Scanning the World
MILWAUKEE-BASED ARTIST CHALLENGES HOW HUMANS RESPOND TO THEIR ENVIRONMENT
BY ROCHELLE MELANDER | PHOTOGRAPHY BY MATT HAAS
To call Nathaniel Stern a Renaissance man might be an understatement. An associate professor of art and design in the Peck School of the Arts at UW-Milwaukee, Stern is a Fulbright grantee, published author and TED Talk speaker; his artwork has been exhibited in galleries and museums worldwide, and he’s on the forefront of using scanner imaging photography. Stern is also the co-founder and core team member of the UWM Student Startup Challenge and the Lubar Center for Entrepreneurship, along with Dr. Ilya Avdeev, UWM assistant professor of mechanical engineering, and Brian Thompson, president of the UWM Research Foundation.
In viewing Stern’s vast expertise and interests, a common theme emerges: interaction. He wants people who view his art and the entrepreneurs he coaches to think about who they are, who they can be, and how they relate to the world and one another. As he said at the conclusion of his TED Talk, “Think about the kinds of relationships and environments we’d have, if we thought more about the relationships and environments we have.”
Stern did just that when he created his stunning visual images, playing with how our interaction with technology and the world produces beauty. He strapped a desktop scanner, laptop and cus- tom-made battery pack to his body, and then wiggled and jumped, capturing images as he moved. The image you see in the gallery might be a result of his breathing, or cracks in the glass, or a fly attracted to the light of the scanner beam. Then, as Stern says, “The dynamism between the three — my body, technology and the landscape — is transformed into beautiful and quirky renderings, which are then produced as archival prints.” Stern’s visual images were displayed most recently at the Tory Folliard Gallery this past summer during Gallery Night and Day. (Tory Folliard represents Stern’s artwork in the Midwest.)
Perhaps the best way to understand Stern’s work is to participate in his interactive art. Stern has hacked full-bodied gaming control- lers so that viewers trigger animation, spoken words and more by moving their bodies. In a sense, the interaction between the viewer and the technology creates the art. For example, in “Stuttering,” the viewer’s movement produces words on a screen. Move slowly, and a few words appear, spouting zen-like wisdom: “Take a deep breath.” “Read.” “Consciousness.” Move quickly, and the screen stutters, lighting up with a cacophony of phrases. But as with everything Stern makes, the art is more than just art. “I like to think that ‘Stuttering’ helps us practice listening and performing in the world with a little more care,” he says.
Stern witnessed this firsthand when all four of his interactive works were displayed, alongside the work of Tegan Bristow, in a show called “Meaning Motion” at the Wits Art Museum in Johannesburg, South Africa. He watched people move from one interactive exhibit to another, sometimes stopping to teach a friend or stranger how to interact with the art. At “Elicit,” a piece in which every movement evokes a sea of text, he watched viewers silently invite each other to dance. “Their relationships to each other and themselves and the art shift, and they leave that space thinking, moving and interacting differently,” Stern says.
Milwaukee residents can interact with these works when “Body Language” is shown this November and December at the INOVA gallery at UWM’s Peck School of the Arts.
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Neural Magazine, M Magazine, engadget, NY Arts Magazine, Shepherd Express
Cover image and feature article on Nathaniel Stern’s work and practice.
“In this month’s Instructional Resource, Christine Woywod presents the interactive artworks of Nathaniel Stern who often blends art and technology to generate participatory installations through which audience members may bodily experience art, performing images into existence.” – James Haywood Rolling Jr.
Woywod, C. (2016). “Nathaniel Stern: Performing images into existence.” Art Education, Volume 69 Issue 4 pp 36-42.
Downloadable PDF of the above article is forthcoming. Firewall version here.
A companion web resource is available here.
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Cover image: detail from Weather Patterns: the smell of red (2014).
Author: Erin Manning
Publisher: Duke University Press
Date of Publication: June 2016
Order this book from Amazon.com
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“Nathaniel Stern is an awkward artist, teacher and writer, who likes awkward art, students and writing. Stern’s talk, Ecological Aesthetics, discusses tweets in space, scans at the bottom of the sea, interactive installations, and art in virtual worlds – all work about the complex relationships between humans, nature, and politics.”
What is TEDx?
“Imagine a day filled with brilliant speakers, thought-provoking video and mind-blowing conversation. By organizing a TEDx event, you can create a unique gathering in your community that will unleash new ideas, inspire and inform…. A TEDx event is a local gathering where live TED-like talks and videos previously recorded at TED conferences are shared with the community.” – from the TED web site
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Polaroid Excavations: the Opening of Weather Patterns: The Smell of Red
Angeli Sion for Incident Magazine
Weather Patterns: The Smell of Red, a sensorial and collaborative ecological installation, surfaced to air the proposition of artists Erin Manning and Nathaniel Stern, co-produced with Marcelino Barsi [and curated by Jennifer Johung], to heighten an exchange of the senses in a body that barely registers the arrival of intersensoriality.
