Dialogue with Margarita Benitez and Markus Vogl, of // benitez_vogl

Fall 2010: v.06 n.02: Dynamic Coupling

 Circadian Capital, 2007. benitez_vogl

Circadian Capital, 2007. benitez_vogl

Circadian Capital is an interactive sound installation sonifying and visualizing real-time exchange rate data via Max/Msp, Processing and Tuio. The musical composition is based on the daily trading values of 24 currencies of which 12 of the currencies reflect western countries and the other 12 reflect Asian / African / Middle Eastern countries. The latter countries are loosely based on the “axis of evil” nations as G.W. Bush and John Bolton referred them to in 2002. Western currencies are loosely based on the Iraqi “war alliance” of 2003 and signify both ends of a philosophically widely divided spectrum. The project highlights the political interdependence of all currencies by establishing their relation to the U.S. Dollar. 
Documentation can be accessed at: www.benitezvogl.com/circadian_capital/

How much time do you spend together? Do you live together or share a studio, or do you just get together to work on projects as they come up?

MV: We live together and share our every day lives. We set time aside to work on projects.

MB: Yes, I agree. Although we have project related discussions around the clock, we do set time to work on projects. Usually we have a couple of areas we consider studio space in the house. Each of us has our own office area, there is a making area with tools, and we now have a staging + prototyping room in the house. We have found it easier for ourselves now that having the studio at home fits both our work-styles better than having a studio outside of the home. Probably a remnant from having a home-based business.

When you are working on something do you schedule structured time together in a physical space, or meet online, or is it more organic than that?

MV: We do meet in physical space, but we schedule time to work on specific tasks individually. We usually break projects into tasks and address them as they are needed.

MB: We previously used email much more, but lately we employ some online collaborative tools to be able to help the discussion and project development occur at a faster pace.

Do you keep your personal/professional lives separate, or have they become seamless and indistinct? Is this okay?

MV: At this point, it is seamless, but we do make sure to get some time away from it all. During the week, we follow sci-fi shows and on the weekends, finances permitting, we try to leave town.

MB: Yeah, has become seamless. I have no problem with it.

Can you, or do you, turn off your research/studio practice(s)?

MV: TV does its share of masking my mind.

MB: I have to admit, it is very hard to do so for myself. It is extremely hard to get out of the research mindset. I do agree with Markus; I believe that is the main reason we have a TV and online movie rental.

When and how did you meet each other and under what circumstances?

MB: We met while we were both attending college. We were in different majors but both worked in the IT department as student techs.

At what point did you start making work together?

MB: I recall when we started dating we immediately started asking each other for input and incorporated each other in our individual projects. We then went on to have our own company and further our collaborations in the arts.

MV: Yes, at first it was more commercial, but then if infiltrated our personal artwork as well.

Was there a growing period, when you had to get a feel for each other’s process/priorities, learn how to communicate – or did you click right away?

MB: We still have issues communicating sometimes. I think it is just part of being in any kind of relationship.

MV: We are still growing. We both have egos to deal with, and we always try to improve communication.

MB: I agree. We do work hard on trying to improve communication. Egos definitely come into play, but one has to keep the mentality that the work comes first. One may not like what the other has to say, but if it makes the work better, the ego must step aside. Also, I must mention that there are some cultural factors that play into here as well that may lead down a path of miscommunication. Markus is Austrian and I am Cuban-American.

Do you gravitate towards roles in your practice – based on strengths, or personality, or skills? Or is every project a different kind of adventure?

MV: We definitely have roles. We are both technically strong, but have our specialty areas. Also, generally when it comes to building something, it falls to me, but fine-tuning falls to Margarita. We constantly quality-control [QC] each other, though.

MB: Yes, we definitely do QC on each other.  My strong suit is research and finding information. Our skills really complement each other. And even what new skills we have focused on, while being together, are different. If we have overlapping skills, whoever wants to take the lead on it usually does so. Our arts praxis is rather symbiotic.

How do you generate the concepts you work with? Do you draw, write, photograph, or do any sort of regular background practice? Is this a shared thing?

