Floating Structure: A Platform for Artistic Measurements and Research

This text is the preliminary outcome of a research project going back to 2003/2004 and developed jointly by Franz Xaver and Armin Medosch. It has a theoretical and artistic dimension as well as an activist one. At the point of its inception stood questions relating to the crisis of art in informational capitalism. The project sets out to bring some clarifications by word and deed about the relationships between art and technology, art and science and the role of the artist at the beginning of the 21st Century.


A first step was the conception of the Waves exhibition and its realisation in Riga 2006 and Dortmund 2008. Parallel to that a long term research project was started into paradigm changes in media art and the relationship between art, technology and social change. Practical and experimental work was done by fitting out the MS Franz Feigl as a research vessel and by working with wireless technologies and energy systems.

The first prototype, MS Franz Feigl

This culminated into the two months research residency Liquid Territories at Laboral, Gijon. This text is a shortened version of a research report written after the end of the residency in German. The project gained new urgency through the adaptation of the vessel Eleonore as a research platform. The Eleonore is currently lying in the winter harbour at the river Danube in Linz and through its ongoing adaptation the project has come a good deal closer to realisation.

The autonomous artistic measurement ship Eleonore in the harbour in Linz. Some more images and documentation (in German) by Franz Xaver Eleonore@stroem.ungat


Floating structure is conceived as a swimming platform for conducting artistic, theoretic and curatorial work, blurring the boundaries between those areas and opening up new areas for artistic explorations. The project proceeds along a close link between practical and theoretical work thereby developing new experimental methodologies.

In a first step a set of parameters, restraints and requirements was developed, defining the basic range of possibilities for the project. These are:

The floating structure should be an autonomous system, that is, in particular it should be independent of energy which it does not produce itself. It should use renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and wave energy and it must not use more energy than it can produce itself.

The floating structure should allow people to live on it. It should serve as a basic habitat which allows people to live and work there, if only for limited periods.

The floating structure should be capable of producing food and water. While aiming at full autarky, it is also okay if it does that only to a certain degree in an initial test phase.

The floating structure should be able to communicate with its environment. It should be able to produce and process data about its immedeate environment and communicate with the outside world. (This was originally conceived as a sort of status report, a daily transmission of data about its 'being' in the world; this has been extended considerably, see section on measurements below.)

The floating structure should meet all the requirements of safety on water and it should peacefully coexist with its environment causing no damage or pollution in the short and long term.

The floating structure should serve as a base for artists who both collaborate in the building of the floating structure and its usage as a medium of artistic research.

The floating structure should be built at minimum cost using pre-existing parts and recycling technologies where possible.

Prototype 1, MS Franz Feigl, radar reflector and solar panel, 2007

Research buoy

As it became clear that the floating structure is a long term project which implies mobilising considerable resources, a complimentary project was conceived. In a first phase a research buoy could be built. This buoy should fulfil a minimal set of requirements. It should also be energy autonomous, conduct some measurements and communicate with the enviornment. The buoy could be equipped with WLAN (5.2 - 5.6 GHz), a sonar, GPS, webcam, a power saving linux board and a set of sensors for water salinity, wind and air humidity; it also needs a radar reflector and should provide optical warning signs for swimmers and water vehicles. The research buoy should be built first as a proof of concept. As it turns out, a research buoy is currently being built at Stadtwerkstatt, Linz, in parallel to the adaptation of the Eleonore which both can be expected to be operational by summer 2010.

Research topics

Proof of concept: the project needs to be realised at whichever level to provide proof of concept; it needs to be shown that it makes sense that artists engage with the uncertainty of water and waves to enrich the vocabulary of arts. Theoretic speculation and book knowledge is not enough.

Water and Information: Water is not only the basis of life, it was also created at or shortly after the moment of the Big Bang. Nowadays, in the information society, "information" is considered the most important "raw material". In the current economy, characterised as informational capitalism, information has taken on a very dangerous dimension. Information technologies are at the heart of the surveillance society and financial markets. Information technologies are developing a powerful grip on markets, natural resources and human subjectivities. Is there a possibility of relating the concept of information - based on information theory (Shannon and Weaver 1948) - with water? Water is said to be capable of storing information, but only for nanoseconds. This property is based on the structure of the water molecule which serves as an electrical dipole. Could this capacity be expanded or further explored? This property of water is also linked with myths about water in different cultures where, for example, water is seen as a two-sided mirror, through which another reality can be reached (there are of course many other myths about water; those myths can be more systematically collected as one axis of research).