Tapping into weather as a medium via architectural and sculptural elements, the installation materialized conditions for bodies to come together in unexpected ways across becoming mercurial fields. The appearance of a tornado becomes contingent on the bodies around it. At a certain alignment of body and object, a dancing of the field occurs.
Coinciding the same evening as the installation were Juliana España Keller’s “Food Gestures“ and Michael Hornblow’s explorations of the infrathin with “OmegaVille”. Keller’s installation of hanging glass terrariums offered food such as almonds, blueberries, dried ginger, and reindeer moss from Quebec in the yard. In its poetic gesture to foraging and the act of reaching and going back to the earth it enacted an exchange of knowledge. Through video and online photo spheres downstairs, Hornblow produced an exchange of perceived space at the interface of insides and outsides, street to gallery, through conflating layers of time.
Although all three installations generated participatory conditions in disparate locations throughout Glasshouse, the long-term art-life-lab project and space of Lital Dotan and Eyal Perry, their undercurrents converged through and across the bodies of those who came the night of the opening, back and forth in loops, transforming the senses.
The following Polaroids mark this dancing of the field between bodies in performing their own mutable states, excisions into inside, outside the image, and material engagement with image-making as one that unfolds over time.
Weather Patterns: The Smell of Red, was a sensorial and collaborative ecological installation, produced by Erin Manning and Nathaniel Stern with Marcelino Barsi, coinciding with installation Food Gestures by Juliana España Keller and OmegaVille by Michael Hornblow the same evening at Glasshouse, June 1, 2014.
See original post in Incident Magazine
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“Every practice is a mode of thought, already in the act. To dance: a thinking in movement. To paint: a thinking through color. To perceive in the everyday: a thinking of the world’s varied ways of affording itself.” —from Thought in the Act
Title: Thought in the Act: Passages in the Ecology of Experience
Author: Erin Manning and Brian Massumi
Publisher: University Of Minnesota Press
Date of Publication: May 2014
Order this book from Amazon.com
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‘Wikipedia Art: At the Borders of (Wiki) Law, Lawyering, Lobbying and Power’
a chapter by Nathaniel Stern and Scott Kildall
Book Title: Law and Disciplinarity: Thinking beyond Borders
Editor: Robert J. Beck
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Date of Publication: December 2013
Buy this book on Amazon
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The 8’oclock Buzz: Nathaniel Stern: Back for More
Nathaniel Stern is an Associate Professor in Arts Tech at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. He joined the Buzz on Monday, July 1st to discuss his interactive art and give us an update on “Tweets in Space”.
In February 2013, Stern joined the 8 O’Clock Buzz to talk about his project Tweets in Space. The archive of that show can be found here. As the system is 22nd light years away, it will take 44 years for us to hear back from any of the Tweets. Still, Stern is excited and hopeful.
In addition, Stern discussed his latest interactive art. He currently has an upcoming art show in South Africa called Meaning Motion. He has hopes that a gallery in Wisconsin will display a Meaning Motion exhibit at some point in the future, to bring some of his work closer to home. He also just finished a book on interactive art, titled Interactive Art and Embodiment: The Implicit Body As Performance. His theory of art is to invite people to interact with his work. All of his “paintings” are displayed on white boxes, digitally programmed, until someone walks in front of or into the box – at which point the art comes alive. Each art piece, therefore, is unique depending on who interacts with it.
According to Stern, body and language both require each other. Bodies make language, and language makes bodies. His work is intended to spark discussion about how we relate to and interact with ourselves.
Download the mp3 (20 mb), or listen to the entire interview with sub-host Tony Casteneda:
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Interactive art suite, Catalog and Videos
Title: Body Language / Nathaniel Stern
Essay: Charlie Gere
Design: Andrew McConville
Photos: Nathaniel Stern, Wyatt Tinder, Andrew McConville and Joseph Mougel
Documentation Videos: Nathaniel Stern
Publisher: Nathaniel Stern and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Date of Publication: 2013
ISBN: 978-0-620-56861-6 (print) and 978-0-620-56862-3 (e-book)
Download Body Language as PDF (2.4 mb)
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The 8’oclock Buzz: Interactive Artist, Nathaniel Stern, Is On The Web And Out In Space
Interactive artist, Nathaniel Stern, joined the 8 O’Clock Buzz on Monday, February 25, 2013, to talk with host, Brian Standing, about some of his collaborative web art.
This past year Nathaniel Stern and collaborator, Scott Kildall, took to the stars with a galactic proportioned project, Tweets In Space. Using a high powered satellite they beamed Twitter discussions from all over the world to GJ667Cc – A planet 22 light years away that might support extraterrestrial life.
Stern also got the chance to talk about Wikipedia Art. An online intervention on the Wikipedia website that challenged the way Wikipedia determines what is useful information. Posted by the artists (Stern and collaborator Kildall), the page stated, “Wikipedia Art is a conceptual art work composed on Wikipedia, and is thus art that anyone can edit.”
