DEAF, The Ar t of the Accident

Nathalie Muller
DEAF (Dutch Electronic Art festival) is a bi-annual international and interdisciplinary event organised by
V2, the Organisation for Unstable Media.
Founded in 1981 in "s Hertogenbosch (Holland) by a group of multi-media artists, V2 focuses on the interactions
between art, technology, media and society. Since 1987 V2 has concentrated on machinic, electronic and digital
media-art. The instability of media is viewed as a creative and productive force for (re-)organising socio-cultural,
and econo-political relations in the worlds we inhabit. Moreover, its dynamic character place media and art in a
position of mobility, instead of static stability. Currently V2 is based in the centre of Rotterdam (Eendrachtsstraat
10, 3012 XL Rotterdam, HYPERLINK mailto: v2@v2.nl, +31-10.404.64.27) in a former printing house. V2 hosts
numerous art and multi-media events, has an archive, a fab bookshop, and their own art server.
This year’sfestival (17 - 29 November) concentrated on ‘The Art ofthe Accident’.Technological artefacts tend to
malfunction, as much as they are capable of functioning properly. We often try to contain and control the things
we produce - in other words, create a stabile environment for them - an accident occurs when these conditions of
safety and control are disrupted. Accidents are not exterior events, but an immanent part of artefacts. Here’sa
wonderful definition of accident from the DEAF catalogue:
‘THEACCIDENT CAN BE DESCRIBED AS A SITUATION IN WHICH A SYSTEM CAN NO LONGER GRASP ITSELF WITHIN
ITS OWN TERMS.’
DEAF98 explored through art, sound, architecture, urban planning, economy and electronic networks, what an ars
accidentalis might be.The program was jam-packed: there was an exhibition running at the Netherlands Photo
Institute (NFI) throughout the length of the festival, a two-day symposium; a trans-architecture exhibition at the
Netherlands Architecture Museum (http://www.archi.org), a "Digital Dive"part, wherein artists presented "On-line
Realities in 3-D"; an "Open Territories" section presenting work-in-progress, and panels and performances (under
which an evening with Timothy Druckrey "Why 2K", and the presentation of the nettime mailinglist publication
Read Me). The "unreliable" DEAF website (HYPERLINK http://www.v2.nl/DEAF/) was more than a festival navigation
tool: the further the user would search, the more twisted and distorted the route and info would become. Belgian
artist Danny Devos co-operated on this project; Devos has since 1985 been collecting calendar data on fatal
accidents and events. In 1997 V2 invited Danny to put his morbid calendar on their website. Considering the
diversity of the program, I will give you a sample of the higlights, and of the "accidental" flops.
THE PUBLICATION The book of DEAF98 is much more than a fesival catalogue: it contains essays, interviews and
astounding visuals (isbn 90-5662-090-8, 256 pages full colour, FL. 49,50). Beautifully designed by Joke Brouwer
(one of the co-founders of V2), this book comprises the whole festival and more between its covers. It includes
essays and interviews with the symposium speakers, but also other thinkers and artists, such as composer Dick
Raaijmakers, neuro-biologist Humberto Maturana, and the French philosopher/urbanist Paul Virilio. I was especially
enchanted by interview with Dick Raaijmakers, wherein he pleads for a society of risk. Also Paul Virilios piece is
illuminating: Aristotle’snotions of substans and accidens are deconstructed, and you find out the difference
between an ‘integral’and a ‘specific’accident. Steve Mann, a Canadian artist and lecturer, has since the 80’sbeen
wearing a wireless computer and camera on his body (the so-called wearcom and wearcam;
http://www.wearcam.org). Mann uses a ‘reflectionist’strategy, borrowing from the Situationist Movement, in
which he appropriates the tools of the oppressor to subsequently turn these against the oppressor, in order to
confront and deconstruct our surveillance society. His interview was hilarious, and radical. I loved it! You can see
Steve’swork in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.

