The interview with media artist Hyun Jean Lee was conducted in November 2013 via email exchanges. Currently living and working in Seoul, Korea, Dr. Lee is actively engaged in art and research projects while teaching young media artists at Yonsei University. In this interview, she earnestly talks about balancing herself as an artist and theorist, and explains her process of creating art. All photos and videos are courtesy of the artist.
You started as a painter but took up media art in the late 90’s and have been working with media art since. How did you make that transition?
Although I am working with different media now, my previous experiences with painting have influenced my sensibility and my way of thinking. I painted more than 10 years. During those years in art schools, I practiced to become a professional painter. But when I learned how to use video, I realized that the video medium was also very attractive.
Around that period, I gradually got interested in video, and I explored how to include the passage of time in painting. I also put an effort into making three-dimensional qualities by adding tactile layers onto the visual layer, although a painting is basically in the two dimensional realm. However, when I started to create video installations with the three dimensional screen structures, I found the video medium would be a more appropriate form for me to convey my idea efficiently and imaginatively. I could create my screen as I intended, for example, regarding the size, volume, and its form. So I started putting more time in creating video installations. Then I wanted to learn video art. That’s why I decided to study in the U.S.A. By the time I entered the ITP program at NYU, my interest had extended to incorporate interactivity. At ITP, I concentrated on learning computer programming, physical computing as well as how to manipulate video interactively.
Although I don’t paint now, I still often make drawings. Particularly when I work with installations, even when the overall creation process requires a mechanical and logical approach, I try to push my perceptual intuition and sensibilities into my work that I have accumulated from painting.
You are also a theorist. How does your study/teaching affect what you create as an artist?
Well, I am still not accustomed to introducing myself as a theorist. ^^ But I think I really enjoy studying and researching. During the Digital Media program at Georgia Tech, where I completed my Ph.D. study, I had to read lots of books and theoretical articles to pass the qualifying exam. It literally took several years.
Over the course of such years, I gradually became a researcher and got interested in the theories of digital media and media art. In fact, I had an interest in art history and theory before entering the ITP program. In order to understand them more thoroughly, I also read many books on philosophy. Although I had to spend most of my time obtaining technical skills at ITP and putting much effort into learning interactive media technologies at the Georgia Tech’s media lab (syn-aesthetic media lab), the years I had to focus in navigating these diverse theoretical realms gave me a chance to extend my previous theoretical interest.
I think that the attractive part of studying theories is the very process of understanding diverse theoretical perspectives and finding a map of how one theoretical issue can be connected with others. The feeling of drawing the map and expanding it bigger is really intriguing to me, and it makes me want to be involved in such theoretical practices more often. This practice sometimes helps me look at my artwork in a more analytical and critical view.
I think that the process of researching and writing is very creative like the process of making artwork. It is also a system of generating and developing new ideas. However, grasping theory and applying it at the same time is not always good. Sometimes theoretical work and art work conflict inside me. I think theories help me look at the world in logical and analytical ways. But when I habitually apply the similar approach to create my artwork, this analytic way of thinking blocks me and makes me hesitate sometimes. When a critical view advances too much, it becomes hard to work on my art, because artwork creation requires sensible perception, which differs from logical thinking. Theory can affect artwork creation in a negative way.
Recently I thought that I would have to try harder in order to strike a balance between artwork creation and theoretical research. I think the best way would be spending my time more evenly for both, although it is difficult to focus on them simultaneously. I tend to concentrate on theory and art separately, with a very long interval of time in between. These days, I thought of spending more time on artwork creation in earnest, since during last ten years, I spent more time on the theoretical studying.
You asked me how teaching affects me. Teaching is always great fun and productive for me. I learn a lot from students and actually I got many artwork and research ideas while teaching. When I see what and how I teach would influence how my students think and create, I feel a strong responsibility in teaching.
You recently re-created a previous work of yours “The sea – recognition of sea space” (1998). What made you revisit the old project, and how is it different from the original production?
Yes, last May, I revisited my old video installation piece, “The sea – recognition of sea space” (1998). I re-created the work and entitled it as “The Cubic Sea” (2013). The reason I revisited this work is simply because the art museum of Ewha Woman’s University asked me to show this work for the museum’s exhibition.
Since my video installations are often big, it is hard to reserve the work as it is shown in an exhibition. So I break down my installations after exhibitions and whenever there is a request of showing, I just consider recreating for the new context. Actually every installation, I think, needs to be reconsidered based on the context of an exhibition. Spatial context is very important. When a show is decided, I visit the actual space where my work will be located and decide how to install the work in that place, based on the size and the moving route of the room, entrance and exit, lighting condition, and so forth…
This time when the museum asked me to show the work that I created a long time ago, I thought of creating an entirely new work. But when I visited the space they provided me, I kind of understood why they asked me to show that specific work. Thus, I decided to just recreate it. Based on the very specific spatial condition and the situation of how my work is inter-related with other works, I had to decide the cube size and position of it.
Most of my work, including “The Cubic Sea”, is a video installation using beam projectors. I always think about how many projectors to use and how I can provide them, whether I have to prepare them or the museum/gallery provides them. Budget is always an important issue to consider.