What the artists didn’t expect was Wikipedia to sue them over copyright infringement and Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, to publically call the artists “trolls,” later apologizing over facebook to Stern after the lawsuit brought negative attention towards Wikipedia.
Download this interview (mp3, 10mbs) or listen below:
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Tweets in Space event blasts off without a hitch
by Kris Holt, October 2012
During an event held at the International Symposium on Electronic Art in New Mexico, Nathaniel Stern and Scott Kildall captured all tweets using the #tweetsinspace hashtag over a half-hour period. In a few short weeks, the duo will beam the hundreds of messages they received to GJ667Cc, a planet some 22 light years away that has the capacity to support life.
Around 1,500 tweets (approximately one per second) were sent during the performance period, and the “vibe was intense, inviting, and provocative all at once,” Stern and Kildall told the Daily Dot.
The team behind the project considered the event a big success, with the tweets ranging from simple greetings to aliens and asking for photos of “triple-star sunsets,” to worries about the destruction of Earth and questioning extraterrestrial social and economic systems.
“All those voices together existentially express an inordinate amount of wonder and fear, curiosity and happiness, hope and cynicism, and more,” Stern and Kildall wrote in an email. “They perform several dozens snapshots, many threads of thought and conversation and potential, in all of our humanity. We’ve very humbled by the experience.”
Stern and Kildall had indicated they would not include any tweets that used hate speech in the transmission, which is set to take place within the next view weeks at a Florida facility as GJ667Cc comes into clearer view. While they’re still trawling through all the tweets, they have not yet found any that will be excluded.
Some analysis run on the tweets sent by the community during the performance period revealed that outside of the terms “tweet,” “space,” and articles like “the” and “an,” the two most commonly used words were “please” and “love.”
“Hello,” “here,” “help,” and “peace” were among the other most popular words used, suggesting a deep yearning to make contact with aliens and understand more about their cultures.
Stern noted that he wasn’t sure of his favorite tweets to emerge from the event, but noted some “gems” recorded in the first few moments:
“Also, do you guys do mind-altering things? My favorite is a delicious form of ethanol made from wheat; a species of plant. #tweetsinspace.” —@cvburkett
“Attention, alien scum. I declare Space War. Please meet me in the car park at the Yorkshire Grey branch of McDonald’s. #tweetsinspace” —@cjjc
“#TweetsInSpace DEATH TO EARTH. ERADICATE THE PLANET. ALIENS, USE THE EARTH’S REMAINS AS AN APHRODISIAC.” —@JackedCunning
Photos via Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern
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If you’ve ever pondered what you would say to an alien, you may get that chance between 7:30 and 8 p.m. PT tonight.
That’s the goal of Tweets in Space, a project — sorry, “performance art piece” — by two guys with starry, starry eyes. As part of this year’s International Symposium on Electronic Art in New Mexico, Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern will spend 30 minutes capturing every tweet with the hashtag #tweetsinspace for later transmission into the (much) wider Twitterverse.
Using a radio transmitter in Florida, they plan to beam our messages to GJ667Cc, an exoplanet that might, just maybe, possibly, have the required attributes that would allow it to theoretically support life (as we know it). Four to six weeks after Friday’s event, the planet will move into alignment (just barely) with the transmitter. And that’s when Kildall and Stern, a multimedia artist and associate professor at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, will hit send.
“It all goes,” says Kildall, the new media exhibit developer for the Exploratorium. “Even political positions I don’t agree with: ‘Vote for Romney,’ ‘Vote for Obama.’” (All except hate speech, he added. We might not want to betray our baser nature to the ETs.)
But it’s a long shot in more ways than one. The target is 22 light-years away. That means 44 years minimum before we know if they’ve succeeded.
If there’s even a chance. Reality check, say radio astronomers: There isn’t. “We have absolutely no hope of actually being heard,” said James Benford, founder of Microwave Sciences and longtime skeptic of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). He did the math for Wired. With the Deep Space Communications Network’s Florida dish, which is small and low-power by industry standards, the signal might be detectable up to seven times the distance to Pluto, assuming the aliens have the same technology we do.
“That’s nowhere,” Benford said. “That’s not getting anywhere near interstellar distances.”
But Seth Shostak, a senior astronomer at the SETI Institute, says it’s theoretically possible that the theoretical aliens on the target planet could pick up the signal from Florida. “If they have a receiver the size of Nebraska, then they can pick this up,” he said. “You have to hope the aliens have spent more money on their antennas than we have on ours.” (Incidentally, a receiver the size of Nebraska would cost in the hundreds of billions. In U.S. dollars, that is. “What’s your currency/exchange rate, aliens? #tweetsinspace”)
What’s more, most astronomers put the estimate for nearest ETI at no fewer than hundreds of light years away, and it’s probably closer to thousands. Twenty-two would be miraculous. We’d have far better odds of floating a message in a bottle from San Francisco to China.
