Ceci n’est pas une tweet: Technology Meets Art and Surreal Meets Real Narrative in Brussels

Ceci n’est pas une tweet: Technology Meets Art and Surreal Meets Real Narrative in Brussels

Guest post by Anne Galang, MA student, Experimental Digital Media

This month I had the excellent fortune of being one of two graduate researchers selected to accompany Dr. Beth Coleman in Brussels, Belgium, as part of the City as Platform research team, where she led a workshop on dimensionalized storytelling at ICT & ART CONNECT 2013. Ph.D candidate Adam Bradley, selected for his hacking and data expertise, and I assisted with research creation, design, and documentation of the workshop.

The three-day event, held November 9-11 in Brussels, brought together artists and technologists from around the world to demonstrate how the synergies of art and technology can enhance creativity and engagement in society.

Building New Narratives for Europe

This year’s theme for ICT & ART CONNECT, new narratives, was built on the call for renewed visions of a contemporary EU that represent the dynamism and diversity of its citizens. In advance of the event, the team met to brainstorm workshop structure. Discussing the layering of “invisible cities”–that is, the digital narratives overlaid on physical space through geo-tagged content from social media such as Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, etc—we decided to start with a social media map of Brussels to identify where this activity is taking place as well as the “dark spots”. (Kudos to Bradley for building this map in a matter of days.)

We wanted to play in the space of the existing stories manifested in the social media content and show the citizens of Brussels that we are “listening”. We couldn’t resist the nod to Magritte in the artist’s hometown, and so ceci n’est pas une tweet took form. By writing these stories in the form of hand-written tweets on city walls, snapping photos and sending them back into the cloud, we would enact a surrealist performance, blending the analogue with the digital, to transpose and rebroadcast collective narratives of the city.

Connecting ICT and Art

Days later, we arrived in Brussels for the event, where we joined approximately 50 other artists, creators, and technologists in two days of workshops that culminated in an exhibition at the Bozar Centre for Fine Arts and presentations at European Parliament on the third and final day. The amount of creativity present and the expertise from such a diversity of fields and perspectives was almost surreal (pun intended!), and made for an incredible exchange of ideas and collaboration.

While the bulk of the event was spent in collaborative workshops, a series of keynotes exploring the intersections of art and technology were also presented over the three days. William Latham, artist and Professor of Computer Art at Goldsmiths University, presented his current work exploring evolution and mutating forms in art and scientific visualization. Honor Harger, curator and artistic director of the Lighthouse art agency in the U.K., discussed examples of creative collaborations between artists and technologists that explore “invisible fields”, drawing attention to some of the potential dangers that seamless mediation presents.

Social media map of Brussels depicting geotagged activity from Flickr, Twitter and Wikipedia.

Social media map of Brussels depicting geotagged activity from Flickr, Twitter and Wikipedia.

#Brusselaire

Now divided into working groups, each with a project framework, the real fun (and work) began. Groups spent the next 48 hours brainstorming ideas and working tirelessly on their projects. Ceci n’est pas une tweet teamed up with street artists, augmented reality (AR) technologists and others, and the ideas started flowing. Locals provided insight into the “real” Brussels and offered up the term brusselaire, the name of a dialect local to Brussels, but which has also come to describe a person native to the city. We adopted this as a hashtag for our tweets.

"Ceci n’est pas une tweet" in action: Twitter tweets transcribed in handwritten chalk on walls throughout the streets of Brussels.

“Ceci n’est pas une tweet” in action: Twitter tweets transcribed in handwritten chalk on walls throughout the streets of Brussels.

Armed with selected tweets, chalk (keeping in mind our presentation to the European Commission, we chose an ephemeral medium) and masks (more for their performative quality than for disguise), we took to the streets of Brussels to participate in and invite conversation with the city. A short video of our work was installed at the Bozar Gallery as part of a larger exhibit exploring ICT, art and new modalities of interaction between audience and surroundings.

On the final day, groups presented their work to the European Commision at parliament. We presented ceci n’est pas une tweet, and discussed the potential to take this work and expand it into a public art installation in the form of a two day event that would invite those in the city to come to a public space to share their stories via social media. Their content would then be fed live to an AR installation projected onto the space.

To be continued

I’m happy to conclude on the note that the collaboration and work do not end with the event. Dr. Coleman is continuing discussions with the other artists and the Commission to explore the future of this project, and many of the groups also plan to continue the work they started in Brussels.

For progress updates and a summary of other projects formed at the workshops, follow ICT & ART Connect on Facebook.