THE BALTIC GOES DIGITAL
Type of project: open contest and exhibition
Where: Gdansk City Gallery (exhibition), Gdańsk, Poland
When: 14 September–04 November 2012
Artists:
Mateusz Pęk (PL) and Klaudia Wrzask (PL), Baltic Agora
Marek Dybuść (PL), AudioElsewhere
Varvara Guljajeva (EST) and Mar Canet Sola (ESP), Baltic Sea Radio
Organizers:
The Baltic Sea Cultural Centre,
Gdansk City Gallery, Gdańsk, Poland
Contest organisation:
Aleksandra Kminikowska, Anna Zalewska-Andruszkiewicz, Marta Korga-Bistram
Production of exhibition:
Iwona Bigos, Dorota Lewandowska

The Baltic Goes Digital

by Iwona Bigos

As part of the international project Art Line, Gdansk City Gallery together with the Baltic Sea Cultural Center organized a contest called The Baltic Goes Digital which gave birth to works presented simultaneously in virtual space and in the real space of Gdansk City Gallery. The subject of the competition was the vision of a nonexistent, imaginary “Baltic City”. An international jury made up of Iwona Bigos, Andreas Broegger, Ryszard Kluszczyński, Martin Koplin and Anna Zalewska-Andruszkiewicz distinguished three projects in which a grand vision was coupled with the use of new media and the internet. Locative media allowed the artists to create works whose reach far exceeded their physical location and, in consequence, bring seemingly distant Baltic countries closer. These works are interactive in principle, as it is up to the viewers to give them their final shape.

The winning works were presented in the Gdansk City Gallery, on the website of the international project Art Line (art line-southbaltic.eu) and on mobile phones, thanks to an application created especially for The Baltic Goes Digital contest.

The Jury selected three works:
Baltic Agora by Mateusz Pęk and Klaudia Wrzask was a project for an imaginary Baltic City, based on a 3D topographic map of the Baltic Sea floor and functioning as a web platform. Any user could become a builder of this agglomeration, and the user’s impact depended on his or her geographical location in relation to the centre of the city – the Agora of the Baltic City. An inverse image of the seafloor showed that its optical center lied at Landsort Deep (459 m) located north-west of Gotland. This is where Mateusz Pęk and Klaudia Wrzask located the Agora of the Baltic Sea. Anyone who logs onto the project’s website immediately started to contribute to its construction as, thanks to a commonly-used database of IP addresses, the information of the user’s location was immediately sent to the server. Thanks to an application built for this project, an impulse created an axis leading from the user’s location to the Agora. As a result, the sea was surrounded with a mosaic of the Baltic City Agora.

AudioElsewhere by Marek Dybuść did not seem much at first sight – just a chair, speakers and a cutting-edge phone in one of the rooms of the Gdansk City Gallery. Actually, this work allowed us to contemplate sounds coming from the other side of the Baltic Sea. A robot installed in the Blekinge Institute of Technology transmitted the sounds coming from Karlskrona into speakers worn by visitors to the Gdańsk exhibition. The robot moved its head simultaneously with the head movements of the visitor. When listening for sounds coming from a given direction, the visitors were able to experience the audiosphere of a far-away place in a realistic way. In order to make it easier for the visitors to concentrate fully on the signals received from their aural apparatus, the visitors did not have the possibility to talk about their sensations while they were still experiencing them.

Baltic Sea Radio by Varvara Guljajeva & Mar Canet Sola was a sound installation. Radio waves replay in real time the processed sounds produced by the movement of local sea vessels. During the exhibition, a special receiving aerial was installed near Sopot Pier in order to register these movements. The sounds registered by the aerial and processed by computer were then transmitted to the gallery, whose visitors could listen to them inside the artistic installation created for this very purpose.

Iwona Bigos, director at Gdansk City Gallery, Gdańsk, Poland.

