Rachel Walls – Waterline: A documentation of process and interdisciplinary collaboration between tranSTURM and blackhole-factory

Author’s Note

As a member of tranSTURM, I was personally involved in this project. The interaction between groups that comprise musicians, architects, animators, choreographers, dancers, and sculptors is difficult to constrain or contain within a single theoretical or methodological container. Bringing two creative collectives together is a meeting of multiple minds and influences. The diversity of praxes is unified through process – commonality is sought in interdisciplinary work through interaction itself. This writing documents interactions between two art collectives with distinct motivations and methods in creating artworks. While I may reflect on the process through theoretical discourse, this does not serve to describe the rationale of the collectives on an individual-to-individual basis. Collaboration rarely begins (or ends) with a shared theoretical position. It is a mutual effort toward a point of synchronicity. I reflect on the observations and flow toward unified efforts that emerged from the experience.


In November of 2015, German arts group blackhole-factory came to Sydney as part of the Sydney Olympic Park Authority (SOPA) Artists’ Residency programme. The residency involved collaborative practice led research undertaken with art collective tranSTURM, whose membership is split between Germany and Australia. This paper details the interaction of blackhole-factory and tranSTURM within the context of this residency programme. It also speaks to the lasting influence of intensive co-creative on-site exchange in art practice. Specific workshop periods held in the installation space allowed for periods of intense collaboration. Time between workshops was spent fabricating, animating, and discussing the next iteration of on-site work. In order to frame the interaction, the two groups will be introduced, exploring works that precede the residency project to demonstrate how they operate. Following on from this, the Waterline (2015) residency project will be detailed. Subsequent works undertaken by each group will then be examined as extensions of the practice-led-research undertaken in Waterline. The collaborative process will be detailed in part through direct input from tranSTURM and blackhole-factory artists, and further through the creative output from and between each collective. Process and rationale will be presented to provide a deeper understanding of the research and practice implemented on site. The aim of the writing is to demonstrate the transformative and progressive impact of the workshops for all involved.

About blackhole-factory

blackhole-factory’s website positions the group as “an independent intermedia arts group working at the intersection of the performing and audio visual arts, integrating interactive technology and subversive low-tech aesthetics.” (blackhole-factory 2016a, n.p.) Directed by artists Elke Utermöhlen and Martin Slawig, blackhole-factory uses a range of homemade hardware in combination with software tools such as MAX/MSP/Jitter (Cycling ’74, 2015) to process, visualise, and sonify data. Their performance pieces exist across a range of networks that augment reality by means of self-deciding systems. Performers interacting with the system do so without predictability of outcomes in a live performance context (blackhole-factory 2016a, n.p.). blackhole-factory undertakes collaborations with a wide range of artists from a variety of disciplines.[1] A strong example of this collaborative performance work is found in their 2014 telematic improvisation, The Flight of the SeaSwallow.

The Flight of the SeaSwallow (2014)

blackhole-factory’s The Flight of The SeaSwallow (2014) has importance in the context of the Waterline project. The technology used to drive this interactive networked music performance was brought into the residency for research and development. The Flight of The SeaSwallow features a system that allows artists in locations around the world to influence and input into the artwork as shown in Figure 1.







Figure 1: (L-R) Elke Utermöhlen, Marc Sloan, Roger Mills, Martin Slawig interact with the SeaSwallow environment. Image courtesy of blackhole-factory, 2014.

Artists explore the virtual space of the artwork by means of sensors attached to their wrists. Their co-navigation of the virtual space triggers different archival images and sounds, which become part of the performance. Artists can influence virtual location individually or as a swarm. The resultant media acts as a trigger for the artists in musical improvisation, which happens simultaneously in response to (and collaboration with) the archival media. This improvisation is facilitated by the intermediary of technological interface, which links artists from different locations in a somatic-telematic relationship. Participant artist Roger Mills describes the facets of the work in terms of technologies and praxes, stating:

Flight of the Sea Swallow is an audiovisual telematic performance and interactive 3D virtual environment that draws on and develops a range of interdisciplinary art and technology practices, spanning the areas of networked music performance (NMP), virtual cross-reality environments, and global sound maps. (Mills 2016, p. 68)