But even if their project’s more stunt than sound science, Kildall and Stern are (unintentionally) participating in an ongoing, still-controversial debate: whether or not we should be actively messaging aliens in the first place. Could it endanger Earth and the fate of mankind? That’s not such a kooky, far-out question. People like Benford, along with sci-fi author David Brin, UCLA professor and best-selling author Jared Diamond, and Stephen Hawking, have argued for years that we should be sitting silently in our cosmic corner, biding our time and weighing risk factors before we go flamboyantly yoo-hooing to the entire universe.
If the aliens are sufficiently advanced to receive and translate our messages, shouldn’t we be afraid they’d also have the technology to warp to our location, eat our children, and blow up this precious planet?
The other camp, which includes the SETI Institute and the historically optimistic, pro-METI (Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Russians, argues that we’ve already given away our position a thousand times over, thanks to decades of signal leakage. As Shostak put it, “If they’re looking our way, they will already know.” So we might as well continue. Heck, we might as well start sending them everything. Encyclopedias! Beatles songs! The Google server!
Benford disagrees. In a recent paper, he showed that no signal, not now or 50 years ago, could ever be detected by ETI. That doesn’t mean the prospect of METI doesn’t worry him. In a century, we’ll have the technology (and plenty of bored trillionnaires to fund it) to build radio transmitters big and powerful enough to send detectable messages. Just as likely, Benford says, we’ll be sending energy to and from satellites, a practice that could considerably brighten Earth’s position in the cosmos. The thought worries him. He wants us to stay dark and silent. At least until we know better.
The conversation continues. Shostak is publishing a paper now on whether transmissions to space are dangerous. (“No,” in brief.) Benford is similarly engaged from the other side. The two men, though old colleagues, can still be heard gleefully bad-mouthing each other, both privately and in public forums.
Though Kildall and Stern remain optimistic that their Tweets in Space have a chance of succeeding — they believe they have better odds at this than winning the lottery — they also allow for occasional moments of realism. “It’s working with potential and imagination, rather than actuality,” Kildall eventually conceded.
Shostak, for one, has no problem with projects like this, of which there’ve been a few in recent years. He sees it as an introspective exercise. “It’s interesting not for the aliens. It’s interesting for us,” he said. “What do people want to say?”
Find out tonight. Or don’t. The aliens will never know. We think.
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Friday night, Twitter destroys the Earth
By Alexandra Petri
Some say the world will end in fire, some say in tweets. (KIMIHIRO HOSHINO – AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Well, humans, it’s been nice knowing you.
If you have not heard, from 10:30 to 11 PM ET Friday night, theTweets in Space project is capturing all tweets with the hashtag “#tweetsinspace” in order to send them, via a Florida transmitter, into the Vast Beyond. Tweets to space? There goes our welcome in the universe.
The transmitter is, admittedly, weak. As Seth Shostak told Wired Science, the aliens on the Potentially Habitable Planet at which they’re aiming the signal would have to have “a radio receiver the size of Nebraska.” It would be just our luck if the aliens are the kind of bizarre radio hobbyists who have decided that this is exactly what they need.
And I hope they aren’t.
Because otherwise, we are not long for this world.
Don’t get me wrong: I love Twitter. It enables me to inflict my quotidian musings on dozens of people I’ve never met!
But imagine the responses of Intelligent Extraterrestrial Life on first receiving these messages.
The first few minutes would be joy and excitement. “Intelligent life!” they would mutter to themselves, gathering around the Nebraska-shaped receiver. “Gee, they sure love puns!”
A few minutes later, fatigue would set in. “Gee, they sure love puns,” someone else would say. A hush would ensue.
“That’s more information than I really wanted about that,” someone else would say.
Several tweets consisting only of “RT This if you believe in BIEBER!!!!! #tweetsinspace” “Send One Direction to Exoplanet GJ667Cc!” would come flying through.
“Please don’t,” the extraterrestrials would murmur, summoning a Death Star to our neighborhood.
A few minutes of Twitter are bearable. But half an hour of it, as your first taste of humanity? The mind boggles.
But there’s still time. There is a decent crowd of scientists who maintain that getting in touch with space aliens is not a good idea. Don’t call them, they say. Wait for them to call you. Of course, as Stephen Hawking has noted, any aliens getting into touch with us would probably be a bad sign. Generally, when one group of individuals has massive technological capabilities and the other produces little of interest besides parodies of “Call Me Maybe” and “Gangnam Style,” it goes badly for the second group. Just ask the ancient Mayans, known for their parody video craftsmanship. We can still stop this.
In “War of the Worlds,” the Martians did the most dreadful things that they could think of. They trampled the earth, setting fire to our vegetation. They made hideous noises. They even sank the Thunderchild.
