For the last years, I have seen tons of art installations using the same type of technologies stated in the blog post ”Physical Computing’s Greatest Hits (and misses). The interactive art scene in Montreal is pretty active and creators use various forms of physical computing approaches.
The interactive art pieces I found the most compelling are those inviting the users/public to collaborate to produced meaningful content. Not only the user has to get involved, but he also has to observe others and construct his experience according to the actions of the others. The best example is the project 21 balançoires by Mouna Andraos (an ITP graduate. It is because of her I am here, so thank you Mouna) and Melissa Mongiat.
The swings are installed in the spring at the main downtown public square. Pedestrians are invited to swing and create music. The swings are equipped with sensors. Once you picked a swing, you can produce a sound by swinging high or low. The swings also produce sounds when then pass by another swing, or if they follow the same rhythm of another swing. This means, you can make sounds on you own. But if you collaborate, you can actually make music. People spend hours swinging with friends or strangers. The whole installation sounds like a concert.
Bringing people together
Interactive art and physical computing are great ways to have strangers connecting to each other, interacting. With 21 Balançoires, the simple gesture of swinging becomes a social experiment. This is what I like about interactivity: creating interactions between humans. Too many interactive installations allow to interact with technology only. I guess they are meaningful in a way, but to me, the point of using physical computing device is to use them as a tool to have people reflect on their relationship to others. With physical computing, we can transform daily life contexts into something new, an experience that forces you to connect with society.
Interacting with objects
In 2011, I had the chance to work on Barcode.tv, an interactive documentary exploring our identities through objects surrounding us. It is pretty simple: using the website or the iPhone app, you can scan any barcode of any object. Then, a 1-minute film related to the category of object you picked is shown to you. In addition to the website and iPhone app, the creative team I worked with created an installation. Here is a timelapse I created during the three days it took to set it up for the first time:
The installation is great. The public is invited to take the objects and to put them on a socle which has microchip reader in it. Then a film related to the object is shown on the barcode screen. Even thought there is no collaboration between humans in this installation, I really liked it because it made you feel like the objects where talking to you.
Daily life as a trigger to interactiveland
What links 21 Balançoires and Barcode.tv is the fact they use a daily life setting to produce an interactive context. Swings are used by everybody and anyone is able to pick an object. Interactive storytelling can be really strong when it is embed in the public daily lives. Like the tone stairs at Pompidou Museum. This is where it becomes challenging: using physical computing in a way that is easily readable by users. A pattern I have seen to often is using technology to create something foreign to the users who get easily lost not knowing how to use the thing or how to behave. I do not have examples to show here, but I will try to remember some installation I did not like (I guess this is why I do not remember them).
So, the key to me is: transforming a normal and simple gesture into something extraordinary. That is the best pattern.