HOW TO GET MORE & BETTER FROM YOUR AGENCY’S INFORMATICS RESEARCH DIVISION

Golan Levin (@golan) Emerging Technology in Advertising FITC / Toronto, 19 October 2012

Hello, I’m Golan Levin. Today I’d like to talk about getting better results from your informatics research division. You know: -- all those people that you employ in your R&D department? The ones working on the development of new algorithms for computer vision, computational design, cultural informatics. And new artistic applications of these technologies. To judge from your some of your recent advertising campaigns, you must’ve hired a bunch of PhD’s, huh?

YOU ARE TROLLING PSFK WMMNA CREATIVEAPPLICATIONS AND WE BOTH KNOW IT
NO YOU DIDN’T. For those of you who saw Evan Roth’s talk at E.T.A. last year [2011] -- my talk today is similar. And the reason for this, is that certain problems have not only persisted, but, in ways, gotten worse.

NEW-MEDIA ARTISTS ARE THE UNPAID R&D DEPARTMENT OF AD AGENCIES
[This quote is from José Luis de Vicente, @Macroscopist] The main thesis of my presentation today is that my community, of new-media artists -especially those creating the open-source arts-engineering technologies on which so many advertising campaigns depend-- have become a de-facto, unpaid R&D department of agencies --

... AND THIS IS NOT SUSTAINABLE

...and this is not sustainable. There needs to be some more give-and-take between agencies and the individuals by whom they are inspired, and whose tools and ideas they use.

IN THE FUTURE YOUR AGENCIES WILL FAIL UNLESS YOU FIND WAYS TO PARTNER WITH ARTISTS
Because in the future -- in fact, it’s already happening now, as I’ll show -- your agencies will fail unless you can find new and harmonious ways to partner with artists. My job today is to try to appeal to your self-interest in convincing you of this, and to try to propose some ways forward of mutual benefit.

NEW MEDIA WHO..?

Ok, so, what do I mean by new-media? I’m referring to work by artists whose primary medium is code. They create interactive and computational work, as a way of exploring the aesthetic, expressive, tactical, critical possibilities of new technology.

So, while you work in gleaming “headquarters”...

So, while you work in gleaming “headquarters”...

OFLab, Ars Electronica 2008

...we work in temporary, makeshift laboratories and hackathons, that rarely exist for more than a week.

OFLab, Ars Electronica 2008

Although they look scrappy, don’t underestimate the power of 19 people and some boxcutters.

Kyle McDonald & Arturo Castro, Face Substitution (2011) One thing which truly defines the new-media artist is their capacity to work simultaneously in concept, design, and computation simultaneously. A single person, or a couple of people, can do it all. Here’s an example: “Face Substitution” by Kyle McDonald and Arturo Castro (See: https://vimeo.com/29348533). Hacked up in less than a day. Racked up a million views. These hybrid artist-engineers show you that you only need specialization when the people you’re working with aren’t that special.

New-media artists are able to do this because they are leveraging the power of open-source arts-engineering toolkits that they have developed for each other. These are development environments, created FOR artists, BY artists, that allow people to easily sketch and deploy professional quality interactive systems. How many of you have heard of Processing, OpenFrameworks, Arduino, Cinder? Great. It’s important to emphasize that these are not commercial products -- there are generally fewer than a dozen people developing each, often even fewer -- but there are hundreds of thousands of other artists and programmers who use these. The people working on these environments do so out of love, not money. And your companies, whether you realize it or not, are using them too.

Golan Levin et al., Dialtones: A Telesymphony (2001)

Alright, so who am I? a quick recap of my own work, ...includes ...a concert entirely performed through the carefully choreographed dialing and ringing of the audience’s own mobile phones (2001); See: http://www.flong.com/projects/telesymphony/

Golan Levin, Zach Lieberman, Joan La Barbara, Jaap Blonk, Messa di Voce (2003)

Augmented reality and body-based projection, in this 2003 project, Messa di Voce, in collaboration with Zach Lieberman, Joan LaBarbara, and Jaap Blonk; See: http://www.flong.com/projects/messa/

Golan Levin et al., Double-Taker (2008)

... Large- and small-scale interactive robotics, often using computer vision, such as this whimsical 800-pound surveillance robot (2008); See: http://www.flong.com/projects/snout/

James George, Jonathan Minard, Clouds (2012)

... and new forms of 3D and 4D cinema using the Kinect, as in this “Clouds” project (2012) produced by James George and Jonathan Minard in my lab at CMU, The Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry. See: https://vimeo.com/35858119

Now I know what you guys are thinking....! But I’m not here today to sell you on the awesomeness of my work and the brilliant future of robotics and augmented reality. I want to talk about the way this stuff gets picked up, chopped up and consumed. And to do that, a bit of deep history.

