Tal and Omer Golan create art that hackers might hack (and one even tried)
A suicide bomber caused Omer to make the transition from writing poetry to painting. After meeting a friend who studied computer science, Omer and his wife Tal made the transition to digital art. About Tal’s pregnancy they told their parents through storks that they implemented in their artwork about Internet comments. One of their works of art incited rich Russians to dance shirtless in front of the camera and another one of their artwork draws people and sells the painting for € 49.99. There was only one big project that they did not manage to carry out: peace.
By: Ido Kenan 13.10.2013
Stealing works of art is an occupation that has been around as long as art itself. But how many artists can proudly say that someone tried to hack their artwork in a museum by means of a wireless Internet connection? Tal and Omer can. The pair—a married couple and parents to a young girl, who recently moved to New York—create what they call interdisciplinary art, “through various mediums and also artworks that interconnect mediums”, Omer explains during an interview that took place several days before the move to New York. Tal adds: “And between fields in general, such as technology and art. We are also interested in other directions, such as performance art, technology and photography combined with real-time processed things.” Omer: “Things with which you can create something new. Our passion isn’t technology—it is art. Technology helps us to innovate in the field of art.
The artwork that someone tried to hack is called ArtEnigma80—an interactive artwork that the duo created with quiz-master Dan Chamizer as a tribute to the Tel Aviv Museum’s 80th anniversary. “One day, the museum’s curator called us up and told us that Chamizer had seen our artworks there. The curator asked whether she could give him our phone number with regard to something else that he was doing for the museum,” says Omer. Chamizer was working on a riddle that would present 80 characters that are related to the museum, from David Ben Gurion, who was present at the museum’s opening, to the museum’s curator, Suzan Landay. The answer to the riddle would be 3 of the 80 characters. According to Tal, Chamizer told them: “I saw your work and I realized that this is the language I want to use for my works.” Omer says that Chamizer managed to convince them to join his work by saying “All art is a bit of a riddle, so let’s create a riddle that is art.”
Omer and Tal Golan with their daughter, next to their artwork ArtEnigma80 at the Tel Aviv Museum. Photography: Ido Kenan, room 404
The artwork consists of the riddle, which is written on the sand of the beach, and a video screen with a small hidden camera. This all is displayed in a golden frame that is 200 years old and weighs 130 kilograms. “A new media artwork in a 200-year-old frame on the backdrop of a black and white photograph of the beach—how are we going to attract people to something like that? The most immediate answer is to let people view themselves, because people are always drawn to themselves,” explains Omer. The viewers look at the artwork, see themselves and all of a sudden one of the 80 characters appears on top of the image of their face on the screen, haunting and refusing to leave them. By means of a controller with buttons like that of an arcade videogame, the viewers choose three characters and in that way send their answer.
The prize, a Triptych by Dany Caravan worth 150 thousand NIS, was a big temptation for the anonymous hacker. “I received an urgent call from the museum that something weird is happening with the artwork, that there are weird messages on the screen. It was right after Passover, during which more than tens of thousands of people had stood in front of the artwork,” recalls Omer. “The computer was connected with a WiFi connection so that we could update the artwork remotely, monitor how many people had used it, etc. We arrived at the museum and saw in the computer’s log file [documentation of activities] that people tried to wirelessly connect to the computer through Bluetooth. Someone entered the computer and searched for information, probably looking for the answer. This humored us quite a bit. Just try,” Omer smiles. “There were people who said ‘OK, let’s run algorithms.’ One friend said, ‘If it’s three out of eighty characters, we’ll create algorithms that will check what the odds are.’ We told ourselves that if a hacker would successfully hack the computer and find the answer through the code then he deserves to win. Not because we are such good cryptographers, but because the code that we had written was very defective and basically only we could understand it.” Tal: “For us it’s also hacking when we look at a code one year or one and a half year later.” Omer: “We blocked it, the museum was disturbed by the fact that someone tried to hack the artwork.”