The floating structure serves as an artificial coastline, a borderline between land and water, nature and culture. By creating the floating structure an aquatic civilisation is postulated. Water covers 9/10s of earth's surface.Not the outer universe, the oceans are the final frontier. We need to engage with this 'borderline' where water and information meet. Thus, the borderline is not conceived as a strict separation but rather as a crossing, a meeting point, a zone of transitions - a line whose full meaning we have not yet understood. In information theory information is created by difference, out of redundancy. Art is also redundant, insofar as it does not create any use value. Can artistic engagement with water break the hegemony of informational capitalism? Can we gain new insights by studying the borderline as a zone of various transitions? Is the floating structure as an object a sort of a semi-conductor?

The floating structure will be equipped with underwater loudspeakers to transmit sounds responding to the rise and fall of stock markets.

Art, Money, Information: the artwork has no financial value before it enters the market. Certain strands of contemporary art in the 1960s can be understood as a move to avoid market capitalisation. Some artists came close to complete de-realisation. Was this an early warning about the onslought of information? Is it possible to create redundancy, to 'undo' information?

A map of Asia or just some stones at the beach in Asturias, North West Spain?

Some further ideas:
Would it be possible to build the floating structure without digital technologies? Could we find systems of information and energy storage without using computers? Which other possibilities exist, hydraulic, cybernetic, analog? Would it be feasible to make wave energy machines, kinetic art, artificial icebergs (Wesley machines)

Would it be feasible to revert the paradigm of interactive art and completely exclude the public from the floating structure? Could the floating structure claim souvereignty as a state?

Measurements and Experiments

Taking measurements as an artistic process as well as energy, water and food production are key areas to be researched. One wide area are the little researched anomalies of water and their potentials for quasi-natural aesthetic effects. Some possible activities are:

the viscosity of water and the influence of light
the surface tension of water
propagation of electromagnetic fields under water
reception of spherical waves (also called natural radio) under water
electric conductivity of water and very high voltage, artificial water bridges, some examples:

measurment of the intensity of light and its effect on clorophyl and the formation of algae in tanks
prospects of water filtering and making potable water
usage of very high frequencies to separate hydrogen and oxygen using the methods of Stanley Meyer
production of plasm

experiments on water density under the influence of sound and light
aesthetic, speculative applications, reflections and water as mirror and medium

works using energy: wind, waves, solar
biological projects working with animals and plants
sociological projects researching the crew and habitat
the floating structure can be built at various sites in the world and a network of floating structures could come into being

The floating structure will peacefully coexist with its environment

Theoretical Background: Theses on Media Art

Artists should aim at autonomy

Artistic autonomy is not to be mistaken as "the autonomy of art". The autonomy of art was a social category which emerged together with the rise of capitalism and bourgeois democracy. The autonomy of art describes the position of art within a capitalist social system whereby the artist is granted some exceptional status. We reject this concept and postulate instead artistic autonomy. The latter is more closely related to autarky and describes an ethical attitude towards instruments and the work process. Artists should only use means of production which they understand and control as deeply and completely as possible. Therefore it is self-evident that only free and open source software can be used. Artists should avoid using digital tools which by their very structure define the frame of artistic production. The tools and materials of artistic production in the digital age should be as immedeately accessible as stone or wood.

The work of the artist

The main achievement of an artist is not her or his work understood as a final product which then enters the market; it is also not some dubious and vague reference to a 'process', but instead the real meaning and content of the work of the artist is the living labour of the artist. Artists therefore by necessity should avoid the capitalist division of labour. No invisible 'helpers', 'technicians', 'programmers' or else should be used for the creation of work. If one artist does not possess all the necessary skills to produce a specific artwork, the artist can engage in collaboration with other artists to realise those goals. The terms of those collaborations should be egalitarian and self-defined, no artist should become another artist's "foreman"; relationships between more experienced and skilled artists and 'students' are possible but should be free from coercive aspects of 'mastery'; everybody involved should be named as a co-author of the work at all instances when the work is shown or mentioned.

