Digital Design Sensations

You can watch in yummy 720p from my new Canon Ixus 100is, ^_^

Last Friday I went to the Digital Design Sensations exhibition at the V&A Museum. The video picks out the pieces that interested me most, and the ones that I thought were the most successful – I’ll let the video do the describing for me, other than that, I just wanted to note main observations I came away with:

1) At what point does tech become art? The answer to that is probably something facetious, like ‘when it’s put in a gallery’, or ‘when an artist is involved in making it’, but I did feel a lot of the beginning pieces (not filmed) felt more like screensavers/music visualisations, than pieces of art. Why can’t a screen saver be a piece of art? No reason, I suppose that’s my own prejudices talking – I’m used to seeing that style of thing as ubiquitous ‘filler’ material, not the focal point. It was, I think, the reasons behind or the data informing the code which did make it art. In the same way paint is just paint until you let information express through it. Something to think on, certainly.

2) Unintuitive interaction is worse than no interaction. A lot of the stuff in that room just didn’t work well enough. Take the rotating singing head (after the rotating words in the video) it was interesting to choose what angle, inside or out, that you viewed a sculpture (very phenomenological) but as a regular touch screen user I was incredibly disappointed when I couldn’t pinch zoom, change the movement with the speed of my gesture, rotate, etc. Likewise there were delays or misses in a lot of the projected interactivity. I’m sure there was an awful lot of clever tech behind it all, but it wasn’t clever enough. Interactivity might just be an all or nothing thing – if something invites me to interact with it live, in a natural space, I will always be disappointed if it doesn’t react in a natural way to my gestures.

3) The best, most intuitive, pleasing and playful pieces were all intimately connected to the natural world; the projected leaves of the tree that fell, and that you could kick around the floor, the dandelion, the little prehistoric sea creatures that grew when you uncovered the a space from the sand, that multiplied, and evolved the longer they were exposed to the air. This goes forwards from the previous point – intuitive is important. We see ourselves, our worlds in art. Art is a way of reflecting on seeing and being, the enthusiasm for the combination of nature and tech, is encouraging for my continuing investigation of the collision of the bodied and the virtual space. It also hooked up with a sentence I read on the coach home:

“Judging by the importance of nature themes in digital installation art, many artists also seek compensation in computer simulations for the disappearance of natural environments. We hope to recapture through technology the pristine world that technological culture took away for us” – Narrative as Virtual Reality by Marie-Laure Ryan.

My favourite piece isn’t in the video, it wasn’t something you could capture well. Maybe that’s why I liked it the best. It was a huge mirror, it took a while to work out, turned out it only showed an impression of you if you sat in one place for long enough, about 30 seconds. It was rewarding, and I loved the way it made you slow down, sit, and watch. So much of the exhibition was fast, grabby, noisy, and immediate, this piece felt like an oasis.

The other main highlights were the mirror built out of the click clacking pieces of rotating cylinders (I liked the sound it made, like bamboo, and that you could see all the way around the back), and the sand piece, which was the only tactile piece, the one where you were directly touching the material you were interacting with. I could have played with the sand for a long time. Another pleasing, slow one.

Finally I will say it was quite a small exhibition, I think that was the first time I’ve paid to see an exhibition (aside from Paris, and a Freud retrospective), it cost £5, so one room felt a tad disappointing, a bit crammed in, the tree alone would have been lovely as a single room piece, but then I’m sure the V&A had their reasons, as well as limited space. They have a lot to fit in, seriously, how much colonial gold did we rob?

Screen Watching

You can also see my flickr set from the exhibition (and the Tuttle-based launch of the Creative Collaboration space near King’s Cross) here.

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