Embraced by a suicide bomber
Prior to the duo’s transition from painting to digital art, Omer had undergone a much more dramatic transition—from music to painting. In 2000, when he was a 20-year-old soldier, a suicide bomber ‘embraced’ him and set himself off. “In my mind I saw awful things happen,” he recalls. “I had written hundreds of songs, they were scattered all over my apartment, and I realized that I had lost my privacy by dying—everyone could go through my things, publish my songs, record them in a way that I hate. That was an awful feeling, not having the power to create on your own. You die at the age of 20. I sort of died there. And came back.”
When he was released from the hospital, Omer published his first poetry book. Yonathan Geffen edited the book and wrote his own words on the back cover. Golan realized he would not be able to go back to making music because he became deaf in one ear and lost his sense of touch in his hands. “I was looking for something to fill the hole in me. It’s like learning a new language.” Through a relative who is a painter, the late Nadav Bloch, Omer was introduced to painting. “Something about that language is very similar to music, I can see rhythms and harmonies and things I loved to express through music, and suddenly I found that in painting. I came home and the first thing I did was to buy huge canvasses, oil paints, brushes, turpentine. I worked for 12 hours on the first painting, without leaving the porch; I just painted. In the morning, when I suddenly saw what I had painted, I was very moved.”
Omer Golan looking at Tal Golan in their artwork at the Tel Aviv Museum. Photography: Ido Kenan, room 404
Eleven years ago, Omer met Tal. During a visit at his apartment, she discovered that he had bought painting materials and had started to paint. “He wanted me to help him carry the canvasses from the store,” she tells. “As a result of his experience, I started painting as well, and then we started dating, got married and started painting together.” Omer: “I proposed to her five days after we met and we got married a month later.” The duo approached the curator to see whether they have a future in the field. She told them they have potential and that if they return to her with 50-100 paintings she would organize an exhibition. The cost of living, the cost of materials and the need to focus on painting made this an impossible mission to achieve in Israel. “So we said: ‘We’ll go on a honeymoon,’” says Omer, “’We’ll travel for half a year to the Far East, paint on some mountain, come back with all the paintings and exhibit them.’ Only part of that plan materialized. We went to the Far East, painted a lot and decided that the Far East was not the place where we wanted to stay an entire year. So we left for Holland and stayed there for four years.”
In Holland, they lived in the University City Leiden. They barely made a living from selling paintings and they became friends with two computer science students. Through these friends they became aware of the creative possibilities of the digital medium. Omer: “We would come up with very weird ideas for situations and our friend would say: ‘I can make that happen,’ and he would return after two weeks with a program, camera and projector and would show us that we can reproduce that situation. We lived like that for several years. We would come up with some really weird and unusual ideas, which we thought were not technologically possible and our friend would just do them. Until he began his PhD and had no more time to work with us.”
In their frustration, the duo began, at their friend’s recommendation, to study the programming environment Max/MSP/Jitter. Omer explains: “This is a program that allows you to write programs that take any kind of information, analog or digital, and after real-time processing deliver the information in any way you want—analog, digital or mechanical.”
Omer and Tal Golan next to their artwork at the Tel Aviv Museum. Photography: Ido Kenan, room 404
“The program changed our lives,” Omer testifies. “Suddenly, we were creating a new form of art that people responded to with their guts. It circumvented the intellect and touched them right at the core.”
Tal: “They could see it without creating barriers.”
Omer: “They needed to give something in return. They couldn’t just pass by, look at it and continue, but rather had to dedicate their time, thought, image, movement or text. They had to give something to receive something. We showed the audience the person they love the most—themselves.”
Tal: “Or their children.”
