When it comes to combining art and science, we refer to a domain of knowledge and skills in which those who work there should be an exchange of approaches and methods to generate new ways of interpreting the world. Beyond theoretical references and critical reflections, is the practical aspects underlying the development of an interactive work that makes it easy to understand the overlap between art and science.

Artists, like scientists and inventors (1), pass through processes that involve trials and errors, tests and analysis, phenomena and behaviors observations to obtain the final result of their aesthetic research,. Clearly, these processes are not referred to molecules, but to strings of code, algorithms, circuits. In the practice of building useless machines, interactive artists pass through the experimental method to become real scholars of an ecosystem made by technological components, designed by themselves. They become ethologists of interaction, scholars of technological systems behaviours.

This reflection came after a meeting with Andre Goncalves, Portuguese artist (year 1979), skilled in performance and sound, video and interactive installations. The works of Andre, presented in various festivals and in important digital culture centers in the world, have strange names and seem to be the result of experiments and natural, social or technological phenomena analysis. All made with the clever use of Do It Yourself electronics.

Resonance objects, for example, proposes multiple soundscape variations through the use of resonance. Of How We Have To Leave Doubts Expectations And The Unachieved is rather an ironic metaphor of logical and mechanical behaviors generated by the war. PS. I Love You is an atypical meter, which displays both physically and in real time the movement of the sun and moon. The Careless Driven By Self-Indulgence of Dystopia is in short a system of swarm intelligence to the contrary?

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Andre Goncalves has always worked on performance and audio-visual objects, resulting from an interesting intermingling of recycling low-cost technology, programming skills, rediscovery of analog technologies to the intermingling of sound and images. In Untitled # 06 – Portable Version, a mechanism for reading a Discman, was hacked into in order to control the motor that positions the head of the reader, through a self made Arduino board that reacts through sensors with the aplitude of a given sound: the more the sound is quiet the more the head will be close to the optical axis center, the more the sound is loud the more the head will be moved to the farthest position from the center.

The laser has been replaced by a white (or purple) LED, that takes advantage of the system of lenses and mirrors in the Discman, allowing light to strike and expose the film with a constant and precise beam. The performance is obviously in complete darkness and the exposed film is then sent to a lab for the development and implementation of related photographs.

And again, for Super 8 Projector Analog Synthesizer, a super 8 projector and an analog modular synthesizer have been hacked into so that the amplitude of a sound is able to control the intensity of the lamp, so that you can manually control the projector flickering. The dirty sounds that are played back are closely related to the destruction of the film and pictures in real time. The performance continues in different steps with different combustion processes and different sounds.

The Bird Watcher’ is one of his latest ethology interactive works, an installation based on Twitter that the artist has presented in the Software Art section, curated by Valentina Tanni, part of a latest edition of the Interferenze Festival – a meeting point between technology, art and natural environment, held in Bisaccia (Av) last July 24th to 27th.

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Serena Cangiano: Lets start from the beginning, from the path that led you to make art by experimenting with technology.

André Goncalves: I always tried to use computers since I was fifteen, playing with MSDOS and other systems. Having started to study graphic design I had to learn software such as Photoshop, Illustrator, etc.. Nobody taught me how to use these tools: I spent whole years using only the encounters with friends and sharing information. I always had the curiosity to learn by myself and to develop projects using the ‘trial & error’ approach.

The real beginning was when I started making music and studying the methods of how to make this music. Then, with the Internet and the early digital experiments, I was fascinated by the work of some designers and artists such as Joshua Davis and all those people who were creating astonishing things in Flash at that time. From there, I said: “I must learn quickly because that is what I really want to do”. So I started to program in Flash and later with other programming languages. I then had the opportunity to work in a design studio where I could continue studying. The path, in short, is composed of different ways: I started programming in a studio, making music at home and learning new software such as Max / MSP.

Serena Cangiano: When did you start to think that you could channel this curiosity and update programming, in a context of artistic experimentation?

André Goncalves: Making music, I found myself working with people from the experimental music scene in Lisbon. Later, I began to produce live experimental music performances with Max / MSP. Then I moved to installations.

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Serena Cangiano: From live performance to installations, I guess you were always interested in following a path, a kind of research…

André Goncalves:Yes, sure. I’ve always been intrigued by natural phenomena. My first installation, which is also the one on which I have been continuing to work on for five years, presenting it in different versions, deals with the phenomenon of resonance. I have tested and investigated the resonance building up an entire piece on this phenomenon. A detailed work, that I show in the form of performance and installation. Resonance is a very special phenomenon, because it relies on the use of sound to amplify other sounds in space: no matter whether it is a large or small space. With the sound, you can amplify other sounds just because you are in a specific area with a specific frequency.

If you can identify the frequency of that space then you can make it “resonate”. From the beginning, I didn’t approach the project in a scientific way: I read about Nicola Tesla and the fantastic things that he had made using resonance like for example, the earthquake which happened in New York with a machine resonance. Then there is the use of resonance in the medical field to analyze the human body.