Use of archival media collected on research journeys clash as members of the group trigger different visual and aural assets. These interact, interfere with one another, and create new combined sounds and images. This serves as catalyst for the musicians’ collaboration, stimulating new sound and image in the telematic performance components. The work points to travel, journeys, and the distance that separates places, people, and cultures. Sea Swallow considers acts of migration, drawing on the habits of the Arctic Tern, notions of nomadic behaviour, and journeys of returning (Mills, 2016). The act of leaving and returning, simulated and re-enacted through the use of archival media, echoes histories of migration and diaspora. Re-visiting places through documentation as a networked experience brings a sense of returning to multiple spirit homes through the SeaSwallow interface. Undertaken from blackhole-factory’s base in Braunschweig with participation of artists Roger Mills (Sydney) and Marc Sloan (New York), ideas of travel and dislocation are both enhanced and shattered in this networked music performance. Clashing concepts of environment and influence are simultaneously realised as the artists negotiate the shared navigation space. As much as the artists navigate a virtual space and gain feedback from it, sensors at the locations of each artist also contribute environmental data to the work. The process becomes one of feedback and sharing – information is amalgamated and becomes an influence in the work. blackhole-factory reflect on this process:

each performer is contributing site specific sound, images and text as well as climatic data such as temperature and humidity to the database. The networked ensemble moves through the telematic spherical environment containing data from various locations via GPS coordinates by manipulating 3D hands viewable on screen. This triggers a collage of audiovisual content for improvised interpretation and response as the ensemble navigates through them. Audiences at the performance space and online experience the networked performers moving throughout the 3D tele-environment in improvised performances responding to sound objects as they appear and cluster. (blackhole-factory 2016d, n.p.)

blackhole-factory brought the Sea Swallow project to Sydney for demonstration and further development during the residency at Sydney Olympic Park’s Newington Armoury. The research and development component of their residency was not only instrumental in our co-creative process, it also helped to test technology and processes that would form their next project in Braunschweig. Roger Mills, who was a participant in the Sea Swallow project, is also a tranSTURM artist. Roger provided transTURM artists with insight to blackhole-factory’s methodologies, relating his experiences, processes, and collaborative outcomes with the German-based group. blackhole-factory’s use of telematic live performance and automation through programming exist in direct opposition to the work of tranSTURM. Rather than working together online in real time, tranSTURM artists individually respond to briefs in relative isolation. This difference between the blackhole-factory process of designing a system within which to improvise and the tranSTURM improvisation into a system of choreographed animation became a focus fuelling interaction between the groups.

About tranSTURM

tranSTURM is an interdisciplinary art collective with members from a diverse range of creative practices, including practitioners in architecture, animation, choreography, and sound design. The group’s focus has been on site-specific installation art and environmental projection. tranSTURM benefits from a wide range of affiliated artists and guest collaborators who bring additional skillsets and vibrancy to the team on a project-to-project basis. There are no defined boundaries or roles within the team, simply artists with skills to lend to projects. The group centres on the organisational leadership of Chris Bowman and Anita Kelly.

tranSTURM artists benefit from skill sharing and interdisciplinary collaboration within the group. A deeper engagement emerges from shared practice, enhancing the skills of each artist in the group. Guest artists bring a fresh approach to the group on an ongoing basis, enhancing deep practice development. While tranSTURM incorporates many artists with different backgrounds and interests, the language of tranSTURM work has a consistency of theme and visual appearance. The growth and trajectory of the group has been shaped not so much by the varied ‘voices’ within the collective, but along an arc of cooperative development. Notions of natural and created environment, conservation, and human intervention are central to the works undertaken by the group. Working with the built environment as a canvas, tranSTURM draws connections between the natural world and the world humankind has created, returning the modern space to a synthetic environmental past. Artists contribute creative fragments: animate assets, sculptural forms, substrates for projection; these are transfigured into an imagined world. The works are predominately site-specific, drawing out ideas and dialogues between artists, viewers, and the site itself. Some works call for a more conservative approach that relies solely on traditional notions of the screen, but where possible other concepts and assets are developed.

