Computational Arts

Session 5: Paper prototypes, Interviews and Individual Tasks

We started by discussing Jayson’s recent work. Since the last tutorial, he’d been to visit Susan Stepney in Cambridge. He was particularly interested in her because of her academic work around Non-Standard Computation, as well as her interest in Science Fiction:

Reality is a crutch for those who can’t cope with Science Fiction

They had a wide ranging discussion about the Computational Arts from Jayson’s point of view – using computing and computational thinking to inspire, reflect and challenge art. Susan was particularly interested in how artists could visualise complexity and emergence in new ways. They discussed her recent work – particularly around allowing people to control a feedback loop and see it in action. She supplied a series of complexity theory links for him to research – mainly around Jim Crutchfield’s work.

Seizure by Roger Hiorns

This thinking on complexity led Jayson back to cellular automata, emergence and crystals – as an an example of an emergent structure. Following up on these areas, Jayson visited the Natural History Museum crystal and gem aka Mineralogy collection. After buying ten kilograms of Magnesium Sulphate, he started investigating growing his own crystals, and thinking about 3D printing a lattice to support it. I referenced Roger Hiorn’s “Seizure” .

Jayson’s paper mockup

Jayson presented the paper mockup of his graduating show. From right, a glass tank for growing crystals, the largest crystal in the central spot and on the left a computer to display a digital screen simulation of crystal growth.

Andy Lomas, Aggregation 9

I referenced Andy Lomas’s work around digital Aggregation, as well as Kimchi and Chips Line Segments Space and Lit Tree projects. The Lit Tree project produced discussions around blending the analogue and the digital – especially users being able to change the growth of the tree by highlighting different parts of the plant with their hands in real time.

Could people “mine” for digital rocks when they visit Jayson’s installation? We discussed how we could make the installation more autobiographical – which prompted Jayson to relate a memory of growing up in Australia – playing in the back garden and digging up Copper there. We talked about using a microscope to allow visitors to view the analogue (grown) crystal in real time.

Jayson discussed “The Crystal World” by J.G. Ballard:

The novel tells the story of a physician trying to make his way deep into the jungle to a secluded leprosy treatment facility. While trying to make it to his destination, his chaotic path leads him to try to come to terms with an apocalyptic phenomenon in the jungle that crystallises everything it touches.

We discussed him making a self portrait – but with crystals replacing his eyes. How can he accelerate the process? We talked about seeing crystals as computation – or as a metaphor for computation.

I referenced the MONIAC liquid simulator of the British Economy:

As well as Arcologies (self contained environments), which led to me screening the trailer for Silent Running by Douglas Trumbull:

I set Jayson the homework of watching Silent Running as well considering the why of his installation.

Moving onto Julianne’s work, we began by discussing the various people that she has reached out to on the project – Alison Wade responded, but unfortunately she’s currently in India. Julianne posted her questions for Alison on her blog:

  • Why paintings as opposed to other mediums?
  • How were you able to turn your heartache into art?
  • How did you go about picking these phrases instead of other parts of the messages?
  • What is your take on the way technology is affecting love?
  • Have you ever been ghosted? If so, how can that be portrayed through art in a way that these messages have been portrayed?
  • Was it hard to look over these messages? Did that affect your ability to create your work? Did it drive you?
  • Did you meet any of these ex’s online?
  • Do you think the nature of these messages would have changed if you had?
  • Was creating this series therapeutic?
  • What was your thought process/process for this piece?
  • Why do you think people gravitated towards this series? It seems as it it cultivated a lot of press.
  • The cult: the beginning of this project came after, she hadn’t been contacted
  • What advice would you give modern love with regard to what you’ve discovered about modern relationships?
  • What advice would you give artists today that are interested in your same subject?
  • Breakups can be quite debilitating. How would you advise young artists that are feeling crippled by their own heartache?

Next Julianne shared her cardboard mockup of her exhibition:

I.e. a central projection of the conversations that she’s been gathering from friends from social networks (Tinder and Bumble) – with a computer on the right to allow people to add their own content. She’s been getting screen grabs and then transcribing the content manually. I advised against her allowing people to add content live at the installation – it’s a minefield of people either trolling or a time sink in terms of coding to live functionality.

We discussed the moment that she was most interested in the relationships – the inflection point when people decide to get closer or fall apart – I asked if the installation was a kind of Memento mori – i.e. reminding people that everything ends.

