Briefly share your experience going through Dialogue in the Dark. What were some of the feelings, thoughts, challenges and insights gained while role playing a blind person?
At first I wasn’t very anxious since I had the walls to actually rely on, but I was a little worried when we had to let go of the wall and just rely on our other senses (i.e. hearing) to guide us. Once I let go of the wall, I lost all sense of space and directions, and it made me anxious. I was scared of bumping into people or things. I felt a little panicked, too, since I couldn’t make out my surroundings at all.
It was a challenge just to trust myself and my friends, and I realized how much I actually doubt my other senses once I can’t see. I also realized that I depend on my sight so much that I take it for granted. I felt better remembering that it was a controlled environment, but when I think that there are people who actually live outside like that, I tried to imagine being in that situation—and that made me feel panic. I realized that it must be tough to adjust to that situation.
It makes me want to take care of my own sight more (especially since I already have a pretty high degree) and be kinder to others—not just people who need help, but others in general. Experiencing that also made me realize that we will never fully understand others no matter how much we learn, and that we have to be kind since we don’t know what others are going through.
Drawing on your experience, can you think and list some of the benefits inherent in the design research technique of role playing?
Putting the audience in the shoes of others can help them understand the unfamiliar situation a little better. When there is understanding, people will naturally care more about an issue, since they have experienced a similar situation in the role playing setting. Hopefully that concern will stir the audience into action to actually do something that will benefit the issue.
In addition, it also teaches gratefulness for what we have right now, which will make the audience reflect more on their own lives and make them better people.
Can you think of some contexts where role playing can be useful to help discover and definition of design challenges or contribute to the development of design solutions?
I think role playing will be useful to help people understand more about disabilities (i.e. visual or audio impairment, or even physical disabilities) and mental health (i.e. anxiety or panic attacks). While design is a useful tool to inform, help, and evoke emotions, I think it has its limits. There are things that only experience alone can offer. Role playing really puts you in perspective, which is more effective than making you imagine the “what if”s. In addition, people (especially young children) may be more open to the idea of role playing because it’s highly interactive. The interactivity is something we should try to incorporate to our design since interactivity, not only is highly effective, but it also appeals to masses more.
“Simplicity, clarity, singleness: These are the attributes that give our lives power and vividness and joy as they are also the marks of great art.”
Minimalism is an intriguing concept for me. It leaves a lot of “blanks” in the interpretation that everyone can fill in the blanks however they like. There is no right or wrong answer, but there is always an answer that is closer to the artists’ intention.
One of the artworks that I found interesting is Oneness of Concrete (1971) and Oneness of Wood (1969) which are parts of Jiro Takamatsu’s Oneness series (1969 – 1972).
Oneness of Concrete & Oneness of Wood by Jiro Takamatsu
I feel that in that simplicity—breaking things and fitting them back together—I can actually form a narrative inside my head. A tale about how sturdy things can still be broken. A story about how something can still be “whole” in its brokenness. A question of identity, finding beauty in the broken, life and death. There are plenty other narratives I can think of. The piece itself is almost poetic, I’d say.
While I think it’s essential for art to tell a narrative, I don’t think it’s good to enforce that. Letting the audience form their own narrative is just as powerful. Ironically, this is contrasting with my group’s project, where we are feeding the audience with our story. However, I think the “minimalism” can still be found in the way we tried to “show” (and not tell) the audience what’s happening, let them interpret the severity of the situation themselves, and give them a certain degree of freedom to act.
Hyperessay: Unnumbered Sparks (2014) by Aaron Koblin and Janet Echelman
About the artist
The artist that I will be talking about here is Aaron Koblin. He is best known for his innovative use of data visualization and work in crowdsourcing, virtual reality, and interactive film.
“So I think data can actually make us more human. We’re collecting and creating all kinds of data about how we’re living our lives, and it’s enabling us to tell some amazing stories. Recently, a wise media theorist tweeted: ‘The 19th century culture was defined by the novel, the 20th century culture was defined by cinema, and the culture of the 21st century will be defined by the interface.’ And I believe this is gonna prove true.”
A lot of his works is collaborative in nature, where people come together to create something, since more people will mean more data and more data will result in a greater story produced. In those projects, usually the engagement of the audience is highly crucial, making the audience the artists themselves. Without the audience, the project will not be. Literally, will not be. Some examples are the Johnny Cash Project and This Exquisite Forest, where he literally asked the audience to create the art itself.
In a sense, as the creator, he often only creates the platform and concept, leaving the creation of the actual “art” to the audience themselves.
About Unnumbered Sparks
[Taken from http://www.unnumberedsparks.com/]
Aaron Koblin and Janet Echelman (an American sculptor and fiber artist) worked together to create Unnumbered Sparks for TED’s 30th anniversary in March 2014. Unnumbered Sparks, as quoted from Koblin himself, is a “monumental interactive sculpture in the sky”.