Live broadcast from Youtube (but not really)
One of the couple’s reasons to make the transition to digital art was their inability to make a living from painting. They refer to the financial aspect of art in their artwork Algorithmic Painting Machine, which was programmed for an exhibition about the economics of art and is a work in progress. The artwork will visualize a painter painting the person who is sitting in front of him. It will sample data from the visitor of the exhibition (such as the color of the clothes or a sample of his face) and from the surroundings (such as the number of people in the gallery and the date) and will use these as parameters in an algorithmic painting. When the artwork is completed it will be shown on the screen and the viewer will be able to purchase a printed poster of it for € 49.99 Euros with a credit card. If the viewer does not purchase the artwork, it will be destroyed and lost forever.
A visitor clowning around in front of the artwork Non Linear Creation. Photography: Tal and Omer Golan
The artwork Non Linear Creation, which the Golan couple exhibited at the ArtZond Conceptual Art Festival in St. Petersburg, also criticizes the art world. “The audience consisted of very respectable people, three-piece suits, jewelry, serious expressions,” Omer tells. “I wondered how I could break that, to change the situation. I wanted to shatter the serious approach with which they viewed top art.” The artwork records the viewer and projects this back in mixed frames. The video turns minor facial movements into ticks and sharp and sudden movements. Viewers who are aware of themselves feel embarrassed and try to maintain a serious expression, but it is impossible.
At the end of the exhibition and after a lot of vodka, Omer showed them Reality Youtube, an artwork that projects a browsing window on the wall with the website youtube.com/watch me. The Youtube window live broadcasted the visitors of the exhibition. In a guerilla-style infiltration and in collaboration with a ‘secret artist’ (Rai Dishon), the artwork was entered into the More Real Than Life exhibition at the Tel Aviv gallery CCA. There was no live broadcasting from Youtube of course, but the visitors of the exhibition did not know that, or ignored the fact. They made faces in front of the camera and told their friends to go to Youtube because they are appearing there live right now.
Guerilla screening of Reality Youtube at CCA. Photography: Tal and Omer Golan.
Peace isn’t coming soon
The motif in the duo’s artworks is interaction with the audience. That was also the motif in Plant a Comment, which was created in collaboration with Yuval Adam and doctoral student Nir Ofek. In this artwork, the audience was asked to send an SMS to a designated number. The messages were semantically analyzed, categorized according to subject and displayed in the shape of bushes with birds gliding over them in a virtual three-dimensional world. This all was displayed on seven Liquid Galagy screens that were donated by Google.
The Golan couple chose this artwork to inform their parents of Tal’s pregnancy. “There were birds and storks that were flying between the trees of text. We took one of the storks and trailed the message of my pregnancy behind the stork,” says Tal.
Currently, the duo is working on a two-person exhibition in New York. After that they will start designing a hotel named the Paper Factory Hotel, which they will fill with innovating digital interactive artworks. Next month they will exhibit a new artwork about self-love and identity at the Arse Elektronika festival in San Francisco and another artwork at ArtZond. They have also been invited to sit on the Queens Council of the Arts, and to exhibit their work at the German Israel Congress in Berlin.
Storks in the artwork Plant a Comment. Photography: Tal & Omer Golan.
But the concept peace has defeated them as well. The peace project that they tried to organize, A Wall Between Us, centers around the separation fence (the duo prefer the word ‘wall’) with a virtual hole made from screens on both sides. The screens were supposed to display a concert with Israeli and Palestinian musicians conducted by Zubin Mehta, who already had approved his participation. “People told me, ‘How can you as a victim of terror initiate discussions with Palestinians, why would you want to create a work like this?'” says Omer. “Because of what I went through and the dissonance that it causes people, I felt that I in particular—I don’t want to say had a calling, but I don’t have another word. Someone has to get the ball rolling. To give the opening kick or the game will never begin.”
However, it seems that the game will actually not begin. After three years of trying to organize the project, Mehta was the first to despair. Tal: “It was one-sided, everyone we enlisted, everyone was here.” Omer: “Many Palestinian musicians said they would be happy to participate and then they received threats. I wouldn’t want anyone to get hurt because we want to create social art or such a social initiative. On the other hand, I had expected to see brave people who would say, threats or no threats, this is important and we will participate. I didn’t find such people.”