Rui Filipe Antunes: Globetrekker for the Arts
An interview by Max Eternity
Rui Filipe Antunes (RFA): Hi, I am the one who thanks you for this invitation.
ME: You’re a Phd candidate studying in the Arts and Computational Technologies at the University of London’s Goldsmiths College studying art and artificial intelligence and ecosystems in virtual world, Do you know who developed this graduate program, and what will a doctorate in this field facilitate you to do in your creative career?
Website: Screenshot of “Installations” page
RFA: As far as I know this doctoral program was designed by Janis Jefferies and Robert Zimmer with the intention of developing a creative hub, centered in digital studios, for artists interested in using the computer as an artistic medium.
From my perspective I see this current program as the logical continuation of my personal research, which I have started during my Msc degree.
When I first came to London, it was in the context of a visual artist interested in issues of interaction in installations, in a more physical computing approach. However, during the MSc period, with the influence of Frederic Leymarie, my current supervisor, I started developing an interest in 3D and Generative practices. In particular I started the project of developing ecologies where the formal evolution of the visuals is promoted by the interaction of living entities.
In terms of the future, my understanding is that virtual worlds offer a new paradigm in every sense: cultural, social and technological. In that sense, I am interested in their artistic exploration as I feel the richness of their intrinsic properties make them unique as a medium. This program will help me to develop an in depth knowledge assisting me in this project.
ME: I understand you are a teacher, having taught in Portugal for 10 years. Is Portugal your birthplace? What class(es) were you teaching, at what school?
RFA: I was born in Mozambique. However I grew up in Portugal since I was 5, after Mozambique’s independence. But I am a bit of a nomad, since even in Portugal, my family moved around.
In Portugal I was teaching at a college, Escola Secundaria Marques de Pombal, to teenage students. I have always been a graphics guy, so I was teaching computing languages, multimedia and video. It was an intense and rewarding experience as the teaching team grew up together, becoming more like a family than a work environment. The same went with the students, mostly coming from problematic families, and making it difficult sometimes to detach the human and the professional sides of the experience.
ME: You’re a visiting tutor at the School of Arts at the City University in London? What does that involve?
RFA: I am lecturing the two levels of courses of Flash and Actionscript. These are evening courses open to internal and external students. The courses vary depending on the class context, its level and learning pace. Since you can find students in very different levels, usually I use a workshop style, so on the side of the normal exercises students develop their individual projects.
ME: I’m guessing that you’re multi-lingual?
RFA: Yes indeed, there may be many gaps and failures in Portuguese public education, but an excellent policy is that everyone learns three languages, usually Portuguese, French and English. In my case I was fortunate since I lived next to the border with Spain a large portion of my life, and thus additionally I grew up with the Spanish language too.
ME: Now, in looking at your website it’s clear that you have an interest in the natural world. Where does this come from, childhood? Were your parents environmentalist—naturalists?
RFA: Yes definitely my childhood and first years as teenager are very influential. Sabugal, this village I just have referred to, in the interior north countryside of Portugal, next to Spain, was a small and safe place. We lived in close communion with nature. Everyone knew each other and thus we children were very free, and felt safe exploring all of the countryside around the village. All that sense of freedom and discovery was later lost when I moved to the city. So somehow I keep in my memory a nostalgia of these times as a magical and fantastic period which I continuously evoke in my work.
ME: So let’s talk about your work. You created a group of Java based images called Halley’s series. There are five different works involved, all quite colorful, with each consisting of overlapping squares and rectangles which dissolve and disintegrate. Visually it’s interesting to look at, but I have to say, I don’t really understand the title of the piece—what’s being conveyed?
RFA: In a time where we are talking about virtual museums, this is a series of generative works that reflect on what it means to represent a painting digitally. The idea behind it was to take the digital representation of Peter Halley’s paintings as a starting point, as they can be found on the internet, and make them alive. As such, some of the pixels which compose the images have some living agency and feed from the other pixels which are considered to be their nutrients. Thus when pixels search for food they reinterpret the paintings, changing their chromatic layout through their movement in the virtual canvas.
ME: Oh yes, the artist Peter Halley. Though I must say, I like the Halley’s series in part because it reminds me of some of Josef Albers’ paintings, and to a lesser extent, his furniture designs as well. You may not have been thinking of this Bauhaus master when you made the work. Nevertheless, could you tell me about this grouping of work?
RFA: Yes I am aware of your interest in Bauhaus. However there was no conscious choice of a particular school of thought. I have chosen Peter Halley due to his contrasting palette which seemed ideal for this approach in which the color intensity is what defines a pixel becoming a nutrient or an agent.
Albers’ paintings you refer to might be a good starting point too. Actually now that you mention I might make a version of it in the future . . . it might be interesting.
ME: Are you familiar with Digital Graffiti @ Alys Beach, Florida? I ask because I think you’re medium would be ideal for that venue.
RFA: No I didn’t know it. I am not very familiar with the American scene. But I should definitely apply.
ME: In your piece “AliveLife”, which by the way is a great title, you portray a very famous work by Leonardo DaVinci. That image, like the images in the Halley’s series, disintegrates as well. What does this mean?