OPEN TERRITORIES Rafael Lozano-Hemmer is a Mexican/Canadian artist, and defines himself as a confused human
being who derives lots of creative energy from this tension. He is affiliated with the Spanish Foundation for Art
and Technology in Madrid (HYPERLINK http://www.telefonica.es/fat/), and his work has been exhibited at festivals
like Ars Electronica in Linz. Rafael was very funny and entertaining, and the project he presented, concerning
Mexico at the fin-de-millennium, was lovely. Rafael is into ‘relationalarchitecture’,which is in a sense comparable
to virtual architecture in that both engender a suspension of disbelief - only here ‘real’buildings are turned into
something other than they already are. What he wants to do for the Mexican Millennium Project called ‘A100
Million Mexicos’,is take an episode of Mexican history and create a relational architectural piece with it. The place
for the piece will be the central plaza in Mexico city, called the Zócalo. The Zócalo is a place of enormous authority
and power, dating from the Aztec era. Nowadays, the Zócalo is surrounded by the municipality, the cathedral, the
leftist parties and the right-wing parties; it is thus a very charged socio-political site. Mexico is a very
heterogeneous multi-cultural place, hence the title ‘A 100million Mexicos’,recalling the 100 million inhabitants of
the place, but also stressing its cultural diversity. In Mexico everybody is confused about ethnic backgrounds;
Rafael wants to show that in his this project. His initial plan is to build 3 relational architectural installations. One
will be inspired on a poem by Octavio Paz (‘Obras de Sombras’), whichhas something to do with shadows. Here the
4 façades of the Zócalo will be altered by projections on the buildings (tele-absence interface). The aim here is to
render the building transparant, and to project additional stuff on the projected shadows. An other part will be the
Torre (Tower): in the centre of the square a huge screen on a tower will be installed, where people can type in stuff
on a website, and their words will appear on the screen. No censorship will be exercised. Furthermore 10KW
search-lights, controlled through the internet, will send out their beams. A book about the project will be
published in the very near future, and that’s certainlysomething to look out for.
WHY 2K? I was really looking forward to this discussion, chaired by Timothy Druckrey. Timothy is a New Yorkbased writer and curator, and I was very impressed with the book he edited together with Gretchen Bender
Culture on the Brink: "Ideologies of Technology" (Bay Press, Seattle, 1994). Currently he is editing a series called
"Electronic Culture" for the MIT Press. So, this evening was about the Millennium Bomb, and how to survive it (for
Y2K survival tips see HYPERLINK http://www.y2ksurvive.com/index.html). A bunch of computer experts, accident
pilots, political advisors and creative technologists were supposed to discuss and question the phenomenon that is
testing the controllability of digital technologies, and fuelling apocalyptic fears. Sounds, interesting, doesn"t it.
Well it wasn"t. They hired the "Institute of Affordable Lunacy" to disort and disrupt the panel - very successful, and
very irritating. The latter were all dressed up as dwarfs (complete with pointed shoes and long beards), and yelled a
bit, sampled the speakers" voices, etc. etc. Apart from that the people on the panel were extremely boring: they
invited the corporate guys. So when some yuppie in suit and tie says that the problem is not a problem, and that
actually it"s no big deal that 2 digits were ignored, but that the REAL difficulty lies in the ignorance, denial of the
problem, and the fact that the problem isn"t sexy - well then I get nervous. This guy was selling us cheap
psychology, and thought he was terribly funny and smart. I left after the coffee-break, but I did learn a new term:
Lewinsky-effect. According to this yup ignorance was the problem, coz media is so saturated with the subject, that
no one bothers reading about it anymore. This is the Lewinsky-effect.
DIGITAL DIVE: 3-D REALITIES ONLINE This part of the program investigated online art projects using threedimensionally as "metaphor for designing and articulating the social and technical processes taking place in the
data scape." I will give you a taste of two very nice projects. The first one is by two Hungarian artists Zoltán
Szegedy-Maszák and Márton Fernezelyi, called "Demedusator" (http://www.demedusator.c3.hu). The latter
questions how various kinds of media/info can possibly be stored on the net. The demedusator is a cryptographic
instrument, which transforms all you upload (be that text, video or audio) to the net into 3-D sculptures, creating
an online VRML-world. You can navigate through this world, and clicking on the 3-D sculptures will decode the
media back into their original form. So actually this tool is a multi-media-container the user can fill up. The idea
came from the problems people were experiencing navigating through jam-packed VR-worlds, and having to
download huge files. With the 3-D sculptures, you just click on the stuff interesting you. An additional asset is that
the objects don"t take up a lot of space. There"s no censorship on what people upload onto the demedusator, so
there"s a lot of crap. Yet, it does pose interesting questions about digitising culture, and storing cultural artefacts
in an alpha-numerical way. Perhaps a 3-D interface is a more subjective way of expressing andexploring data after all these people are artists, and want to make beautiful things - and indeed, this is a very beautiful project.

Károly Tóth, a Hungarian artist based in Holland, was the first VR-designer in the Netherlands. His piece is titled
"Negative River", which transforms a database into navigable organic virtual environment
(http://www.users.bart.nl/~terra/). Károly wanted to deal with knowledge and organise it, that is, he wanted an
instrument that would allow him to map thinking processes. So he wrote a software agent which is able to
read/interpret knowledge in a visual manner. What I like about this man, was that he shunned any form of hoity
toidy art discourse. He exclaimed that he was an artist and not a philosopher, and that he wanted to make
aesthetic things. The Negative River incorporates a series of mutually influential data events, that create a
morphing and dynamically transforming structure of cognitive relations. The stuff he showed us was magnificent:
microcosms in microcosms, simulations of pulsating blood cells carrying data. I am always amazed with what one
can do with these machines.
