I want to say first, that I’m so glad that this article is included in our reading at ITP. I have been thinking a lot about this kind of thing lately, mostly since going to see the Janet Cardiff sound installation at the armory a few weeks ago with the rare grooves club. I did really like the whole of the installation, but wasn’t one hundred percent wild about some of the choices in the narrative (it had a tiny bit of the feel: let’s cobble together a few traumatic images for impact! which is something I’m pretty averse to). But, Janet Cardiff sort of has a monopoly on that type of multi-speaker-soundscape-play-thing-genre. Because if someone else does it, it’s something that’s been done before (by her). Even if the content is totally different.
If this kind of thinking were prominent in non-tech-driven artworks, then there’d only be one poet ever, one painter ever, one tv show, etc. Someone I met last week (his name was Brian? or something?) put it well: it’s like conflating the painting and the paintbrush. And I think that’s something we have to be acutely aware of when using new technology as a medium. Which is why the warning in the aforelinked article, to stop worrying about whether or not something has been done, will definitely be heeded on my part.
Just for my own reference, a list of the popular themes mentioned from physical computing projects:
Tilty stands and tables
Things You Yell At
Fields of Grass
Dolls and Pets
The P.comp syllabus asks:
Which of the types of projects mentioned in “Physical Computing’s Greatest Hits (and misses)” have you seen before? Which are most compelling to you, and why? What strengths and weaknesses do you see in them? What other patterns of physical interaction have you seen repeatedly?
I have definitely seen the theramin, floor pads, video mirrors, mechanical pixels, scooby-doo paintings…maybe all of them, actually (except for maybe meditation helpers?). Though it’s very, very interesting to see them all compiled into a neat list like this. I’m maybe most intrigued by mechanical pixels (at this moment), because often times the input is varied (as it’s from the real world) but the source is more hidden than in a video mirror (though, I also very much love those). While I have liked projects that use body-as-cursor and hand-as-cursor, I do think that they often either don’t work that well (like, are glitchy) OR would be more compelling if there were some physical feedback (touch). An installation that I thought worked with this limitation and was very powerful (that kind of combines the video mirror theme with the body/hand-as cursor) was Chris Milk’s The Treasury of Sanctuary at last year’s Creator’s Project (skip to around 1:50 to see the actual installation).
I think what’s important to remember about interactive artwork is that the content and the technology have to suit each other. The idea can’t carry for the quality of the interaction, and the interaction won’t be compelling without captivating content.