The Aural Of Art
Interview by Guest Columnist - Dee-Marie
Martha Carrer Cruz Gabriel is a petite lady with a big name, easygoing manner and sparkling personality. She is a professor of New Technologies, and Marketing, at the University of Anhembi Morumbi, in Sao Paulo, Brazil — with degrees in: Engineering, Marketing, Graphics Design, Art, and Multimedia. Yet, even with her many accomplishments and over-busy agenda she is still able to find time for artistic endeavors.
As an award winning artist, with such a diverse academic background it is not surprising that Martha’s artwork also boarders on the unconventional. Her best known piece, Voice Mosaic, interweaves Internet interaction between artist and viewer. Delving into a mosaic created from the participants voices and colorful pixels; Voice Mosaic is a visual and aural mixture of creativity.
I recently caught up with Martha and was delighted that she was able to take time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions pertaining to alternative art, and the future of digital artists and the Internet.
The majority, if not all, of your art pieces are non-traditional, and tend to lean toward computer generated rather than conventional artwork. Which was your first love … computers or art? Also, do you have a traditional art background or formal art training?
I have always loved art (as an admirer), and also studied piano for about seven years when I was a preteen/teenager. I graduated with a degree in Engineering, and so, computers were my first love. After graduating, when I started working with computers, I came to the realization that there appeared to be an obsession with new technologies and a lack of attention on human factors ... and it bothered me!
Looking to settle this disquietude inside me, I did my postgraduate work in Marketing Communications, and some years later also in Graphics Design. It was in that period while presenting a paper about Anamorphosis, in a Semiotics Conference, and an audience member invited me afterwards to submit a work of art to a digital poetry exhibition.
It surprised me and I declined replying that although my paper was related to art, I was not an artist. However, the person insisted, saying that he was sure I was an artist inside, and that I should submit a work. I shyly developed the piece (web-art-poetry) Reflections in the Empty, and submitted it. To my surprise it was accepted and received a great feedback. I was very excited, and since then I started producing about one piece a year. I also decided to obtain a Master’s Degree in Art. My dissertation focused on voice interfaces in hypermediatic environments.
It is impossible to turn on the television or radio today without mention of war. When did you come up with the concept for your interaction artwork No War One World? Did you conceive this project during the beginning of the Iraq War? What precisely is the back-story for No War One World?
You are right. The first motivation for the work No War One World was the beginning of the Iraq War. I personally hate any kind of wars. Talking to two artist friends [Aloice Secco and Cecilia Saito], we decided to create a work that would cause the viewer to reflect about wars in general.
I am addicted to quotations, so we created a war game with no winners; where each move triggers a quotation. The quoted thoughts presented, reflecting on war and peace, are not only from peacemakers (like Gandhi) or warriors (like Napoleon), but also from celebrities and ordinary people. We think that besides the military war, there are also many other wars going on in our world, in our daily lives, and we should pay attention to them too; like the wars of famine, of drugs, of prejudices, of unemployment, and many others.
The main purpose for No War One World was to raise the feeling that, regardless of the kind of war, or regardless of the results of these wars, there are no winners, and always too many losers. I particularly love messages and thoughts of people like Mother Teresa, Helen Keller, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and many other great people who encourage us to be strong enough to stand for peace.
No War One World © Martha Carrer Cruz Gabriel
In general, artists tend to be ego driven. How did you manage to surrender control of your creation in Inter.ferences (where you allow the viewer to manipulate your artwork into his, or her, own creation)?
I think the more someone interacts (gives/contributes) to another person’s artwork the more that person gets involved; and the more rewarding the artistic experience. Although we tend to want to control everything — our lives, our works, our surroundings — life is not so. Since I created Inter.ferences I have tried to relinquish more control to the users, and at the same time share the pleasure. Maybe this is an unconscious influence of Web 2.0 in my work, where participation, web as a platform and the read/write web are core trends.
Inter.ferences © Martha Carrer Cruz Gabriel
Was this your first year presenting an art project at the SIGGRAPH International Conference? Can you please give our readers an inside glimpse into the appointment process to showcase Voice Mosaic … were you invited, or did you have to apply to the SIGGRAPH committee?
