Foam (organization)

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FoAM
Motto Grow your own worlds
Founded 2000
Founder Maja Kuzmanovic
Location
Coordinates 50°51′17″N 4°20′32″E / 50.854679°N 4.342145°E / 50.854679; 4.342145
Origins Starlab
Website fo.am

FoAM [1] describes itself as "a network of transdisciplinary labs for speculative culture".[2] The networked, Brussels-based collective constitutes a group of designers, scientists, cooks, artists, engineers and gardeners who share an interest in taking knowledge from their respective areas of expertise and applying it in new public contexts. Guided by the motto "Grow your own worlds," the practice of this multidisciplinary research group aims at integrating principles of ethical living, sustainable design and eco-technology. FoAM's overall mission[2] is shaped by its various participating artists and technologists, who have sensed a need for mediation between the artistic and the scientific worlds.

FoAM was founded by Maja Kuzmanovic in 2000 as a cultural research department in Starlab. In 2001, FoAM became an independent, distributed entity with cells in Brussels and Amsterdam. Since that time, the core group of this de facto new-media think tank has included members from Belgium, the Netherlands, Australia, Croatia, Lithuania, the UK, and Sweden;[3] its larger network has attracted people from around the world.[4]

Since 2004 FoAM has positioned itself as the only Flemish "Hybrid Reality Lab," with a primary focus on the field of hybrid reality (technologies, media and materials entangling the physical and the digital).[5]

Projects[edit]

One concept common to many of FoAM's explorations of growth and transformation in natural/artificial worlds has been that of "responsive environments".[6] In this way, the capacity for change in technologically enhanced spaces is gauged by observing the playful explorations between physical and digital surroundings, and the accompanying fluid dialogues between people, materials and media. As a result, a strong contrast often emerges between the aesthetics of the designed and the beauty of the grown. Such explorations extend across several media, e.g. computer generated images and sounds across and within buildings and other forms of architecture as well as self-grown biological environments. Accordingly, FoAM's creation of public media art and its study of responsive environments have required the development of an open-ended responsive media system, which enables sensor data analysis and interpretation and further perceptual modeling. Representative examples include the following:

groWorld[7] developed out of a proposal to research historical examples of sustainable urban spaces that have focused on dynamics and diversity in the social, biological and cultural domains. Examples of such public spaces include community gardens and pocket parks, non-institutionalized plaza and street life, travelling fairs and periodic festivals. The results of the project have suggested ways in which an alternative economy can be conducted that is based on emergent trans-local actions, rather than accepting the generic, mono-cultural approach of the global free-market. One essential focus is biomimetics and its implications for growth processes in audiovisual media, textile design and human computer interaction, and the ways in which it can be applied to mixed reality installations, a-life gaming environments and smart textiles.

Lyt_A [8] is at the same time an artwork, an instrument and a translation medium in one. It is a flexible structure that can transmit touch (i.e. haptic information) at a distance, so that when the structure is touched on one site, the touch will be visible and touchable on another. The installation consists of two identical but mirrored parts placed 100 meters away from each other on the concourse of the Phaeno Science Centre in Wolfsburg, Germany. Placing the two structures in separate locations encourages the visitors to play with each other by manipulating the structures with their hands and bodies, and learning about each other's shapes through touch. Furthermore, the visitors' touches will remain as shape-traces in the memory of the installation. In moments of low activity, the installation brings the traces back to the surface of the structures. lyt_A's software uses the visitors' traces to create new shapes and body-forms: the traces are therefore mixed, transformed and grown, as if the visitors' touch has 'fertilized' this anorganic form that became alive and autonomous.

TRG [9] is a "transient reality generator" and explored ideas of temporary autonomous reality and the "irreal", i.e. the tension or imbalance between tangible reality and imaginary worlds. It built on the two previous installations, TGarden and txOom. However, while TGarden was designed to allow human gestures to use video and audio as calligraphic media, and txOom extended the concept, becoming an 'irreal ecology' where media would grow based on their interaction with the participants, TRG extended the scale to infinitely large and infinitely small 'irreal universes', whose existence is highly unstable and unpredictable, where minuscule local interactions can conjure up the lives massive worlds. In this way, the project focused on Mixed Reality, i.e. environments containing significant virtual and physical interaction possibilities, strongly intertwined, and exploring the implications thereof in the cultural sphere.

txOom,[10] as a project, grew out of its name, a neologism of 'texture' and 'bloom'. Initial research involved digital physics, phenomenology, biomimetics, human-computer-human interaction, and the development of experimental technologies. This research culminated in three site-specific public experiments in Torino, Great Yarmouth and Maribor, and involved a pan-European collaboration between FoAM, Time's Up, Kibla, Future Physical and the Interactive Institute. Essentially, within the framework of txOom, responsive environments were created which comprised audiovisual media and real-time media synthesis mechanisms, and which exhibited behaviors and properties similar to those of living organisms.

