Degree Show Plans (and thoughts about interaction)

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I’ve started planning my work for the degree show in June. This will be a culmination of everything I have learnt so far on the course, so I am not going to do anything too different to my previous work. However, I do have an idea to make the interaction element more interesting! Click below to read more.

Most of my work to date has been interactive, because I dislike the almost clinical relationship we have to contemporary art. Too often it seems like galleries are more like reliquaries and lack any sort of dynamism. I have learnt, however, that interaction is a very difficult thing to get right. Because of the default cultural attitude we have to art, people are very reticent to touch art work. While this static divide is something I want to remove, it’s implicit presence is a barrier to its own removal.

To create signs saying “Please interact” (something, incidentally, that they have done at the Tate Modern recently), is not a realistic option. You can’t instruct people how to approach your art work, as this just deadens the whole experience. I have previously tried using visual clues to encourage interaction. In Menagerie the interactive part was a keyboard and screens. These are such prosaic and utilitarian objects that people weren’t afraid to start typing away. The keyboard is the archetypal example of human-machine interaction and it takes a mental leap to see it as an untouchable objet d’art.

Another way I have found to encourage participation is to make the interaction the prerogative of the art work. In Monitor and Closer, peoples’ interaction was based on their gaze (in the former) and their physical presence (in the latter). To look at art work is already a normal, passive, way to engage with it, so to take the gaze and make it an active process is a way of involving interaction, but take the decision to interact out of the audience’s hands. By sensing the physical presence of a person, a similar effect is achieved in Closer.

Now I want to still work with interaction but not with the audience. Another key interest of mine is the autonomy, or lack of it, of pseudo-intelligent objects. Before when I have made these, they responded to the audience, but I plan now to create an ecosystem where the objects only respond to each other. I think this will be a succinct way to unite my two main concerns.

I’ve yet to decide on  the details, but above you can see a rough sketch of an initial idea. There are two robot-like things, made up of porcelain not-quite-spherical shapes. I’m imagining these with just a clear glaze, with a black under-glaze of alien symbols. I like the idea of porcelain as something that has some aspects of flesh, but is cold and hard. I think this is something that it shares with robots. They resemble aspects of life, but have coldness that people find hard to identify with. Porcelain is also, of course, a traditional material for making fine art, so I thought it might interesting to use it in an entirely new context.

One of the robots will have two porcelain eyes with cameras embedded in them. It watches a screen, and when it recognises something (haven’t decided yet), it will pump “blood” through a system of PVC tubing. The other robot will be watching the tubing with another camera. When it sees the blood flow through the tubes it will change its output on the screen somehow.

I think the output of the screen should be informed by two inputs. If it is just informed just by the blood, then the whole interaction will just be a boring circle of cause and effect. Of course, I’m not going to create an artificial super-intelligence, but I want there to be a feeling of something more than just cause-and-effect, even if in actuality this is all it is. Perhaps it could display images from the internet semi-randomly, with the blood triggering it to change what images it chooses. The eyes would trigger when they see a particular image. I don’t know.

I have the pump already. Its mechanism is a DC motor that you just supply 12V to (it draws 2.2A !!!!), so it should be super simple to use. You can reverse the flow by just reversing the current, apparently. The red caps are the connections for PVC tubing. This is the site I used, which do a whole range of tubes. I’ll be doing tests with them next week and will post my results!

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