Monika Fleischmann & Wolfgang Strauss
Title: From Home of the Brain to Semantic Map – Performative interfaces for networked knowledge
Monika Fleischmann (*1950 in Karlsruhe) and Wolfgang Strauss (*1951 near Nuremberg) are the German artist and scientist duo, who have been working with digital media as a combination of art and technology since the mid-1980s, with a focus on mixed reality.
After training as a fashion designer in Zurich, Monika Fleischmann studied fine arts and drama at the Berlin University of the Arts. After completing an apprenticeship as a carpenter, Wolfgang Strauss studied architecture at the Berlin University of the Arts. They immersed themselves in the Berlin subculture during the 70s, the time of the new wild painting, the new German wave music, the new feminist movement and the coming out of gays and lesbians. They celebrated the Berlin legendary club scene – Dschungel, So36, Shizzo, Berlin Bar – danced with Martin Kippenberger or listened to the music of Rio Reiser.
In 1987, they founded ARTWORK, the studio for art and architecture, and at the same time, together with Edouard Bannwart, established the ART+COM Institute for interdisciplinary research, development and design of new media in urban space. From 1997, they continued working together under the acronym MARS (Media Arts Research Studies) at GMD and Fraunhofer research institutions in the field of art and computer-mediated communication as a new cultural technique and artistic-scientific basic research, with a focus on visualization, sonification and interface.
Their pioneering work began with “Berlin-Cyber City” (1989), which shows Berlin after the fall of the Berlin Wall, in its memorable history and in a possible future. Working with maps of the city as part of the research project “New Media in Urban Space” was the impetus for further ART+COM projects, that led to the dispute with Google Earth depicted (not entirely accurate) in the Netflix series “The Billion Dollar Code.” Another seminal work was “Semantic Map” (2001-04), a further development of neural networks and a method of data analysis now standard in AI in general and the NSA in particular. In “Home of the Brain” (1989-1991), Fleischmann and Strauss enable the audience to walk through „Philosophers’ houses“, the minds of others with the help of Virtual Reality goggles and data glove. “Liquid Views” (1992), the mirror of media narcissism, anticipated the selfie generation and is regarded an iconic work and one of the masterpieces of media art. Digital information flows are active artificial agents, in digital, physical and social processes in the interactive works of Fleischmann & Strauss.
They anticipated the new interactive media as carriers and structurer of information and the power of images as media of our perception of the world. With their internationally exhibited interactive productions, Fleischmann and Strauss have made history in virtual reality and interactive media art and are considered pioneers of media art. With the topic of the „Virtual Denkraum“ and from the perspective of the empowerment of people in the face of monopolies, they cite the changes that have occurred with the development of technologies, of social inequality and economic related issues that have become increasingly important. In this realm they see the interface – the “performative interface” – as a fundamental tool, and as in real life as a way to new knowledge through interactivity, a realm where the users can act, collaborate with other users, can explore new meanings and create its own.
Fleischmann and Strauss have received numerous awards, including the Golden Nica of Ars Electronica (1992), the SIGGRAPH Lifetime Achievement Award in Digital Art (2018) and were honored by being accepted into the SIGGRAPH Academy (2018).
Today, we often don’t know who owns the houses we live in. There is so much secrecy – whether for tax or speculative reasons, and the political caste supports this. This may have to do with corruption or ignorance, and from this lack of transparency, perhaps leaks and hacks can help. It turns out that the concept of knowledge has changed. In Germany, a transparency register on property and ownership – in Excel format – is now to be created. Actually, the information hidden here would have to be uncovered forensically with the help of AI and documented in a blockchain for data security reasons.
Based on their works since the mid-1980s, the artists show the changed conditions of knowledge in digital culture. It is no longer only the knowledge of details that counts, but life takes place in an environment of nodes of networked knowledge. Connected to this is the need to acquire the ability to draw one’s own conclusions from this networked knowledge – and thus to practice neuroaesthetics as a complement to AI: A knowledge space based on performative interfaces. Whereby we have to ask ourselves whether humans can still think when everything is automated? The media artworks of Fleischmann & Strauss show walk-in knowledge spaces for the construction or emergence of a neural aesthetic, which differ from the common VR and AR concepts.