Interactivity has been the basis of numerous new media works. This form of art invites the audience to join in and become part of the work, creating experiences that are unique and unpredictable. With the introduction of technology into art practices, Cybernetics became the term that came into view. Cybernetics introduced the use of feedback and behavior, principles that are often seen in interactive art pieces. In Kimchi and Chips’s Lit Tree, we will explore how this installation works as an art piece that displays interactivity.
Kimchi and Chips is a Seoul-based duo made up of Elliot Woods from the United Kingdom and Mimi Son from South Korea. Together, they have created many installations around the world that play with the concepts of spaces and illusions. One of their works, Lit Tree, was made in 2011 and exhibited in Seoul. The artists were interested in exploring relationships between people, technology and nature. This gave birth to an one-of-a-kind artwork where a bamboo tree was used as the canvas.
The whole experience of the installation starts off with a single potted bamboo tree and a wooden plinth placed in front of it. As the spectator approaches the tree, he is to place his hand onto the plinth, where his hand will be scanned via a system and have its 3D shape mapped onto the tree. Thereafter, when the spectator gestures towards the tree, patterns of light will be projected onto the plant accordingly, creating a sense of movement amongst the tree’s leaves without actually touching the art work.
Video of the installation (skip to 01.11 for point of interaction)
This is made possible with the use of two video projectors where the tree’s leaves serve as 3D voxels for light projection. The scanning and mapping system was made with two webcams and the artists’ self-coded scanning software. The artists chose a tree to work with as they wanted to move away from the usual facade of large LED displays plastered all over the streets. Such facades are flat, static and non-purposeful without its media projections. A tree however, is part of nature. It exists simply by itself in its environment. What Kimchi and Chips did is simply making use of nature and incorporating it into their art, saving space and materials.
This reminds us of Magnet TV by Nam June Paik, where the artist chooses a different type of medium to express their ideas. Then, Nam June Paik was irked by the mass consumerism surrounding the television and in turn used the device as an art form to critique its culture. In Lit Tree, the artists were sick of the numerous LED screens that were populating Seoul and thus chose to work on a different platform. This shows a break away from the conventional idea of the canvas, which brings us to Roy Ascott’s article on ‘Behavioural Art and Cybernetic Vision’. Lit Tree certainly displays a departure from the deterministic view of Classical art- it is meant for the public, it encourages participation, it is not static and most importantly, the content of the artwork consists of feedback and behavioural tendencies.
With the scan and map system implemented in Lit Tree, the tree is somewhat responsive to the spectator’s gestures, giving a reaction immediately through the light patterns projected on it, making it behavioural. This essentially creates a two-way dialogue between the viewer and artwork, where the viewer gets to communicate to the tree via the use of technology.
The viewer now also has part control over how the artwork is to look like, since the light patterns projected on the tree is dependant on the gestures he makes. He is now involved in decision making and has a say regarding the art piece. With the reaction he receives, he can choose to make another move or to stop there, creating an open ended art piece where one could never determine the outcome. This unpredictability creates entropy, where there is a disorganization in exchange. This is mentioned by Nobert Weiner in ‘Cybernetics in History’
… it is possible to interpret the information carried by a message as essentially the negative of its entropy, and the negative logarithm of its probability. That is, the more probable the message, the less information it gives. Cliches, for example, are less illuminating than great poems.
This also makes up the feedback loop, where the input are the gestures the viewer makes, the output are the light patterns projected onto the tree and the feedback tells the viewer to make his next move. With more feedback, there is lesser entropy.
Another interesting fact that adds to the open-endedness of this art piece is that the bamboo tree changes its form naturally as the exhibition progresses. As trees are naturally reactive to light, the light projection onto the tree leaves actually causes the shape of the tree to shift overtime. As said by Elliot Woods of Kimchi and Chips,
“Trees react to light. You can see at the end of the exhibition, the tree looks different from when they first came in.”
With these relations made, we can see that Lit Tree is a highly contemporary art piece that exhibits qualities of interactivity. It pushes artists to rethink their canvas, opening up the possibilities of projection mapping onto other 3D surfaces.
Design Indaba (2018) Interactive tree (Online) Available at http://www.designindaba.com/articles/creative-work/interactive-tree (Accessed:17 Nov 2018)
Kimchi and Chips (2018) Lit Tree (Online) Available at https://www.kimchiandchips.com/works/littree/ (Accessed: 17 Nov 2018)
The Korea Herald (2016) Korean-British artist duo creates physical expressions of light and space (Online) Available at:http://www.koreaherald.com/view.php?ud=20160628000719 (Accessed:17 Nov 2018)
Vice (2011) Nature and Tech Talk: A Q&A with Kimchi and Chips (Online) Available at: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/d7xewy/nature-and-tech-talk-a-qa-with-kimchi-and-chips (Accessed: 17 Nov 2018)