Spaces, Bodies, Emergence, and Data in Interactive Art

Responsive Spaces by Andreea Danielescu, Ryan Spicer, Aisling Kelliher, and David Tinapple/ Spatial structure and representation in interactive multimedia by Giorgos Papakonstantinou/ Can Digital Objects Behave Well (if we let them)? by Dew Harrison/ Art and Play in Interactive Projections by Geoffrey Shea, Michael Longford, and Elaine Biddiss/ Creating black boxes: Emergence in Interactive Art by Joan Soler-Adillon
Wednesday, 21 September, 2011 - 14:45 - 16:25
Chair Person: 
Yiannis Colakides
Andreea Danielescu
Ryan Spicer
Aisling Kelliher
David Tinapple
Giorgos Papakonstantinou
Dew Harrison
Geoffrey Shea
Michael Longford
Elaine Biddiss
Joan Soler-Adillon

Responsive Spaces: Motion, Activity and Interactive Art

by Andreea Danielescu, Ryan Spicer, Aisling Kelliher, and David Tinapple

Sensing and responding to dynamic human activity occupies a rich position in the history of interactive art. Artists such as Camille Utterback, Golan Levin and Petra Gemeinboeck have explored human movement as a physical, distributed and social phenomenon. Their work and that of the broader community engaged in creating responsive experiential art is the focus of our research and the inspiration for our creative experimentation.

We present an overview of artworks that track and display human activity, particularly movement. We focus on the temporal and spatial lenses adopted by each work in interrogating and responding to human movement. The purpose and provocation of these diverse installations span a range from utilitarian to aesthetic.  Works such as Ishii’s Pinwheels and Agamanolis’ Reflexion provide information on social and technological interactions. In contrast, Rokeby’s San Marco Flow and Gemeinboeck’s Impossible Geographies render patterns of movement through space at vastly different scales and require varying levels of human participation. The works represent a distribution of approaches in terms of feedback mechanisms, analysis of captured data and scale of detected and represented activity.

Inspired by these works, we introduce Building with a Memory, an interactive installation which captures and represents human movement in a collaborative, multi-use workplace. We explore co-located and distributed sensing and feedback, and display activity over varying scales from a single room to the wider surrounding environment.  The workspaces in this building span the gamut from fabrication and performance spaces to computer labs.  Each hosts a variety of individual and group activities, characterized by different kinds of physical and audio activity.  Recording, analyzing and representing the ebb and flow of these activities over time provides opportunities for communal reflection and to develop insight into the community, for members and visitors alike. Indirect accent lighting and video provide feedback in an ambient manner. While we capture activity over time, we mask identity of individuals. This approach maintains privacy while providing practical information on the history of the community. We describe three integrated implementations of the Building with a Memory installation and provide insights into the challenges, reactions and impact of our work.

Spatial structure and representation in interactive multimedia

by Giorgos Papakonstantinou

A rather recent trend in contemporary architectural thinking focuses on architectural space generation by and through the human body movement. Thinking space by means of events and scenarios seem to prevail over the static entities of traditional architectural conception. The great majority of architectural experimentation with digital technologies is orientated towards 3D environments, based on biological or mathematical models as well as on the mobile camera representation of space. Despite more than two decades of development, space organization and conception in interactive multimedia has been given a very limited attention.

This paper investigates analogies and differences in space conception between 3D environments and the multi-layer and multiple windows organization of interactive multimedia.

Interactive multimedia environment is a complex one, constituted by different types of media, of location and of travel. It includes the spatial composition of the surface of each screen (on-screen as well as off-screen space) and the time-based composition of audiovisual events. Moving from one element or event into another establishes a third dimension in the mind of the viewer, that of the interactive narrative that combines both cinematic and diegetic qualities.

Navigable space can be used to represent both physical spaces and abstract information spaces while hyperlinking often separates data from its structure. Space design is characterized by interactivity functions, hierarchical or non-hierarchical organization and modularity.

 Another notion that can serve as a bridge between architectural conception and multimedia design is that of “program”. Program can be considered both as an organization scheme of space representation and as an abstract formulation of a series of symbolic decisions and actions (the software) that organize the data space. Thus, digital technologies have spatialized all representations and experiences while digital narrative is equated with travelling through information space.

Can Digital Objects Behave Well (if we let them)?

by Dew Harrison

Within my research-led art practice I continue to explore ways of delivering complex concepts in an immediate and engaging way through digital mediation. I therefore pursue a computer-based practice that can support complexity through the associative trails permitted in semantic media. I persist with my interrogation of the ideas of Marcel Duchamp that formulated the trajectory to a contemporary Conceptual practice. Earlier works have moved from projected interactive pieces with mouse-click and roll-over access to a hard-linked hypermedia system, to more intuitive interfaces with open directional choices and less obvious connections between the digitised Duchampian objects. These latter works have involved endowing those objects with ‘flocking’ behaviours to observe them clustering into families of sense.