THE EXHIBITION There were a few really nice things at the exhibition. I won"t go through all of them, coz then I
need a whole Fringecore, but I will mention, the to my taste, 4 nicest things. Now that"s 4 out of more than 17
projects - actually that"s not such a wonderful score. I guess that the problem with interactive art is that you
really need time to check it out. It"s hard to do so when the exhibition hall is crowed.
The project getting the most media attention - and to be honest I am not too enthusiastic about it - was Cãlin
Dan"s (Romania/Holland) "Happy Doomsday!". This is a 3-D computer war game developed at the V2 lab in cooperation with Ars Electronica. The players access the installation through 2 fitness machines (war IS also a matter
of the body!) connected to a media system (computer, data projector, audio). Now by working out on the fitness
machines the two contestants can navigate in the virtual world. This world is the political map of Europe wherein
each player chooses a European country as an avatar, and then play an interactive war.
A very nice installation was from the Japanese artist Masaki Fujihata: "Nuzzle Affairs and Greetings." This 3-D
virtual environment, using digital network technology, facilitates communication between avatars from telematic
computer terminals (at the exhibition it was between Rotterdam and ZKM Karlsruhe). Anyway, you get a pedestal
with trackball for navigation, and a large video projection screen, and mic at each terminal. Video cams are
recording the people with the trackball. The projected virtual environments show you the other avatars, in the
form of objects with pasted photos of the person at the other end of the terminal on them - you can find them by
following a line trace. This installation was a great deal of fun, and it looked very neat as well. The aim of this work
was to abstract communication space.
Another fun project was by Austrian artist Gebhard Sengmüller and Onlineloop. Actually, this is more an invention
than anything else. Welcome to the world of "Vinylvideo"! Here video data is transformed into sound, and then put
on old-fashioned vinyl records. In practice this means that you can play a black and white movie off your pick-up
turntable. Colour isn"t possible due to lack of bandwidth. At the exhibition they built a very cosy living room-like
unit, where the visitors could select a record to play (thus a movie to watch) in a relaxed environment. Quite
remarkable!
Japanese artist Seiko Mikami probably had the most beautiful installation at the exhibition. Her piece was called
"World, Membrane and the Dismembered Body". The visitors enter a sound-proof room, amplifiers attached to the
chest of the visitors transform their heart and lung sounds into a visual architecture; the visitor becomes not only
a giant ear of his/her inner body, but also a witness to its landscape. Call this a sophisticated 3-D cardiogram, if
you will, but it was very quaint. Seiko is particularly interested in the fuzzy border space between object and
spectator. Her work "externalises the body"s mechanisms and elaborates how the structure of "interface" exists
within the body itself." Seiko claims that "digital technology has existed for a long time inside our body/mind
mechanisms, from the cellular level up to the higher brain functions."
NETTIME: READ ME BOOK LAUNCH Nettime is a moderated international mailing list devoted to net criticism
(http://www.desk.nl/~nettime/). I have been a lurker on the mailing list for about a year, and must admit that net
criticism is a very loose definition: postings vary from calls for electronic civil disobedience, to cyber manifestos, to
essays on the global economy, to net art. The discourse is quite academic, and the Deleuze and Guattari fandom is

rather abundant. However, the quality of the postings is relatively high, and between the PoMo name-dropping
and discourse production, you will find excellent stuff. For some reason or other this digital medium decided to go
analogue and publish a book. This is in itself a weird venture, coz they have an archive on the net carrying old
postings. Once the initiative for making a book hit the list, the subscribers got flooded with mails of zealous writers
wanting to be included in the book. This made traffic on the list quite a strain; if you’reused to getting a few mails
a week, and suddenly are flooded by 20 a day, you get fed up. I agree, there’salways the good old delete button,
but the nature of the list was changing: there was no communication going on – people posted to get into the
book. This did engender quite some criticism and spams. At a certain point a counter nettime list, which was
unmoderated and would allow all postings, was launched (nettime_free) in an act of rebellion. Anyway, at DEAF98
the nettime book "Read Me!" (Autonomedia, New York, 1999) was launched. The book is in itself a nice collection
of essays, but the whole polemic was why a digital mailing list should go commercial and publish a book.
The panel consisted of editors (prima donna posters, as it were): Ted Byfield (nettime moderator, USA); Faith
Wilding (multi-media artist and writer, USA); Marleen Stikker (Director of the Society for Old and New Media in
Amsterdam); Diana McCarty (Media Research Foundation, Budapest); Pit Schultz (co-founder of nettime,
Germany); McKenzie Wark (author and lecturor on new media; HYPERLINK http://www.mcs.mq.edu.au/~mwark). A
short history of the mailing list was given by Pit: the first nettime meeting occurred at the biennial in Venice in
1995; the idea was to initiate a net discourse that wasn’tAmerican (Wired style), and that was fresh and critical.