Yes, this was the first year submitting artwork to the SIGGRAPH Art Gallery. I have however, previously participated at SIGGRAPH as a conference speaker. In 2005 I spoke on voice interface and its influence in the evolution of the Web. At that conference I met Chris Bregler (SIGGRAPH 2005 Papers Advisory committee member). Chris encouraged me to submit my artwork Voice Mosaic, a piece related to voice technologies.
I applied the work to the SIGGRAPH 2006 Art Gallery committee, and was very happy that it was accepted. It was a wonderful experience for me, not only because of the exhibition itself, which was awesome, but also because of the great people I encountered during the submission process and exhibition.
In reference to Voice Mosaic (a truly mind-boggling concept) … how specifically is art created from sound?
Each human voice carries a distinctive voice pattern; so unique that it can even be used as biometrics authentication. On the other hand, only recently (the beginning of the 21st century) it has become possible to broadly use intelligent voice technologies (speech synthesis and voice recognition) on the web. This new technology allows us to invite virtually any person in the world to talk to computers in a natural language; enabling them not only to interact with their voices, but also contributing with their voices.
In this sense I tried to use technology to create the “skeleton” of the artwork and allow the people, who interact with it, to give the art its “soul.” Together they become an art “body.” Therefore, art is created from a unique sound — the human voice, and all the voice fragments (which are in some sense part of the human beings who interacted with the art). Each person’s voice builds together giving life to the Voice Mosaic, at the same time keeping each person’s individuality by contributing with their uniqueness to the whole, just like people do in life.
Voice Mosaic © Martha Carrer Cruz Gabriel
With so many traditional and digital artists at SIGGRAPH, how was your project, Voice Mosaic, received? Did conference goers understand the concept?
This is a very interesting question, because in 2004 when I launched the Voice Mosaic project I was very excited about people “talking” to the web, and by doing so, giving life to the artwork. Although it uses new technologies, the concept behind the project is very simple; talking on the phone with another person is one of the simplest and easiest known ways of communication. Yet, when it comes to talking to “computers” by phone, it becomes a little bit strange for people. However, people who have participated and have realized what goes on always get excited about the artwork.
I am very pleased with viewer participation at SIGGRAPH. Before the conference, Voice Mosaic received approximately 300 tiles in two years. During the SIGGRAPH exhibition it received close to another 300 tiles in just one week. I know that thousands of people visited the Art Gallery during the exhibition. Most visitors listened to other people’s tiles and interacted with the artwork only on the Web; not realizing that they could “become” a tile, locating their words and thoughts within the artwork.
I think 300 participations from the SIGGRAPH audience was very significant. Especially considering SIGGRAPH participants are more accustomed to visuals, not aural works. Also, voice interactions, and all the related technologies, are still very new for most of us. I hope that even those who didn’t participate by phone were able to get in touch with the concept in order to cause reflection and awareness about it.
Of all your accomplishments, artistic and personal, which are you most proud?
There are different nuances of accomplishments in life, and my children (Pedro and Mariana) are the ones I am most proud of. As to my professional career, the Best Presentation of Conference award at HighEdWebDev 2004 (Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, New York), was very special for me. It gave me a real feeling of accomplishment after years of studies, works, presentations and also practicing English, since I am not a native English speaker.
The presentation subject for the HighEdWebDev conference, ironically, was the use of voice technologies on the web, the same technology I used to develop my art piece Voice Mosaic — which is also the work I am most proud of to date. Not only due to the awards and recognition I have received for it, but mainly, and specially, because I have been using it as an example to show that it is possible to easily use voice technologies to help digital inclusion, and improve accessibility on the web.
In this day of techno expertise, do you feel that an artist needs a formal education to make a living as an artist, or do you think that an artist can become financially successful by natural talent alone?
