"Printball" (Gaulon, 2005)
Interview/Article by Jonah Brucker-Cohen
As an exponential amount of digital objects begin to permeate our daily lives, the tendency for manufacturers to combine multiple functionalities into one "mega" device seems to be a popular methodology. Taking this credo as a starting point with his hardware inspired projects is French media artist, Benjamin Gaulon. From combining the mechanism of a Paintball gun with an Ink-Jet printer in his almost absurdist "Printball" project to using the exterior of an office building as an interactive surface in "De Pong Game", Gaulon's projects attempt to challenge popular conceptions of how electronic objects and software should and could function in our daily lives. By examining the fragility of data transfer and transmission of files across the Internet with his "Corrupt" project, he is also attempting to comment on the seemingly delicate nature of our global communications networks. Gizmodo recently caught up with Gaulon to discuss his approach to infiltrating pop cultural icons through creative interventions in hardware hacking and how recycling outdated technology can lead to new forms of collaborative musical and visual expression.
Name: Benjamin Gaulon
Education: Masters at the Ecole Superieuredes Arts Decoratifs in Strasbourg (2002) , Masters (Interactive Media & Environment), Frank Mohr Institute, Groningen (The Netherlands, 2005).
Affiliation:Independent, but I have also created a European group of artist, designers, theorist, engineers, etc.. called Deponk (www.deponk.com).
Recyclism is my general website, where I present my works. I started most of my projects with a site called www.digitalrecycling.com (a database for digital file recycling, where people can upload and download digital junk to create new works.
GIZMODO: Your project, "Printball", combines the mechanism of an Ink-Jet printer and a Paintball cannon. What were you attempting to discover by combining these two devices?
BG: The idea of the Ink-Jet printer is more conceptual than literal. So it's a Paintball gun (hacked to be automatic, because in Europe [we are] not allowed to have automatic Paintball guns, so you need to directly control the solenoid that triggers the gun) with a custom made Pan and Tilt [mechanism]. The idea was to create a "graffiti robot" that could shoot images, so instead of using a Paintball gun to play war games this machine can create images and text. I'm (in most of my projects) really interested by the idea of "detournement" (as Guy Debord as defined it in 1959) This project is a Deponk project (my collective) because it's an idea that we had with a friend and French artist (Geraud de Bizien: www.vastemonde.com). We had the idea together and I then realized the project during my Masters at the Frank Mohr Institute.
"Recycling Entertainment System" (Gaulon, 2004)
GIZMODO: The "Recycling Entertainment System" connects six Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) controllers to a computer to control a shared software synthesizer. Why did you choose these hardware devices as interfaces for collaborative music composition?
BG: First, after working on digital recycling with the digital recycling website, I wanted to explore hardware recycling. I also liked the idea of recycling the NES controllers, which are for me the origin of videogame controllers (the basics: directional buttons, select and start and the A and B buttons). Nowadays game controllers are a bit more advanced but basically they are based on those controllers. So it was a way to go back to the roots of the game controller (they are also the video games that I could play with as a kid, so part of my personal mythology). With this project I also wanted to make an interactive system for several players to play and create something together in real time. The digital recycling project is also based on that idea but it's not made for "real time" composition, but the structural concept is really close since both projects are using the concept of database jamming to create new and original works (sampling art). The RES has the structure of a band (with a bass player, a drummer, percussion, a loop player and a synthesizer) but it's like a DJ playing as a band (jamming with audio samples).
"Corrupt" (Gaulon, 2005)
GIZMODO: Your "Corrupt" project breaks down an image file into its binary equivalent and replaces some of this code with a random value from 1 to 20. What were you trying to accomplish with this project? And why are some of the results too damaged to show?
BG: I'm reading the binary of a file, swapping some bytes (randomly, from 1 to 20 swaps) and I save it again. Then another part of the code (done with Processing) is loading the saved file again (checking if it's still readable) and the readable files are "saved as" in a result folder. So I only keep the corrupted files that are still readable. This project explores the limit of digital technologies and tries to reproduce and control data corruption: this corruption normally occurs during data transfer (i.e. e-mail, ftp, etc. - see this link for a complete definition: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data_corr...) As Kim Cascone write in his article ""The Aesthetics of Failure"" [accidents usually cause the most interesting things to happen].
"De Pong Game" (Gaulon, 2004)
GIZMODO: "De Pong Game" recreates the famous PONG game as a projection on the surface of a building. A custom modified joystick controls game play and the player must use the built-in elements of the building (windows, doors, etc) as elements in the game. What is your ultimate aim with creating these large-scale public interactive pieces?
BG: Well, this project came during a workshop where I was asked to create some media stuff in the "real world" outside my studio and outside the computer. At that time I had just discovered the concept of Augmented Reality and I was interested to find ways to explore that concept. My idea was first to use the windows as pixel, but since I found the "Blinkenlights" project (by Berlin's Chaos Computer Club), I had to re-think my idea. I'd liked the idea of an intersection between a projection and the real world, since I'm [into all things] "recycling". I see the creative process as an endless recycling process, such as the socio-cultural loop of creation. I thought that the PONG game was a really interesting thing to recycle when you talk about video games (since it's the origin of the video game).
GIZMODO: What projects are you currently working on? How are they similar or different than your past projects?
BG: Actually I'm working on different things, but one of those is the "E-Waste" workshop with a Dutch company called Blue Melon. Those workshops (and your "Scrapyard Challenge" workshops were an influence for that) are based on the idea of recycling (hardware recycling) and we are trying to combine the creative possibilities of hardware recycling and to bring some awareness to the participant about the issues of "E-waste" pollution. I think as an artist and as a human being working with electronics and computers, it's important to know what is happening to the equipment once it becomes obsolete, which occurs really fast for computers.