Had lunch today with a would-be aspiring entomologist. He described his
love of the preying mantis and their mutual affinity for him. During the
meal, yellow-jacket wasps swarmed around our table. At that moment I
understood why he was a "would-be" and not an actual entomologist.
All this talk about insects had me wondering about the installations and
performances here at Ars Electronica that involved these creatures. The
first work is Yasushi Matoba and Hiroshi Matoba's "Micro Friendship."
a complex set-up: a colony of insects that are contained on a disc-shaped
platform, a microscopic video camera attached to it, a monitor that rest on
top of a table, a joystick and a pointer. The monitor shows the bugs in
their environment, while the viewer may move the joystick to see different
areas of the colony along the x-axis and y-axis. The pointer attached to
the monitor is a virtual pointer that is linked to an actual pointer, which
is subsequently attached to the colony. The actual pointer is proportionate
in size to that of the insects. One may simultaneously move the joystick
and see the insect while pushing the pointer to interact with them.
The banner description of this installation states that the work allows for
us to "communicate and interact with creatures whom we might otherwise not
even notice." The piece seems interesting and I attempt this specialized
mode of communication. I poke at some large black and yellow critters, then
move obstacles before tiny transparent crabs. All in all, I feel
dissatisfied. The work is visually and technically appealing, yet the
communication seems false and contrived. One feels more intrusive than
communicative. The term communication is often used to describe a dialogue
that entails mutual respect between the two or more parties. This piece
does not respect the inhabitants, but rather plays with them as in a video
The next project is "bugrace99 - the world's fastest bug."
Created by the
Linz-based art group, Stadtwerkstatt, this piece is a theatrical sports
event. The races take place in Stadtwerkstatt's eponymous residence.
Winding through a narrow hall, up a wooden stoop, one arrives to the
spectacle. A large bright orange case (approximately 6' x 6') contains four
separate runways. At the head of the box are four sets of control panels or
"joy consoles" from which the jockey's control their insect. This control
is based on jolts of mechanical-electric stimulation. Carpeted bleachers
surround the track on three sides. An eloquent MC banters in German
engaging his audience and building up the excitement level in the room. He
introduces the contestants - four cockroaches: Muff Dive, Jimmy Ringo,
Sporty James and Mr. Perfekt. Now the betting begins. The MC continues to
talks about each roach. He makes each one sound so superior that it is hard
to speculate who might be the winner.
Finally, the announcement is made that the bets are closed and the races
will commence. Two women in strapless zebra skin dresses, cowboy hats and
"plastinated" roach brooches bring out the cockroaches and place them before
the starting gate, the human jockeys are behind the consoles and they're off...
This betting den and cockfight ambience might sound distasteful, yet the
whole experience was intriguing and exciting.
With no creature injured, why
not place glamour upon the most detested bug. Stadtwerkstatt explains: "a
cockroach race is staged for the public in which the most hated animal in
the world becomes the star of the arena." Jimmy Ringo won the race, but he
has a long way to go to claim the Ars Electronica title. At the end of the
four nights of racing the roach with best record will be given a prize at a
special bugrace99 Awards ceremony. I, too, am squeamish when in contact
with roaches, but after last nights activities I have a newfound fondness
for our parasitical friends.