Exhibit proposes new amenities for downtown life.

By Kurt Shaw.
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review - 24 February 2008


Spurred by the building initiatives that are bringing residential living into Downtown Pittsburgh -- in particular the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust's $460 million planned RiverParc project, which will feature 700 residential units, 160,000 square feet of retail space and a 225-room hotel -- Wood Street Galleries curator Murray Horne has set up "Urban Living," an exhibition of innovative artworks that address, in their own way, the prospect of Downtown living.

In a way, urban living is what motivated Sony Corp. to invent Aibo, a robotic dog the company first introduced in Japan in 1999.

Aibo means "companion" in Japanese. But, in the case of this robotic dog, the name is also an acronym for Artificial Intelligence "bot," or robot. So it is only fitting that seven of the dogs are in this exhibition, even though Sony discontinued the dogs two years ago.

"In terms of Downtown living, you don't need to take it outside for a walk or anything, because it's a robot," Horne says. "It has these nice characteristics of being playful inside your apartment and being clean."

But, look a little closer, and a visitor will find that these cute little robotic pets aren't all they are cracked up to be. No, these particular seven have been re-engineered by French artist and robotics teacher France Cadet into, of all things, a dog that is half dog and half cat, a flesh-colored dog that has the characteristics of a pig, and a clear dog that one can look into and see the inner-workings, as if it were a jellyfish.
There is even a dog that glows in the dark, a homage to American contemporary artist Eduardo Kac's green-fluorescent rabbit, Alba, which he commissioned a French laboratory to implant with a green fluorescent protein gene from a type of jellyfish. Not to mention a dog that pays homage to Dolly the sheep, the first mammal cloned in 1996.

Horne says of the Aibo dog here named "Dolly," which has horns, "If you look at the characteristics of Dolly, you'll see that at one stage she gets Mad Cow's Disease and starts shaking."

Through such alteration,s Cadet's work raises questions about various aspects in contemporary science debates: danger of possible accidents, observation of animal and human behavior, artificial life, side effects of cloning and experimentation with animal eugenics. But, it also brings up the idea that, through science and technology, we can create whatever kind of pet we want. And who wouldn't want a pet you don't have to clean up after?

For folks who live in an urban setting, green grass is a prized commodity. Sabrina Raaf, a Chicago-based artist working in experimental sculptural media and photography, offers a technological solution with "Translator II: Grower."

Basically a small roving robot that hugs a wall, it paints rows of grass on the wall in five different colors. The height and density of the grass is relevant to the number of visitors the gallery receives.

How, you may wonder? The robot vehicle is equipped with a sensor that reads the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by people near it and thus paints lines on the wall proportionally. "Obviously the more people we have visit, the higher the reading of carbon dioxide," Horne says of the piece that is an obvious "Green" statement.

If it is that outdoorsy feeling you are craving, then Pascal Glissmann and Martina Hofflin of the Academy of Media Art Cologne have the answer. In the gallery, their twittering and chirping "Elfs" (electronic life forms) are arranged among the branches of five real Ficus trees.

These Elfs do not resemble birds other than with the noise and subtle movement they make, all of which are powered by tiny solar panels. Horne says of these adorable little gadgets, "We empathize with the cuteness of these little robots even though what they can do is extremely limited."

Want a little fun without leaving your humble urban abode? Then the Netherlands' Informationlab can provide the ambiance with "Cell Phone Disco." Basically a panel filled with tiny LED lights, it is set up to correspond to the radio waves that emanate from your cell phone. Make a call and let the party begin.

Lastly, wind down your day with Roman Kirschner's contemplative aquarium filled piece "Root." The Cologne based artist has created the perfect answer to the hectic day in the form of a "contemplative sound source," as Horne calls it, made from copper wire suspended in water.

As the wire oxidizes, crystals grow. The sound of the crystals slowly growing are, in turn, amplified via software, creating a mildly contemplative experience.

Horne says the piece further emphasizes the soothing qualities that water possesses. "The appreciation of water is like a universal language," he says. "Across all cultures, people respond to water in a very similar way. It's very contemplative and soothing."

So, there you have it. Answers to the stress of everyday urban living? Cool gadgets with which to sooth your otherwise aching soul that longs for a connection to nature? Perhaps one day. But, for now, they sure make for a very interesting and thought provoking exhibition.

See the online article


"Dog[LAB]01" by France Cadet.


"Cell Phone Disco," by Informationlab, is part of the Urban Living exhibit at Wood Street Galleries.



What: An exhibition of multimedia works influenced by urban living by France Cadet, Pascal Glissmann & Martina Hofflin, Informationlab, Roman Kirschner and Sabrina Raaf

When: Through April 5. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays; 11 a.m. -8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays

Where: Wood Street Galleries, 601 Wood St. (above the Wood Street "T" Station), Downtown.

Admission: Free

Details: 412-471-5605