While making technology art – whether probing new applications of existing technologies, using technology as a media to create narrative, or connecting technology in new ways (therefore, in some way, creating new devices) – one must never forget Virilio’s Accident theory. The technology used in the artwork is there to tell a story. However one must not forget that this technology can have other effect, and instead of telling the intended story, it gets out of control and does entirely new things (read: near disasters). This law applies to the finished product or device (i.e. as per Virilio’s example train and train crash), but in the case of making a tech art piece – this law rules the process of installation. And so the 100 tiny PCB boards from China, responsible for fading in and out almost 1 km of EL wire, didn’t work as expected (as on our prototype in Europe). For one horrible evening the whole exhibition was hanging on by a hair, until Zhang Jiawei found a problem, and then a solution. Then there was an unexpected discovery that Raspberry Pi, the computers we used to make parts of the exhibition work, couldn’t show the data visualisation and play the sound at the same time… discovering this ten minutes before the opening also didn’t help. The lack of a fast reliable internet connection occasionally set the whole install back for hours. I do not want to start explaining why some things were left so late to test – there were very good reasons for that (a story for another time). However, it didn’t end up in a disaster at all. Each obstacle was eliminated thanks to the dedication of everyone working: Natalie, our ever so versatile curator soldered 100 capacitors; Semi for endlessly going to shops to purchase new electronics, downloading disc images, connecting all components and in general overlooking a whole construction knowing each detail; Rosie for keeping us all sane by just doing whatever she was asked to do and looking after volunteers; Julia for making sure we ate and liaising with other parties so we were not disturbed; Erik for staying up all night in a timezone halfway across the world to work in Taiwan with me on million of software parts, testing and redeveloping on the fly; Chen Chen for patiently going through cables, housing the units for the installation while fixing them all, and then filming us all; Zhang Jiawei for debugging vital organs; volunteers doing all mindless but crucial and time consuming stuff; Scanner for responding to my sound emergency request during the middle of the night in Europe and granting a permission to play one of his tunes from our other artwork; and Lulu, the Taipei Art Festival development officer, for listening to endless list of requests with patience, calm and delivering it all to us with a smile. The “almost there” disasters was prevented and thanks to this amazing positive energy of people, Positively Charged was a success – its title suddenly taking an entirely new meaning.
When all of the installation went up – a bit wonky but sturdy enough – and everyone involved on the site for last ten days started to crank, for the first time in my life I cried out of happiness seeing my work – well – working so beautifully, powered by my loving collaborators. I wept like a baby on Semi’s shoulder and in Rosie’s arms. Sleep deprived, exhausted, relieved and clearly pathetic.
Positively Charged is about how we, residents, can be positive particles – powering up the gigantic and hungry organism/machine which is a city. Expanding urban developments drain a lot of resources from the outside environment, often leaving it depleted and wasted for years after. On one hand these resources – energy and power, whether it is food for residents, electricity for houses or fuel for transport – are needed to keep people sustained and comfortable. On the other hand due to shortcomings of available energy harvesting technologies, a lot of it is wasted – escaping as heat and contributing to environmental imbalance. There are of course inventions and research on how to capture that waste and turn it into usable energy, but this type of technology, albeit almost there – is not there just yet. While pondering on the subject of energy harvesting (inspired by Drew’s, Julia’s and mine research visit back in February) one cannot escape imagining how city such as Taipei will tackle this issue in the future, and how new ways of energy harvesting will affect its citizens. Coincidently The City and its Future was a curatorial theme of TAF, and Positively Charged was a direct response to it.