Wired DECEMBER 8, 2010 - by Tom Cheshire


Hot Chip, onedotzero, United Visual Artists and Jason Bruges all on the same St Petersburg bound flight: was uncomfortably aware that had the plane gone down, your correspondent's death might have gone unreported.

The bevy of cultural tech talent was in Russia for the launch of Yota Space, "a festival of amazing technologies and digital art", curated by mobile internet provider Yota. Held in the huge, defunct Frunzensky department store, the exhibition showcased twenty tech-minded artists from around the world, from newcomers to Brian Eno, over five storeys. roamed every one of them to bring you the highlights.

UVA opened the show, their work Volume occupying the ground floor. You might have seen the installation when it was shown outside at the V&A and South Bank. But here, set inside, it was much more muscular, with the interactive score (by Massive Attack) booming out of the pillars of light and sound, responding to the milling crowd of hipster Russians.

A few floors up, Chris Levine, who created a 3D hologram of the Queen, was showing Light Is Love. This comprised three vertical LED strips. Viewed face on, these seemed merely to be flickering, but as you moved your gaze across from one side to the other, a complete image of a white and red Buddha appeared in your peripheral vision. The LEDs actually display one vertical strip of the whole image, but cycle through these from left to right at a rate of fifty per second, allowing your brain to reconstruct the image as you sweep your vision across it. The effect is an enforced glimpse, what Levine described as a "blipvert". He hoped it would force viewers to give themselves to the present: "The past [is] over, the future never arrives. All that really matters is the present moment."

Another study of the ephemeral was Peasouper (a Guy Ritchie spelling of a term for a thick London fog) by Jason Bruges. Here, four clear cast acrylic boxes, containing a misting glycerol and water mixture, received projections of the viewers/users in the space. In each, the images were distorted to various degrees depending on the mixture inside each case, and played on a time lapse along the tanks: walking along them was like chasing a silent and vanishing ghost of yourself. Bruges said he wanted to explore the idea of "digital narcissism - how images are shared and how people basically enjoy images of themselves". is of course without vanity and lingered for a mere quarter of an hour.

Shane Walter, head of onedotzero, a digital art curator, brought several artists to his space on the floor below. Davide Quayola, a Roman artist living in London, was the best of these: his video piece Strata #1 showed a Renaissance church roof painting. Graphical shards seemed to fall out of the very colours of the original image, video above.

Lab 212, a French art collective and another of Walter's picks, created a musical instrument controlled by Post-It notes. The concept is similar to the TonePad iPhone app. A square grid is laid out; points that run vertically correspond to pitch, while the horizontal running represents their order, left to right. Sticking a Post-It on the grid plays a note, with different Post-It colours signifying different instruments: a camera and home-made software analyses the grid, recognising positions and colours, and renders them into MIDI format with Ableton Live. "It's a way to make the technology disappear," said Pierre Thirion from Lab 212. "Because people don't manipulate technology; it's just paper." Walter, who curated the Decode exhibition at the V&A museum last winter, said that the connection between the digital and physical was his main interest in selecting work. "Code is our new material," he said. "You used to use wood and clay if you were a sculptor. But you can sculpt code too - everything in this place is sculpted."

Half of the floor below was given over to Brian Eno's 77 Million Paintings. Although not a new piece (the former Roxy Music man first released it in 2006), it proved a big draw at its first Russian viewing. It continually combines Eno's paintings in layers, creating entirely new generations, to an ambient soundtrack.

The launch culminated with a performance by Hot Chip, with visuals from Hexstatic. Despite an awful sound setup, the crowd was extremely enthusiastic as the band played recent singles One Lift Stand and I Feel Better, as well as a barnstorming Over & Over. That is, until the St Petersburg police shut the performance down: not the police state in action, but too many decibels for 11.30pm.

Yota Space runs for the next two weeks, until December 19, and will be repeated annually. It's a very ambitious project from a young company (despite having twelve hundred employees, Yota was founded in 2007) that aims to put digital art on the map not only in Russia, but in the wider art world. "Digital art is a ghettoised term", Karen Elmsy, from United Visual Artists, told "You wouldn't find a festival in the UK with this scale and ambition."