Rafael Lozano-Hemmer on Sat, 31 Jan 1998 05:26:53 +0100 (MET)

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<nettime> Relational Architecture

[relational info: this text is based on a lecture i attended in Tenerife,
a Canarian island where James Bond lives between his movies. it was early
before christmas, an extraordinary setting around good old k-words like
virtual persona, digital humans, cyberidenties, when suddenly electricity
went down, so Sandy Stone took the chance and gave a formidable uncanny
no-tech performance inside this dark medieval fortress near to the sea. It
is recommended to follow Raphael's links to get a picture of the described
works. i found the presented works interesting as an experimental aproach
to recontextualise and shift what was once called interactive media art -
the event was organized by Daniel Canogar, http://www.in-art.com ---
apologies for the recent severe hickups: we are currently renovating
nettime to make rotating group moderation possible /p]


[by Raphael Lozano-Hemmer]

Relational architecture can be defined as the technological actualisation
of buildings and public spaces with alien memory. Relational architecture
disorganizes the master narratives of a building by adding and subtracting
audiovisual elements to affect it, effect it and re-contextualize it.
Relational buildings have audience-activated hyperlinks to predetermined
spatiotemporal settings that may include other buildings, other political
or aesthetic contexts, other histories, or other physics. 

(Differences between virtual and relational architecture:)
Virtual architecture could be differentiated from relational architecture
in that the former is based on simulation while the latter is based on
dissimulation. Virtual buildings are data constructs that strive for
realism, asking the participant to "suspend disbelief" and "play along"
with the environment; relational buildings, on the other hand, are real
buildings pretending to be something other than themselves, masquerading as
that which they might become, asking participants to "suspend faith" and
probe, interact and experiment with the false construct. Virtual
architecture tends to miniaturize buildings to the participant's scale, for
example through VR peripherals such as HMDs or CAVEs, while relational
architecture amplifies the participant to the building's scale, or
emphasizes the relationship between urban and personal scale. In this
sense, virtual architecture tends to dematerialize the _body_, while
relational architecture tends to dematerialize the _environment_.

(Similarities between virtual and relational architecture:)
Virtual and relational architectures are not opposing practices, nor are
they mutually exclusive. They are similar in that both are largely
participant-centered, computer generated, and less expensive, permanent,
sheltering and territorial than physical architecture. They are also
fundamentally perspectivist (in Ortega's connotation of indeterminacy and
interconnection, not in the Renaissance sense of priviledged vantage
point): there is always a self-acknowledged point of view (POV) which
underlines the partiality and performativity of the construction. In both
virtual and relational architecture, the increasingly irrelevant notion of
the "site specific", -which becomes an oxymoron in our age of non-location,
is replaced by the notion of the "relationship specific". 

(Public becomes actor:)
Relational architecture need not be inscribed within postmodern parasitic
or symbiotic practice nor post-structural self-referentiality: it is not
necessarily engaged in deconstruction, nor does it need to use the language
or structure of the building itself. It distances itself from the notion of
art in "public space" proposing instead art in "relational space" where the
public becomes an actor, in the theatrical sense and in the sense of
"taking action". Relational architecture events vindicate their synthetic,
artificial qualities, and reserve the right to be effectist,
improvisational and useless. 

(Search for behaviour:)
But apart from special effects, beyond plasticity, the real motivation
behind relational architecture is the modification of existing behaviour:
the artist creates a situation where the building, the urban context and
the participants relate in new, "alien" ways. The piece can be considered
successful if the artist's intervention actively modifies the point of
dynamic equilibrium between the public's actions and the building's
reactions, and vice versa. There can be a variety of causal, chaotic,
telepresent, predetermined, or emergent behaviours programmed into the
piece and the uncertainty of the outcome is one of the main motivations for
doing such a piece. 

