Monday, February 23, 2009

Networked Vision: Reflections/Self Critique

Networked Vision
Originally uploaded by Rubin 110
Saturday night I exhibited a piece at Stimulus, a False Profit party at CellSPACE. The event was fantastic.

The piece was an installation I named very literally "Networked Vision," an interactive installation/sculpture with projected live video.

Description. The sculpture was made of e-waste cables and branches suspended from the ceiling. On top of it was a projector and my laptop, running a Max/Jitter patch I made. In amongst the cables were 4 web-cams and 2 infrared proximity sensors, and I was also using the built in web-cam on my laptop.
If nothing was moving around the sculpture, then the live video from the laptop cam, pointed at the projection wall, would be projected, creating video feedback. The program would switch through the different web-cams, analyzing the video for motion (amount of change from one frame to the next). If there was motion above a certain calibrated threshold, that web-cam's video would be projected until there was not motion in front of it. Then the program would go back to showing the video feedback and "looking" through the cams for motion.
There was also a DJ Stock ticker, imitating the tickers for trading floors, but with DJs instead of stocks, and a music analyzing patch plus a random number generator making their stock rise and fall. I thought this was funny, and possibly my favorite part, but I was annoyed when parts of it didn't work. Like at the end of the night it was supposed to say "ALL TRADING IS CLOSED THANK YOU GOOD NIGHT" but it didn't.
One proximity sensor triggered a message in the stock ticker (which never worked), the other controlled saturation, so the video was only in color when someone was in front of the sensor. This worked well and pleased me. The sculpture would rotate about 20 to 50 degrees when bumped, which I didn't anticipate but I liked the way it worked out.

My goals with this piece (design challenges) were first to make something fast (I had 2 weeks to make it), that I could set up and take down quickly and easily. Check.
I wanted people to be able to see pretty immediately that they were affecting the sculpture and how, but not so immediately that it was boring. This did not go as well as I would like, partially due to logistical constraints (the computer couldn't analyze all the video streams at once, therefore the switching). I think the video feedback added little to the piece and that it would have been better to let people see that the video input was switching, allowing them to more easily "get" it.

Aesthetics/concepts: I have been interested by the way cables look for a while, it was fun to experiment with them. They have such undulating organic forms while being very coldly technological. I like to work with reused materials, and e-waste and obsolescence being the technological issue that it is, in my mind the medium added a lot to the narrative. The branches were there as contrasting texture and form and conceptually relate to the intertwining of technology and the organic.
A lot of why I made this was to experiment with machine vision, but technical art needs to be related to human themes and not "wallow in gaudy baubles." The narrative in my mind was that the sculpture was the body of this networked (it wasn't... next time) cyborg creature, aware (via motion sensing), but not yet to the point of agency, broadcasting the nonsense data of the stock exchange (partially as a demonstration of it as a portal to the internet... but no one trades real stocks on Saturday night). When not stimulated it would lapse into "staring" at itself, creating the infinity of feedback. The e-waste aspect of the materials reminds of the social and ecological costs of this kind of technology.
It is also about interactivity as "relational form." The installation is not complete without people there. I narcissistically loiter around these pieces to watch what they inspire people to do. I am sad when people don't "get it," which is a failed communication on my part. I am delighted when people have fun with these things. Mostly I want people to play and experiment, working with each other to trigger different combinations of input and thereby different results. If this is my standard for success, I'd give this installation a 7/10.

For next time, I won't use the video feedback. The ease of participant understanding is more important than the "staring at itself" story. What's more I think the video looked best when it was in black and white and the motion video tracers (which were layered under the normal video) would show in color.
The video had some delay, which some people liked playing with. As a technical shortcoming, at least it had an aesthetic quality.
Also, having a networked component would be, you know, appropriate. Downloading stocks, uploading video, and being responsive to text messages would all make me pleased, and seem achievable.

Thanks to Andrew for helping like the rockstar he is. Thanks to Alvin for fetching bike rim, tools, pizza. Thanks to Rosco Petracula for consulting services. Thanks to False Profit for showing the work!

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