But they had the basic humanity (martianity?) not to subject us to a full half-hour of barely filtered Twitter.
I don’t want our first impression in space to be a bunch of people making limp puns about Mitt Romney’s tax returns. It seems wrong. It is this sort of nagging consideration that makes me unwelcome at parties. I know the intent is to send a message. In this case the message is, “Nope, there isn’t intelligent life in our corner of the universe.”
Right now, Twitter is a mildly irritating terrestrial cross to bear.
But let it slip the surly bonds of Earth and — I shudder to think what will happen. Although the one advantage of this is that the data will take, at best, 22 years to get there, meaning that it will be 44 years from today before we know the extent of the damage. So go out and live your life. And get off Twitter. It may be our only hope.
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At Issue with Ben Merens on Monday, September 10, 2012 at 3:00 PM on the Ideas Network of Wisconsin Public Radio.
What would you say to an alien that lived on a planet 22 light years away? Could you say it in 140 characters or less? An upcoming performance at the International Symposium on Electronic Art will collect your tweets and then send them to a specific planet far, far away. This hour, we get the details of the project and hear what YOU would tweet into outer space. Keep it short.
Guests: Nathaniel Stern, Assistant Professor of Art & Design at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Scott Kildall, Independent artist based in San Francisco.
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Marc Garrett: Could you explain to our readers what ‘Tweets In Space’ is?
Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern: Tweets in Space is an art project — a networked performance event — which beams your Twitter messages to a nearby exoplanet that might support human-like, biological life. Anyone with an Internet connection can Tweet with the hashtag #tweetsinspace during the performance time, and their messages will be included in our shotgun blast to the stars. The performance is on September 21st, 20:30 – 21:00 Mountain Time (3:30 AM BST / London time).
MG: What was the motivation behind your current collaboration?
SK and NS: We found inspiration from various sources. First, in NASA’s Kepler mission, whose purpose is to discover planets in the “habitable” or “Goldilocks” zone. The project has found over 2000 exoplanets thus far, all of which are “not too hot, not too cold, but just right” for life as we know it. Scientists now estimate that there are at least 500 million planets like this in the Milky Way alone. Our conclusion: extraterrestrial life is almost certainly out there.
The newly discovered planet is depicted in this artist’s conception, showing the host star
as part of a triple-star system. Image credit: Carnegie Institution / UCSC. 
“The latest discovery is at least 4.5 times bigger in size than Earth. Reportedly, the planet exists 22 lightyears away from Earth and it orbits its star every 28 days. The planet is known to lie, in what is being referred to as the star’s habitable zone. A habitable zone is a place where the existing conditions are just perfect for life sustenance. Astronomers, according to this report also suspect that the GJ667Cc may have been made out of earth-like rock, instead of gas.” [ibid]
Another source of great inspiration is how we use social media here on Earth. This is our second, large-scale, Internet-initiated collaboration. In 2009, we amplified the power structures and personalities on Wikipedia, and questioned how knowledge is formed on the world’s most-often used encyclopedia – and thus the web and world at large. Now, we are turning to the zeitgeist of information and ideas, feelings and facts, news and tidbits, on Twitter. The project focuses on and magnifies the supposed shallowness of 140-character messages, alongside the potential depth of all of them – what we say in online conversation, as a people.
We are directing our gaze, or rather tweets, via a high-powered radio telescope, towards GJ667Cc – one of the top candidates for alien life. It is part of a triple-star system, has a mass that is about 4 times that of Earth, and orbits a dwarf star at close range. GJ667Cc most certainly has liquid water, an essential component for the kind of life found on our own planet.
MG: Right from its early years when Jagadish Chandra Bose , pioneered the investigation of radio and microwave optics – science, technology and art have had strong crossovers. And it might be worth mentioning here that Bose was not only well versed as a physicist, biologist, botanist and archaeologist, he was also an early writer of science fiction.  Which, brings us back to ‘Tweets In Space’, wherein lies themes relating to science fiction, radio broadcasting (commercial, independent and pirate), wireless technology of the everyday via our computers, and ‘of course’ the Internet.
J.C. Bose at the Royal Institution, London, 1897.
But, what I want to pin down here is, where do you feel you fit in historically and artistically with other past and contemporary artists, whose creative art works also involved explorations through electromagnetic waves?
Scot Kildall: The work of JC Bose is incredible and what strikes me is that he eschewed the single-inventor capitalist lifestyle in favor of his own experiments. Isn’t this the narrative that artists (often) take and linked back in many ways to the open-source/sharing movement, rather than the litigious patent-based corporation? And it mirrors in many ways the reception of electromagnetic radiation as well. You can’t really “own” the airwaves. Anyone who is listening can pick up the signal. This comes back, as you point out, to the internet. Twitter is now, one of the vehicles, and, ironically entirely owned by a benevolent* corporation.