In the 1998 version, I used four projectors and could not make a projection on the top of the cube. For “The Cubic Sea” this time, I used a projection mapping technique with two projectors, to cover all five sides of the cube. The entire cube became bigger in size. I wanted to make the viewers feel as if they were in front of the sea at the seashore. To provide such a feeling, a certain amount of size is important. But at the same time, I wanted to make the cube to look like an object when it was viewed from a certain distance, for example, from the entrance of the room. I needed to finalize the exact dimensions of the cube to support these two conditions. This process was fun and personally meaningful for me.
In many of your works, the natural scene made with video projection seems to offer a soothing experience to the viewers. It reminds me of the effect of natural phenomena described by Alain de Botton. Is there a reason why you often work with the landscape/natural imagery?
“Vast landscapes can have much the same anxiety-reducing effect on us as ruins, for they are the representatives of infinite space, as ruins are the representatives of infinite time. Against them, or within them, our weak, short-lived bodies must seem of no greater consequence than those of moths or spiders. Then, too, whatever differences exist among people, they are as nothing next to the differences between the most powerful humans and the great deserts, high mountains, glaciers and oceans of the world. There are natural phenomena so enormous as to make the variations between any two people seem mockingly tiny. By seeking these out, and experiencing a compelling sense of the insignificance of all humans within the cosmos, we may mitigate whatever discomfort we feel over our inferior position in the social hierarchy.”
– Alain de Botton, on the effect of natural phenomena, “Status Anxiety”
Encountering Two Times (2012)
I know most of my artworks are using natural scenes. Probably it is due to my sensibility and personal preference. I like to use natural scenes to provide calm and meditative experiences for viewers. Such experiences could be called soothing experiences, as you pointed out. Also, I think it is somewhat related to the soothing effect of natural phenomena as Alain de Botton said. But the difference is that I don’t care too much about the insignificance that a human being feels in front of nature. What I want to borrow, simulate or represent from nature is that we are also a part of nature. I also want to express the beloved feeling that nature gives us.
I was born and raised in cities. I am not a person who has grown up in nature. But my sensibilities are strongly attached and refreshed in nature whenever I experience it. I think most people also share this kind of experience and I want to share this with them. I want to create a work to transport the viewers to their own old memories of nature.
In the summer forest you created in “Light Green Leaves with Light”, you hear the sound of the bugs, see the images of the sunbeam and can walk between trees full of leaves. With the projection light, is it also warm like the real summer?
Light Green Leaves with Light (2012-2013)
Yes, it is! At least, I think so. No, I think it is really warm at the center of the work.
In “Light Green Leaves with Light”(created in 2012 and 2013), I used three 6500 ANSI lumens projectors. Since the projection screen material is a fabric that is used for a silkscreen print, the projection light penetrates into the screen a lot, so there is lots of loss. Therefore, I had to use very strong and bright projectors. Also, I had to create a certain feeling of surroundedness in the space. Three projectors were the minimum number of projectors for this purpose.
In this work, I intended to use the projection light as one source of light. Projection light is an artificial light. But I always think that the projection light or RGB lights in it provides a very similar feeling as the natural light. Another source of light that I wanted to present was the sunlight in nature that I captured in the video. Thus, in the work, the videotaped sunlight and the projection light are inter-mixing and provide the feeling of surroundedness. Because of the multiple sources of light with the actual heat generated by three 6500 ANSI lumens projectors, I felt really warm surrounded by the lights in the middle, when I walked around the work.
You made several iterations of the interactive project “Ripplecast” over the years. I believe you do this in order to provide the viewers an ideal sensory experience. How has the process been? Is there a next step for this piece?
“Ripplecast” was an ongoing project for me over the past five years.
The first “Ripplecast” used a still picture as its background image underneath the ripples layer, but gradually I switched it to moving images with sound. And I have kept changing the moving images of water. In the most recent version “Ripplecast 2012”, I scaled it up to be supported by two channel video projections. The reason I changed the water images is because I wanted to provide the viewers with the feeling of standing in front of the water.
The most ideal scene would be where viewers feel as if like they are standing in front of the water, forgetting the gallery and museum context. By expanding the screen, I thought it could approach the ideal scene one step further. I wanted to create the meditative feeling, as if we felt we were within nature. Thus I changed the video image of water several times. Also, since I had many chances to show this work at galleries and museums in Korea, as well as other countries, I wanted to show the beautiful scenery of Korea. I wanted to present the four seasons of a river depending on the actual season of the individual exhibition. Thus, I prepared different video images of water and changed it depending on the context.
What does audience participation and interaction mean to you and your work?
Well, I often create interactive works but I do not want to use interaction or participation just for the purpose of it. Interaction for interaction is not something that I want to create. Because I was a painter, I always think that there is an interactive experience when people look at paintings, between the viewer and the painting. Although it is more like an interactive experience happening in the mind and heart, I thought it could be said as an interactive experience as well as it is an experience with the work of art. I try to involve the audience’s interaction more actively when I want to create bodily and engaging experience for the audience. The experience that a viewer has during the time he or she spends with the work is an important element of my work. I would like to invite the viewer to experience my work and extend their engagement with it.