Myron Krueger is a pioneering American computer artist who developed some of the earliest computer-based interactive artworks. Pictured at left is a scene from Myron Krueger’s landmark interactive artwork, Video Place, which premiered publicly in 1974. Camerabased computer play begins here. The Video Place project comprised at least two dozen profoundly inventive scenes which comprehensively explored the design space of full-body camera-based interactions with virtual graphics — including telepresence applications, drawing programs, and (pictured here, in the “Critter” scene) interactions with animated artificial creatures. Many of these scenes allowed for multiple simultaneous participants, connected over networks in shared virtual environments. By 2003, techniques for full-body camera-based interactions were considered inexpensive and reliable enough for mass commercialization. Pictured here, at right, is a screenshot of the Sony EyeToy, which sold more than 10.5 million units. The Kinect has only taken things further. Myron showed the way -- he practically INVENTED the vocabulary of interaction, the same way that Eisenstein and others invented the vocabulary of film -- but today he’s practically penniless.

Michael Naimark is a new-media artist and researcher interested in “place representation.” In addition to his influential work exploring virtual reality, Naimark is also notable for his advocacy of media art as a stimulus for technological innovation — having directly helped establish a number of prominent research labs including the MIT Media Laboratory (1980), the Atari Research Lab (1982), the Apple Multimedia Lab (1987), and Interval Research Corporation (1992). In the late 1970s Naimark was a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies (CAVS) at MIT. There Naimark helped create the Aspen Movie Map (1978-1980), a landmark hypermedia installation which allowed visitors to interactively explore and navigate the roads in a small town in Colorado. The Aspen Movie Map was made possible through an “artistic abuse” of the world’s first laserdisc player — namely, by taking a device which had been intended for the storage and playback of large movies, and instead using it for random access under interactive control. The Aspen Movie Map was funded in part by a federal research grant. In 1980, this project was given the dubious “Golden Fleece Award” by US. Senator William Proxmire — a sarcastic recognition he bestowed on projects which he felt were egregious wastes of taxpayer money.

Things suddenly change when these kinds of artistic explorations and provocations get taken up by advertisers. The Institute for Applied Autonomy (IAA) is an anonymous artist’s collective dedicated to the cause of individual and collective self-determination. In 1998 the IAA developed GraffitiWriter, a small “tele-operated field programable robot which employs a custom built array of spray cans to write linear text messages on the ground.” GraffitiWriter provoked controversies on a number of occasions; for example, during an award ceremony on live Austrian television in 2000, at the height of Austrian governor Jörg Haider‘s xenophobic campaign against immigrants, GraffitiWriter went scandalously ‘off-script’ and printed the activist slogan “No person is illegal”. IAA’s subsequent project, StreetWriter (2001-2004) consists of a substantially larger computer-controlled industrial spray painting unit that is built into a van or trailer. The StreetWriter won major recognitions, such as an Award of Distinction in the Prix Ars Electronica 2000. In mid-2009, Nike and its advertising agency, Wieden+Kennedy, commissioned a similar device, Chalkbot, for use in its “LIVESTRONG” advertising campaign for the 2009 Tour de France. The Chalkbot system, developed for W+K by DeepLocal, was used to street-print Nike’s campaign slogans and logographs. Accounts differ as to whether W +K did enough homework when reviewing the provenance of the concept, or whether the undefined (pre-CreativeCommons) status of the project’s licensure allowed its use in this way by DeepLocal. In any case, active members of the IAA group were not involved in -- nor informed about -- Nike’s appropriation of its StreetWriter concept, and posted a press release stating their objection to “the corporate appropriation of ‘outsider’ research projects without acknowledgement of the amateur, collective, hobbyist, and activist communities upon which projects like Chalkbot are built.” It looked bad for everyone involved. In all likelihood, the IAA could have been placated if the 2009 designs had been open-sourced and ‘returned to the commons’.