The idea of ‘flocking’ digital objects gave rise to that of giving ‘animal’ behaviours to virtual objects, and a change of focus from Duchamp to Darwin. From the convoluted ideas of Duchamp re art’s function and future, it was a natural progression to the current culture and human activity to which art responds.  Thinking around Darwin’s ‘big idea’ in light of our future as a current pathway to self-destruction via climate change, the hands-on installation ‘Shift-Life’ arose. Shift-Life is a virtual world of bug-like ‘candy’ creatures that exist quite contentedly if left alone, however physical human intervention can alter their environment into a volatile state where they have to adapt to survive. There are many computer games that let you play God in letting life-forms live or die -starve, thrive, fight, procreate, overpopulate or become extinct, but my intention is always to explore the complex concept and exhibit this in an accessible way. 

The limited behaviours given to the Shift-Life fantasy creatures would be enough to allow them to evolve if left uninterrupted in their everyday existence, we might, for instance, be able to witness patterns of sociability emerging. However, the participatory nature of the work means that without interacting with the piece, that understanding cannot be brought to bear, here human intervention causes basic survival behaviours only.  Our meddling nature prevents us from seeing the creatures and their world developing as one sustainable life-system.

Art and Play in Interactive Projections: Three Perspectives

by Geoffrey Shea, Michael Longford, Elaine Biddiss

This paper will examine how three recently developed, art-related, video projection projects approached the issues of user control, viewer participation, collaboration and artistic expression differently, while emerging from a common starting point within academic research. The three projects all involved the authors, but they each demonstrate different modes of collaborative, team-based conception and development:

Tentacles is a large public projection with game-like user controls accessible through an iPhone. Tentacles was a collaboration between faculty, staff and students in three academic media art, design and entertainment labs.

Trio, an interactive video art installation displays three folk musicians playing a song together. Viewers dialling in on mobile phones can swap in different musicians to create different arrangements of the song. Trio was largely a solo production, but used tools and techniques developed in a university media lab.

The Art of Waiting is a collaboration between researchers at a kids rehabilitation hospital with undergraduate design students to create engaging, calming and social user experiences for children waiting for clinical appointments. The interface includes a video projection wall in the waiting room and 100 in-floor sensors making it accessible to users with all levels of physical ability.

These three productions share many common elements. They all present video projections to a non-specialist audience with software controlled interactivity. Each is meant to be discovered, enabling individual viewers, players or passersby to participate in a multi-user, location-specific experience in a public space. Although they share some features with simulations, they all avoid standard gaming conventions. There are no levels, no overt objectives, no winners or losers.

At the same time, these three projects started with different assumptions about the user, different communication goals and different production and collaboration strategies. Additionally, the core requirements of each project were linked to the contexts they emerged from: experience design, healthcare delivery and art practice.

In this examination the interdisciplinarity of these three, linked projects will be highlighted through their commonalities and differences, their relationships to the envelopes of art, design, engineering and healthcare, and their adoption of  co-creation, play and social collaboration as elements within their participatory frameworks.

Creating black boxes: Emergence in Interactive Art

by Joan Soler-Adillon

The idea of the black box, in engineering, is that of a device in which one knows what to put in and what comes out, but not what happens on the inside. When it comes to modern scientific knowledge, black boxes are there to be opened and scrutinized. But other approaches can be undertaken. From the early cybernetics to scientific disciplines such as Chaos Theory or Artificial Life, systems in which important features remain unexplained, at least in some sense, have been studied and experimented with. These unexplained properties or behaviors have come to be known as emergent. In an artistic context, where explanation is not usually the main issue in the creation process, the experimentation with the concept of emergence can be understood in a close analogy to that of the creation of a black box.   

In this paper, we analyze different approaches to the concept of emergence in philosophy, science and digital art practice in order to build up a working definition of emergence that is useful for the creation of emergent systems and behaviors in the context of interactive art.

After summarizing the approaches in non-artistic fields, the focus will be mainly on Artificial Life Art. It is within this discipline that the idea of emergence and emergent behavior has acquired a central role. Indeed, in ALife Art the creation of black box-like systems has been a central concern. According to the general approach of the scientific Artificial Life, ALife artists have sought to create systems composed of simple elements from which complex behaviors emerge.

Although the creation of artworks with emergent properties is not something new, more often than not the term emergence, when used in an artistic context, is at least too loosely defined. The aim of this research is to contribute to the clarification of the concept in order to make it usable for the artistic practice and analysis, both for Alife Art and for Interactive Art in general.