It is somewhat related to the phenomenological experience that the viewers can perceive while experiencing the artwork. I like to convey this phenomenological experience in order to provide the viewer chances to meet themselves, while they experience the work. Meeting themselves would be like meeting their old memories. To create this kind of experience, I used to make big size works where an audience can walk into and walk around.
For me, audience participation and interaction involved in the artwork become the very means of leading the audience to experience his/her individual self.
Most of your works are not about personal issues, but in your recent work (Playground series), you talk about your experience as a mother (the boredom of watching kids in the playground). Is motherhood affecting your work? If so, how?
Surely, motherhood has affected me and my work. But mostly it is because it takes up considerable amount of time for me. … Yes, I am somewhat agreeing with you that my works may seem as if they are not related to my personal issues. When I was an undergraduate student in the painting department, I was deeply concerned how to find my style in my work, thus I had to know myself. I thought when the work dealt with a personal issue in its theme or subject matter, it seemed authentic as an artwork. But I gradually found that I was more comfortable bringing my personal issues indirectly into my work. My works may not seem to deal with my personal issues, but I still think that my sensibilities and memories are deeply affecting my work. I never start with a very abstract idea or a general perception. My own sensibilities and memories motivate me to start a project.
Many media artists collaborate with other artists or engineers. Some of your works are also collaborative. Do you work with others at the moment? How important is it that you understand recent technology?
Yes, currently I am working with others. As I said above, I began to learn how to use media technologies at ITP. But when I graduated from ITP, I felt it was not enough for me. I felt that I needed to learn more about technology in order to achieve more hands-on skills and technological knowledge. Since I created my artwork individually before entering ITP, honestly I was not familiar with working with others. I continued my studies at Georgia Tech (GT) to get more proficiency and ability. But at GT, I gradually realized that maybe I would not achieve the level of skill and knowledge that I wanted in the end. Instead, I learned how important it is to work with other collaborators. I realized that the skill of communicating with other collaborators, in order to figure out the common problems as the work progressed, is far more important and difficult. In this process, I got to know that the most difficult part is finding a proper collaborator to work with, rather than deciding how to work.
After moving back to Korea, and working at Yonsei University (teaching media art), it was not always easy to find collaborators for my art projects. Since I am in a school now, most of my collaborators become my students or other professors. Sometimes I work with my old school and lab colleagues that I met at GT. Since I cannot learn and follow every rapidly developing media technology, learning from collaborators becomes more valuable. Recently I have worked with engineers, computer scientists, and HCI experts for diverse projects. I also work with my husband, Jeong Han Kim, who is a media artist and art school professor.
As you mentioned, both you and your husband (Jeong Han Kim) are media artists and work in academia. Though you two are not an artist collective, you do collaborate with each other. How do you decide when to work together and when just to stay supportive? Do you discuss work at home?
We have helped each other often, but for a while we did not collaborate for an art project. I think there is no specific reason for it, but when we got married, one of our professors said that we shouldn’t work together naively just because we were a couple. Actually, in some ways, our working styles are very different. Most of time I work with a single initial idea, and develop it until it is actually implemented. On the other hand, Jeong Han keeps changing his ideas while working; maybe his idea keeps evolving during the working period. Therefore, his initial idea is completed with a very different result. But for the last more than ten years, as closest collaborators, life partners and colleagues, we have discussed our ideas a lot, whether it is for a theoretical work or artwork. As we discussed a lot, we also fought a lot. We try to be very honest when we criticize each other’s work. Hearing harsh critiques from each other is always very painful, but since we can agree with the critique from the other, it soon becomes very helpful in developing our work. In fact, after graduating from an art school, it was very hard to hear really helpful critiques from outside.
Last year, Jeong Han and I started to work together as a team in order to create a project that was entitled Emergent Mind of City (EMC). Jeong Han currently leads this project along with another designer, Jeong Do Kim. Our team is called AM (Art of Mind group). For this project, AM is collaboratively working together with the BiKE lab (Biomedical Knowledge Engineering lab) of Seoul National University (The director of this lab is Professor Hong Gee Kim). The EMC project is still a work in progress, but we have presented it in several media art and technology venues already.
What is the “screen” to you now?
Since I started working with video in 1997, the screen has replaced my canvas. Like the canvas, the screen is the realm for my artwork imagination. My Ph.D. thesis is about the screen as a boundary object between the real world and the virtual world. The screen, as a boundary object, is a conceptual realm. It simultaneously contains diverse times and spaces in it. Therefore, the screen becomes a psychological and philosophical domain. I think that the screen is the realm of imagination where artists can create the imaginative experience through it.
My dissertation begins with a sentence “Screen becomes everywhere”. Now we are really in an era where screens are everywhere, and screen experience will expand more and more into our daily life. I attempted to create a malleable screen display when I was at Georgia Tech, at the beginning of my studies, but I realized that it would not be possible due to my small budget and the limitation of technical knowledge. But nowadays the flexible screen becomes an actual product. Screens still continue to evolve along with other emerging technologies, creating new kinds of experiences. It is still a means of communication and expression. The question of what contents to show on the screen, and how to create the screen experience as a perceptual and interactive experience is still wide open to be explored for me as well as other media artists and designers.