In contrast to applications in science, I tried to use the resonance compared to the aesthetics of sound. I connected the soundscape generated by the resonance with the motion caused by the sea and waves. It’s impossible to create an equation that explains the movement of the sea: there are many things that influence it and is basically impossible to previously determine when the waves will arrive. This reflection, was somehow the inspiration that guided the design behaviors in Resonance Objects..

Serena Cangiano: You often use the term “behavior” when you describe your work. Do the aesthetics of your installations come from what your machines do, their pure mechanical and interactive behavior, rather than their conceptual framework?

André Goncalves: Usually, I try to explain my plans by letting people interpret the concept of what is communicated through it in a personal way. Much of the research and development starts from the idea of how it should be installed and then I carry out a research to understand how to get there. I first have a concept, then I spend a lot of time figuring out how to get to the solution, and during the process I always think of something new. The idea is always something abstract and broad, and the process always helps to decide the details.

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Serena Cangiano: Details such as, for example, the works’ titles, which seem to be very special…

André Goncalves: I always enjoy it when I choose the right title, because the title is to awaken people’s curiosity. When you read them, you need to stay within the frame of ideas that they give you. But if you really want to know what they say, well, I do not ever tell you!

Serena Cangiano: Even in your work The Careless Driven By Self-Indulgence of Dystopia??

André Goncalves: Many of my works are a criticism expressed in an ironic, as well as naive and poetic, way. Driven By The Careless or Self-Indulgence of Dystopia comes from the concept of “dystopia”, as originally thought by JG Ballard in his bizarre vision of how people use cars. He predicted in the Seventies some of the dynamics that exist still today: the people can not live without a car, they drive a car even when it is not needed. So I devised a way to speak of the excessive use of cars.

If you look at Driven By The Careless or Self-Indulgence of Dystopia from above, imagine having a camera that records everything, the cars seem like birds flying without direction, changing direction time to time. The machines follow some rules of conduct, and just like the flocks of birds, are directed always towards the center.

The interesting aspect is the connection between these behaviors and those determined by the rules of the game Tag (2): on the contrary a flock of birds driven by a single copy driver, in the game Tags a single player makes the other layers run in different directions.

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Serena Cangiano: You developed this work during the workshop Interactivos, held at the Media Lab Prado in Madrid. What can you tell me about that experience?

André Goncalves: In the workshop Interactivos there are people who work in a common area for two weeks, and each one works on a project with the help of tutors that support participants in the various development stages. It’s really exciting. The interesting thing is that you are in a context where there are no distractions and all your energies are for your project: there were people working at any time, day or night. There are people with different skills and training and if a participant has a specific problem it is always possible to overcome it through the exchange of ideas. For example, for ‘Drive by’ I had a problem with some mathematical formulas and there was a scientist who helped me to solve it by showing me a new solution.

Serena Cangiano:Here at Interference Festival, you bring your project The Bird Watcher, which makes me think that the way you develop a work seems very like that of an ethologist who observes the behavior of animals.

André Goncalves: The Bird Watcher is a work that uses Twitter. I normally do not use Twitter and I’d never used it before performing this installation. I understand that important and very interesting issues are discussed on Twitter, but every time I had access to this social network I had always felt that it was basically an exchange of useless information. Why people should scream to the world that they are dining well, for example? I do not understand the reason for this information.

The Bird Watcher, therefore, is an installation that addresses this aspect of social networks with irony. I really like the way Twitter was conceived and created, the “twit” concept. That is why I thought about how to revive the Twitter mechanism “in a natural way”, by making real birds twitter. Usually, in fact, we can not interpret the twittering of birds. We do not know why they twit, perhaps because they are sad, because they are courting the female, because they are hungry …

n the first version of the work, I just tried to find online information about the behavior of birds. I found twelve behavioral types of birds that I added in a sketch of Processing connected to the Internet. Then, I programmed a system that simulates the twittering of birds, as if they were in the real world. It was very difficult to achieve such a thing, but I managed to do so in an abstract way: the artwork does not work randomly, but the twittering follows a certain algorythm that allows the birds to twit in a different way.

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Once defined these twelve words for each twit, I set up twelve Twitter accounts. Each bird, in fact, twit on your account while The Bird Watcher, the general account, checks what the birds twit and twit their twitts back.

The idea at the moment is to put a container with food in a space, with the aim of attracting birds. Once the birds are close to the container, I want to record them when they twit: in this way, every time a video is posted as a link on Twitter. Using the YouTube and Twitter APIs, I can make the computer recognize the twittering of birds. Unfortunately, there are natural conditions that make the work difficult to implement: you can not force the birds to stop on the container, for example. I studied the behavior of birds and can say that it is almost impossible that in just three days the birds recognize the container as a safe place, to activate the installation. I’m sure it will take at least a month of waiting.sure it will take at least a month of waiting.

Link e Note:


(1) Segnalo riguardo a questo tema: D.Daniels,B.U.Schmidt, Artists as inventors Inventors as artists, Hatje Cats, 2008.

(2) Il gioco Tag consiste nel designare la persona che deve rincorrere e toccare tutti gli altri. Una volta che riesce a toccarne uno, quello a sua volta deve cercare di rincorrere e toccare qualcun’ altro.