CADA is a cultural, multi-disciplinary platform based in Lisbon: a centre that organises workshops, meetings, cultural activities and events within that grey area that lies at the margin between art and design.
CADA obviously focuses on the new digital technologies and software, even though it would probably be more accurate to say that CADA (like some Italian art and design studios such as Limiteazero, Dot Dot Dot, Todo and others) focuses on the use and misuse of portable technologies and everyday items, that can be reconfigured with an attitude that much has taken from the hacking universe, on design objects, on items for audiovisual production, visualization of complex data, communication and interaction. All this relying on today’s most widespread software technologies: from Processing to VVVV, from Arduino to Sybian, from C++ to Oper Frameworks.
Partly as it occurs in Italy, Sofia Oliveira, Jared Hawkey and Rui Trinidade, CADA’S three founding members, have made a virtue out of necessity and, defying the general lack of interest and poor competence of schools and institutions, have raised funds to found an independent society: a place where they can create their own production micro-economy alternating artistic projects with commercial ones and with workshops with international guests, capable of meeting the needs of students in their search for artistic contents and innovative projects.
The chance for this interview sprang from a project that I have undertaken, basically a search in Europe for independent, non-institutional, multi-productive and multi-functional spaces dealing with art and design, and from the invitation that Jared Hawkey received by Celestino Soddu to attend the Generative Art Festival in Milan last November . This was an occasion for CADA to meet some pioneers in art and generative software, but also to face the excessively academic attitude that still typifies our institutes, that can’t thus keep in touch and abreast with that fertile ground of production and creativity and its emerging codes and aesthetics.
Marco Mancuso: Would you like to talk about CADA’s platform. What are your activities, who is involved and what is your background?
Jared Hawkey: CADA was born in 2004. It’s interest is art, and experimental work, which is inspired by, or questions new technologies, or technological structures. It’s not the only work we’re into, at all. But these are the times we live in. And there are some really Big issues in this department. As well as endless possibilities…. galaxies. Anyway long before that, we realised that you could quite easily go insane trying to work with computers on your own. Often projects are so complex they need combined skills. People need to focus on what they’re good at. So we’re into collaborative work, but believe the strongest work comes from getting inside it, entering the bubble. Which means really liking any one you work with is fundamental more than being on the same wave length . We work in loose, project-by-project way.
Sofia Oliveira: CADA means Each in Portuguese. We work on two fronts: project work and workshops. There are three core members. Rui Trindade who used to be a journalist, and currently does exhibition design and organises conferences. Jared whose background is fine arts and, me with a background in sociology. I’ve always been interested in systems, networks and generative processes. And the patterns of everyday life.
Jared: Hidden patterns. Objects with a life of their own, whirring away in their own little worlds. Ambient computing. I suppose we’re realists, but there’s got be space for colour-field painting, frozen time, and the fact that sometimes it all feels like a stage set.
Marco Mancuso: How does your workshops activity relates with your attitude for artistic and production practice? In other words, is there any possible link with projects such as “TODAY, mobile application” [http://today.cada1.net] or “sketcher 1.01” and the results/inputs/outputs that emerge from the workshops that you organize?
Sofia Oliveira: The link between projects and workshops? It’s not a literal link but, yes, there is one. Workshops are normally around issues, tools or processes that we are currently interested in exploring. The link between TODAY is that, back in 2006 I was intrigued by a lack of experimental work for mobile phones. Having already ran several Processing workshops, I decided to organize the first Mobile Processing workshop — where we ended up meeting Heitor Ferreira, who later worked on TODAY with us. When we started doing it — with a tiny budget — we realized pretty quickly why there weren’t that many. It’s really complicated: different operating systems, and hundreds of different devices, if you want to be sure you have to test the app on the actual device, which means a lot of money on phones. So, in terms of development it requires big budget specially if you need to go ‘deeper’ into the operating system. I mean working in Flash lite could be a bit easier, we did it in C++ for Symbian. It will get easier in the future
So, workshops are fun to do, and a good way of interchanging knowledge and meeting people with similar interests. We’ve done them for Processing, Arduino and we’re doing an iPhone one this February.
Marco Mancuso: Tell something more about “TODAY, mobile application” and about ” sketcher 1.01 ” or about some project of yours you are fully satisfied with. Do you think there can be a sort of common ground that joins these projects also in terms of concept or technique?
Jared Hawkey: TODAY is a piece of ambient computing.
Sofia Oliveira: TODAY is a piece of generative art slash design.
Jared Hawkey: It’s a piece of data visualization.
Sofia Oliveira: It’s freeware. An application that visualizes what happens on your mobile phone in terms of communication. So, it’s like the story of your day; it has an auto-biographical character.
Jared Hawkey: And no it doesn’t have any direct relationship with anything we’ve done before. But there’s always been the in hidden patterns.
Sofia Oliveira: Yeah, before we started we weren’t mobile phone fetishists at all — we had cheap ones, with black and white screens
Jared Hawkey: Heitor is a mobile developer though, and obviously had a good one.
Sofia Oliveira: But we’ve always been curious about what communication would look like. And the mobile phone was an obvious device to explore it gets carried around by 3.2 billion people. Also, we wanted to explore the personal. And saw it as intimate device, as opposed to seeing it as another social network tool. Also we wanted to create something that wouldn’t require too much interaction to give you something back. These days people are constantly interacting with everything, all the time. It’s a slow and quiet piece of software.
Jared Hawkey: It lives in the background — something that you might want to check while waiting for the bus.