The division of manual and mental labour

The focus on the work of the artist instead of the work of art is designed also to overcome the division between manual and mental labour which is crucial for the maintainance of the capitalist class society and its power structure including its academic and artistic production units and their ideological output. The separation of manual and mental labur is not only foundational for the political economy and the class structure, it has also a significant impact on the definition of what constitutes "knowledge". Currently, academia and the arts are almost completely dominated by the mystifications of bourgeois ideology. By combining manual and mental labour artists have the chance to show possible ways out of the dead end street of informational capitalism and its superstructural reifications.

Artistic Research versus Science

Artistic research is fundamentally different from Science, even if artists use techniques and instruments very similar to those used by Scientists. If artists have just as much as an inch of self-respect and take themselves seriously, they need to distance themselves from the conduct of normal Science. Science with a capital S is deeply compromised by its past as well as by its present subservience to capitalism. Western Science came into being through acts of genocide against other peoples and against women in the so called witch hunts (Federici). It created the Scientist as a specific version of subjectivity: male, white and Cartesian. The specific psychology of the male Scientific subjectivity wants to create life without women (Artificial Life) and intelligence without flesh (Artificial Intelligence), but it only creates death - weapons of mass destruction, genetically modified superweeds and other deadly technologies. Currently, Science's conduct is almost completely dictated by the needs of capitalism and the competitive military nation state. The objectivist tendencies of Science with its eternal and universal Laws of Nature are totalitarian and to be rejected as they carry over the problematic legacy of oppressive religious believes into the present and future.

Artists and Nature

When artists engage with nature they understand that they themselves are nature. Unlike Scientists, artists do not construct nature as a lifeless object, a territory to be conquered. Therefore artistic measurements have a quality very different from Scientific measurements. Artists are investigating the world as it is in a reflective process which includes themselves as well as the other 'objects' of investigation. Artists, as all humans, are both part of nature and distinct from it through the achievements of human culture, such as language, numbers, mathematics and algorithms.

Artistic Measurements

Artistic measurments are processes of reflexive self-creation rather than supposedly neutral fact finding missions about an objective reality "out there". Artists create a framework of references and interpretations distinct from the terror of objectivism, i.e. Science. They can only do so because of the collective nature of human culture which both sets the from for and yet also enables the creative act of the radical social imaginary (Marx read through Castoriadis). Within the narrow limits of the current techno-economic paradigm, artists have the duty to develop new perspectives for self-creation and self-realisation both individually and collectively.

Martin Howse

Martin Howse conducting artistic measuerment, seconded by Erich Berger, Gijon 2008. Some of the ideas in this text about artistic measurements are also inspired by conversations had with Marting during the Laboral residency.


La memoire de l'eau

This is brilliant! A ship sets sail with a new ambition. I particularly like the definition of artistic autonomy that seems to be placed in the steerage room. Not the autonomy of the object, but the process whereby artists seek ethical/political self-rule. An experimental voyage during which the navigators strive to give themselves their own measures and ultimately their own law: a necessarily unfinished but existentially and democratically vital quest. Towards an isle forgotten by most of our contemporaries.

Presumably you are aware of Jacques Benveniste's much-disputed research into "the memory of water"? The article in Nature would be worth examining.

Casting Away! or, Artists should (seriously) aim at autonomy

Look at your eyes. They are small,
but they see enormous things
da Rimini, F. (2008) Casting Away. Hobart: University of Tasmania.

If we are to be serious about employing "an ethical attitude towards instruments and the work process," I suggest that we must then extend this precept beyond demanding that only FLOSS be used, to an effort (and it will hard in the first instance) to use digital equipment - hardware of all kinds, the machines - whose mode of production similarly embodies "an ethical [and environmentally sensitive] attitude towards instruments and the work process." For over 10 years there has been discussion about "social software," that is, "software built by and for those of us locked out of the narrowly engineered subjectivity of mainstream software," and "software that is directly born, changed, and developed as the result of an ongoing sociability between users and programmers in which demands are made on the practices of coding that exceed their easy fit into standardised social relations" (Fuller 2003: 24).Fuller, M. 2003. Behind the Blip: Essays on the Culture of Software (First ed.). New York: Autonomedia.