Any artists that you admire, feel influenced by and want to introduce to the readers?
In recent years, I felt I needed to know more about Ólafur Elíasson’s work. I visited his solo show at MoMA PS1 in 2008. Before visiting the exhibition, I didn’t know about him and his work. But one of my friends who I met in an artist residency program told me to check out his work. So, on my way home after the residency, I dropped by his show in New York. The show was titled “Take your time” and it was fascinating. It was an unforgettable experience for me. I liked how he used the materials and created the naturally engaging experience by using media technologies. He often uses analog and mechanical technologies, but they create a very attractive and interactive experience for the viewers. After I saw several other projects of his on YouTube, and also at his solo exhibition in Seoul, I thought that I needed to research him and his work. I wanted to understand more of his sensibilities and methodologies that he incorporated in his work.
How do you want to define yourself as an artist?
Hm… this question is the hardest one to answer in this interview so far. I have thought for a very long time about how to answer this. But I still cannot define myself either as an artist or a theorist. Maybe I can, but at the same time, it may not be correct or appropriate. Or maybe I don’t want to define myself at all.
It is easier to define myself as a mom and a teacher. Being a mom and a teacher is a given fact for me, although I have tried hard to achieve those titles in my life. But being an artist and a theorist is not the same as being a mom and teacher. I write articles and papers, and create artworks with ideas I want to express. But how these creations would be read, perceived, and received as artwork and theoretical work is beyond my personal intention.
So, I just keep exploring and creating what I am interested in showing and sharing. Maybe I am an artist who hopes to create art that can generate substantial value and meaning for the viewers. Do you think this answer is too general? Hm, yes, this is surely a very difficult question.
Please share with us if you are working on any new project at the moment.
Jeong Han and I, with others, are developing the EMC project now. The EMC project has been presented at the Seoul Media Art Biennale 2012 (Media City Seoul 2012), Re-new Art Festival (2013, Denmark, Coppenhegen), IEEE Viz conferences (2013, Atlanta, U.S.A.). It will be presented at the Siggraph Asia, Art Gallery in November 2013 in HongKong. In addition, I am further developing “Encountering Two Times” by collaborating with Jeong Han. We are working on how to connect “Encountering” project with the concept of qualia landscape.
I am also involved in a project experimenting with the next generation of screens such as transparent displays and flexible displays. This project is created for the experience design and interaction design research purpose. I am working with many other scientists and artists on this.
Also during recent years, I have gradually thought of making my personal art projects more in earnest. My last solo show was held in 2009, and I have not found a proper chance to continue it since, so now I am thinking to put more energy to resume it.
More on Hyun Jean Lee: http://hyunjeanlee.com/
- Interview by Inhye Lee
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The interview with artist Antonin Fourneau, creator of Water Light Graffiti, was conducted via email in April 2013. Photos and video of Water Light Graffiti were taken at Grohe Live Center, NYC Design Week, May 13, 2013. Other photos and videos are provided by the artist.
Water Light Graffiti
Generactive : Your project, Water Light Graffiti (WLG) looks like water gun play meeting graffiti art in a very beautifully executed way.
You spray water at the wall, touch the wall with a wet finger, or paint brush it with water, and the wall brightens up. When the water evaporates, the light gradually dims. You can see the gradation of the brightness depending on the amount of the water on the wall’s surface. Would you like to describe this project in more proper detail and tell us what was the motivation behind this project?
Fourneau : I often used water as base of interaction in my project :
in this installation wet sponge allow to connect people together to trigger an action in the Tetris game exactly like a MaKey MaKey, in fact in you disassemble a Nintendo Game controller you have already inside a pull up resistor and if you put your finger on the pad directly on the PCB you triggering the actions.
in this dinner with my research team in design school I’ve used the chopstick and contact with the wet sushi to creat a sort of musical environment.
and in the “Jawey” pieces in my portfolio http://atocorp.free.fr/portfolio/PortFolioAto2009.pdf
The led dim in the contact of the tongue. A sort of prothesis for a new kind of communication.
but also in workshop with students
and in this workshop at CAFA design School in Beijing about Natarual Device Controller
This is during this workshop than the idea of WLG grow up. I was in a park for the lunch and an old guy drew with water on the ground.
My motivation is always to find new canal of interaction with the public. And the street fascinate me more and more currently. Create gameplay in streets is a interesting challenge.
Also the ephemeral in the asian culture intrigue me a lot.
Generactive : You said (at the Digitalarti interview) that this project can be autonomous, responsive to the falling rain, for instance. Is there a future plan for this piece, such as making it a weather responsive architectural project?
Fourneau : Yes during the first part of my residencies my interest was to develop a new kind of materials for architecture. In fact the time process to produce a sustainable material needs more time than the prototype. But I’m in contact with some architect interested by the project. I find interesting to produce a material in reaction with the human and also with natural phenomena.
Generactive : Could you tell us a little bit about how the technology in WLG works? There is no danger to get electrocuted, right? : )
Fourneau : No I use just 5 volts. It’s quite simple I use water as a bridge to conduct electricity around each Led.