RFA: This work came immediately after xTNZ in a time when I was concerned with the representation of the body in the contemporary computer-mediated society. In that sense the Vitruvian Man from Leonardo looked to me as a masterpiece in the sense that it not only represents the body as it depicts the relation of man in the world during the Renaissance. In AliveLive I am resituating this image from a contemporary perspective. Once again, the darker pixels are alive and eat the lighter pixels which are the nutrients. However, here these pixels act as human skin cells, as they have implemented the behavior of the epithelium squamous. So somehow, in a very dystopian comment, the picture doesn’t disintegrate as you say, but it eats itself alive.
ME: Wow, that’s intense. So, if you will, tell me about your experiences working with Java. Why do you choose that medium?
Do you also work with flash, or other animation type tools?
RFA: Java and Flash are great for being so scalable amongst different platforms and work well in the web. The specific choice of Java was my familiarity with the language due to some freelance jobs I had done before as a programmer and during my studies. When it comes to Java3d, it seemed a natural progression from Java. Actionscript became very solid and powerful in recent years with its version 3. I will probably use it as a preferential language for 2D works on the internet in the future. However, now as I am moving to 3D virtual worlds, I am considering using game rendering machines such as Unity3d, which at the price of loosing flexibility, provides many useful functionalities such as the physics engine.
ME: In addition to the various Java pieces you’ve created, I also came across a very intriguing (mpeg?) video on you site, entitled “Senhora da Graça. It’s a film that moves like a mini-documentary, telling a story of nature, using surreal computer graphics.
Could you talk about this project? What’s the meaning of the title? I think I understand the story, but please explain in your own words.
RFA: Oh maybe it is not clear from the video, but Senhora da Graça is an actual virtual world. Somewhere in the website you may find a link to install it in your computer, and then you can play around with the creatures, if you like.
In the village where I grew up, we used to go to a river to play about one or two miles away. Some years ago, they built a dam which flooded the entire valley. Senhora da Graça was the name of the flooded place and is also the name of the newly constructed dam. This work is a memorial to that place, where we grew up, and is built form images taken there around 20 years ago. The virtual world is inhabited by virtual creatures which form a virtual ecosystem residing in computers, which are ironically fed with the energy produced in the dam. All these creatures and shapes in the world evolve due to their interactions making the original images appear unrecognizable.
ME: And similar to “Senhora da Graça”, a moment ago you mentioned “xTNZ.” I’ve watched it and I think find film is a rather beautiful, incorporating iridescent floral colors of fuchsia, pink, teal and mauve.
The written introduction of the video talks about using “artificial life in the context of art.” Then once the video starts, the narrator begins by saying “xTNZ is a garden, a PC-based, private eco-system.”
These are all wonderful concepts…curious and interesting. And by the way, the music is quite lovely—magical, and the sounds fit the imagery well. So please, tell us about that intelligent film of yours.
RFA: Thanks. I had the luck of working on this video with my wife, Joanna Pylak, a very gifted video editor who also worked on the sound. I will let her know your compliments.
xTNZ is once again a video depicting a virtual world where creatures live and interact with each other, evolving in time. Besides that principle, xTNZ is a self portrait as everything you see and hear there are pictures and sounds of my personal body. However everything that is originally mine, or human, evolves by itself and according to their autonomous live and as such a digital autonomous evolution is performed. That is the reason for the title xTNZ, denoting Marshal McLuhan’s idea of the technology extending the body.
ME: I came across your work while browsing the Rhizome website, which as you know is a new media, artists’ community. Though, you’re also in collaboration with PikiProductions, which I suppose is also a community for new media artist as well?
This seems to be a trend in the digital arts community, with art being presented outside of traditional gallery spaces.
Have you given this any though, and if so, how do you see traditional, commercial galleries evolving so as to stay relevant to the cutting-edge?
RFA: Yes, definitely there is a generation of creators making their work outside of the traditional commercial circuit, and finding alternative ways for financing their careers. In that sense, however, it is interesting to witness that the inverse movement is happening as the traditional museums are slowly integrating these internet activists in special collections.
There is no definite rupture I think; historically a similar process happened with performance art and anonymity in the arts from some of the kinetic artists.
They were slowly integrated in the system. In the end it is all part of the art process.
Personally I don’t see the medium as exclusive, rather as a technique. And as such, I use what I consider to be the best technical approach to convey the message I am pursuing in a particular moment.
ME: Rui, it’s been great speaking with you. Any last thoughts you’d like to share?
RFA: I am developing a new major scale project, a MMO, a virtual world dedicated to the former city of Lourenco Marques in Mozambique. Please take a look on youtube at the promotional video. You can find it under the keywords Lourenco Marques Project. I need several volunteers to help in the 3D modeling of the buildings. We are talking about rebuilding a city, so there is plenty of work to do. If anyone is interested please send me your contact to firstname.lastname@example.org .
ME: Thank you. That sounds interesting. Good luck, and I wish you much success in your career.
RFA: Thank you. I wish you all the best on this exceptional magazine and your personal projects.