There ware lots of IRL meetings from people of different backgrounds, disciplines and 20 different countries. At
this very moments there are 850 subscribers, coming from Europe, USA, and Eastern Europa. According to Pit the
book marks a new era. Diana had an Oscar-like thank-you round, where she acknowledged all the institutions
(read those who came up with the dough) and contributors. Than all the panellists took turns in telling how they
first came in touch with nettime, and how active they are on the list - that was really quite fun. Then the audience
started mixing in, asking pertinent questions about the moderation policies, the claim to fame of some posters, the
change of character of the list, etc. – NO one of the panel was too keen on hanging the dirty laundry out; they
wanted to keep it nice and friendly, and not get into discussions.
THE SYMPOSIUM To my regret the least successful part of the festival. When I first saw the list of speakers I was
very enthusiastic, but I was very disappointed. I didn"t even bother attending the second day, and I heard
afterwards that I didn’tmiss too much. Basically the accident scenario was well re-iterated in the symposium:
almost nothing worked technologically; or the network connection would crash, or the video would be screwed
up, or they couldn’tget the slides right: ars accidentalis for you!
The first speaker was Marcos Novak (Next Babylon, Accidents to Play in). Marcos is a ‘transarchitect’
(http://www.aud.ucla.edu/~marcos/): an architect, artist, composer, and theorist who employs algorithmic
techniques to design actual and hybrid intelligent environments. He lectures at the Department of Architecture
and Urban Design at UCLA. He has expanded his notion of transarchitecture towards the digital realm, and has
originated the concept of liqued architectures in cyberspace. The latter means working with computer models and
experience matter fluctuating in a liquid way; this is opposed to the traditional notion of architecture, which
connotes stability, solidity, and permanency. He then started babbling about discourse, transcourse, and
intercourse and trans-oppositions I, and many other completely lost him there, and felt we were experiencing a
trans-lecture.
Next was Otto E. Rössler (The World as Accident). Otto is a German scientist with a PhD in immunology. He
authored more than 140 papers on chaos. This talk was very difficult, since Otto’slogic is a bit chaotic, but he is
extremely entertaining. The science of endophysics sees the world as an interface; for science this is cool because
it enlarges the range of technological options, yet philosophically it places us in a disturbing position: the world as
an interface is pure accident. He then started telling all kinds of tales about Descartes, linked that to other things –
this guy was a hypertext materialised into the flesh. He introduced machine theory, Levinas, Buddhism, quantum
mechanics, chaos theory and somehow it all connected and made sense. But I cannot make any sense of my notes.
The sole woman speaker of the day was Katherine N. Hayles (How does it feel to be posthuman), a professor of
English at UCLA who combines lit crit with chaos and systems theory. She is author of "Chaos Bound: Orderly

Disorder in Literature and Science" (1990) and "Chaos and Order: Complex Dynamics in Literature and Science"
(1991). She started out with showing us a video of Karl Sims ‘EvolvedVirtual Creatures’,which was nice. Artificial
Life creatures: this was to illustrate emergent behavior; how simple rules can induce complex behaviour, and how
complex adaptive systems work. She than linked this all to the viewers constuction of narrativity, claiming that
narrativity in itself may be an evolutionary adaptation. It is always dangerous to make such connections; I am all
for inter-disciplinarity, but sometimes it is just too far-fetched. She then started making ontological distinctions
between the digital and analogue subject, which seemed rather futile to me.
Last speaker I heard was Perry Hberman (Mistakes and Misbehaviours in Cyberspace), a lecturer at the School of
Visual Arts in New York, and Art Director of Telepresence, a company specialising in VR and telepresence
installations for arts and industry. He has exhibited his installations throughout the US and Europa, and had a
piece for DEAF as well, titled ‘System Maintenance’,wherein 3 images of a furnished room, (a real physical room, a
digital one and a small model one) are combined into one single video projection. Visitors can move the furniture
in each of the rooms, and change the video projection. Perry started out by saying that traditionally art in
museums is not supposed to be touched, so that it wouldn’tbreak down. However, machines do break (down).
Interactiva art gives the otherwise passive spectator the opportunity to intervene and to use the artefact. This
signifies a radical shift in art. Nevertheless, many interactive art installations dictate rigid rules HOW you re
supposed to interact with them, and this he doesn’tlike. If you have interactive work, it should be able to take a
fair amount of abuse; in his work Perry encourages this, but it’shard to get people nasty. Then he showed us some
of his videos, and there were a few nice things there. Ha wasn’ta very animated speaker, though.