A larger part of my job after find this simple idea was to optimize the fabrication and the design of the WLG tiles.
Practice as Artist
Generactive : (In your portfolio) Douglas Edric Stanley at Aix-en-Provence School of Art describes the secret ingredient in your art, where you go beyond your many inspirations and define yourself with an integrated artistic identity (Hope it’s not too far from what he meant), is a sophisticated form of amateurism. What do you think about his interpretation?
Fourneau : He was my teacher for 5 years and we are still working today often on one of my projects: a contemporary fun fair revisited. And Douglas is certainly one of those most able to analyze the way I work. And its interpretation is very fair. I really like the hack, I’m not a great engineer but I like all the time discover new things and experimenting with. born in the era of the video game I’m always questioning me about how people are going to play with what I do. And if that is not playable my other influence comes from the popculture. And also a part of my own culture comes from Movies, comics, manga,… So I think that the supernatural have a part of influence on me.
Generactive : Speaking of inspirations, I want to know how you transfer them to your work. I guess my question is about your general work process. Does a certain technology or a platform give you an idea that you’d like to work on? Or do you have an idea and then seek for tools to execute it? Or is it all combined process?
Fourneau : Most of the time it’s a combined process. I need to touch material or code to think. The Idea of WLG emerges may be 8 years after the first time when I used water in an electronic project. I have many ideas in my mind and not enough time to try everything. So I wait to have all the right ingredient in hand to launch me. In the case of WLG I also need funding to make a bigger wall and not only a small prototype.
Generactive : There is a strong sense of playfulness in your work and your art is often in the form of a game. Where does this come from?
Fourneau : Born in the eighties, play to board game and video games. But mainly born in era where the code was teach in school. I touch a first time a code in the primary school. And I always remember the feeling to give a life in a digital turtle.After my french high-school diploma when the question of what I want to do in the futur came. I was terrified, I’ve chosen an informatic school without real idea. after a month of learning the language ADA and count words in database. I felt that this area of programming interested me but I was not in the right place for creativity. With a stroke of luck, an artist talked to me about an art school where there were different fields : 3D, sound, robotic, programming in addition to traditional creative fields. It was the Aix-en-Provence art school. I integrated this school and I think it was the right place at the right moment to help me. I think the practice that I developed there would be never support in another school. I could have fired me the 1st year in other context.
Generactive : I recently met one artist who said that she was going through what might be a midlife crisis. She said she was working on her art, but doing so without SOUL! For someone like you, whose work shows a strong sense of love and joy in it (Not just that your project instills joy into the audience, but I can see that you must have had a lot of fun conceptualizing and creating the piece), do you ever run into “artist’s block” like this? If so, how do you tackle these moments?
Fourneau : the question of soul in my creation come every times. And even more when a creation is played with the public. if someone makes a beautiful sketch on the WLG. is it still my creation? My part of job is to cause excitement in the public mind. for me it is very important to meet people opinions and discuss this strange practice that I develop. I think that part of my creative approaches increasingly now to a designer practice.
On Interactive Media and Technology
Generactive : Interactive media seems like an everyday term these days. Now that more, and even most, people in the world are using interactive media in some way, the question for artists has become “how”, “why” and for “what” do we use it. What does it mean to you to work with interactive media and technology? Is it just a small part of your bigger creative practice? Why are you in this field?
Fourneau : I’ve always lived with media that move and live.It is therefore a sort of clay for me too as painting for a painter. Today is a material like any other and that leads to a way of thinking. we do not think in the same way with paint on hand or with a tablet or with a keyboard. But we stay same person with the same influences.
Generactive : Is there a routine for you that you do to push yourself forward as an artist in the field? Do you try to learn new skills every now and then? Or is “working with technology” natural for you (embedded in your DNA)?
Fourneau : I’m a fairly lazy actually. When I have an idea that comes to me but asked me to learn too many new things. I find it too complicated at once. And I’d rather get an easier way to achieve it.
I wish it was in my DNA. But at the same time I feel that for some people the technology is time consuming. I often spent a lot of time on a technical problem. And the mere fact of trying to solve this problem suffiser me mentally. But I actually lost a lot of time. If you do not want to be an engineer but a designer or artist in this field. I think it takes a minimum know what will be the job of the engineer who will help you.
Generactive : Is there a new project that you are working on right now? If so, would you like to tell us a little bit about it?
Fourneau : I work on friendly versions of WLG. Play duck hunt with a water gun
I’m working on a book about my project Eniarof the fun fair (www.eniarof.com).
And I’l try to finish my game Oterp on iPhone. www.oterp.com
Certainly the project who asked me the most time. Precisely because the code is not enough in my DNA. But at the same time it has some interesting maturation in a project that you carry for so long.
Generactive : Is there any project, artist or idea you recently found, or have always admired, that you would like to share with us?
Fourneau : Certainly the mine Kafon project
be inspired by a ball game to solve real problems. Ohh ! it’s another level than my board…respect
- Interview by Inhye Lee
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Interview with installation and new media artist Sam Van Aken.