Heroic (2015)

Heroic (2015) was commissioned by Sydney Olympic Park Authority (SOPA) for site-specific projection within the entertainment precinct of Sydney Olympic Park. The work reflects upon the ecology of the parklands, and in particular the incorporation of several shipwrecks within the park’s mangroves. One of these shipwrecks, the Heroic, became a focal point of the work. Nature has reclaimed and repurposed what humanity has shed – the river, mangrove, trees, and wreckage form a new hybrid ecosystem that provides shelter for birds, fish, and plant life. The Heroic is symbolic of environmental themes, central to which is human interaction with the nature-space. This includes intervention of mankind in nature, and the impermanence of humanity in the natural world. The focus within these areas explore nature’s incorporation, reclamation, and evolution of built environment into the natural environment; as well as balanced conservation, allowing man-made artifacts to become a healthy part of an ecosystem. These factors contribute to a cycle of life – completion, renewal, and returning – as both an environmental truth and myth.

Heroic contemplates humanity and its compatibility with nature through an imagined world of intrusion and intervention. tranSTURM worked with choreographer Dean Walsh, whose taxonomical dance system Prime Orderly (2012) interprets the behaviour of marine life forms. Dean performed several Prime Orderly modalities in a motion capture lab, and the resulting data laid the foundation for the 3D and 2D creatures that filled the virtual river system of Heroic. There are also hand-drawn elements inspired by Dean’s performance, rather than being direct extrapolations of data. These assets provided a reflection on movement and flow within the work.

Collaborations with dancers and choreographers have resulted in a strong sense of choreography in composition of tranSTURM works. In Heroic, Dean’s performances were visualised by several animators. Each tranSTURM artist has autonomy in interpreting data, within the overall brief of ecology and with respect of Dean’s Prime Orderly system. This allows focus to be on the themes of the work, rather than the data of the performance. The resulting assets were in turn were choreographed to build a synthetic underwater world. This is exemplified in Figures 2 and 3.






Figure 2: Asset based on Dean Walsh’s movement by tranSTURM artist, Daniel Scott. Image courtesy of tranSTURM, 2014.









Figure 3: Daniel Scott’s asset integrated into an environment for Heroic (2014). Image courtesy of tranSTURM, 2014.

Figure 2 shows a frame of output by tranSTURM artist Daniel Scott, working with motion capture footage from a session with Dean Walsh. Figure 3 shows Scott’s media choreographed into a sequence. The idea of choreographing animated assets to create a synthetic world has become a theme of placemaking and returning to nature for tranSTURM. By creating imagined forms and environments, themes of ecology and simultaneously of urbanisation are invoked. The digital constructions of environment/ecology speak to the modernity of civilization, and a longing for a lost natural history. The origins of this process are heavily influenced by extensions into dance through contact with Meryl Tankard and Dean Walsh.

Despite intense abstraction of the data through the production process, the trace of the dancer remains. The practice of dance has unique ways of not only informing but also stimulating creative practice. The influence of somatic practice in interdisciplinary co-creation is highly conducive to lateral thinking and learning. According to Bowie and Soriano, this time-space learning “enlivens subject matter in intertextual and interdisciplinary ways” (2011, p. 45). The collaborative interrogation of process is enhanced by the somatic nature of the material being interpreted. Movement, the core principal of animation, internalised as sense and externalised as projection, is well represented by dance as a metaphor. Animation in Heroic, as movement, simultaneously removes dance from itself and returns it to a primal form. The presence of each artist in the project brought a different manifestation of this transmutative cycle forward, informing and influencing one another in production until a unity was met in the choreographic process.

The collaboration: introducing Waterline (2015)

blackhole-factory’s visit to Australia was facilitated by the SOPA Newington Armoury Artists Residency Program. Elke Utermohlen and Martin Slawig lived on site at the Newington Armoury during their residency. The Armoury was a storage facility for military ordinance from 1882 – 1997 (Sydney Olympic Park Authority 2015, n.p.). The site now provides facilities for ceramicists, sculptors, printers, painters, performers, and more; extending a culture of arts practice into the site. The specialised ordinance storage buildings provided controlled environments highly conducive to projection and soundscape installation work. Apart from running workshops and engaging with local artists, Elke and Martin also developed concepts based on the data collection sensors used in the SeaSwallow project. This became an important theme of the collaborative project undertaken in Sydney, Waterline (2015). A sensor was attached to a fallen tree branch, and suspended in the river to detect the rise and fall of the water level at site of the residency as demonstrated in figure 4.