Nathaniel Stern: (Agreeing with Scott) and we can’t forget of course Nam June Paik, who played with naturally occurring and non-signal based electromagnetic fields to interfere with analogical signals (as well as the actual hardware) of tube televisions, and more. And of course, there have been other transmission artists, explored in depth by free103point9, among others. I think, like them and others, we are messing with the media, amplifying (figuratively and metaphorically) and intervening, pushing the boundaries of DIY and cultural ethico-aesthetic questions…
1963, Nam June Paik réalise Zen devant la tv.
MG: What is especially interesting is that all the tweets submitted by the public are unfiltered. How important is it to you that people’s own messages are not censored when going into space?
SK and NS: Absolutely. Tweets in Space is by no means the first project to transmit cosmic messages with METI technologies (Messaging to Extraterrestrial Intelligence). Our fellow earthlings have sent songs by the Beatles, photos of ourselves shopping at supermarkets, images of national flags, and even a gold record inscribed with human forms – controversially, where the man has genitals and the woman doesn’t. These slices of hand-picked content exhibit what a select few believe to be important, but ignore, or willfully exclude, our varied and collective modes of thinking and being.
Tweets in Space is “one small step” with alien communications, in that it is open to anyone with an Internet connection. It thus represents millions of voices rather than a self-selected few. More than that, our project is a dialog. There have been, very recently, a small number of projects that similarly “democratize the universe” but none are like ours: uncurated, unmediated thoughts and responses from a cooperative public. We can speak, rebut, and conclude, and nothing is left out. Our transmission will contain the good, the bad, and the provocative, the proclamations, the responses, and the commentary, together, a “giant leap” for all of humankind – as well as our soon-to-be friends.
Part of the radio-wave transmission prototype delivery system devised by
engineering students for the Tweets In Space project. (Photo by Nathaniel Stern)
Furthermore, by limiting the event to a small window of only 30 minutes, we are encouraging all our participants to speak then respond, conversing with one another in real-time, through networked space. We are not just sending lone tweets, but beaming a part of the entire dialogical Twitterverse, as it creates and amplifies meaning. Tweets in Space is more than a “public performance” – it “performs a public.”
MG: Now, you will be transmitting real-time tweets toward the exoplanet GJ667Cc, which is 22 light-years away. How long will it all take to get there?
SK and NS: Well, first off, we’re collecting all of the tweets in real time, but only sending them out later in October. The main reason for this is that we have to wait for the planets to align – literally. We want line of sight with GJ667Cc from where our dish is. The added bonus of time, however, is that this will allow us to really flesh out how we send the messages in a bundle. We want to include a kind of Rosetta Stone, where we will not only send binary ASCII codes of text in our signal, but also analog images of the text itself. We additionally intend to choose the most frequently used nouns in all the tweets from our database, then give a kind of “key” for each. If “dog” is common, for example, we can transmit: 1. an analog image of a dog, like a composite signal from a VCR; 2. a text image of the word “dog” in the same format; and 3. the binary ASCII code for the word dog.
In terms of time/distance, when speaking in light years, these are the same thing. A light year is the distance light can travel in one year of Earth time (about 9.4605284 × 10 to the 15 meters). Since radio travels at the speed of light, a big dish on GJ667Cc will pick up the signal in 22 years. We should start listening for a response in 44 – though it may take them a while to get back to us…
MG: Will the code used for the project be open source, and if so, when and where can people expect to use it?
SK and NS: Yes it is! The most useful part of our code is the #collector, which saves real-time tweets to a database, that can then be used for live projections or web sites, or accessed and sorted later via all kinds of info. The problem is that it’s not really user friendly or out of the box – folks need a suped up server (VPN), and to plug into a few other open source wares. The main portion of the backend we used is actually already available at 140dev.com, and then we plugged that into Drupal, among other things. For now, we’re telling interested parties to contact our coder, Chris Butzen, if they want to use our implementation. And we hope to do public distribution on tweetsinspace.org if we are able to package it in a more usable format in the next 6 months.
MG: Are there any messages collected so far, grabbing your attention?
We’ve had thousands of tweets so far – even while just testing the ware in preparation for the performance. We’re anticipating a lot of participation! The tweets we’ve seen have ranged from variations on “hello [other] world” and “don’t eat us,” to political activism and negative commentary, to a whole surreal narrative of about 30 tweets per day over the last 3 months.
Furtherfield’s first Tweet in Space.
go to tweet aliens to add your own words…
Some of our favorite tweets have been those that question how to make our own world better. These speak to both the hope of space age-ike technology, as well as the hope in collective dialog – both of which our project tries to amplify. Such tweeters ask about the alien planet’s renewable energy sources, tax structures, education, art, and more.
We imagine the 30-minute performance will see a much more potent discussion about such things, and hope your readers will participate. The final transmission will be archived permanently on our site once we’ve prepared it for launch.
Notes & References:
How to Take Part.