We talked about the projected text itself breaking up at the point of breaking up. I posed the question of what the interface would allow people to navigate her curated dataset in a natural way – we quickly moved away from Kinect or computer vision based gestural interfaces and zero’d in on using a version of the Tinder swipe left or right as a way of selecting – a fitting echo.

I referenced Listening Post again – especially the voice synthesis as a way of communicating text content in a multimedia fashion:

I went on to reference the visualisation methods used for several projects from Andreas Muller – Wind, SwimmingMessageSystem and Hana:

Finally, we discussed 40 Days of Dating from Sagmeister and Walsh as a good reference for visualising the history of a relationship.

We focussed on the flower metaphor for a relationship – growing and branching and either blooming or decaying away. I set the following homework for Julianne:

  1. What is the screen resolution of your projection going to be? This will impact on your type sizing dramatically, as well as the relative scale of other parts of your interface.
  2. Investigate voice synthesis
  3. Explore the flower metaphor
  4. Paper prototype your projection interface, make a stop motion animation of it
  5. Plan your campaign to get more content

Finally, we moved onto Diane’s work. We started by discussing her trip to Transmediale 2017, where amongst other things she managed to have a conversation with Martin Howse. One of the most interesting parts for Diane was how he positions himself – he’s not making art about science but rather how you artistically interface with these scientific things.  How far you go into it, how you can shift it, you are not the scientist. He looks at medieval alchemy to investigate digital technology, trying to redo ancient experiments – it’s not important for them to “work”. He’s looking at the chemicals used in modern computer:

…you take these materials that are used in modern computing and then try to process them through these alchemical techniques. Critical connections start to emerge…

For example, cyanide is used to process gold, cyanide killed Turing. He is interested in the toxicity of things and where software executes. I mentioned that it sounds like he is on a Quixotic quest – it’s a way of investigating modern technology in ancient ways – pre scientific method almost. Diane said that he had no formal scientific training, did a lot of work with computing, was at Goldsmiths at the beginning of his career. Diane stated that life seemed to be more about death in old times, now future is shiny and heavenly – this brought
up Howes’s most recent bacterial work – he’s been investigating a gold mine and the run off feeding bacteria. Finally Diane discussed his practise in general – Howse likes the process of making the exhibition about the studio experiments, re making it for the gallery – for example working with poetry generating worms and then hiding them in the gallery. His method of translating from studio to gallery context.

We then moved on to discuss Diane’s proposed exhibition, which can be seen above. She intends it to be an intimate, enclosed space, darkly lit.  The large bean like object on the table at the rear is a large scale glass vessel containing her own gut bacteria in culture (aka an anaerobic fermentation cell), with a large strip light adjacent – strobing randomly. She aims to monitor the fermentation cell in some real time method, and have that output to a screen on the floor – which can be seen at the bottom right of the maquette. As the gut cells are anerobic, they must be sealed against our atmosphere. Diane went on to discuss how she’d keep the cells alive – it would smell awful and have to be “fed” constantly. I said it reminded me of a terrarium.

Diane has been looking at the latest research on the gut biome – particularly around biome/brain communication. I said I thought this was a very rich area to communicate – but what will she be able to actually measure? pH? What is the output going to be? How will this screen on the floor function? Diane said that she was interested in the idea of symobiosis – and also that visiting aliens might view us as merely mosts for our gut bacteria – rather than an independent organism. I challenged her on the idea of her being the host for her bacteria – could the exhibition be about that? Her gut as her partner? Her brain affecting her gut and her gut affecting her brain? Could we measure the activity of the bacteria and use that to generate a story? I referenced Memo Atken’s recent work around generation of texts using neural networks. Could the gut be generating her thoughts? Diane stated quickly that she doesn’t want it to be a self portrait – I asked if it could be autobiographical – about her relationship with her mother and her mother’s relationship with her and her gut bacteria. She’s very keen to allow people to interface with the biome in real time – and educate people that we don’t actually eat food, we eat the byproducts of food. I asked her if she could be the mother, and the biome her baby? I referenced the following project:

Would it be possible to do a similar scale installation with her own gut bacteria? Could we allow visitors to “fly” around the landscape using a mounted microscope?

I left Diane with the following three questions:

  1. Her top ten insights into the gut biome
  2. Can she source Agar in large quantities?
  3. What existing microscopy equipment can she get access to at Goldsmiths?