Looking Outwards 3
One Hundred and Eight – Nils Völker
One Hundred and Eight by Nils Völker is a 2.4 by 1.8 meter wall-mounted grid of garbage bags. Columns of bags deflate in response to the silhouette of a viewer as detected by a camera – although the grid is able to operate autonomously should it be left alone. Unlike many of the other Arduino-based projects I researched, the technical “gee-whiz” aspect of this work is secondary to a study of material and a reversal of expectations. Völiker breathes just enough life into the bags to give them interest, but not so much as to overpower the sensitivity of the forms. In doing so, he transforms the plastic bag from a symbol of waste to an object of awe. I’m impressed by Völker’s disciplined use of interaction itself (at a bare minimum) as an element in a highly formalist work. A principal struggle for artists working with computation lies in tucking away the engineering of an artwork, but this is something that Völkner does to great success. Also, I don’t think Jim Cambell’s Formula for Computer Art applies here, since the signal and response are so elegantly unified.
Noisy Jelly – Raphaël Pluvinage
Raphaël Pluvinage describes Noisy Jelly as a “game where the player has to cook and shape his own musical material, based on coloured jelly.” Here, as in One Hundred and Eight, inanimate objects personified through a simple interaction. But unlike One Hundred and Eight, the jellies are unresponsive until touched, that is, they don’t do anything on their own. Pluvinage uses an Arduino to detect a hand touching a jelly, I presume by passing a small current through it. He uses Max/MSP for the sound – relying on oscillators whose frequency corresponds in some way to the touches. While I normally find pure tones with no harmonics excruciating to listen to, they work well with the jelly. As I see it, the jelly and crude synthesized sounds refer to failed experiments like the Segway, lending the work a jarring retro-future aesthetic with a hint of irony. I especially enjoy how Pluvinage gives the various jelly shapes unique sonic personalities.
SENSELESS DRAWING BOT #2 – So KANNO + Takahiro YAMAGUCHI
Much like mudlevel’s robo-rainbow, SENSELESS DRAWING BOT #2 by So KANNO and Takahiro YAMAGUCHI makes graffiti so that we don’t have to. It raises interesting questions surrounding the notion of authorship, as well as the problem of responsibility when robots can perform illegal tasks on our behalf. Concretely, the bot consists of high pressure washers equipped with spray cans, mounted on a motorized platform with wheels. An Arduino manages the servos used to release the paint – it is unclear from the documentation whether the robot’s movements are being controlled remotely or internally. Unlike the two other Arduino projects I cited, in which art-objects surprised us by being interactive, SENSELESS DRAWING BOT is poetic because gun-wielding robots aren’t normally thought of as art-machines. The work destabilizes our expectations, and exploits our cynicism to convey the message that robots can be machines of creation in addition to machines of destruction.