I think there are two kinds of issues here: talent is one, and financial success being the other. Maybe I am not the right person to talk about how to become a financially successful artist, as I still do not know how to make a living as a digital artist on the web (I wish I knew). I do not know if there is a formula to acquire income from online digital art displayed on the web. Digital art showcased on the web can be consumed by virtually anyone and thereby sold to no one.
Besides that, technology is expensive. Developing digital art can require multidisciplinary teams, and maintaining web art online also requires resources (servers, connections, domain names, etc.). Due to these expenses, digital artists, in general, have to find financial support in other activities or with sponsors. In my case, besides art, I work with web development/solutions at NMD New Media Developers, and I also teach at the University of Anhembi Morumbi; these activities allow me to support my art.
Traditional art, on the other hand, has a long history and settled structure of merchants and galleries connecting artworks to the market. I think that digital art is still establishing itself in the world of art. Digital artists are looking for innovative ways to dialogue with the market, to become financially balanced and successful.
Regarding talent … as digital art requires technical expertise, or at least a very comfortable relationship with technology … sometimes it seems that only technicians can become digital artists, but I don’t think so. Here in comes the talent issue. Artistic talent sees beyond technology. Regardless whether the talent is triggered by formal education in art or by the nature itself, it is an essential ingredient for creating successful works of art. Dominating technological, artistic concepts and techniques can help, but without talent, they are hollow.
In conclusion, I think it is currently difficult for digital artists to find financial success with web related digital art; regardless how talented the artist is and whether the talent comes from a formal art education or if the artist possesses a natural artistic gift.
How do you perceive the advent of the computer, computer art, and the Internet has changed the world of international art and artists? Within another ten years, what predictions do you care to make for upcoming digital artists?
For the past ten years the Internet has affected almost every field of our lives. I also think that the ones related to knowledge and communications were the most affected. Before the Internet, I had to wait a year to know, even a little bit more, about a new technology that was launched abroad. Or, how difficult it was to talk and exchange information with other professionals and friends who lived far from us. Now we have a richness of connections and information that is a paradise to catalyze knowledge production in any field, including art.
I think that the computer and especially the Internet affected almost all countries in nearly the same way, but it surely happened in different levels. In Brazil, for instance, we have some specificities — we are a country with continental territorial dimensions, with cultural differences among regions, and big social differences among people. In this sense, while the Internet diminished, or even collapsed time and global distances for us, at the same time it reached only part of the population — mainly the upper classes.
Despite the social and digital inclusion programs that are trying to flatten differences, the digital/knowledge revolution level and pace of effects are not the same for every person. This rule is also true for artists, and maybe it explains why most of computer art and web art developed here are connected to academia and not the general public.
From now, into the future, I think we are weaving together a global tissue without precedent in history when we mix the Internet with new wireless broadband connections, GPS, telephone systems and RDIF — connecting us in such a tight way that we are increasingly sensing, affecting and getting more affected by others. We are entering a time of participation, where even when you are not consciously participating (or not even wanting to participate) it is getting more difficult not to be a part of it.
The wider, more connected and complex the network gets the easier we can get lost inside it. Several new phenomena, trends and issues rise from that like: the Paradox of Choice, The Long Tail, Findability, Privacy, and Credibility. Chances are that in ten years from now we will have several invisible interfaces to access and connect the network, and we will probably always be "on." What kind of effects it will bring we can not predict, but we know for sure that as much as it happened before in hectic periods of change (like in the Industrial Revolution), writers and artists will have an important role by helping us to understand it all. I would like to close this answer with two quotes that express it perfectly:
Thank you, for graciously taking time out of your busy schedule to allow me to crawl inside your creative thoughts and explore your artistic process. Just one last question, what parting words of wisdom would you care to share with aspiring artists in the field of non-traditional or emerging art?
It has been a great pleasure for me to be interviewed by you for Renderosity. It was definitely a good opportunity for me to consciously reflect on specific subjects, which was very rewarding for me. As a closing thought, I think non-traditional things always start through reflection, grow through reaction, and die in affection when they become tradition. Furthermore, I think that acting in any non-traditional field is always filled with adversities.
I would like to end adding some great quotes that always inspire me:
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