Print Screen antics

Gil Nissim and Leslie Ruckman are more than happy to use state-of-the-art technology but also want to draw our attention to the natural world on our doorstep.

Ants become artists in SurveillAnts (photo credit: GAL NISSIM AND LESLIE RUCKMAN)
Ants become artists in SurveillAnts
(photo credit: GAL NISSIM AND LESLIE RUCKMAN)
There are those among us who eagerly anticipate the latest developments in technological gizmos, who simply have to have the brand new iPhone, or the most gargantuan-dimensioned and sharpest sharp-screened TV.
There are also some of us – probably the minority – who try to get by with as much an organic, hands-on existence as possible. We might go as far as to dub the latter technophobes or, on a kinder note, simply more in tune with Mother Nature and less enamored with the scientific achievements of personkind.
If you belong to either camp, you are likely to enjoy the offerings at this year’s Print Screen, which will take place, at its usual berth at the Holon Cinematheque, June 21 to 24. Print Screen 2017 will focus on the connection between biology, art and digital technology under the perfectly natural title of “Animal, Vegetable, Mineral.” The festival will present the creative fruits of artists who engage in interactive technologies and virtual reality, and of others who utilize the groundbreaking scientific practices and themes of gene-engineering, collective behavior, biohacking, robotics and artificial life.
Their artwork explores the limitations of the physical body, exposes us to animal and plant life in innovative eye-opening ways, and prompts questions on ecology, artificial intelligence, humanism/post-humanism, and non-human subjectivity. In short, what you will see over in Holon is designed to build a bridge between science, arts and various cultures around the world that will, hopefully, help us to address the contemporary human condition and the definition of “natural” in a rapidly developing world in which definitions seem to become obsolete in the blink of a robot’s eye.
Gil Nissim and Leslie Ruckman are more than happy to use state-of-the-art technology but also want to draw our attention to the natural world on our doorstep. In fact, some of the creatures the two New York-based students have incorporated in their evolving oeuvre have been a little on the yikes side of good clean “respectable” domestic living. In a previous venture, the two took a much closer look at pigeons and rats.
“I am very interested in creatures that live in our vicinity,” says 27-year-old Nissim, who hails from this part of the world and is close to completing a master’s degree on New York University’s Interactive Telecommunication Program. She has been based in the Big Apple for the last couple of years.
“I came here to see how to combine art and the sciences,” she states, adding that she laid the groundwork for her current endeavor during her bachelor’s degree studies in biology and cognition at the Hebrew University, and even managed some arts studies at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design. Nissim certainly seems to have her academic house in order.
Even so, she says she is still feeling her way through the twilight zone at the interface between the two seemingly disparate fields.
“I am still examining this because there is nothing specific that enables this fusion. I am not quite sure what it involves. Do you use the sciences for art, or art for science? It is a sort of interim thing.”
It may be difficult to define the genrebleed, but what Nissim and Ruckman will show us in Holon is patently evident to the naked uneducated, eye. This time the two students have gone for ants, which may not get quite as much bad press as rats but are still considered an unwanted presence in the home.
“I like looking at forms of life that live very close to us, but we relate to them in a negative way,” Nissim explains. In case you were wondering, there is something of a didactic element to the Nissim-Ruckman coproduction. “We tend to isolate ourselves from nature, with our urban lifestyle. I’d like to get people back to looking at nature – and at ants.”
The truth is that even though we’d prefer to keep ants at arm’s length – at the very least – most of us are cognizant of the fabled work rate of the said creepy crawlies, and of their impressive efficiency.
Those two attributes and others, will become even clearer to Print Screen visitors when they catch an eyeful of SurveillAnts, which Nissim and Ruckman describe as “an interactive, biological installation that explores the unseen world of ants.” The project aims to provoke people’s curiosity about non-human life and touches on themes of emergent intelligence and creation.
“Through SurveillAnts,” Nissim continues, “people can explore the movement of live ants over time, and try to find a rationale for the emergent patterns. The use of surveillance technology transforms the ant paths to colorful drawings and the ants themselves to painters.”
That’s a pretty neat trick – turning the unwittingly sketched paths of the insects into a bone fide work of art. As Nissim notes, it also makes it a lot easier to get what the ants are up to.
If you’ve ever taken the trouble while you’ve been out and about in pastures green to spend a few moments monitoring the activity of an ant colony, as the workers spill out of their subterranean home to grab all manner of objects and transport them back into the invisible maze of tunnels for Godknows-what purpose, one cannot help but be impressed. You might espy one determined little ant pushing and/or pulling some item that might be double its size, or more, somehow finding its way past, over or under various obstacles. And there’ll occasionally be a couple of ants who join forces to shift something even bigger. There’s obviously something going on down there, as the seemingly strictly regimented insects work their behinds off to get the job done, and in splendid unison, whatever that job may be.
As now-88-year-old American biologist E.O. Wilson once sagely observed: “Ants make up two thirds of the biomass of all the insects. There are millions of species of organisms and we know almost nothing about them.” Indeed, they are everywhere. Canadian-American stage and screen actress, comedian and early silent film and Depression-era film star Marie Dressler once humorously pondered, “If ants are such busy workers, how come they find time to go to all the picnics?”
Considering the diminutive workers that are so ubiquitous and getting to know a little more about them, for example courtesy of SurveillAnts, sounds like a more than half-decent idea.
“The ants walk across a white surface, and there is an overhead camera that monitors their movement,” Nissim explains. “The camera, using image algorithms, generates a picture of the routes the ants take.” That, she says, will give us a better handle on how ants go about their business. “We can see how they move, and if they have a preferred direction or way of getting around the white surface.”
So, SurveillAnts will leave us a mite wiser about the much-maligned insect and with a polychromic end product to admire. Sounds like a good deal. Nissim says she hopes gaining more knowledge about ants, and any of Mother Nature’s products that are viewed as being definitively undesirable, will make us a little more tolerant. “I hope we learn to look a little differently at creatures that live in and around us. They have a place in this world, too.”
There is room for a host of thematically relevant works at the Holon Cinematheque next week, including the “E-Byte” exhibition, which will take in the videos, sculpture and VR works that spark our memories of houses and their contents. Other leading Print Screen draws include the “Alien Minds” exhibition, which ponders the end of humanism, and “Dance with flARmingos: Multispecies Dance” by American media artist Kristin Lucas which, as the title suggests, is a Mixed Reality experience that features a dance between humans and virtual flamingos. Meanwhile, Gali Blay’s “Land of Panicutopia – Desert Ark” feeds off the full range of cultural entities that live in Israel, and Ziv Schneider and American counterpart Caitlin Robinson will display a 3D printed portrait series of single-person living spaces and their inhabitants, offering an interpretation of reality through the eyes of an algorithm.
For tickets and m ore information: (03) 502-1555 and www.cinemaholon.org.il


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