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Through responsive dance, [radical] signs of life externalizes the mind’s non-hierarchical distribution of thought. Music is generated from the dancers‘ muscles and blood flow via biophysical sensors that capture sound waves from the performers’ bodies. This data triggers complex neural patterns to be projected onto multiple screens as 3D imagery. As the audience interacts with the images produced, they enter into a dialogue with the dancers.
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“Pulse Park” is comprised of a matrix of light beams that graze the central oval field of Madison Square Park. Their intensity is entirely modulated by a sensor that measures the heart rate of participants and the resulting effect is the visualization of vital signs, arguably our most symbolic biometric, in an urban scale.
In Pulse Park, evening visitors to Madison Square Park have their systolic and diastolic activity measured by a sensor sculpture installed at the North end of the Oval Lawn. These biometric rhythms are translated and projected as pulses of narrow-beam light that will move sequentially down rows of spotlights placed along the perimeter of the lawn as each consecutive participant makes contact with the sensor. The result is a poetic expression of our vital signs, transforming the public space into a fleeting architecture of light and movement.
Pulse Park is inspired by Roberto Gavaldóns film Macario (Mexico, 1960) in which the protagonist has a hunger-induced hallucination wherein individuals are represented by lit candles, as well as by the minimalist musical compositions of Conlon Nancarrow, Glenn Branca and Steve Riech. Pulse Park is the culmination of a series that Lozano-Hemmer debuted at the 2007 Venice Biennale with Pulse Room.
The concept sketch was printed in an edition of 12 copies.
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Iraqi born Wafaa Bilal has become known for provocative interactive video installations. Many of Bilal’s projects over the past few years have addressed the dichotomy of the virtual vs. the real. He attempts to keep in mind the relationship of the viewer to the artwork, one of his main objectives being to transform the normally passive experience of viewing art into an active participation. In this, his latest effort, Domestic Tension, viewers can log onto the internet to contact or “shoot” Bilal with paintball guns. Bilal’s objective is to raise awareness of virtual war and privacy, or lack thereof, in the digital age. During the course of the exhibition, Bilal will confine himself to the gallery space. Over the duration, people will have 24-hour virtual access to the space via the Internet. They will have the ability to watch Bilal and interact with him through a live web-cam and chat room. Should they choose to do so, viewers will also have the option to shoot Bilal with a paintball gun, transforming the virtual experience into a very physical one. Bilal’s self imposed confinement is designed to raise awareness about the life of the Iraqi people and the home confinement they face due to the both the violent and the virtual war they face on a daily basis. This sensational approach to the war is meant to engage people who may not be willing to engage in political dialogue through conventional means. Domestic Tension will depict the suffering of war not through human displays of dramatic emotion, but rather through engaging people in the sort of playful interactive video game with which they are familiar.
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The Cabinet of Curiousness is an antique wooden card catalogue with 20 drawers. Functioning as an interactive piece, the opening of each drawer activates a voice or piece of music from within the cabinet. The audience, assuming the role of a DJ, may experience the clarity of sound from one drawer or a cacophony of sounds from numerous drawers opened simultaneously as the cabinet is played like an instrument. A contrast emerges between the obsolete system of cataloguing single pieces of data and our current tendency to inundate ourselves with excessive information. An investigation of knowledge, time, and our relationship to objects and music.
Work by Janet Cardiff & George Miller
Materials: Unique oak card catalogue with speakers and audio
Dimensions: 52 X 17 1/2 X 27 inches (132.08 X 44.45 X 68.58 cm)
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Installation and Performance
Fabricating the interfaced machine.
Interview created and produced by Sue Costabile for Cycling ’74.
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Matthew Davidson aka Stretta is a talented guy. He’s an accomplished graphic artist and video producer/editor but we talked to him about his music. Stretta’s music is lush, modest and dreamy in the tradition of Brian Eno but it definitely has character of its own. Stretta comes from a tradition of modular synthesis that led him to discover Max/MSP.
The following is reposted from an interview by Marsha Vdovin here.
Tell me a little about your background.
I grew up in Iowa, and in 1988 I was trying to figure out what college to go to. I applied to one school, and found myself out on the East Coast, at Berklee College of Music. While I was at Berklee, one of my professors introduced me to Max. That was 1992. I’ve been using Max ever since.
I was interested in music and technology, so growing up in Iowa — pre-internet—all the information I had access to was books and magazines. It’s not at all like the hot and cold running information that we have on tap these days, where you can be anywhere in the world and learn about any subject very quickly.
As an example, I recently developed an interest in photography. This is a subject I knew nothing about. With the internet, and the instant turnaround of digital photography, being able to see other people’s work, inspect the meta data, I was able to learn a great deal in a short amount of time. Today, taking up any new interest like electronic music is far easier than when I started, I can tell you that much.
Digital photography opened up so much for me. I was able to do it without spending money, which was incredible. People were able to see my work all over the world, without me spending money.
Right. The spending money thing is analogous to what life was like before digital recording. A reel of tape costs money, so when you’re rolling, when you’ve hit the record button, there’s money at stake. That was the same thing with photography, you’re burning film. Now it doesn’t cost anything to drop the shutter, and now it doesn’t cost anything to play with digital audio. This accelerates the learning process.