Figure 4: The waterline sensor. Image courtesy of blackhole-factory, 2015.

This was designed to tie the data directly to the site of the work. Sadly, with the heat of summer, the water levels were so low that there was not much data to be gathered. This led the team to simply seek another means of gathering data, and many ideas were explored. For example, rubbish found on site was collected and visually scanned on a turntable to become data for visualisation (see figure 5). There were many tests that tied the artists to the landscape. The recording and processing of audio data on site became a significant place-making exercise for blackhole-factory.






Figure 5: Scanning rubbish for video data projection. Image courtesy of blackhole-factory, 2015.

Waterline provided an opportunity for both tranSTURM and blackhole-factory to outline and demonstrate process in a unique location. Using techniques from blackhole-factory’s 2014 production, The Flight of the SeaSwallow, became a point of focus for workshops. The processes involved in blackhole-factory works begin with creation of a pathway allowing input data to become output sound and vision. Data processing is obviously important, but the focus that blackhole-factory placed on the input as a process of placemaking, as well as the themes of migration and cultural movement evident in SeaSwallow, were conceptually remarkable. There were salient aspects of this work that stood out in contrast to orthodox notions of animation production, which is more typical of tranSTURM production processes. The deliberate engineering of the SeaSwallow’s interactive system to be difficult to ‘control’ suggests interruption or destruction through automation. In the disruption of control, emphasis moves to the input and output of the ‘system’ as a non-system. The interface of SeaSwallow is exploratory, fostering performance interaction as improvisation through somatic experience. The disruption of control is a removal of movement as recognition, forming what Deleuze refers to in Difference and Repetition as a “natural blockage” (2004, p. 17). The denial of predictable or logical movement in SeaSwallow is contrasted by its presentation of ephemera: the system outputs memories in the form of archival media. In Matter and Memory, Bergson discusses the relation of recollection and movement as intertwined through perception (sensation) in the present, which become collective recollections of memory to be triggered “…only by chance, either when an accidentally precise determination of our bodily attitude attracts them or when the very indetermination of that attitude leaves a clear field to the caprices of their manifestation” (Bergson, 1970, p. 129). The Flight of the SeaSwallow incorporates both the intention to activate memory, and deny a sense of pattern and recollection in diagetic navigation. These contrasting actions of the SeaSwallow interface create a longing to understand its logos, and rewards failure to do so with the stimulation of memory. The SeaSwallow interface is, in this respect both an interactive sensory object and a synthetic whole. It provides a form of representation that comes with limitations and frustrations. The system brings an unpredictability that both denies and restores movement, despite the blockage that the system presents. This haphazard disruption fosters an infinite set of creative possibilities. The SeaSwallow interface forms an experiential convergence that is the catalyst of blackhole-factory’s media-creation process, and the means of this telematic performance work. The SeaSwallow interface drives creative process as a spontaneous event. The focus of stimulation and feedback is not topically different from that of orthodox animation, where one might view draft work and make revisions; however, in orthodox practice, there is a desired ‘answer’- a final goal in the movement-image that exists as a ‘recognisable’ final form; and a set of values against which to appraise one’s efforts. There is a set path to navigate and a goal; and both are clearly articulated – the speculative markets of distribution and exhibition would define the ‘value’ of a filmic work. The process of feedback particular to blackhole-factory is driven by difference: their practice places animation as a subject-object beyond orthodox cultural presumptions of the medium. For blackhole-factory there is only sensation. As a form of consumption, sensory experience exists at odds with modern ideals and constructs of consumerism, value, distribution, and exchange. Simultaneously, all movement-images are reducible to the quality of sensation and the act of consumption. This reducibility highlights assumptions made in a capitalist structure about artefacts as items of cultural commodity. The SeaSwallow project actively returns animation to itself as a “pure form” – not in the context Richter described in his writings on Absolute Film (Richter 1951; Dickerman 2012), but in a manner that speaks to the social agenda of the day. As constructivism and machinism were components of the zeitgeist surrounding the era of the Absolute Film movement (Elder 2008), perhaps the current geist is simply of consumption? Or has film form become so sophisticated that the articulation of the camera’s eye has taken on a new modality?