As part of the International Symposium on Electronic Art in New Mexico (ISEA2012). We will collect your tweets and transmit them into deep space via a high-powered radio messaging system. Our soon-to-be alien friends might receive unmediated thoughts and responses about politics, philosophy, pop culture, dinner, dancing cats and everything in between. By engaging the millions of voices in the Twitterverse and dispatching them into the larger Universe, Tweets in Space activates a potent conversation about communication and life that traverses beyond our borders or understanding.http://tweetsinspace.org/
AND THEY WILL BE SENT INTO DEEP SPACE!!!
Watch the stream LIVE here – http://tweetsinspace.org
 New super-Earth detected within the habitable zone of a nearby star. Tim Stephens. University of Santa Cruz. February 02, 2012. http://news.ucsc.edu/2012/02/habitable-planet.html
 Jagadish Chandra Bose: The Real Inventor of Marconi’s Wireless Receiver Varun Aggarwal, Div. Of Electronics and Comm. Engg. NSIT, Delhi, India. PDF. http://tinyurl.com/8bhjbup
 Jagadish Chandra Bose http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jagadish_Chandra_Bose
See original interview in context: Tweets in Space: An interview with Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern
Other related texts: The Sunday Guardian, NY Daily News, Wisconsin Public Radio, Mashable, CNET
Your tweets, beamed across the universe
by Shweta Sharma
It was Steven Spielberg’s 1982 sci-fi movie E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial that acquainted most of us with life beyond earth. Closer home, it was Rakesh Roshan’s Koi Mil Gaya (2003). Experimenting on the possibilities of alien existence, NASA scientists have tried to discover planets in the ‘habitable’ zone. Succeeding in finding over 2,000 exoplanets (a planet outside the solar system), all of which are ‘not too hot, not too cold, but just right for life’ — raised possibilities of ET or Jadoo’s existence.
Taking cues from such discoveries and combining it with the proliferation of Twitter on Earth, two performance artists Nathaniel Stern and Scott Kildall have conceptualised Tweets in Space, a networked-performance event that beams Twitter messages to a nearby exoplanet that might support human-like, biological life.
“The project beams Twitter discussions from participants worldwide towards GJ667Cc – an exoplanet 22 light years away that might support extraterrestrial life. Simply add #tweetsinspace to your texts during performance time. We will collect your tweets and transmit them into deep space via a high-powered radio messaging system. Our soon-to-be alien friends will receive unmediated thoughts and responses about politics, philosophy, pop culture, dinner, dancing cats and everything in between,” says Stern.
Aimed at activating a conversation about communication and life that traverses beyond our borders, the tweets will be transmitted into space on 22 September between 8-8.30am IST (10:30-11pm EST). The live projections will happen at the International Symposium on Electronic Art in New Mexico. The duo state that this performance differs from every past alien transmission as “It’s not only a public performance, it is a real-time conversation between hopeful peers sending their thoughts to everywhere and nowhere”.
“Anyone with an Internet connection can Tweet, and their messages will be included in our shotgun blast to the stars. We are directing our gaze, or rather tweets, via a high-powered radio telescope, towards GJ667Cc – one of the top candidates for alien life. It is part of a triple-star system, has a mass that is about four times that of Earth, and orbits a dwarf star at close range. It most certainly has liquid water, an essential component for the kind of life found on our own planet,” explains Kildall.
Currently, a one-time event, the duo is excited about initiating conversations with alien life, so that “we can transmit a dialogue between humans to deep space”.
reading in context: Your tweets, beamed across the universe
Other related texts: NY Daily News, The Daily Dot, The Daily Mail, Mashable, Time
When I heard the news, a scene from “The Right Stuff” flashed to mind, the one with a young Jeff Goldblum sprinting down the halls of power, bursting into a darkened room of bureaucrats to announce “They’ve got a man up there! It’s Gagarin!”Like the Cold War-era competition between the U.S. and U.S.S.R., two independent artists recently found themselves in a rivalry with National Geographic for supremacy in space. This particular space race, though, is about sending the Twitterverse into the universe.
We reported recently that two artists, including one from Milwaukee, planned to dispatch a multitude of tweets to the stars, more specifically to GJ667Cc — the closest Earth-like planet, 20 light years away.
After our initial report, the story was picked up around the globe, by Scientific American, the New York Daily News, Time, Forbes, the Daily Mail, BBC and others. Then, the artists were contacted by NatGeo. They, too, had precisely the same plan, to send tweets spaceward as a way to promote a new television series Chasing UFOs.
I’m not sure who’s Russia in this analogy, but I’m thinking it’s NatGeo, since it is bigger and about to be first, too. The artists, Nathaniel Stern and Scott Kildall, had announced their plans first but their scheduled lift-off was slated for September, during the International Symposium on Electronic Art in New Mexico, while National Geographic planned its launch for late June.