How it works
Interface and projected result. [Taken from http://chrisdelbuck.com/projects/unnumbered-sparks/]
Basically, they created a massive net sculpture (745 feet long, or around 227 meters) and spread them from buildings to buildings across the sky in Vancouver, Canada. Five bright HD projectors will emit light beams onto the nets, which will result in shapes being projected on them, creating a stunning visual. The light beams were choreographed by participation from the audience, who could sign into a WiFi network created specially to connect to the program that controls the projectors. Signing into the WiFi would prompt the audience immediately to a website, which will display the nets. Audience could then touch the nets on their screen. It will correspond in real time, as the spots they touched will be translated into colorful light rings using the projectors. Those light rings will also “interact” with the other light beams projected on the nets.
Old and New Media
Unnumbered Sparks relied heavily on the programming, with a lot of elements relying on each other in kind of a relay to create the final outcome.
Honestly, reading that, I am not sure of what is going on since most of the terms is unfamiliar to me. What I could gather is that the program, or the “language”, is constantly being translated to something else until it reached something that could produce the expected outcome.
Due to that heavy dependence on computational parts, I think it’s safe to say that Unnumbered Sparks falls within the New Media. However, while programming is crucial, there is another part to this installation: the nets. The creation of fiber nets itself, I believe, is more within the Old Media and I think it is “artistic” enough to be considered an art by itself, even without the light beams projection. The nets didn’t just function as a screen for the light beams, but rather, adding variability to the visuals. The choice of material and crafting method affected how the nets will behave under different circumstances, i.e. weather conditions. Imagine if they used a simple screen or just project the light beams onto a wall; it won’t be as beautiful.
Unnumbered Sparks has a high entropy—the possibilities of the visuals created are endless, since humans’ behaviors are unpredictable. They can create spots wherever they like. In addition, the net itself is constantly changing, allowing the visuals to be projected to different dimensions. Different number of audience would produce different results as well—there are so many aspects that contribute to the variability.
I thought that Unnumbered Sparks doesn’t possess high automation at first; however, I then realized that there is still certain artistic visuals portrayed even without the participation of the audience; it’s just not as varied, but it will still be pleasing to the eye.
The machines (in this sense, the projectors) give immediate feedback with regards to the inputs, which are the spots pointed by the audience on the screen of their mobile devices. However, the feedback itself is a programmed response. There is no memory—the machine will not change its feedback, regardless of time or condition.
There is also a lot of communication between humans and machines, since the actions of the machines are always controlled by humans. There is also machine-to-machine interactions, as the program is constantly translated from the mobile device interface all the way until it reaches the projectors, which will create the light beams. I didn’t think there is any human-to-human interactions at first, however Koblin did say that he saw a lot of strangers started interacting with each other under the sculpture. I’m not sure if he referred to the interaction as something that caused the creations of the projections or something that is caused by the projections instead, but I guess in some level, there may be some human-to-human interactions.
What I think is interesting is the immersion. I think having massive nets hovering above the audience is interesting and effective, since it will immediately make anyone standing under the nets to feel “engaged” to the artwork, even before they are actually interacting with it. The effect will be vastly different if the lights are projected on a screen or a wall; it will not be as immersive, as it would seem more like a screening.
Unnumbered Sparks also can cater to the needs of a lot of people at once; the experience is not singular. In a sense, I can see where the human-to-human interactions may come from this; when you share a common experience, you usually can feel some kind of connection with others, even strangers. You can also see how the light rings you create interacted with others’, which is the whole point Koblin wanted to convey—engaging people, and letting them collaborate. However, I do think the interactivity is more prearranged than intuitive, as the audience has to be given clear instructions to sign into the prepared WiFi network.
Firstly, it is clear that Unnumbered Sparks depends on the audience to create the visuals. If that is so, can we consider the audience the “artist”? While it may not be a big idea, if we refer back to some of Koblin’s other works, he just provided a platform and concept in some of them. If that is so, can we still consider him the artist?
I believe that Koblin is not an artist per say—but rather, a creator. He created the platform for people to collaborate, which corresponds to his goal (or his manifesto) of bringing people’s stories together, to create an amazing story. So maybe no, he’s not the artist to some of his works, but he is the creator, and his beliefs are always clearly conveyed in his creations. I think artists do not equal to creators, and that is fine.
Secondly, Unnumbered Sparks plays on light beams a lot and is placed outdoors, which will make it a highly different experience when viewed at different times, at different conditions. Is it a weakness, or an advantage?