Deleuze’s first thesis on movement in Cinema 1 targets “montage, the mobile camera and the emancipation of the viewpoint” (1986, p. 3) as historic demarcations between reproduction and construction of matter; or, moving from film to film form. These early emancipations have persisted as foundations of orthodox screen media production. Neither tranSTURM or blackhole-factory produce the type of movement-image that dominates the discourse of Cinema 1. The proxy of camera exists in multiple forms in digital animation, bridging the old world of film to new technologies. Outside of normative film form, however, these proxies cease to have relevance. What is the point of the camera’s eye when the camera does not strictly exist? If sensors are the input and the screen is the output, how does orthodoxy maintain a presence as a comparative form in analysis and position of a work? In terms of process, tranSTURM and blackhole-factory accept certain orthodoxies of the movement-image, while promoting emancipation of form. The destruction of reproduction as preface to construction is represented by methodologies of both blackhole-factory and tranSTURM. Both groups subvert input for the sake of output.

In SeaSwallow, issues of cognition, recognition, and memory are evoked in the alteration of creation, production, and reproduction present. As an interactive system, the causal environment replaces cognition and recognition with navigation and destination. Memory is represented by archival material accessed through the project interface. Even though all the elements fall into place, there is still a haphazard, destructive quality invoked by simply denying control of the movement-image. In Heroic, human movement is captured as data, which is then modified through selective processing and the attribution of data to a non-human animate output. tranSTURM speaks of these outputs, or animator ‘answers’ to the question of abstracting human movement, as assets. These answers are choreographed and merged to create a final image that is a composite of many digital assets. While the original data input does not resemble the output, each artist has a unique style that is apparent in his or her assets, and therefore the trace of authorship is present in the final work. The difference in individual processes is met with the sameness of covering one’s path – the destruction of the source, in merging assets into a homogeneous final work. Comparing the works Heroic and Flight of the SeaSwallow in this context, it could be said that blackhole-factory put destruction up front, prefacing creative process; and tranSTURM saves destruction for the final stages of production.

The quest that emerged from this set of observations was one of a new and shared destruction: to escape representation through a process that rendered work unrecognisable and unpredictable. Reducing individual input to traces fostered an outcome that was synergistic. In seeking to co-create, the erasure of identifiable artists’ traits provided evidence of integration. The desire to escape representation manifested through optical mechanisms that destroyed the carefully crafted integration of tranSTURM assets. This physical intervention returned the work to the mechanical aspect of the filmic apparatus. The ‘Absolute Film’ movement sought to escape the tyranny of the subject-object (Elder 2010). Through Waterline, artists sought to escape the tyranny of authorship in order to return the movement-image to an ideal form. In Harmony and Dissent, Bruce Elder identifies the filmic medium as natively outside recognition, positioning the basic qualities of “insubstantial ephemerality – its being nothing more (or less) than coloured light – and its dynamism” (ibid, p. 82) as the foundation of abstraction. Elder further suggests that “These two properties allow film to escape from everything fixed, stable and enduring, and thus avoid representation (and meaning) altogether” (ibid, p. 82). If film avoids representation in its ideal form, does repetition fill the void of representation? The cyclic returnings and departures generated in Waterline would suggest this is possible. It is, however, impossible to attain an ideal form; and while representation may seem absent from media, salient aspects of movement-image can become representation at any moment. The Absolute Film movement sought a utopia of form focusing on the cinematic apparatus. Artists such as Hans Richter, whose obsession with the camera’s eye as a pure cinematic tool, exemplify a rejection of the external world in favour of the cinematic apparatus (Dickerman, 2012). It was not unique of the Absolute Film movement to elevate art to a position beyond audience, there are examples across creative disciplines. Anton Kaes compares “The Absolute Film” movement to other creative developments of ideal form:

The title “The Absolute Film” was an effective marketing label for nonnarrative, nonrepresentational filmmaking that emphasized the elementals, the “absolutes,” of film language: film as film…The title also resonated with the poésie pure of French Symbolists, the Absolute Poesie of German Expressionists, and, of course, Richard Wagner’s concept of “absolute music,” which – in contrast to “program music” – does not reference anything outside itself. (Kaes 2012, p.346)