However, not much has been said on the topic of "social hardware," that is, to borrow from Matthew Fuller, "hardware built by and for those of us locked out of the narrowly engineered subjectivity (or objectivity?) of mainstream hardware." Social hardware could include "machines directly born, changed, and developed as the result of an ongoing sociability between users and builders in which demands are made on the practices of capitalist production that exceed their easy fit into standardised social relations." Should we use any machine that we are not prepared to build ourselves, sourcing only materials that have passed through chains of fair and sustainable resource extraction, processing, and assemblage? To attempt this will be a true blurring of the superficial division between manual and mental labour. And as a corollary, should we build any machine that cannot be disposed of, disassembled, with care and regard to an environment that, within regards to non-Western science systems of Indigenous peoples in many places is a system with which humans have a relationship of kinship?

Autonomy and autarky sound good, and I am attracted to these concepts as a honey-eater to the last of the sultana grapes on my autumn vines, but to have meaning, to be able to guide our little boats towards islands of true self-sufficiency where other worlds are possible, we need to push our ideas out from shore harder and further. In my 2007 text for Goodbye Privacy curated by Armin and Ina, when I wrote of the need to "make new networks with tin cans and string" and to "cloak our data bodies with the fallen feathers of Bronzewing pigeons," I was not 'being poetic,' but rather i was issuing a call to cultural arms. It could be an interesting project to collectively refine a set of theses/precepts, which a group then commit to following for a period of time-perhaps 2 or 3 years, as many skills will have to be learnt.

ps. i did enjoy and appreciate your text Armin!

atoms and autonomy

dear doll yoko, dear brian,

a late reply to both of you. I agree that it is necessary to go beyond free software. However, it is indeed hard. In recent years there have been a lot of initiatives in open hardware. those projects have some serious hurdles to overcome. For hardware really to be open, the chipset design would have to be free and open source software. one obstacle to that is that the software for designing chips is proprietary and very hard to re-engineer. Last time I seriously researched this some people had begun trying to do this but they were still very far from any results. Even a good definition of open hardware is hard to get by. Sometimes a piece of silicon is called open hardware but effectively what has been done is that the proprietary software, the firmware, has been replaced with free software. that means that the hardware itself is not open at all. There is to my knowledge not yet any hardware that really deserves the tag open hardware. there are work-arounds such as field programmable gate arrays fpgas which you would have to imagine as something like a chip whose circuitry can be reprogrammed.In 2006 SUN has released the descriptions of its SunSparc architecture. This makes SunSparc open but not yet the software to design something like that.
Once you would have the free and open source software to design a chip you would still have to produce it. making microprocessors is something very unethical, because it takes lots of energy and water and involves toxic chemicals and processes, not to think about where the raw materials come from - lets start a little ethical mining company;-) So in that sense anything involving IT cannot be really ethical. We have thought about that, you may have noticed the line about analog information processing devices. However, the bottom line is we cannot have sleek little laptops that can process text, image sound and video and do all other sorts of things plus have huge memory and be very "ethical" about it. we could say we try do without it but then that would be a different game.
So this requirement is a minimal one, not maximalist. But even such a minim would be a step forward compared to what is common. None of the major media arts festivals have made any committment to free and open source software, neither ars electronica nor transmediale nor deaf. the topic pops up now and then but they are sitting on the fence. to my knowledge only smaller festivals such as Piksel in Norway and the goto10 event in france have gone completely "free".
Now with regard to the autonomy of the artists I have very ambiguous feelings about that. As noted in the text I do not believe in the autonomy of the arts as it developed in the 19th century as a social category. this type of autonomy is an exceptional status vis-a-vis bourgeois society, read capitalims, which stems from arts "uselessness". besides religion its one of a few areas of human activity that does not need to fulfill any utilitarian goals. but there lies the problem as this autonomy is bound up with the definition of the artist as a special kind of person, a genius, a priest-like figure in direct connection with some higher forces from where s/he draws inspiration unavailable to lesser mortals. we know that's crap, a mystification that bourgeois society needs to justify its brutality, blandness and inhumanity. Which leaves us with a political type of autonomy based on self-organisation and grassroots values of bottom-up decision making without power exerted from the top and that is maybe what Brian is getting at. This is something I am very much in favour of but which, again, runs into some serious problems, as this would be an insula of autonomous self-rule surrounded by very different forms of social organisation. The force fields of power and the internalised experiences of our youth and mental and psychological deformations make such projects very difficult. what i have experienced in practice was usually the quick establishment of a "tyranny of structurelessness" with some strong individuals gathering a followership and thereby inofficially but defacto very efficiently seizing power. This does not mean that it shouldn't be tried again and again.In this regard Castoriadis has some very good thesis about the self-instituting society at the core of which is that autonomy cannot be reached individually but only socially.
In this regard there are also some differences between me and my friend with whom I work on this project. There are just a few years between us - or maybe age is not the real reason - but he still comes from a generation which believed that an artist should have a standpoint from where to have a perspective onto the world. as an artist you need to have a 'position'. this was very common in 1980s discourse and a lot of the discussions went about how to have such a standpoint and howto defend it. I have never really thought like that because that implies that you think of yourself as some kind of discrete entity with fixed borders towards your environment. I have always conceived of myself as more open and networked into various social relationships - so maybe I have been postmodern by nature but dont really like the postmodern philosophers, hehe;-) that does not mean that you cant have strong opinions based on moral judgements, to be partial, etc. this also explains why I very reluctantly use terms like "politicial subjectivity" because its a bit like psychological bullshiting, I have politics but no political blabla subjectivity, its bourgeois psychologism disguised as poststructuralist Marxism. Okay, I am exaggerating and as many people whom I like and respect use 'subjectivity' now I also use the term, also for lack of an alternative.
So, with regard to autonomy, the issue is maybe not complete self-sufficiency or autarky, because then you might end up like a unabomber by the seas. A more productive term is that of a 'habitat' which implies a liveable space and such a space would always be in contact and exchange with other habitats and make windowfarms http://www.windowfarms.org/ (from bricolabs list yesterday)