Mateusz Pęk and Klaudia Wrzask, Baltic Agora, 2012

Marek Dybuść, AudioElsewhere at the Blekinge Institute of Technology


Mar Canet Sola and Varvara Guljajeva, Baltic Sea Radio, 2012


Baltic Sea Radio: on data flows and life in real-time

by Pau Waelder

One of the largest seaports on the Baltic Sea, the port of Gdańsk, constantly receives ships that dock on the Dead Vistula or sail along the Port Channel and the Kashubia Canal into the city. The vessel traffic is converted into data as each ship’s identification, position, course and speed is tracked in real-time by the Automatic Identification System (AIS) base stations located on the coast. Easily available on several web services, this data becomes an additional layer of information that extends over the port and the city. It increases the flow of data already present in wireless networks and adds content that is specific to this location: it belongs to the port of Gdańsk.

We usually perceive the information displayed in our digital devices as ubiquitous and unlocated: even when it refers to a particular place (such as the weather forecast in our city or a Wikipedia entry about a certain town), it seems to come out of nowhere, to belong to that vast, formless cloud (formerly cyberspace) we call the internet. It travels invisibly over a network of servers and routers, and finally pops up on the screen as if it had always been there. Even if Wi-Fi network coverage has taught us that we live surrounded by data flows, and that we have a growing need to interact with them, we are seldom reminded of the geographical and physical origin of the data we have access to. Furthermore, the fact that this data is generated by some kind of human activity is usually overlooked. In this sense, if we are “immersed in data”, as Lev Manovich points out,1 we should not forget that the large amount of data that surrounds us is not an abstract entity, but the output of billions of actions carried out by people almost everywhere in the world. Artistic projects that convert these data flows into something meaningful should, according to Manovich, “represent the personal subjective experience of a person living in a data society”2. In doing so, only if the collected data is related to a particular location and a certain human activity, can we avoid the impression of simply observing an infinite array of numbers and network packets. Data becomes information when it has meaning, and as such, it can be integrated into an artwork.

Varvara Guljajeva has explored interaction with data flows in the context of particular locations in a series of artistic projects developed with Mar Canet Sola. In The Rhythm of the City (2011), several metronomes are modified to react to the flow of data from Twitter, Flickr and YouTube in a particular city;3 in Wireless Poetry and Revealing Digital Landscape (2013), the network density in the city of Seoul enables a novel means of written expression.4 Baltic Sea Radio (2012) belongs to this series of works, as it culls data from AIS base stations located at the port of Gdańsk, and applies it as a score in a sound installation.5 In a previous project, The Flux of the Sea (2011), this process was tested at the seaport of Palma (Majorca, Spain) in the form of an open-air concert and a limited series of prints in which the location of the ships at a particular moment was rendered as a generative image.6 Baltic Sea Radio has been further developed as a temporary exhibition and an online radio stream, enhancing its relation with the port and the audience. The sound installation uses an old boat as a listening station, providing an element that establishes a visual connection with the origin of the data generating the score. The audience listens to the real-time composition (which is, therefore, unique to every visitor at any given time) in a setting that suggests an intimate experience: the boat is placed upright, as a sort of chapel, while the composition can be heard by putting on a set of headphones. In this manner, each person is invited to listen attentively to the score by isolating herself from the environment and imagine the activity that is taking place at the port and far away at sea. Additionally, the online radio broadcast enables anyone to listen to the real-time composition in a different location, providing a way to experience the maritime traffic as sound, just as it can be seen on a website that visually displays AIS data.

While Baltic Sea Radio takes the ethereal flow of data back to its specific context in the sound installation at the Gdansk City Gallery, it also introduces a concept that is recurrently addressed by Guljajeva in her artistic practice. “Unaware participation”, states the artist, “is an artistic concept that explores a novel way of applying real-time human or animal activity for artistic purposes without their awareness of participation in the artwork”.7 It implies the re-contextualization of an everyday activity, which acquires an additional meaning while not being altered by the fact that it is integrated into the artwork. In this case, the maritime traffic is not affected by the sound installation, while it is, at the same time, transformed from a daily activity into an artistic performance. Artists have long sought the fusion of art and life, and while unaware participation only provides this possibility in one direction (from daily life into the artwork), it enables a different form of exploring the everyday by observing it in real-time. This observation is carried out by means of a détournement of the data flows, that allows the data to simultaneously serve its original purpose (here, to locate ships at all times and prevent them from crashing) while providing an input to the participatory artwork. Surveillance comes to mind, as in fact the network provides the means to obtain information about a human activity without requiring conscious involvement on the part of those who are engaged in such activity. And while it is true, as Boris Groys states, that “the internet is by its essence a machine of surveillance”,8 it must be pointed out that it is not the specific action of one person that is being traced, but the activity as a whole, which generates and modifies a certain output. In this sense, Baltic Sea Radio provides a new form of experiencing the constant coming and going of ships at the port, not focusing on the vessels themselves, but on the “life” that is happening, at that moment, on the sea front of Gdańsk.