This emphasis of artwork as a contained non-referential medium suggests an erasure of the human; particularly of the audience, which acts as representative of broader society. If, as Kaes suggests, the creative work is distinct from items such as “program music,” it is not designed for public consumption. Given that music or other artforms need to be observed in order to exist, this is problematic in practicality. As an ideal is unattainable, removal of the audience, as representative of society, reduces art to a non-object. Working hard to create nothing invokes the Dada movement, which was heavily involved in birthing Abstraction as a genre (Dickerman 2012; Turvey 2013). The procedural destruction of animation undertaken at the Armoury is evocative of this aesthetic. Escaping the tyranny of determination via collective destruction also reduces art to a non-object. Despite efforts to control and direct the destruction, it was not something that could be refined, only undertaken. Destruction is not annihilation, and traces of artworks remained, becoming artwork in the absence of its source creations: a transmutation of the sensory-object as outcome of collective input and destruction. The experiments in destruction were undertaken in a space devoid of audience. Many of the outcomes were very quickly dismantled or reconfigured; never seen by anyone apart from tranSTURM and blackhole-factory artists. This was not a conscious exclusion so much as a condition of our co-creative workshop periods.

These workshops had very few limitations – simply dates and times for the work to be undertaken. The process was informal and prosocial. This assisted in the development of discrete structures for creative knowledge sharing. Mutual creative process enquiries manifested in live installation workshops. As example, the demonstrated control system of the SeaSwallow project influenced the focus on disruption and intervention within the tranSTURM collective. SeaSwallow’s control system, which does not assure any single artist of complete control, only influence within a system (blackhole-factory, 2016d, n.p.), stimulated tranSTURM artists to actively disrupt and interfere with animation as a means to explore the idea of control and system. Using a physical intervention mechanism as seen in Figure 6, the artists created an ecosystem that truly was a mixture of control and chaos. Any artist could re-arrange the components of the system at any time. Constant change and evolution was a feature of the chamber, which existed in a state of ongoing experimentation.






Figure 6: Projection through Perspex sculpture to distort animation asset created by Holger Deuter. Chris Bowman documenting process. Image courtesy of tranSTURM, 2015.

The themes that SeaSwallow explored were also resonant with tranSTURM’s ongoing meditations on the role of humanity in the (un)natural ecosystem. tranSTURM artists were able to integrate this theme to the projection and destruction in the chambers of Building 20 of The Armoury, which itself speaks to themes of human intervention in the nature space and destruction, having been built as a storage facility for military ordinance. The environment highlighted destruction as a research process. The study of destruction led to the creation of high contrast media for projection through the Perspex sheeting sculptures. This was an attempt to create forms that somehow would survive the destructive process, not in a form that was recognisable, but one that was visually effective. The final outcome was a surreal aquatic space of meditation, as demonstrated in Figure 7.







Figure 7: Strong refraction and distortion of animation by Holger Deuter. Image courtesy of tranSTURM, 2015.

This again informed the blackhole-factory component of the installation, which used tranSTURM animation environmental data as input for further processing and output via MAX MSP Jitter. The process of interchange in workshops was duplicated from artist interaction to artwork interaction, incorporating the two entities have very different procedural approaches to their art. Elke Utermöhlen of blackhole-factory noted that

sharing building 20 with the tranSTURM artists group for the Waterline project we found their artistic approach to materials quite similar to the way the blackhole-factory is working: gathering data from the observation of nature or natural movements, using them to create digital structures/ movements/ entities, and then bringing them back to contact with physical objects and space. We could see that we are working with similar roots, using different tools for the creation of new spaces. (Utermöhlen 2016, p. 1)

By interacting and sharing ideas and processes involved in art creation, works for both groups that followed the residency profited from a new position created in this intersection.