so much for now from my morning meditations, hope to speak to both of you soon again

Autonomy will always be an issue

Hello Yoko, hello Armin-

I like debates because the give-and-take always brings the issues further. In this one the practical, hands-on call for autonomy right now provokes some recollection of the way the question has been dealt with by earlier generations: the idea of a "position." It's true that the possibilities of cooperation opened up by networks made it more interesting, for a long time, to just forget about the problem of staking out a position, it was more intriguing and productive to see what happens when you let yourself get swept up in a flow with others, when you experiment. That's where the whole notion and desire of multiplicity came from. Today you look at the generalized networked flow, feel the intensity of the control processes that have been developed within it, and the need for autonomy reappears. What's interesting is that it is no longer so simply conceived as in the time of the "position," much less that of the demiurgical artist or the Greenbergian master of the purified medium. Autonomy, the quest for it, the political need for it, and at the same time its impossibility for social and dependent beings, are the elements of a foundational paradox which always has to be taken up again, seriously and practically, directly and linguistically, technically and affectively too. Several years ago I wrote this about autonomy:

"The stakes of autonomy are revealed by the etymology of the word, as has been pointed out by the political philosopher and psycho-analyst Cornelius Castoriadis. "Autos" means self and "nomos" means law. Autonomy means giving yourself your own law. But men and women are social beings; we only exist as "ourselves" through the language of the other, through the sensations of the other; and what is more, this shared language, these transiting sensations, are bound up in the uncertainty of memory and forgetting, the incompleteness of perception, the willfulness of imagination. Thus the attempt to give oneself one's own law becomes a collective adventure, as well as a cultural and artistic one. For it is the very essence of clear consciousness to recognize that we human beings are full of obscurity, of unresolved personal and even historical passions, of half-understood images and enticing forms that we constantly exchange with one another, so that the process of giving ourselves our own laws becomes something quite complex, something experimental and experiential, which can never be resolved once and for all, but only cared for and ushered along in manifold ways, among which we find the arts - those supreme combinations of sensation, intellect and productive imagination. In fact it is exactly at this point that freedom appears as an uncertain strategy among the multitude, because it cannot be reduced to a univocal decision by the one. And in this way, collective autonomy becomes a question both of individual or small-group artistic production, and of large-scale cultural policy."
("Artistic autonomy and the communication society")

Developing the debates on a platform like this, and engaging in some shared experiments, could be a way to go further. Why don't we get together on the water sometime soon?

warmly, Brian

self-organising experimental archipelagos

hello armin and brian

really appreciate your informations and insights

am empty of words and cogent thought today

but plan to sail your drifts in coming days

Habitats Ahoy!