Chris O’Shea, Hand From Above (2009)

Those examples show artworks, initially thought to be useless, but then, much later, proven to have ideas of great value. But then something else happens. Youtube accelerates how things get consumed, and Advertising stands ready, it seems, to consume them. Here is an artwork by Chris O’Shea, commissioned by FACT, an arts organization in the UK. His project shows an interactive “hand from above” which playfully tickles passersby, picks them up, squashes them. It’s whimsical and charming, and won international recognition in awards from (for example) Ars Electronica. See: https://vimeo.com/7042266

Space150, Times Square for Forever 21 (2010)

The following summer, a new interactive billboard went live at Times Square in New York. Designed by Space150 agency for Forever 21, the billboard featured “a model who occasionally leans over, and appears to pluck someone out of the crowd. Sometimes, she thinks they stink, so she tosses them.” See: https://vimeo.com/12855619

FORMS vs. CADBURY
• •
https://vimeo.com/38017188 (Memo Akten + Quayola) https://vimeo.com/channels/smartmotion/47172247 (Publicis Dublin)

[Here I show videos of Memo & Quayola’s “Forms” video, vs. Cadbury “Enjoy the Moment” advertisement by Publicis Dublin. See: https://vimeo.com/38017188 (Memo+Quayola) https://vimeo.com/channels/smartmotion/47172247 (Publicis)]

WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?

So, why should you [agencies] care about this?

WELL HOW ABOUT YOUR REPUTATION FOR STARTERS

I don’t need to remind you how quickly information spreads. Reputations are made, and damaged, in a matter of minutes.

THESE ARTISTS? ARE NOT OBSCURE

You may not have heard of these media-artists yourself. But that doesn’t mean they’re obscure. They are award-winning innovators and trendsetters who get millions of hits on their youtube videos. They are tightly connected to thousands of media-literate fans and followers. And they are among the most wired people on the planet. IF YOU COPY THEIR WORK, PEOPLE WILL KNOW.

Their fans will write “RIP OFF” in comments on your videos. And they will add helpful links to the original you copied, so everyone else can tell. Don’t doubt that the blogs can smell a fight; they love juicy stories about underdogs getting ripped off by big corporations. Just like those drunken Facebook photos that you’d rather forget, but can’t delete -- “This is going in your permanent record!” [Slide image from Evan Roth, @fi5e]

TIME’S RUNNING OUT BEFORE THE ADVERTISING AWARD JURIES BECOME WISE, TOO
Don’t expect that the juries of your advertising awards will be clueless forever. We’re starting to get invited to those parties.

And certainly the blogs know, too. They can tell when your work isn’t honest, because they know the history. You’ll pay for it with fewer incoming links, and low view counts. Here’s an example from the Graffiti Research Lab. Their original LASER Tag artwork? 1.5 Million views. The RedBull copy from two years later? nobody cares. Evan Roth and his crew are getting 40 times the views for 1% of the expense. [Slide image from Evan Roth, @fi5e]

YOU MAY WANT OR NEED TO WORK WITH THEM IN THE FUTURE
As they say, don’t shit where you eat. You never know when you may want -- or need -to work with one of these people in the future.

CASE HISTORY: S*****

Memo Akten, Gold Dust (2006)

British artist Memo Akten has gotta be the most frequent target for this kind of ripoff. Last year, the Madrid-based media production company S***** not only copped his “Gold Dust” video wholesale; they put their own watermark on it! S***** not only used Memo’s video to advertise themselves, but videos of 25 well-known works by others, too. Then, in a dossier of “their” available projects, they stated the cost and delivery time for each work.

THE DOSSIER SURFACES

(Here I’m presenting the shameless S***** dossier, and how they got a Cease & Desist letter from the 40 different new-media artists whose work they were claiming to have created. They ceased & desisted, so I have anonymized S***** for this PDF online. Email me if you need to know more.)

FYI, THE ARTISTS TALK ABOUT THIS, & THEY ARE PISSED

So, what can you agencies do to help fix things? What might some best practices be?

CALL ME MAYBE

CALL. Initiating dialog is one of the first and most important things you can do. You never know what ways might be possible for us to work together.