Although relational architecture is a relatively new field within media
arts, precedents to the concept date back to ancient Greece (Simonides'
discovery of mnemonics), and to the use of the Art of Memory in Chinese,
Hermetic and Renaissance rhetoric traditions. In those traditions
architecture was used as a repository of relatively-located memories which
could be recalled by a speaker through a mental "walkthrough". A
significant number of contemporary artists can also be said to have been,
and continue to be, influential in the practice, among them Krzysztof
Wodiczko, Archigram, Gordon Matta-Clark, Yona Friedman, Jenny Holzer, Rem
Koolhas, the Situationists, Christian Moeller, Christo, Peter Greenaway,
Vito Acconci, Dennis Adams, Knowbotic Research, Dan Graham, Cesar Martinez,
Richard Serra and Rachel Whiteread.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer and Will Bauer are collaborating in the development of
a series of relational architecture pieces to be presented over the next
few years. The pieces entail the development of novel architectural
interfaces using real-time computer graphics, 3D sensors, electro-acoustic
music and robotic lights. The events, which take place after dusk, will be
presented in half a dozen cities including Madrid, Linz, Graz, Barcelona
and Mexico City. What follows is the description of the two pieces that
have been realized so far.

September 1997, Ars Electronica Festival, Linz

A relational architecture piece was designed for the Ars Electronica 1997
Festival that transformed the emblematic Linz Castle, high above the Danube
river bank. The intervention was called "Displaced Emperors" and its aim
was to construct an interactive vector between two apparently unrelated
historical oddities that link Mexico and Austria: the Mexican empire of
Maximilian of Habsburg (1864-1867) and the "Penacho de Moctezuma", the
Quetzal-feather crown of one of the last Aztec Emperors, currently housed
in the Ethnological Museum of Vienna. The piece sought to involve the
public in a web of power relations where history is seen as a virtual
environment and identity is a performance sponsored by the myth of cultural

The event took place at dusk and was controlled from the Rudolfstor gate at
the Castle and from a makeshift souvenir shop set up near Hofberg street.

1) Architact
Participants standing in the small plaza situated between the Castle's
Rudolfstor gate and Hofberg street interacted with the Castle by pointing
at it with their hand. A wireless 3D tracker calculated the direction of
the participant's arm and a large, animated projection of a human hand
appeared wherever he or she was pointing. When the participant moved his or
her arm, the telematic hand followed, sliding over the Castle's facade,
creating the effect of an amplified caress. Depending on where and how the
participant "touched" the Castle, it transformed itself into Chapultepec
Palace, the residence of the Habsburg Emperors in Mexico. The telematic
hand "revealed" the Mexican palace as though it were inside the Linz
Castle: the exterior became the interior. As the hand activated certain
windows, music would be triggered and mixed in real time to produce the
effect that the music was coming from that particular room. The "architact"
interface allowed participants to read the building's media layer -a
telematic braille that made perception a highly physical act.

Maximilian and his wife Carlota were elected Emperors of Mexico by a small
group of conservative notables who wanted to protect their interests
against the national liberal policies proposed by Benito Juarez. With the
help of Napoleon III's army, Maximilian, himself a liberal, took over the
country in 1864 having been deceived over the amount of popular support
that his regime would have. The story ends in tragedy with the withdrawal
of the French troops and Maximilian's capture and execution in 1867, an
event portrayed by Manet in a painting that Bataille called the beginning
of the modern movement. Maximilian's body was embalmed and shipped back to
Austria in the Novara: it now rests at the imperial crypt of the Church of
the Capuchins in Vienna.