I loved your Way-Geeky Time Line.
[Laughs.] You’ve done your research. Looking back, I realized that computers helped me express myself, so it was the correlation of operating systems or computers and what was happening in my life was significant. My first computer at home that I had access to was an Apple Lisa. The first time I used it, it was like touching the future. It was like someone got in a time machine, kidnapped a computer, then brought it back to the current day. I’d never experienced anything like that before.
I guess you could apply the oft-used term “paradigm shift.” I hate to use that word, but I can’t really think of anything better to describe what it was like going from computers with a green phosphorous screen to a black-and-white bitmap display where you click on objects and open them up. It’s not hyperbole to say that that changed my life.
I only had that machine for three months, then it was replaced by a 128K Macintosh. I was definitely one of the very early Mac users, and I’ve been fortunate in my choice of careers and work, as I’ve never had to use a Windows machine. Even in the dark days of the ’90s.
Did you take to Max right away?
I remember the night I was exposed to Max. Afterwards, I stood outside Berklee and put my head back and looked up at the sky, imagining how far this thing went. I recognized it and I knew it was one of those things I could spend years playing with, and never really see the end of the potential.
I’m very fortunate to watch Max evolve, sprouting audio, making all these technological leaps, and then the leap to OS X. It continues to be more capable, while retaining its essential core.
My favorite toy growing up was Legos, and I see a commonality. People I talk to who are into modular synthesizers, or into Max, there’s this commonality of “Did you play with Legos when you grew up?” “Yeah.” So it’s like that. It’s like Legos for music.
I like that granularity of control. It sits in this weird space, between commercial music applications and programming languages. Max is somewhere in between these two things. It allows you to create and customize your environment without programming and compiling.
I’m not a programmer—there is something about procedural languages, text-based, linear thinking that I don’t get along with. Max is non-linear, it moves in all directions, it’s real time. If you’re a guitarist, you understand how guitar pedals and patch cords work. You plug this into this and this other thing. I think this is a metaphor that is compatible with musicians.
If you understand these things, then understanding Max comes intuitively. When your creations evolve, and they tend to get more complex, you look back at it and you think, “How did I even understand this to begin with?” Because it looks really complicated. But then you break it down into smaller parts, and you can see how everything works.
So, is Max your primary music-making tool?
No. I would be surprised to hear anyone say that it is, simply because we live in this age where we have so many amazing tools available to musicians. There has never been a better time, from a technological standpoint, to be a musician. So while there are people who can dedicate themselves monk-like to a particular tool—Charles Cohen comes to mind. He’s been using a Buchla Music Easel for forty years. That’s his thing, and he knows it inside out. I admire that. We need people like that to be able to dedicate themselves to an instrument, but I don’t have that kind of dedication.
Have you gone the Jitter road? Have you combined your photography with Max?
[Laughs.] No. Like I said, Max is one of those things that you could spend the rest of your life dedicating yourself to the possibilities, and not exhaust them all. Based on my interest in video, and photography, I am definitely interested in in Jitter, but I haven’t come close to exhausting all the ideas I have for audio and MIDI within Max yet.
I think if someone came to me and said, “You know, we want you to do a live performance, and we want there to be video,” yeah, [laughs] I would fast-track my Jitter education.
Also, I don’t think there’re enough video-y applications for the Monome. The Monome is very audio-centric right now and there isn’t any good reason for that. The Monome, in conjunction with Jitter, would be very powerful.
What is it about the Monome that draws you to it?
Probably it was all the years of Max prior to it. You spend all this time with Max, and then you think to yourself, “Gosh, I really wish I had a controller to go along with this, to provide input and feedback.” People would come out with controllers, and they would be overly specific, or they wouldn’t do the thing that you wanted to do.
Then you started seeing people building their own controllers. Do-it-yourself kits became available, like the iCube, where you could hook up sensors and other analog sources and it would provide a MIDI output. That was a good move forward.
But when I saw the Monome, I just thought, “Oh, of course. I know exactly what I would do with that.” I think that’s partly why Max has been the default language of choice for Monome developers. They’re very well suited for each other. There are no labels of any sort, there’s no pre-determined, prescribed usage to the Monome. It is exactly what you’re looking for if you’d done anything in Max at all in the past.
How did the Max 5 change affect you?
I was using Max 4 up until about two or three months ago. I knew about Max 5, I knew what was going on with the environment, and I thought it was a very necessary, gutsy move for the company. And from what I could tell, at least two solid years of engineering, while adding no new features or capabilities to the software, redoing the user interface from the ground up, with a completely new framework. That’s the right way to do things.
If they were a larger company, they would find a way to screw it up. “You want to do what? For how long? That’s ridiculous.” But the change from Max 4 to Max 5 is as significant as the change OS 9 to OS X.
I was talking to Nick Rothwell as recently as September, telling him that I think it’s time for me to move into Max 5. He said, “Well, once you start using Max 5, you’re never going to go back.” Intellectually I believed him, but deep down, I was like, “Yeah, well we’ll just see about that”— because it is a big change. And oh, he was right. [laughs] I have a Max 5 license on one computer and a Max 4 license on another computer. I can’t bring myself to use Max 4 anymore.