Comments and questions related to Baltic Sea Radio

The Flux of Sea, which could be considered the preliminary development of Baltic Sea Radio, was developed by Varvara Guljajeva and Mar Canet during their residency at the CRIdA artist in a residence program curated by Fernando Gómez de la Cuesta and myself in Palma (Majorca, Spain). In this project, an initial setting was tested in the form of a concert at the contemporary art museum Es Baluard, overlooking the port, during one evening. The artists additionally worked on a series of silkscreen prints based on the data culled from a portable AIS station, which were produced at the workshops of the Joan Miró Foundation. This initial development of the idea was taken to its optimal form in the sound installation that was exhibited at the Gdańsk City Gallery between September and November of 2011. As was previously mentioned, the incorporation of a boat as a listening station greatly enhances the meaning of the artwork, while the context of Gdańsk emphasizes the strength of the piece, the ties between the port and the city being stronger than in Palma.

The silkscreen prints produced in Palma are an interesting output of the artwork, yet I believe that its meaning is expressed more efficiently as a sound piece. The movement of the ships and the constant, ever-changing maritime traffic, as well as the feeling of being in motion can only be expressed by means of an endless score. The online radio stream, while extracting the piece from its location, introduces the “old” technology of radio signals, which was fundamental to maritime activity before the use of satellites. The whole project, although ephemeral, could be set up as a permanent installation and continue its “dialogue” with the port of Gdańsk.

Several suggestions come to mind in the event that the artwork were to be set up as a permanent installation:

Invite other artists/composers to create new scores.
Set up the installation in an open space, overlooking the port.
Exchange information between two distant ports (twin installations).
Transfer the position of ships to an area on land (e.g. the city centre) and convert the position of each ship into a sound that can be heard when approaching the displaced position with a set of headphones equipped with a GPS tracking device.

Finally, I would like to ask the following questions to the artist:

Which other data flows from human activities have you considered including in future projects?
Have you considered setting up the sound piece in a public space, inserting it into the daily activities of, for instance, the citizens of Gdańsk?
Have you considered using a less “abstract” sound composition, maybe a local song that would be remixed by the data flow?

Pau Waelder is an independent art critic and curator, and a researcher in new media art. A PhD Candidate in Information and Knowledge Society, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC) and Bachelor in Art History from the University of Barcelona, he has obtained the Diploma of Advanced Studies in the Department of Historical Sciences and Art Theory at the Universitat de les Illes Balears.

References:
1. Manovich, Lev (2002), Data Visualisation as New Abstraction and Anti-Sublime, http://manovich.net/DOCS/data_art_2.doc
2. Ibid.
3. Varvara Guljajeva and Mar Canet, The Rhythm of the City, http://www.varvarag.info/the-rhythm-of-city/
4. Varvara Guljajeva and Mar Canet, Wireless Poetry, http://www.varvarag.info/wireless-poetry/
5. Varvara Guljajeva and Mar Canet, Baltic Sea Radio, http://www.varvarag.info/baltic-sea-radio/
6. Varvara Guljajeva and Mar Canet, The Flux of the Sea, http://www.varvarag.info/the-flux-of-sea/
7. Varvara Guljajeva, Unaware Participation in Art. Short description of thesis.
8. Groys, Boris (2013), Art Workers: Between Utopia and the Archive, e-flux journal #45.

Baltic Sea Radio, Mar Canet Sola and Varvara Guljajeva, 2012