During their empire the Habsburgs lived in a Spanish colonial castle,
Chapultepec Palace, which they transformed so that it was reminiscent of
their Palace at Miramar in Trieste. This Italian Palace, in turn, had
several references to prior Habsburg palaces in Austria including the
Schoenbrunn. The Austrian Palaces were themselves quoting a variety of
classical stylistic archetypes. This "mise-en-abime" formed by palaces
within palaces, was exploited in "Displaced Emperors" as a source of
architectural samples to be mixed and remixed by the participant, who
became a kind of deterritorial, detemporalized "architecture jockey". The
vector of architectural transformation was also indirectly that of the
displacement of power that the Linz Castle had experienced: from being the
centre of Habsburg power during the Hungarian invasion of Vienna to
becoming a passive museum-mausoleum serving as a repository for dead

The architact interface operated in between the seduction of the amplified
caress on a harmless museum and the understandingly ambivalent reaction
that some Austrians had when confronted with an interface that forced them
to "salute" a building that Hitler had intended to use as his retirement

2) Push Button Override
At a makeshift souvenir shop near the Castle there was a computer monitor
that showed the location of the architact participants with Orwellian
precision. The monitor was beside a big bright red button clearly labeled
"Moctezuma". For ten schillings (approx. one dollar) people could press the
Moctezuma button and interrupt the architact interaction. The button would
do three things: a) turn off all the lights except a searchlight with a
"cultural property" symbol which automatically followed the participant who
had the tracker; b) turn on a 35 metre projection of the "Penacho de
Moctezuma" on the facade of the Castle; and c) trigger distorted Mariachi
music. A few seconds after the button was released, the participants at the
Castle could resume their interaction.

The "Penacho de Moctezuma" is an Aztec headdress made out of the green tail
feathers of the extinct Quetzal bird. Although there is no hard evidence
that the Penacho was Emperor Moctezuma II's "crown", it is well known that
it was the symbol of the most outstanding political and religious power in
Pre-Columbian Mexico. According to one version of its history, the Penacho
was given by Moctezuma to Spanish conqueror Hernan Cortes, who in turn gave
it as a gift to Emperor Carlos I of Spain and V of Germany in 1519. In that
same year Cortes captured and imprisoned the Aztec Emperor and a year later
he died in mysterious circumstances: according to Indian witnesses
Moctezuma was murdered by the Spaniards and according to Spanish sources he
was stoned to death by rebel Aztecs he was trying to appease. Some
historians believe the Penacho was passed from Carlos I to his brother
Fernando who kept it in his art collection in the Castle of Ambras; other
historians say it was purchased by Austrian Archduke Ferdinand in 1590. In
any case, the Penacho was finally sent to Vienna and in 1878 it was taken
out of the closet where it had been, folded and moth-eaten, for decades.
The piece is now on display at the Ethnological Museum in Vienna.

Mexicans believe that the Penacho is a very important part of their
national identity: a piece with extraordinary emotional, cultural and
symbolic value. Indeed, Aztecs assigned considerably more significance to
objects made with feathers than with gold and silver. Many notable
Austrians have expressed their desire to see the Penacho return to Mexico,
among them Rudolf Burger, Carl Pruscha, and Peter Noever. These Austrians
believe that the Penacho should be given as a gift to Mexicans as a
symbolic gesture, among other reasons, to thank them for their protest in
the League of Nations during the German annexation of Austria in 1938.

When President Thomas Klestil declared in 1996 that he would look
favourably upon the idea of sending the Penacho to Mexico as a
demonstration of Austria's goodwill on the eve of the nation's millennium
celebration, the Mexican government sent a diplomatic delegation to Vienna
to deliver an official statement indicating Mexico's profound interest in
obtaining the piece. Alas, a few months after this meeting, the Austrian
Minister of External Affairs, Dr. Wolfgang Schuessel, sent a reply saying
the Government regrettably could not send the object to Mexico for legal
and conservation issues.

The Moctezuma button was a causal, irritating 1-bit intervention which
served as a metaphor for the simplistic, executive override features found
in all complex control systems. The button was surrounded by mexican
wrestling masks, fake penachos, plastic pyramids, velvet sombreros and
other cheap cultural souvenirs. The Moctezuma button was a parody of the
currency of cultural exchange, a moment of historical cynicism to question
the colonial project, and a probe into the concept of "heritage". Is
cultural property cultural poverty?

