"Photosynthesis Robot" (Franceschini, 2003)
Interview/Article by Jonah Brucker-Cohen
As technology gains ubiquity in our everyday lives, a danger exists that we will eventually lose touch with how this increased use effects our natural environment. With a growing reliance on electrical power and silicon chips used in our daily electronics-entrenched existence, the question remains as to how this technological obsession will change our planet in the years to come? Examining this conflict from the inside out is San Francisco-based artist, Amy Franceschini and her ongoing artist-collective, Futurefarmers. Working to both connect us with our fragile environment and engage with the ongoing conflicts of over-consumption, pollution, and sustainability, Franceschini uses technology as a means to both disseminate this concern as well as pose questions about how to rescue us from these potential fates. GIZMODO spoke to Franceschini about her approach in creating digital and analog projects that challenge our perceptions of technology and how a little effort to conserve our resources now can save us all in the future.
Name: Amy Franceschini
Education: BFA: San Francisco State University,
MFA: Stanford University
Affiliation: Independent Artist
GIZMODO: Your project, "Photosynthesis Robot", challenges the fundamental definition of what a robot could or should be. How does this work / theme fit into the larger theme of your work?
AF: This piece was made at a time where I was a bit disheartened by "New Media" works. Rather than a "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us" robot take over, I proposed a nature take over - or a way of working with nature rather than trying to mimic it or replace it. The larger question this points to is the perceived separation between humans and nature. This piece is about that paradox. It fits into a larger thematic in my work in terms of a concern about our role as humans within the greater body of the nature we are part of. Much of my work is about balance. In the case of Photosynthesis Robot, it is dependant on several variables in order to propel itself forward. Who will provide water, lighting conditions and space for it to move about and do its business? In this case chasing after SUV's capturing CO2 emissions. Go [little] robot, go!
"Homeland Security Blanket" (Franceschini, 2002)
GIZMODO: The "Homeland Security Blankets" (HSB) project materializes the US government's domestic threat level meter into a physical object and potential consumer product. Why is this manifestation important to you?
AF: I made this piece right when America invaded Iraq. I was involved in a lot of protests in San Francisco and a deep concern that our nation was becoming something I did not want to be any part of. The Homeland Security Blanket speaks to the current veil of apathy and media hypnotism America seems to be under. This piece is important to me as a product in terms of it being a critique of consumer culture. I think today people feel comforted by material objects. These material objects provide a false sense of security, as does the Homeland Security Act. So the HSB project suggests this false sense of security or pokes fun at it.
"Sundial Watch" (Franceschini, 2004)
GIZMODO: Sundial Watches" takes the 3,000 year old invention into the personal gadgetry world. How do you see this crossover informing how we perceive today's high tech gear?
AF: Sundial Watch (SDW) again for me was a sort of "Luddite" approach to New Media art. At the time I made this piece I was comparing the idea of digital devices to one's own devices. How do you tell time without a watch that depends on batteries and mechanics? In SDW, one must collaborate with the gadget, in that, you must know where North is in order for the correct time to display itself upon the face of the watch. I guess in terms of informing how we perceive today's high tech gear, I would hope it would serve as an anchor, such that it would make people think about how dependant on technology (we have become).
"DIY Algae/Hydrogen Bioreactor", (Franceschini, 2004)
GIZMODO: Your work presents a critical view of the pressure we impose on the environment while simultaneously engaging with this conflict. How does this theme fit into the "DIY Algae/Hydrogen Bioreactor" project?
AF: My concern with technology is that I am simultaneously excited about innovation, but I question the need to depend so heavily on high-tech solutions. The DIY Algae/Hydrogen Bioreactor is an attempt to put the power of energy production in the hands of the people, such that they are not so dependant on the privatized world of energy. The process is still in an embryonic stage, but all the factors that it depends upon to produce hydrogen are abundant; sun, water, algae. I see these elements as "modern technology".
"Soil Sampling Shoes", (Franceschini, 2005)
GIZMODO: The "Soil Sampling Shoes" project attempts to covertly take soil samples of Superfund waste sites in Silicon Valley as the wearer simply walks around on the soil. Why did you choose this particular location and what were you attempting to discover with this work?
AF: I chose Silicon Valley Superfund Sites because it is really the breadbasket of the high-tech industry. I live and work very close to this area and use the products produced there. In researching these sites, I found that there are 29 sites in Santa Clara County. This is the most concentrated area of toxic sites in America. After doing much research I found that many of the companies responsible for contaminating this area were making products that I use. When I tried to get information about the history and current status of the toxic clean up, I found that the issue had sort of ceased to exist in the public eye. When I began calling various companies to ask about their Superfund status, many of them did not want to discuss this or told me I could find everything I was looking for at the EPA library.
I made the Soil Sampling shoes as part of a larger project, "Gardening Superfund Sites". The shoes gather information in the form of soil information that can be pure evidence. This soil presented in the form of a sculpture becomes suspended evidence. The shoes become charged objects in the sense that the glass vials filled with soil become a representation of the memory of each site. A record of the waste produced in the making of computer memory in the early 1980's.
GIZMODO: What projects are you currently working on? How are they similar or different than your past projects?
AF: I am currently working on several projects. One is a citywide performance with Michael Swaine. It is the game of telephone played between 5 telephone booths across the city of San Francisco. The piece runs in line with past work, in that it is a bit "technostalgia" and a bit of a critique of the art institution. Here is a brief:
The contemporary idea of an art gallery has changed over the years, in part because of the Situationists. The city as a stage for public interaction is an important way to make change in society. Telephone Booth will use a network of five small spaces, rectangular like most galleries, but transparent and part of all cities. Public telephone booths will be used to frame five small performances that revolve around the idea of communication. Communication is an integral part of being human, and also an integral part of art. The "TELEPHONE BOOTH" is quickly being replaced for telephones without walls. (Where will superman change into his outfit?)
The motivation for this project is two fold:
1. To provide a situation and a medium for artists(citizens) to collaborate with an unexpected outcome.
2. To create a platform for audience/artist participation in the form of an urban play where the urban audience and programmed audiences merge to generate a dialog between these two audiences.
In this game of telephone(booth) we will invite "artists" and "non-artists" to have an improvisational dialog. An invited artist will listen to one side of a conversation and then pass the dialog on to the next member of the relay race. Five citizens will perform for the city in the soapbox of a telephone booth, and an audience will travel from phone booth to phone booth by bike and see and hear the conversation grow and change. The audience becomes at once a localized and distributed participant guided through the city by a string of conversations. The invited artists include: Werner Herzog, Shaun O'dell, Elaine Buckholtz , EATS TAPES and David Wilson.