MB: Dialogue. There is also lots of thought that goes into a concept (on both sides) before we even approach each other with an idea. We usually then just sketch it out. It usually isn’t a fast process. We bounce ideas back and forth, and only when we land on one we both agree on do we proceed. There is some writing that takes place at multiple stages during the development of a piece.

MV: We talk through our ideas. We start with initials and then see how the other feels about it. If both of us get excited, we start to explore the possibilities.

MB: I do admit, there are times that one of us feels rather strongly about a concept and vision and still proceeds with the piece.

MV: Yes, sometimes, when we don’t understand each other, we will need to go at length to make sure the other understands the vision. Mostly that ends up either in drawings or small-scale prototypes, and some times it ends up not having resonated too much with the other, but we still go ahead and present the work.

How do you make choices and negotiate decisions about what direction to take with projects?

MV: What we deem as QC makes a lot of decisions for us. We constantly question and double-check our work in regards to the final audience.

MB: Time and dialogue. If I have an issue with something about a work, aesthetic or technical, I bring it up to Markus and discuss if it truly is an issue. If it is deemed an issue, we usually both individually work on possible solutions and reunite to attempt to find a working solution. We repeat this more often than not, until we are satisfied with the work.

Does your collaboration ever involve more people? If no, why not? If yes, then when and how does that work?

MB: Typically, no. I have individually collaborated with other people and am open to collaborating with others. There are a few individuals I have in mind with whom I would absolutely love to collaborate. I think this is something Markus and I sometimes do not see eye-to-eye on. There are circumstances in which I have taken on other collaborators. For instance, my current work, OSLOOM, really takes me down a whole new avenue regarding collaboration. It was crowdsourced in terms of funding and is being developed by a small team of artists + engineers. It is going to be a computerized loom that is licensed under an open hardware license and the software will be open-source. I am interested in different modes of production and exploring them in my practice.

MV: It is hard enough to work amongst the two of us. Aligning our vision with somebody else, for me, comes only into play if we are looking for technical help. Maybe I will see the benefit of larger collaborations in the future.

Will you describe a project that didn’t work out or you didn’t follow through on? Can you describe something that you couldn’t agree on or you didn’t feel like you were both “into?”

MB: There was a project we worked on for about eight months that we had to scrap because, honestly, the aesthetic and interaction we had in mind was just utterly a disaster. We re-investigated the aesthetics and interaction design to that project about three times before we achieved something that we both felt invested in. We certainly were not “into” any of the early iterations but we felt that the concept was strong enough that we had to find a way to resolve it.

MV: We knew that we had to pull the piece off, but the technology we invested in would just not budge at all. Too cumbersome, simply too ugly, it was devastating to scrap it all, especially since there was a deadline attached to it. The new solution was much more elegant, but also incredibly involved technically. We are still tweaking the piece every time we show it.

What kinds of singular processes or practices, studio or research, do you maintain as individuals that you may or may not bring into the collaboration?

MV: Certain processing of information needs to be done alone, in my own way, which usually involves old-style European self-destruction in the form of cigarettes and alcohol.

MB: I have the loom project, and I work on wearables, textile-based pieces including weavings and new material exploration in my personal practice. I do not have a problem either way if any of those projects become collaborations or not, as long as the concept is valid in both our eyes.

Do you make your own work in addition to the collaborative work, and what sort of need does this fill?

MV: Lately, I haven’t worked on many projects outside of the collaboration. For one, the projects have become technically and logistically too complex, and there is simply time constraint.

MB: I’d have to agree with Markus. There are simply larger projects we each individually want to tackle and it makes sense to collaborate on those.

If you maintain an individual practice as well as a collaborative practice, have you run into conflicts of interest, time-management/priority issues, or experienced communication problems due to multiple focuses at any point? How is this resolved?

MB: I can’t think of a time in which we haven’t juggled multiple projects. Obviously, some take precedence due to deadlines, whether self-imposed or not. We establish a type of triage in terms of the tasks that need to be completed. We ask ourselves: Who is best suited for the task? Who has time? What needs to be done first? And go from there…

What are the strengths in working collaboratively and what are the challenges in working collaboratively?