Different processes

The technological dependencies unique to each group have a direct effect on workflow and interaction. One of the benefits of this collaboration was consideration of planning and implementation between the groups based on ‘comfort zones’ – habits of creative theme and technical reliance – for content creation. tranSTURM has had a workflow of briefing artists and handing out tasks to complete. This is similar to a more industrial workflow, where labour is divided to streamline production. Each animator will work on assets for inclusion in projects, and these are drawn together into a final form. The focus is on planning around people and skills that they have to contribute. There is an assembly process that brings the work together after individual artists work independently. In contrast, the methods that guide blackhole-factory are guided by design and intention of the work from a planning and programming perspective. This often has a requirement of technology development and testing to allow the installations to function, but relinquishes control of the performative outcomes of the work, which occur in real time. blackhole-factory are still incorporating multiple skills and there is still agency among members, but the output is the concept – the design is a system for permitting performance within parameters. The design concept needs to be firm, but the outcome is given over to immediacy of interactive outcomes. In contrast, a tranSTURM work requires a fluidity of development. Each artist works with and around each other and an overall concept. The work is shaped toward a final form for installation. The end result is not intended to be an interactive system, so the only functional requirements are related to the site requirements and the brief. tranSTURM works begin fuzzy and become concrete, which is the opposite creative flow is observed in blackhole-factory’s process. The interaction between the two groups led to sharing methods of ideation. Practice-led research workshops afforded the groups a chance to understand and compliment each other’s processes. These workshops were very much like jam sessions, with experimentation, implementation, and discussion of further work. The benefits of the interaction were immense. This is evidenced by the outputs of each group following on from the workshop period during blackhole-factory’s residency in Sydney.

After Waterline: works from both groups

A.O.S.C. – The Agents of Synchronicity (blackhole-factory, 2016c)

During the Waterline residency, blackhole-factory researched new ways to use sensor data. Prototypes of the devices that became known as Agents – sensors that took in a range of information about the environment around them – were put to use on site. Wind, water movement, light on plants, and the moving of tree branches were connected to light and sound in Building 20. This was important in developing The Agents of Synchronicity (2016c), a work that directly followed on from the Waterline and SeaSwallow projects. As described on the blackhole-factory website,

The Agents of Synchronicity was a 24-hour live performance of auditory data fed from 5 locations around the world. The information was simultaneously sonified, visualised, and 3D printed. The foundation of the idea was to represent societies through the sound of the location, using an autonomous sensor system. A.O.S.C. considers anthropocenic notions of the autonomous nature of dispersed environmental events, and their repercussions on the world in which we live. (blackhole-factory 2016b, n.p.)

The agents and their hosts were:
agent01: Berlin, Germany – Barbara Slawig
agent02: Lviv, Ukraine – Ostap Manulyak, Mykhaylo Barabash
agent03: Victoria, Canada – Paul Walde
agent04: Londrina, Brazil – Chris Vine
agent05: Sydney, Australia – Roger Mills
installation: Braunschweig, Germany – Elke Utermöhlen, Martin Slawig

The agents recorded auditory and other environmental data for visualisation in Braunschweig. Each participant had to situate their agent (situated sensor device as shown in Figures 8 and 9) so it would operate without fail during the performance, and provide a constant data stream to the performance space.






Figure 8: Caption Photo of an A.O.S.C. ‘agent’ – image courtesy of blackhole-factory, 2016.










Figure 9: Inside Agent 2 – image courtesy of blackhole-factory, 2016.

In this work, unlike SeaSwallow, improvisation was not required. The autonomy of environment was key to the philosophy of the work. As the hours passed in the 24-hour performance, more and more sculptures were created, as shown in Figure 10.







Figure 10: The agents’ data given form. Image courtesy of blackhole-factory, 2016.

As some cities became quiet at night, others would begin to bellow with the sound of morning traffic. Each city represented unique timezones and seasons, and the quality of each – despite being abstracted in sonification of data – lent a sense of difference and individualism to each agent. Contrasting this, the sculptures created from the data stream acted to unify and homogenise the information into similarly delicate pillars.