"Displaced Emperors" ultimately proposed that rather than returning the
"Penacho de Moctezuma" to Mexico, Austria should offer some Habsburg jewels
as a romantic cultural exchange, and for the Penacho to become an integral
part of Austrian identity. 

A custom-made GAMS ultrasonic 3D tracker monitored the vector formed by the
arm of the participant. The position of the intersection of the vector with
the facade of the building was calculated trigonometrically in real-time.
Robotic light beams were directed toward the place of intersection by using
the DMX512 protocol. Positional sampled sound was programmed so that it
seemed to be generated at the location of the intersection. Custom-made
software cued, triggered and controlled all audio visual events. A large 30
x 30 m etc pigi film projector was controlled via MIDI and using two
precise electro-mechanic scrollers. The status of the Moctezuma button was
relayed via MIDI.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer - concept, direction, visuals, text
Will Bauer - audio, programming, custom hardware
Susie Ramsay - production coordinator
Daniel Rivera, Maria Pallier, Patricia Maier - Production assistance
E/T/C Audiovisuel - pigi Xenon projector
M-Tec Martin Professional - Robotic lighting

URL (pictures):

November 1997, International Biennale Film + Architektur, Graz

During the third international Film + Arc Biennale in Graz, Austria, a
Relational Architecture piece transformed the courtyard facade of one of
Europe's largest military arsenals, the 350 year old Landeszeughaus.
"Re:Positioning Fear" used a web site, webcam, 3D trackers, and customized
projection technology to connect a very specific instance of Austrian
history and architecture with remote and local participants.

The piece was loosely based on the Cathedral's fresco "the Scourges of
God", which depicts the three Medieval fears of the people of Graz: the
locust plague (which destroyed the fields in 1477), the Black Death (an
epidemic that fortunately never had a devastating outbreak in Graz), and
the fall of the city to Turkish invaders (which never happened). The
fresco, which shows the oldest view of the city, has been ruined by
inclement weather and incompetent restoration attempts, but is survived by
a reproduction which can be seen at the Landeszeughaus.

Using the fresco as a departure point, "RE:Positioning Fear" related
several historical transformations and displacements of Fear, particularly
as parts of the world enter a post-industrial, post humanist era.

Re:Positioning Fear had two components:

1) IRC Sessions
A program of Internet Relay Chat (IRC) sessions discussing salient
"contemporary fears" featured thirty artists, theorists and critics from
seventeen countries, some of whom also contributed texts used as conceptual
background: Konrad Becker (Austria), Michael Boyce (Canada), Andreas
Broeckmann (Germany), Steve Cisler (US), Vuk Cosic (Slovenia), Sean Cubitt
(UK), Calin Dan (Netherlands / Romania), Erik Davis (US), Scott deLahunta
(US / Netherlands), Robert Ehrlich (Canada), Maria Fernandez (US /
Nicaragua), Paul Hertz (US), Margarete Jahrmann (Austria), Andreas Kitzmann
(Canada), Ted Krueger (US), Diana McCarty (US / Hungary), Alain Mongeau
(Canada), Gordana Novakovic (Serbia), Olu Oguibe (Biafra / US), Tetsuya
Ozaki (Japan), Roc Pares (Catalonia / Mexico), Simon Penny (Australia),
Susie Ramsay (Canada), James Sey (S. Africa), Pit Shultz (Germany), Amanda
Steggell (Norway), Tank (Canada), Nell Tenhaaf (Canada), Mark Tribe (US),
and Faith Wilding (US).

There were six loose thematic threads:
   FEAR AT THE END OF GEOGRAPHY - delocality; cultural tectonics; border
wormholes; tourist clones; placeless vs. multiplace; refugees and refusees.
   FEAR AT THE END OF BIOLOGY - body DJs; human genome and other
endotaxonomies; microbesoft and biotrademarks; dividuals. 
   FEAR AT THE END OF ARCHITECTURE - vampire buildings; special effects
home; architact; site-specific isn't; the internal exterior; domesticity.
   FEAR AT THE END OF ART - resistance of net content; bandwidth denial;
retrofunding; the long wait; the search for otherception.
   FEAR AT THE END OF TECHNOLOGY - cibernating; baby walkmans; persistance
of the humanist cyborg; all intelligence is artificial.
   FEAR AT THE END OF "THE END" - paranoia and postnoia, St Augustin,
apocalapsus, nanohope.