RESEARCH THE REALNESS

Now: any good artist will recognize and appreciate when they’ve been bested. But if there’s one thing we hate, it’s being copied -- POORLY. Before you hire someone inferior to, uh, “re-interpret” something we’ve made, research where it came from. Perhaps the original author will be willing to do it for you, or to consult with your team. You’ll get a better product. You’ll get the real thing.

A LITTLE GRATITUDE

As difficult as this might seem to understand, many artists aren’t in it for the money -- If they were, they’d be working for agencies. For many, CREDIT IS AN ESSENTIAL FORM OF CURRENCY. They want to be known as the inventors of a technique, as having inspired others. It’s understood that their ideas will be picked up and reinterpreted in the Grand Conversation, even in ways that they don’t prefer. But being recognized for their prior art is important: they’re looking for a place in the art history books. So acknowledge them. Thank them.

CITE IT

Related to thanking -- is the idea of CITATION. Footnotes and citations have been around for thousands of years. There are established formats for citing everything under the sun, from articles to artworks. Find a way to do it. Why DO we cite? What do we OWE the people who came before us? What we owe is that we have JOBS, because of their hard work. Acknowledging their work is the least we can do.

SHARE FTW

So, the basic idea of what I’m saying is -find a way to share the credit and the spoils. Everyone wins.

Remember the folks ‘conceptually inspired’ by Memo & Quayola’s project? They finally said so on their web page. There.... that wasn’t so hard, right? Too bad it took several weeks of bruising internet gossip and reputation bashing. It could have been done from the outset.

LICENSE IT

Even better, if there’s an artist whose work you find inspirational, support their practice. If the artist doesn’t build the work for you -- then a simple licensing fee can often be arranged -- probably, given your budgets, for just a tiny percent of the cost of your campaign. This may help secure the goodwill of the artist, and help you get technical advice.

RELEASE IT

Another appealing thing to many new-media artists is when code developed for a campaign can be returned to the Commons, through open-sourcing. There are real examples of this. In some trailblazing legal work, Weiden + Kennedy convinced Coca-Cola to allow them to open-source the code developed for them by Hellicar & Lewis, for their “24 Hour Music” campaign with Maroon5 (http://www.hellicarandlewis.com/2011/03/22/coke-24hr-music/ ; https:// github.com/HellicarAndLewis/24HourMusic ). Go W+K! Remember Kyle McDonald, who did the face substitution I showed you earlier? He charges clients half as much if he’s allowed to open-source the tools he develops for a project.

DONATE MONEY

DONATE. In this instance, I’m not talking about the artists -- I mean supporting the collectives and other communities who are producing the free, open-source tools that they, and now YOU, are using to create stuff. Educate yourself about these tools -- increasingly, they have NON-PROFIT FOUNDATIONS, such as the new Processing Foundation.

DONATE EFFORT

Is your agency continually inspired by projects made with an open-source toolkit? Hire a developer to contribute. For example, the Barbarian Group employs Andrew Bell as a full time developer and contributor to the open-source Cinder project. They earn karma by supporting a widely-used toolkit. They benefit by receiving the contributions of dozens of OTHER passionate developers. And, most importantly, they get mainline access to cutting edge technology.

Other Ways
• “Buy the artist, not the art”:
See someone whose work you like? Ask them what else they can do. record of where ideas come from.

• Responsible management. Keep a

YOU GET:
• CREDIBILITY IN PERPETUITY • GENUINE PRODUCT • UNIQUE EXPERTISE • SECONDARY REWARDS • FASTER TIME TO MARKET • AND OH YEAH ITS THE RIGHT THING

THANK YOU!
(@golan)

...& GRATITUDE
These friends kindly contributed their thoughts to this presentation:

• • • • • •

Evan Roth Joel Gethin Lewis José Luis de Vicente Kyle McDonald Memo Akten Scott Suthren

I’d also like to add that this presentation contains contributions from many other concerned parties. I’m here as an emissary on behalf of a posse of concerned individuals. These people, among many others, have kindly assisted me in thinking this through.

In Memoriam: Andy Cameron (1959-2012)
Founder, Antirom artist collective; Executive Director at Fabrica Research Centre, Italy; Interactive Creative Director at w+k London.

This presentation is dedicated to Andy Cameron, who was coming closer than anyone to healing this divide.