future Fires and Luminary for upcoming events in the new issue of "Architect" is this glowing and mysterious installation, showing at PS 1 in NYC this winter. A photoluminescent knitted installation by Ithaca, N.Y. -based Jenny Sabin Studio, this was selected from five finalists for the 18th year of the Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1's Young Architects Program. The annual program, which unofficially began two decades ago with Gelatin's "Percutaneous Delights" installation in 1998, commissions an emerging practice to design a structure for MoMA PS1's courtyard that will shelter visitors during the annual Warm Up concert series, and the temporary environment must feature shade, seating, and some use of water. In years past, winners have responded to this brief with ideas such as hammocks sheltered by colored Mylar ("Liquid Sky" by Ball-Nogues Studio in 2007) and a bright blue nylon structure that cleaned the air ("Wendy" by HWKN in 2012). Following last year's neon canopy, "Weaving the Courtyard," by Escobedo Soliz Studio, Sabin's courtyard takeover, an installation called "Lumen," will cover the open-air space with what she calls "knitted light."

3D Printed Super Car

February 21, 2017

Keven Szinger is interested in making cars whose manufacture is low-impact, environmentally. In doing this, he's made something that looks like the Batmobile. Szinger closed 23M in Series A funding last month, so he may be onto something. Performance? 0-60 in 2.5 seconds is claimed (that’s faster than a McLaren P1 supercar). Stay tuned.

Drones at the Super Bowl and How They Got There

February 06, 2017

Though there are contracts in place that determine who gets mentioned and how in connection with the 300 drones that lit up the sky at this year's Super Bowl, let's talk about the history for a moment. In a January 2016 press release about the earlier, Intel-funded project, we hear that: "Intel CEO Brian Krzanich asked marketing director of perceptual computing Anil Nanduri what he would do with 100 flying drones. He wanted Nanduri to find a way to push the boundaries and show people an exciting new way to experience the wonders of drone technology. Nanduri put that challenge to a small group of artists and technology researchers at Ars Electronica Futurelab in Linz, Austria."

Ars Electronica doesn't show up in the credits for the Super Bowl, but let's give credit where credit's due. Horst Hoertner is a friend of ours and is also a hero to the creative drone community. We're interested in what he's doing next, and will be looking to the skies to find out. 


This Twitter Bot Tricks Angry Trolls Into Arguing With It For Hours

January 19, 2017

For reasons known only to them, some bigots spend their leisure time searching Twitter for concepts that upset them, then trying to provoke arguments with total strangers. This gives an addictive little thrill to the trolls, but it's inconvenient at best (and traumatic at worst) for the strangers. So why not outsource the problem to a bot? Sarah Nyberg has done just that with Arguetron, an automated Twitter account that baits angry Twitter eggs -- the kind who use the word "cuck" and believe "white genocide" is a thing -- into pointless fights. Sometimes for hours.