TGarden [11] originated in a partnership between FoAM in Brussels and sponge in San Francisco. The project resulted in a responsive Play Space whose visitors shape the media environment around them through their movement, gesture and social interaction. TGarden was developed in collaboration with several art and technology centers (in 2001 these were: the Topological Media Lab at Georgia Institute of Technology, Ars Electronica, V2, Banff Centre for the Arts) and a number of independent artists, technologists and scientists from Europe, USA and Australia. Essentially the TGarden (with T signifying 'time' and 'topology') constituted a built space in which the movements of the visitors' bodies was used by the TGarden's nervous system (hardware and software network) to shape visual, aural and tactile media. The gestures, such as those of touching, brushing along other bodies, dancing, stretching and falling, provided the impetus for the generative processes in TGarden.

Workshops[edit]

Beginning in 2004, in an effort to remedy a perceived lack of experimental media education in Belgium, FoAM, together with nadine,[12] and okno,[13] organized a series of workshops under the name "X.Med. K.".[14] These workshops first began as introductory tutorials and were later expanded to range from master classes to informal gatherings. The programme allowed participants to become prolific media artists over a period of two years, encouraging the use of free media tools and the creative use of open source and free software. Workshop topics have included Max/MSP, Final Cut and DVD Studio Pro; physical computing, how to build a computer to fit people's specific needs, and the issues of environmentally sustainable media arts and design. In later workshops, after participants gained technical proficiency, they could opt for instruction from FoAM and okno in the use of real-time audiovisual systems and tools, and online collaboration tools, while in other seminars nadine has explored the artistic use of computer games and gaming engines.[15]

Luminous Green[edit]

Luminous Green is a series of gatherings in which FoAM "calls upon the creative sector to enrich the public debate around environmental sustainability, ethical living and eco-technology".[16] The symposium featured prominent speakers from the fields of design, education, communication and technology, and was presented as three sessions devoted to "Change, Communication and Matter".[17] The hands-on workshop was conceived for artists and designers with a tutorial component focusing on power generation, renewable power sources, low-power computing and audiovisual displays. The first Luminous Green workshop was led by Slovenian artist Marko Peljhan with FoAM's Maja Kuzmanovic. It was attended by Belgian and international artists and designers from the 1st to the 4th of May 2007.

FoAM Food[edit]

FoAM's workshops, events, and other gatherings provide an opportunity for the various members to explore their self-avowed interest in food - not just in its functions as fuel and nourishment, but also its aspects that involve performance art, design-science, social celebration, and distribution as participatory economics.[18] This interest manifests itself in various ways, ranging from thematic in-house food events to external transdisciplinary team-building to networking with food co-ops, farmers' markets, and kitchen-style chemistry labs. The resulting experimentation emphasizes molecular gastronomy and flavor pairing based on chemical constituents and incorporates nearly forgotten and/or often overlooked wild plants and herbs.

This concept of food activism has extended to public events held under the aegis of other organizations. For example, for its contribution to the "Altitude 1000" Sonic and Visual Arts Festival, held in Brussels in December 2006,[19] FoAM chose to invite Kate Rich and Kayle Brandon, who wildcrafted their own cola from an online, open source recipe. The participants of the resulting "Cube-Cola Lab" took part in Amy Balkin's "Radical Cola Challenge" by blind-tasting Cube-Cola alongside its major market rivals (including Mecca Cola and Coca-Cola).[20] Moreover, Cube Cola was then used as a so-called "watchlist ingredient" of the Guantanamo Libre cocktail.

Publications[edit]

FoAM's notable publications have included the following:

  • "Human-Scale Systems in Responsive Environments" [6]
  • "On Transient Realities and their Generators" [7]
  • x.med.a, experimental media arts [8]
  • "Sensual Communication in Hybrid Reality" [9]
  • "Fashion Ecologies: The evolving field of responsive, sustainable textiles" [10]
  • "Multiplex Translations: Entangled Aphasia" [11]
  • "From Representation to Performance: Responsive PublicSpace" [12]

Members[edit]

FoAM's core group of collaborators currently includes two of its founding members Maja Kuzmanovic and Nik Gaffney along with Cocky Eek, Theun Karelse, Dave Griffiths and others.[21]

References[edit]