MB: Strengths: different perspectives on a work, skill sets, approach, sharing a vision in terms of concept are helpful. It is absolutely wonderful to have a sounding board you can bounce ideas back and forth on. Challenges: ego, if we have different visions for a particular concept, communication snafus.

MV: Strengths: Larger-scale projects can be tackled. Constant QC.

Challenges: Cultural differences, strong egos, different levels of energy.

MB: Oh yeah, that is a big challenge, different levels of energy. It was way more difficult in the past due to conflicting work schedules.

What sort of theory, cultural circumstances, or life scenarios influence or inform your decision to work collaboratively? Would you say that your collaboration is philosophically driven, or more pragmatic?

MB: Our philosophies and aesthetics are very similar. Without that foundation, I do not even think we would even fathom working with each other. The pragmatism becomes secondary in my point of view.

MV: Philosophically driven. Both of us have similar political and social views and interests, where from our form of aesthetics and sociopolitical contexts derive.

If you teach, how does collaborative practice inform the way you facilitate student projects and teach studio courses?

MB: Collaborating with Markus has absolutely informed my teaching. I’ve learned an incredible amount from him and from dealing with him that has reflected directly into my teaching.

MV: We even QC our syllabi and read through lectures and materials. Also we help each other prep when we are under time pressure.

If you teach, do you co-teach? If you do co-teach, how has that been received by the students, and how has this been received in the academic institutions you have worked with?

MB: I have not had the pleasure or opportunity of being able to co-teach with Markus. I would be open to it if the situation would ever arise. I believe our skill sets are rather complementary to each other.

MV: We both teach, but never had a chance to co-teach, never had the opportunity, but it certainly would be intriguing.

Please point to us at a project or projects you would like to describe. Include links or attach files. If relevant, share with us a sense of the collaborative back-and-forth that may have gone into planning and making the work.

MV: One of our larger collaborations is called “Circadian Capital.”

The initial idea of sonifying money flow was conceived in 2006. We really liked the idea, but had to come up with a technical way to ensure a successful sonification. The original idea was just to create a sonic experience but we quickly identified that there needed to be a controller or interface. After we settled on the technical way, Margarita worked on the Max patch, I created the canned loops and the processing logic, and we both worked on the presentation. Since the installation was going to take place overseas, it was important to make it portable. All our reactable designs were based on IKEA parts, so if there was an IKEA close by you could cheaply buy the components rather than ship it.

“Circadian Capital” is an interactive sound installation sonifying and visualizing real-time exchange rate data via Max/Msp, Processing and Tuio. The musical composition is based on the daily trading values of 24 currencies of which 12 of the currencies reflect western countries and the other 12 reflect Asian / African / Middle Eastern countries. The latter countries are loosely based on the “axis of evil,” nations as G.W. Bush and John Bolton referred them to in 2002; western currencies are loosely based on the Iraqi “war alliance” of 2003 and should signify both ends of a philosophically widely divided spectrum.

The project highlights the political interdependence of all currencies by establishing their relation to the U.S. Dollar. In detail the project treats all currencies derivative in value to a single U.S. Dollar. The U.S. Dollar is the world’s most traded currency therefore signifying a common base denomination of contemporary economics and politics. The U.S. is the last surviving world power and tries to crudely meddle in any and all aspects of worldwide present day socio-economic affairs. More information is available at: http//benitezvogl.com/circadian_capital/

BIOS
//benitez_vogl is the collaborative name of Margarita Benitez and Markus Vogl.

Margarita Benitez is an art + technology, fiber and interactive installation artist based in Northeastern Ohio and Miami, Florida. She is currently an Assistant Professor and Fashion Technologist in The Fashion School at Kent State University.

www.margaritabenitez.com

Markus Vogl is a Northeastern Ohio based multimedia artist experimenting in multiple sensory experiences combining sound, environments and interactive installation. He currently is an Assistant Professor in the Graphic Design Department of the University of Akron.

www.markusvogl.com

Their collaborative work is rooted in exploring underlying social issues in technology – exploring how today’s society copes with the overwhelming presence of technology, surveillance, data mining and media bombardment.

www.benitezvogl.com