In the race for space, being first is everything, and the artists felt a little like the Americans caught off guard by Yuri Gagarin’s surprise orbit in ’61. Instead of chilly diplomacy, though, National Geographic and the artists decided to work together to send 140-character bursts of texts into deep space.
National Geographic licensed the artists’ custom Twitter software and made their “Tweets in Space” project a partner. National Geographic will use the software to collect tweets with the hashtag #ChasingUFOs from 8 p.m. to midnight Eastern time the night of the new series premiere, June 29. They will then beam a digital package containing those tweets into deep space.
Then, the artists’ project “Tweets in Space” will go forward as planned, too. Stern and Kildall will gather tweets tagged #tweetsinspace between 8:30 and 9 p.m. Mountain time on Sept. 21 and project them into space during a live performance at the 18th International Symposium on Electronic Art in Albuquerque.
It’s a purposefully short window, they say. The artists are hoping that participants will consider not only what they’d want to say to aliens perhaps inhabiting the exoplanet, one of the closest planets that some say could support biological life, but to engage with each other, too. The idea is to send a conversation to the cosmos.
“Tweets in Space asks us to take a closer look at our spectacular need to connect, perform and network with others,” the artists state on the website for the project. “It creates a tension between the depth and shallowness of sharing 140 characters at a time with the entire Internet world, in all its complexity, richness and absurdity, by transmitting our passing thoughts to everywhere and nowhere.”
The artists say they see their project and National Geographic’s as benefiting each other. They are “two conceptual frames, two performances, two transmissions, and two different destinations.” With the help of National Geographic, the art project is closer to meeting its fundraising goals, too. They are raising funds at Rockethub until Monday.
Stern is an artist and professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Kildall is a San Francisco-based cross-disciplinary artist. They were also the initiators of the Wikipedia Art project, a public artwork initially composed on Wikipedia.
[videos created by the artists and National Geographic to explain their projects.]
Other related texts: MKE Journal Sentinel, NY Daily News, Wisconsin Public Radio, BBC Radio 4 (Today), Time
Finally, a chance to tweet to aliens
Leslie Katz for CNET
— Multimedia artists will beam real-time tweets to the newly discovered GJ667Cc light-years away. What do you want to say to your brother from another (exo)planet?
(Credit: Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern)
I have so much to say to aliens, I really doubt I could keep it to 140 characters. But if I’m going to go the “Tweets in Space” route to speak to potential life forms on GJ667Cc, I’ll need to keep it short.
Tweets will be streamed as animated Twitter spaceships towing messages.
(Credit: Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern)
“Simply tag your Twitter messages with #tweetsinspace, and your phones, laptops, mobile devices — anything with an Internet connection — will be transformed into an alien communicator,” says San Francisco new-media artist Scott Kildall, who is collaborating on the networked performance project with Nathaniel Stern, an associate professor in the Department of Art+Design at the University of Wisconsin’s Peck School of the Arts.
Scientists from Carnegie Institution of Washington and the University of California at Santa Cruz who discovered GJ667Cc orbiting a triple-star system in February say its conditions might support Earth-like biological life.
Kildall and Stern can’t promise that your tweets will be read by a little green creature (or even a little water droplet) wielding a Samsung Galaxy S III. They can tell you, however, that your musings will be part of an exploration of “our spectacular need to connect, perform, and network with others. [The project] creates a tension between the depth and shallowness of sharing 140 characters at a time with the entire Internet world, in all its complexity, richness, and absurdity, by transmitting our passing thoughts and responses to everywhere and nowhere.”
The pair, currently seeking financial support for the endeavor on Kickstarter-like crowd-funding site RocketHub, say they’ll use the donations for either a “home-built or borrowed communication system” for shooting the tweets into space. They’ve raised more than $2,200 so far, and tell Crave that if they reach their minimum goal of $8,500, they’ll work with a team that can guarantee at least five light-years of travel for the messages toward GJ667Cc. “We’re hoping the alien listening devices are more advanced than our own, so they can pick it up,” they say.
These ‘twitters’ will be stretched across all time and space as a reflection on the contemporary phenomenon of the ‘status’ updates we broadcast, both literal and metaphoric. –Scott Kildall and Nathaniel Stern
Apparently, not everyone appreciates the philosophical intent behind the project. “Expect FBI van in front of your house really soon,” one YouTube commenter threatens. Still, close to 1,000 #tweetsinspace messages have already come in. A favorite example: “No YOU hang up. (giggle) No, you hang up.”
In addition to getting beamed upward at ISEA in September, all #tweetsinspace messages will be streamed to a live public Web site, where they’ll be permanently archived. They’ll also be projected — as animated tweet-towing spaceships like the one pictured above — at the Balloon Museum and planetarium-like digital dome in Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
RocketHub donations, meanwhile, will yield contributor rewards ranging from an acrylic Tweets in Space spaceship stencil and handmade Tweets in Space spaceship soap to (on the high end) a working, small-scale satellite model. Promise me a retweet by ET, guys, and I’m in.