Marco Mancuso: Your attitude seems to be towards those borderline territories of use/misuse of digital technologies and mechanical or electronic instruments, of hacking attitude towards everyday objects and interactive technologies, towards generative software for graphic design and the visualization of complex data. How do you work on new projects and how do you develop a workshops at CADA?
Jared Hawkey: The “perfect mix”, thank you. Hmmn, ur . I don’t know, about the “misuse” or “hacking attitude”. We certainly didn’t set out to misuse the phone in a dysfunctional, ironic, abusive or useless kind of way. But we lost a lot of hair trying to do something that seemed to all of us stupidly obvious logical and simple. In that way, it was one big hack, trying to do something against the grain — dealing with the constraints. Because it monitors your calls in real-time, there was the question of getting it passed by the powers that be that is getting it Symbian signed. We never really knew whether they’d approve it or not until it passed. But yes, otherwise, it was conceived and made in an uncontrolled manner.
Sofia Oliveira: When we start something we try not to think too much – whether it’s art or design. We see where it takes us. So the distinction is never a starting point. What I’m interested in design is its distribution model, I’m interested in reaching people in a similar way relating to their everyday life, as opposed to have the work living in a gallery.
Jared Hawkey: Living?… on a life support system.
Sofia Oliveira: Yeah… I like the idea of a piece being carried around in peoples’ handbags… or plastic bags. That’s it.
Jared Hawkey: I don’t know. If you mean that design works with the world of commodities, directing itself to the generation of pre-experienced sensations and art doesn’t, then the TODAY is probably a piece of art. But when we made it we thought of it as a piece of design, only because Art puts a lot pressure on things. And — this might be because my definition of Art as defined by the academies, of which I’m a product, is too narrow — because the idea of it being reflexive, in terms of its place in discourse and production, was not an intention. We also saw it existing in the social, running on a device that’s the ultimate piece of consumer hardware three reasons to call it design. Still as Sofia said is not something that bothers us. The designers call it art, and the artists look at you as if you’re in league with the devil.
Sofia Oliveira: When we talk to designers that come from a more market and commercial world and they give us feedback about TODAY, they say we need to improve the service component, the functionality of it, or that it needs to be faster, or that the visual system is too abstract’ we think “oh god, this is definitely not a piece of design!” because for us, those things are the key to it – the contemplative and slowness of it. But then when we talk to more arty people, they seam to have a problem with the mobile phone to start with, and can’t really understand why we’re not selling it. So I think that we are in an in-between space — and you can call it experimental design.
Jared Hawkey: Ultimately the distinctions need a review. But we won’t be holding our breath. We are quite happy being filed under “other”.
Marco Mancuso: You say that CADA is connected with the Lisbon community and I can imagine that this has been a demanding and long-term task. How difficult is it and what is the degree of attention shown by cultural institution, schools, academies, the public and the media towards culture, design and digital art? In other words, how difficult is it to raise funds and obtain the support by the Institutions to keep CADA’S activities alive and how are you connected with other cultural centres in Lisbon or in Portugal?
Sofia Oliveira: CADA started with two-years of public and private funding with the objective of stimulating the area in Portugal . So we had money to distribute around, which meant we did things like promoting an ideas competition for two years, were winners would get the project co-produced with us — that’s where Gonçalo Tavares’ Sketcher came from –, a TV programme about Portuguese electronic arts, organized several workshops and events, and so on. Once the funding stopped in 2006, it became more difficult to carry on with this public service. Next year, we will be able to apply for structural funding again but for the time being we need to work on the balance between programming and producing work – if we have to chose it will be the latter. So realistically, what we can carry on doing without funding, is the workshops.
Last year we got funding for specific projects, like TODAY and other project Emotional Object – we are doing with some friends Adriana Sá and John Klima and also for a 4 day Mixed Media Festival we co-produced together with Polar Produce, from Bristol. So we can’t really complain. We also have partnerships that allow us to do this with little money, like free space and equipment for the workshops, we got tons of help for the Festival — equipment, spaces. We are just starting collaboration with a university, a computing engineering lab, to develop work together. It’s ok. There is a price to pay if you become too formal. I’m happy in this independent space.
Traditional media don’t pay too much attention to technologically inspired work. And I don’t pay too much attention to them. When I do something all my communication efforts go online and that normally works well. There is a Portuguese cultural tradition of moaning, complaining. That takes up a lot of energy. I think it is difficult to work in this ‘grey’ area everywhere. You just have to do it the best you can.
Marco Mancuso: Lastly, how was the experience at the Generative Art festival here in Milan a few months ago and, more in general, what is your opinion about the great hype that has marked generative tools over the last few years? What do you think is the future for this art/design discipline?
Jared Hawkey: I was out of my depth in Milan . You told us what to expect, but I was totally unprepared. It was academic. Still apart from the embarrassment of one sloppy talk, … it was all bit chaotic so I got off lightly….anyway, I went to learn, and like a ‘good little boy’ asked lots of questions. Both Celestino [ Soddu] and Enrica [ Colabella] are true pioneers. And it was great to be at such a venerable gathering, among the areas’ heavy weights — Philip Galanter was there. And I did learn a lot. The only thing which I couldn’t quite grasp, was what seemed to be an overall will to complexity. For instance, I understand, and agree with, Celestino’s and Enrica’s call to Poetics, and loved the way they put the boot into Modernist architecture for failing to create openings for subjectivities, and the consequent lack of Identity in modern cities, and why, therefore, you might want to produce the most complex output. But felt their position that the best way to achieve this is, by starting with complex inputs, was way too militant.
Sofia Oliveira: Is there really hype? It’s certainly entered motion graphics, and the commercial stream. What kind of future that is I don’t know.