If we pick out the basic characteristics of Croatian device art, the first and most patent difference as compared with Japanese Device Art, which is high tech from the point of view of technology and design, domestic works are on the whole created on the basis of low tech materials and technologies, and their design is in key with this. The concept and content are very important for domestic works, and although they often stem from the device, they almost always outweigh the technological aspect of the piece.
Unlike the two previous characteristics that oppose Japanese and Croatian Device Art, the third characteristic links them. At domestic Device Art shows, an absurd or nonsense tone often prevails, and the nonsense philosophy is an exceptionally crucial element of the work of Maywa Denki.
Nonsense machines have obtained an entirely new dimension of nonsensicality through the exhibitions of domestic artists. At Device Art 2, 006, Ivan Fijolić created a motorised prosthetic leg that, rejected from its owner, repeated the same floundering motion in a pointless attempt at flight; at the first Device Art show, Silvio Vujičić made a pair of interactive trousers that dropped centimetre by centimetre when five kuna coins were thrown in. This work was called private/public striptease and was designed to be performed in public spaces like trams.
This year Margareta Lekić has made a series of works called From the Drawer that like the other works mentioned depend more on the zany, absurd and witty aesthetics of Fluxus and the domestic Gorgona, rather than on the tradition of art founded on technology. Her electric Beardcreator is made of a score of pencils, and represents a literal realisation of its name. The mechanism built into some of these works is not particularly innovative and the idea of the work lurks outside it, as for example of the mechanism of the metamechanical sculptures of French New Realism artist Jean Tinguely is less essential for his work Study for an End of the World No. 2 than the Dada tradition and the satirical criticism of the pointless and excessive production of advanced industrial society. From this point of view there is no comparison with the sophisticated robotic instruments of Maywa Denki and all other of its nonsense machines.
The attitude to technology of Edita Matan can be labelled as full of hope, for she expects that technology is going to solve the problems that people cannot – the emotional ones, and it is also humorous, for the actual execution of the work clearly lets us know that her attempt is in vain. The eternal theme of Edita Matan is love, and in all her ideas she attempts to use maths to solve some emotional dilemmas. It is interesting that sometimes these Utopian fantasies about technology even work out, and thus Facebook and Twitter successfully maintain friendships at least at the virtual level, while Iskrica and similar portals do indeed make it possible to find partners. Edita Matan attempts to put into practice her own version of a technologically founded social toy at a slightly warmer level of 1:1. Thus with the help of her amazing low tech gloves that are worn by a couple, she scans the features of their wearers on the basis of heartbeat, palm warmth, sweating and so on, creating at the end of a stroll around the show as a couple an entire picture of the possible relationship of two completely independent visitors to the exhibition.
The still attractive considerations of the late 1960s recently got their well-deserved historical presentation at ZKM in Karlsruhe, where works of, for example, Aleksander Srnec, Ivan Picelj, Vjenceslav Rihter, Koloman Novak, Vladimir Bonačić and many other artists, from all over the world, were put on show. This was all about, of course, the New Tendencies, the movement that as early as 1968 (as part of the 4th New Tendencies) determined to “accept the computer as a means of visual expression in order to confirm their avant-garde endeavours and take part in the definition of that technology that was justly said to be going to define the future of civilisation” (Darko Fritz). Ivana Franke too works along the lines of light installations (like those of Aleksandar Srnec) or mathematical research subsequently applied to a visual work (like those of Vladimir Bonačić). Although she has long dealt with light in her works, it is essential to point out that light is always related to the human body and some basic feeling of orientation in space and time. The gadget she has created for Device Art has the function of disturbing people by upsetting their sense of balance.
The voice itself is, in a relationship mediating between individual and social space, always an object into which some politics is inscribed, claimed Mladen Dolar in his book His Master’s Voice. Martina Mezak, in her installation, is concerned with the voice and its physical characteristics, but in combination with light. Like her previous works, this one too is characterised by a very powerful interactivity. And while in the installation Sky the visitor from the reclining position showed the capacity of his or her lungs during the inflation of a a video cloud, in the installation Logos they can test out their voice as against light.
Notwithstanding the conceptual orientation of Croatian Device Art and art in general we do have several technologically oriented works, which were anyway not produced by scions of the Zagreb Academy of Fine Arts. Marcell Mars, who is definitely the main promoter of geek culture in Zagreb and is the founder of Geekoscope and Skill Exchange, which often result in uncommon exhibitions of the first computers, obsolescent machines or even technologies that tell of one direction the technology of which did not after all develop. So his printer that prints out the postscript programme is an absolutely geekish invention. The printer carries out the absurd task of printing out the actual language of the description of the page, and not the content. This work of purely conceptual dimensions will be best understood, however, by geeks. Also here is Dubravko Kuhta, not without reason called Tesla, who has been with us from the beginning, and at the first Device Art stood out for his artist machine, which tirelessly churned out works of Action Abstraction. This year he has combined model making with three motors driven by a generator of what he calls fortuitous interferences, dealing with combinatorics and probability through simulation.