I took to it in a fairly short amount of time. I think the main change, in terms of capabilities for Max 5, is being able to think in metric units. You can think in terms of 16th notes and 8th notes, and you don’t have to worry about milliseconds, or converting this to samples. That makes everything a lot easier. The idea of a global transport, and having access to metrical units is a really big deal for me. That was huge.
What’s your favorite object?
The Coll object.
And why is that?
I use it in every single patch. It’s familiar, like an old friend. I know it, and I know how to use it. I’m constantly learning new things about it. I think if you’re doing anything that manipulates or stores little bits of data, you have to get comfortable with the Coll object.
It seems to be pretty fast. I don’t have any problem extracting data in a timely fashion from it. If you have a Coll object and a Metro, you have the entire basis of a whole variety of step sequencers with a timed beat. You can do all sorts of magic with just those two things.
I don’t think it’s very sexy if you look at it. The object that I really liked before the Coll object was Table. It was more limited and approachable than Coll, but it had a graphical interface. You had two-dimensional data that you could manipulate directly with the mouse. But the Coll object is a lot more flexible. With the Monome, the face of the Coll object is now tangible.
Often, I’ll peek inside patches of other developers to see how they do things. Sometimes, they’re doing some sort of complex mathematical abstraction, which is satisfying from an intellectual point of view, but I’m more likely to simply dump the values I want into a data object like Coll. It kind of feels like cheating, but it gets the job done.
Have you been working in Max for Live?
Yeah. Most of the work I’ve been doing recently has been in Max for Live.
I think if Max by itself had a weak point, it would be that it doesn’t have a decent time line. A time line is one of those features that represents infinite mission creep. Ultimately, what you want is a full-featured DAW. So, putting Max inside a mature DAW is the best solution here.
Prior to Max for Live, most of the things I made were only of interest only to me, due to the dependencies involved. In the beginning, the dependencies were racks of hardware. At Berklee, I had codified what I learned about harmony into software, but to make it do anything you had to use external synthesizers and sound generators. Nothing ever made it out of the lab.
Later, you could use soft synths, but that still involved a lot of setup. You had to load the virtual instruments and effects, perform complicated routings, and deal with sync issues. It wasn’t really plug-and-play. I couldn’t take this, and then give it to someone else, and have it be as useful for them.
Now with Max for Live, suddenly the things that I make are portable to other people. I can make these little tools, these little performance things that take real time input, and then outputs something that’s musically interesting.
That also has ramifications for live performance. I did a recent video using Max 5. It involved a software harmonizer, effects, recording multiple tracks into a DAW, and complex MIDI routings, and that’s like, four different applications, all combined. It took a good hour or so to set this one performance piece up. So, it’s not easy for me to reproduce that performance again, let alone string together a set of pieces to perform. Now, with Max for Live, you can put all these combinations of elements together, all of your soft synths, all your routing, all your effects in this one environment, and save it. Then you can recall it. I can’t tell you what a huge thing that is.
Max for Live also addresses the issue of a DAW trying to be all things to all people…
But they try to be.
Well, they try to be, and then that’s where the user interface breaks down. The application sprouts these weird appendages, and after two years of that and you end up with something that becomes incomprehensible and un-maintainable. Especially if you’re not willing to take the time to go in and refine the user interface, or piss off your existing user base by throwing out old, crusty features that a small percentage of your user base relies on. But if you jettisoned that code, then you could bring your DAW forward, develop faster and make your code more reliable.
So what Max for Live does for Live users is it allows people to create this customized environment to do the things that they need to do, without bringing the entire DAW down.
So you can see how Max and Live need each other. Max gets a fully featured timeline, and Live gets a mature environment for user customization.
So, you’re giving away your Max for Live ‘Monome suite’?
It’s free for anyone to download. I’m beta testing a new release right now that adds support for multiple Monomes. So if you have multiple Monomes, you can have one that’s switching between these applications, and another one that’s switching between another set of applications.
I’m replacing all the user interface objects with Live objects, and that enables parameters to be stored and automated. I just sent out a beta of that yesterday, and I’ll hopefully be getting some bug reports and actually making that an official release in the near future.
So, what is Stretta?
Stretta began as a vanity record label. I bought the domain back around 1996. It became clear to me that people weren’t buying music, so the idea of a record label really didn’t make sense anymore. Simultaneously, I was noticing the importance of personal branding on the internet because there are so many forces competing for attention. If you release something, you’ll see a huge spike of interest that falls off rapidly. It doesn’t matter if you spent two years working on something or two days, you’ll see the same spike, then everyone moves on to the next thing. From that I concluded that the better strategy is to release smaller things on a more consistent basis, and this is where having a memorable brand becomes useful.
‘Matthew Davidson’ is not very memorable, and it is kind of long. So, since I already had the domain—and short, pronounceable domain names are a rare commodity these days—I use Stretta. It is short and memorable and consistent across all these social media platforms.
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An interactive installation by Quiet Ensemble that have mice running wheels playing music boxes. I love the low tech sophistication of this piece. While they run around they can play a lullaby by Brahms, Schubert or Mozart.
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