During the Film+Arc Festival, the IRC sessions were projected in real-time
on the Zeughaus arsenal's courtyard facade; two Barco 9200 projectors
covered a total area of 15 x 20 metres. The building was thus taken over by
a deterritorialized dialog or "source code", creating a "building with
subtitles". A webcam captured the event every second and allowed the
internet participants to see their contributions as they appeared on the

The IRC sessions reflected on contemporary fears as decentered, distributed
phenomena or "syndromes" more than invasions: global warming, AIDS,
terrorism, economic violence, surveillance society, genetic tampering,
refugees, etcetera. This mirrored the nature of IRC text which does not
have a clear textual "backbone" but is rather composed of textual "ribs".
The proceedings of the IRC sessions, in the form of slightly-edited logs,
can be found in the "Re:Positioning Fear" web site, where participants also
submitted notes, quotes, and other texts that anchor the discussion on FEAR
from the realm of the abstract to very specific instances within
geopolitical, architectural, philosophical, biological, etc discussions.

2) Tele-absence installation
Even though the IRC sessions could have been projected on the arsenal by
covering most of the facade, an interface was designed to prevent all of
the text to be visible at one time. The interface was called "tele absence"
and it consisted of an "active" shadow that revealed the text on the
building. To read the building, a participant standing in front of it had
to wear a small wireless sensor and walk around the courtyard. As he or she
walked, two pigi 7kW Xenon light sources tracked his position and projected
his shadow onto the facade of the Zeughaus. By using robotic lighting
control, the shadows were focused dynamically so that regardless of the
participant's proximity to the lamps the shadows were always crisp and well
defined. The final effect was a "dynamic stencil" whereby the shadow of the
participant was an architectural element which "revealed" the IRC texts
that appeared to be within the building, as though the shadow was a cutout
or an x-ray of the building.

"Tele-absence" was defined as the technological acknowledgement of the
impossibility of self transmission. Tele-absence was proposed as a
celebration of where and when the body is not. The shadow was not an
avatar, an agent, nor an alias of the participant's body, it was remote
absence, the exclusion of the body, effected through the body-double, the
cut-out, the not-transmitted, the shadow. The tele-absence interface
benefited from the impossibility of positioning the body within its shadow.
Just as contemporary physics has discovered that a vacuum is indeed a place
with intense quantum mechanical activity, here the shadow, a supposedly
immaterial form created by the absence of light, became a site of telematic

As it traveled over the building, the shadow was deformed by the windows
and crevices of the facade as well as by the characteristics of the
movements of the participant. This added to the anamorphosis of the
projection and underlined the building's performative quality. By
calculating when, where and how the shadow intersected the Zeughaus, the
installation's computers triggered audiovisual events which used the texts
contributed by the people on the IRC sessions. The piece emphasized the
fact that the shadow is formed by a collaboration between the light, the
building and the participant.

A shadow interface could be interpreted to be a metaphor of the obliqueness
of ancient (and contemporary?) threat. The Zeughaus itself was built out of
fear of the expansionist Turks: yet their looming presence was felt only as
a shadow, as they never entered Graz. Here, the Zeughaus became a
repository that performed the transformation and the repositioning of the

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer - concept, direction, visuals, text
Will Bauer - audio, programming, custom hardware
Robert Rotman - networking, programming
Nell Tenhaaf - IRC sessions channel operator
Conroy Badger - programming
BARCO - high powered graphics projection
E/T/C audiovisuel - pigi projection with interactive control

URL for project website:

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