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Wednesday 19th - Sunday 23rd February 2003



Click here to access the archived stream of this speech
Colchester Town Hall - Mayors Parlour

The keynote speech by Japanese new media artist Masaki Fujihata expresses a Japanese view of nature and explores technology as a mirror of self reflection.

Towards a new medium with Masaki Fujihata

On Wednesday 19 February 2003, in Colchester Town Hall, world-renowned Japanese digital artist Masaki Fujihata marked the start of Future Physical's Ecotech Network Exchange with a keynote speech.

The affable Fujihata is primarily known for digital installations that map physical rambles in various parts of the world, and combine GPS positioning data, video and still photography, assembled in a very visual manner. He is planning to bring his unique skills to bear on Mersea Island, near Colchester.

He began by investigating mankind's changing relationship with nature through the ages, by drawing a simple circle representing nature and a dot in the middle: man's original position. He said: "Once man developed consciousness, he tried to make a barrier between him and the environment."

"Next, he moved around and, for example, found caves to avoid the rain and roots and branches for making homes." Here, Fujihata drew a squiggly circle around the original dot, still occupying little of the overall circle of nature.

He continued: "Next, he piled up resources, brought materials back into his house and started using wider nature for his survival." Here, he draw a larger concentric squiggly circle. "Then he started farming, so we then tamed nature. This type of deal between man and nature continued until the 18th or 19th century."

Finally, he drew a squiggly circle filling in all but a few extremities of the circle of nature. He said: "When science and technology came into being, man started to use nature in an alternative way, using natural resources such as oil and coal and transferring those materials into other objects. With that invention, man could go anywhere and could use high technology to survive in wild areas."

"Inside the big circle now formed by humans, we face big problems. The problem issue is not about wider nature and humans, but about artificial nature and humans -- that is ecology. Then some humans said we should go back and forget about things like electricity, but that is impossible for us now. Others said that we can solve those problems by developing new technology."

Philosophy, science and nature

Fujihata began to ponder the "Philosophy and science" of the problem between artificial nature and humans: "I considered the concept of art. Even on the ground, you can make a drawing. But dogs don't do that -- they can mark an area with their pee-pee, but humans actually enjoy drawing. Plato invented the idea of mimesis, in which art is a copy of nature. For example, a person trying to create an intimate view of a sunset has respect for nature, but until people were able to make art like that, there was no difference between science and art."

"After the Renaissance, science started and we developed tools for understanding nature, such as the telescope and microscope. Scientific tools gave new visions of nature. Now we have computers, microphones and so on. Finally, Einstein came up with his equation E=MC2, a very simple theory that can explore a variety of things in physics, and a mathematical formula that is a model of the world."

Here, Fujihata returned to his original circle diagram and drew a speech bubble in the middle of it: "What is the problem we are now facing? This circle is on my computer; now all people have the same speech bubble in their brain. But maybe all those speech bubbles are slightly different. People in all fields are now talking about this problem of inclusion and complexity. The reasons for these problem cannot be defined because, they are the kind of problems that happen recursively."

Consciousness and media

Fujihata then tackled the question of consciousness and the media: "When you become conscious, it is dangerous: you have to go to philosophy. Why do we communicate? because everyone knows we will die. We have to be conscious not only of the content and structure of communication, but the problem also is that it is invisible. With artificial nature, like TV, we do not have much consciousness of that kind of abstract environment. In the e-environment, you might say, our consciousness can be controlled by the mass media."

"The first media -- such as pencil and paper -- were used as recording devices. Then came distribution media: books, CDs, videos and so on. Then came retrieving devices, where the topic strongly related to the interface. Then you could extarnalise yourself, which is very important to me: writing and reading at the same time, and expressing what's on the inside. You see what you are by expressing yourself. Having a strong sense of how to understand the medium you are using is a serious thing."

"Take the example of teaching elementary school children about maths using apples (say, here are three apples, here are four, three plus four equals seven). By using apples, teachers are trying to teach about abstraction, but the apples remain material. So the apple is now a medium."

Creating a new medium

"The work I'm doing is about creating a new medium. Most new media are presented as technological innovations, but the way I'm thinking is: change the medium and you will change your consciousness. Then, maybe, the environment, life and ourselves will be seen in a different way."

Fujihata then showed his 1996 project, Light on the Net. This consisted of 49 lightbulbs, in a 7x7 grid, sitting in a real space, observed on a website using a Webcam. People could log on to the site and click on the bulbs, which would turn the corresponding bulbs in the space on or off.

Fujihata said: "Every day that year, someone tried to draw a heart. I also put the 10 most recent IP addresses of people who had accessed the site: it was important for people to know who had just accessed the site. people would never jam with each other: it was too fast -- you had 14 to 20 seconds and in that time, someone else would click a light. One time a guy in LA tried to write "LA" in the lights and at the same, in Tokyo, I tried to write "TYO". For 10 minutes, we chased each other. I got the idea I had to stop, so I drew a smiley face. Everything stopped for about 20 seconds, then he started to draw hair on it. So that was a simple medium we constructed on the Web."

Fujihata then showed a 1992 project involving a walk up Mount Fuji, tracked with a GPS system. First he used the data to plot a 3D image of Mount Fuji, exaggerated so that its height was 12 times what it should have been. Then he used the data to produce a resculpted image of Mount Fuji: "At each point, the GPS gives position and time, which in turn gives speed. So the "exploded" bits in the image correspond to when I was resting." He then replotted Mount Fuji using data gathered when descending; the image proved a lot more like the real geography of Mount Fuji. He explained that was because he climbed down at a high, constant speed.

Finally, he showed a project involving Lake Shinji, in rural Japan. He said; The idea was to use the lake as a drawing pattern, using GPS systems, and it was intended to be participatory with, for example, local fishermen." Armed with a GPS and a digital video camera, Fujihata boarded a tourist boat, starting off on a river which flowed into the lake, recording video synchronised with the GPS information and still photographs at various points. He also equipped cyclists with GPS systems, who rode around the perimeter of the lake. The end result -- a digital installation -- was very striking: the river was delineated by video information, and the trails created by both cyclists and the boat created striking patterns and gave a sense of what the lake looked like on that day.

He said: "I'm now thinking about how to expand this idea to suit Mersea Island. I would like to make the contours of the island with as many participants as possible, then I want to deform the lines according the speed of walking, giving different shapes for the island according to who walked around it."

Finally, he wrapped up; "By changing media, our consciousness can be changed. This kind of consciousness can change our view of ecology, also."

documentation - feb 2003 >>


Towards a new medium with
Masaki Fujihata

Digital Art or Nice Country Walk?

Richard Povall
Tony Beckwith
Masaki Fujihata
Orlando Mathias
Ben Morris

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Credits | Steve Boxer