The originator of the Kontejner lab Do it Yourself, who through this project dreamed up the idea of giving scientific and technical support to artists, and is the only electrical engineer in a crew of art historians, Tomislav Pokrajčić, determined this year to take part in the show with his own original project. His participation makes him the author of the only explicitly political work at this exhibition. His interactive installation deals in a humorous way with the local situation. Visitors represent the Croatian people, and the object they meet represents the government, while interactivity very rapidly starts to show an error (the same that happens in the communication of people and government in real life).
Since it was the Americans, along with the Japanese, that are the leaders in device art, we shall show at the exhibition this year the works of two American artists living in Zagreb. Daniel Brickman has fitted his work with the technique of mimicry into the Croatian story of Device Art, using for his low tech device materials found at Hrelić, a local flea market and making an absurdist machine the function of which is perhaps not to make the visitor laugh, although it does this very successfully. This is a vast machine that in a simple manner with the use of a motor carries out the animation of two pics of the planet Uranus. The second American work is that of William Linn and refers to the eternal theme of those who are nostalgic about the early video games – Pong. The version of Pong that he has thought up, now called Bong, flirts with Wii2 Nintendo technology, and enables the visitor of the show to have recreation and wear (him)self out as if he were playing real tennis.
The result of the long-term curatorial collaboration on the Device Art project with curator Sandra Sajovic from the Ljubljana Kapelica Gallery is this year’s small Slovene team. Although we are doing the third Device Art Triennial, the Slovene pieces are nothing less diverse than the Croatian in the first season of Device Art. Above all it should be said that the artists who we present regularly also regularly make technologically based works, while in the case of the Croatian artists, excursions into this sector tend to be made sporadically. From this point of view, the Slovene works are, looked at technologically, on the whole more interesting and closer to the European tradition of art at the crossroads with technologies.
In the spirit of this article we have to begin the Slovene team at the show with a work that was created in Japan. Origami Space Race is an utopian eco project of Sašo Sedlaček, created at IAMAS, challenging Japanese scientists from JAXA (the Japanese space agency) to think up alternative non-polluting ways of exploring the universe.
The message of this work is that the universe not only has to be a site of technological innovation, but of new global ethical standards, fighting against the capitalist conception of property.
Sašo Sedlaček, Miha Ciglar and Borut Savski have already been guests of the Device Art project in Zagreb and San Francisco. And while Sedlaček is engaged, as in his robot beggar with the sociological dimension of the technological story with a special accent on justice and ethics, Miha Ciglar is interested, also as in his previous works, with sound and during the exhibition will put on a device art performance. Borut Savski, whom the Zagreb public knows primarily by his sound works, is this time developing a basic autonomous structure – an organic robot composed of folded plastic. Janez Janša (one of four Slovene Janez Janšas) is appearing at Device Art for the first time with his Brainloop project. Alas we shall be able to present his interactive performative platform that enables people to control a machine only by the brain in the form of video documentation, for the equipment for the work is located in Vienna and is in use at the time of the exhibition.
Robertina Šebanić and Luka Frelih, in their joint interactive installation, deal with a simulation of a certain eco-system. Their installation does not put the visitor in the chief role within the system; instead, he or she represents just one of the ‘lives’ within the given biosphere in which simulated microorganisms and the like exist. In this manner, these two artists sharpen our vision of what in reality we do not notice at all, but without which life would be impossible, and draw attention to the true relationships in the biological world.
West and East and East and West
In the words of Dr Hiroo Iwata, the characteristics we earlier stated as marking Japanese Device Art are not common in Western art, and precisely for this, this is a trend that has attracted world attention. The highly developed technology, the existence of that kind of industry that is developed to such an extent that it exports its products all over the world, and the fact that the various industries support the artists in the making of, for instance, robots both technologically and financially, definitely contribute to the indigenousness of Japanese device art. Since in our area there is no such support and in this sense, looked at in the cultural sense, we can feel Japan to be – just like America – the West. But with all the differences we have listed, we can included those conceptual and those that are technological, even that upon the artistic tradition of which some of the works draw, we can say that there is one similarity, and this concerns the offbeat, ludic elements of the works. Deleuze says that people have charm only through their folie. What is charming in someone is that side that shows them a little bit off-balance (ou ils perdent u peu les pédales). We can apply the same thing to the art works shown at the exhibition, both the Japanese and the Croatian, and this is the key that binds this exhibition into a whole. It is folly that is the source of the charm of the robotic songstress of Maywa Denki, the once again perspiring Bong of William Linn and the tipsy balls of Dubravko ‘Tesla’ Kuhta.