Vivid: |flow#1-3#fließen|, (tranSTURM, 2016)

The experience of working with blackhole-factory was highly influential in the next tranSTURM work, undertaken for Sydney’s annual Vivid Light Festival. Vivid comprises a range of artistic, scholarly, and cultural happenings. The Light festival is the main attraction of Vivid. Historically, Vivid was a festival of light and animation, projecting abstract works onto the cityscape. Over the years, as the festival has grown, it has developed into a festival of ideas, light, and music. The festival generates an extraordinary amount of tourism, and this has grown exponentially over the last few years. According to organising body, Destination NSW, the 2016 festival set a strong record of growth on previous years, stating, “more than 2.3 million people attended [in 2016] … an increase of 35.4 per cent on last year’s attendance of 1.7 million” (Destination NSW 2016, n.p.) There are sites throughout Sydney that form the Light festival. Many events occur in established tourist districts, however in more recent years additional sites outside the central tourist districts have been gradually added to the programme.

tranSTURM was fortunate to participate in the first indoor Vivid precinct. The Galleries is a retail arcade space located in a high-traffic area of central Sydney. The site features two access corridors on opposite sides meeting in a central area, forming an ‘x.’ The location of the arcade and its use as a thoroughfare by city dwellers suggested a thematic foundation of migration and movement, resonant with the SeaSwallow project. The daily commute as a migration, the flow of human traffic through the built environment is a similar yet antithetical movement to the Arctic Wren that stimulated blackhole-factory in their SeaSwallow work prior to Waterline. The ability to find meaning in the architectural space was strongly influenced by our collaborative work at The Armoury. The speed with which the concept responding to the site was developed is a direct outcome of interactions with blackhole-factory.

tranSTURM wanted to imagine an environment that spoke to the site and human movement within the architectural space. The understanding that an era lost to modernity, the built environment was once a nature-space, and has been replaced by the built environment; that the built environment is the habitat of the modern human – comes with a longing for a return to nature-space. The artwork explores bringing that desire into manifestation through imagined ecosystems. This synthetic trace of nature brings flow into the space, mimicking the daily migrations of commuters. The 18 screens of the installation interact to create dialogue between elements of the nature-space. They encourage traffic flow through the space of exhibition. The central area of the arcade became a space of congregation and exchange: the retail space reconfigured as the art space, as shown in Figures 11 &12.






Figure 11: Central screen of Vivid Light 2016 Galleries installation, |flow#1-3#fließen|. Image couresy of tranSTURM, 2016.






Figure 12: View down corridor of Galleries mall, Vivid Light Galleries installation, |flow#1-3#fließen|. Image couresy of tranSTURM, 2016.

Design and Improvisation: Conclusion

Development time with blackhole-factory facilitated a different group work focus within tranSTURM. This had a direct influence on the process of production in |flow#1-3#fließen|. For the first time, rather than each animator doing work on assets independently, animators were working together in front of a single computer, discussing and interacting in the creation phase. The focus on design and planning became more structured, and the collaborative process brought efficiency to the implementation of the work. Decisions about style, direction, and meaning were interrogated and resolved as work was undertaken. There was a sense of improvisation in animation – while still working within a set framework and brief, there were no storyboards or themes proposed beyond the ideas that came about in the Waterline workshops. The interaction with blackhole-factory had guided tranSTURM to the point of the Vivid Light installation work. tranSTURM had been allocated to The Galleries site at very short notice. The entire production time was three weeks, involving four animators on two continents. Once picture lock was achieved this was to be sent to composer Roger Mills for musical score, meaning time was of the essence in order to turn around a completed work. The site-specific collaboration workshops of Waterline provided an immediacy of outcome that made it natural to continue into the production of |flow#1-3#fließen|. The work is roughly 7 minutes in duration, and considering each of eighteen large-format screens had unique content suspended in an architectural space, it was an undertaking that demonstrates the benefit of team interaction workshops, and feeling free to step away from studio structures and orthodoxy. Ultimately Waterline cultivated a lateral, reflexive, creative flexibility in the tranSTURM team. The benefits of interdisciplinary practice are subtle in their transformation, however the transformation is evident in output. The power of group research and practice is also evident in the feasibility of undertaking larger projects. The desire to take on larger works also fuels the induction of more members to transdiciplinary teams such tranSTURM, futher invigorating and facilitating a diverse and a larger set of works.

This research is supported by an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship.

Rachel Walls is a PhD Candidate at the University of Technology Sydney and a Lecturer for the School of Communication and Creative Industry, Charles Sturt University.


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[1] For a full overview of collaborations and projects, visit http://www.blackhole-factory.com

© Rachel Walls

Edited by Amy Ratelle