I’ll have to say that it is both. At night, the visuals created by the light beams will be more visible, and hence more stunning, rather than when viewed during the day. Moreover, if it’s raining, it will be hard for people to look up to view it. However, it may be the attracting point as people will be interested to view it at different times (or probably just at the best time, at least). Moreover, some conditions such as the wind may also allow the lights to be projected to different dimensions and creating a whole new visual.
As quoted from Aaron Koblin’s website, Unnumbered Sparks is a “monumental interactive sculpture in the sky”. For this installation, he worked together with Janet Echelman, an American sculptor and fiber artist. It was displayed between buildings in downtown Vancouver, Canada in March 2014 for TED’s 30th anniversary.
The interactivity of this installation comes from the fact that it could be “choreographed” in real-life time by anyone through their mobile devices.
How does this installation work? Basically, the artists created a massive net sculpture and spread them from buildings to buildings across the sky. Visuals shaped from beams of light would then be projected onto the nets using five bright projectors. The beams of light were controlled by the audience. They could sign into the WiFi in their mobile phones or tablets, which would prompt them to a website that would allow them to choreograph the beams of light in real time (and additionally, vary the colors). Your mobile devices became sort of a “remote control” for the visuals. Also, there is spatial audio. Ambience sound that set up the atmosphere would be played through the audience’s mobile devices.
Not only is that really engaging and interesting, I think it’s very much reflective of the new media. It has a high entropy – the possibilities of the visuals created are endless, since humans’ behaviors are unpredictable. In addition, the net itself is constantly changing due to the string tension and the weather condition such as the wind, allowing the visuals to be projected to different dimensions. Different number of audience would produce different results as well – there are so many aspects that contribute to the variability.
The machines (in this sense, the light beam projectors) give immediate feedback to the inputs, which are the movements or the spots pointed by the audience through the mobile site. Numerous code were created for this, and also numerous calculations. Numbers were important to calculate the dimensions of the net and the tensions required when hanging the net, as the creators needed to make it such that people are able to see the visuals at any angle, at any time. The codes have to be created in a more modular way, such as that the activity of one projector does not affect another, and that one command does not interfere with another. The organization of orders and data are crucial.
There is a sense of “retaining memory” too in this installation as the light projected will need to remain for some time before disappearing. However, the memory itself does not affect future projections – in a sense, there is no actual feedback coming from the machine, but maybe more from the participants. There is a high human-machine interaction in this installation.
I think the purpose of this installation is to show people more about “collaboration”. More beautiful visuals can only be produced when there are multiple light beams with multiple colors; so to speak, the concept is that when people work together, the world can be richer and more beautiful. Also, in this installation, the audience becomes the artist as well. They are not merely watching something changing, but also contributing to that change.
However, I do think this installation is not “automated” as without people’s participation, there will be no visuals or audio. The net will just be a net. While it may be the message they’re trying to get across, I do think that without proper publication, people will not know what to do. The interaction part is not something that is intuitive, but rather prearranged. Another weakness is that people without mobile devices will not be able to contribute, which may adverse their idea of collaboration entirely.
The artist that I chose for my hyperessay is Aaron Koblin.
Aaron Koblin is best known for his innovative use of data visualization and work in crowdsourcing, virtual reality, and interactive film. In his TED talk (see below), he mentioned that he believes “data can actually make us more human”, as it can show us how we have been living our lives and tell our story. He is highly interested in collaborative projects, where people can come together to create something, since more people will mean more data and more data will result in a greater story produced.
I think his works are worth discussing because a lot of his works are highly interactive and immersive. Most of his works that I have explored require direct audience participation in order to be able to work (for example, the Johnny Cash Project and This Exquisite Forest), making it highly interactive. There’s also one project that I think is highly immersive, called The Wilderness Downtown, where the experience is tailored specially for each individual (it’s pretty interesting, I actually tried it out). There’s also a very high variability in his work because of the unpredictability of what the participants will do.
In addition, I like that he’s making use on the rise of technology (more specifically, the internet and social media) to create interactive media. Some of his works require contributions from the audience through websites or mobile apps, for example, and I think that encourages people to participate even more.
Our idea is to portray a gap in people’s understanding by portraying them using physical gaps on a door.
Our prototype was kind of a miniature of what the actual thing is going to be. Our whole idea is revolved around a story that would be revealed after “exploring” around the door, but we didn’t have a story yet. We put earphones behind the cardboard door and played some e-book as substitute.
For the set of actions we required the participant to do, we only told the participant to approach the door and just try to listen carefully. At first she looked unsure of what to do since the sound from the earphone was very soft, but then she could still catch the sound. She began exploring different spots on the door and I tried to match that by playing different recordings as she moved, but I couldn’t keep up and she didn’t get what the recordings were about either, so it just confused her. But she did think that she felt like eavesdropping (which is kind of our idea) due to the low volume, so that’s good. She also said that the concept is interesting, and if the gaps do play different recordings or sounds, she would be interested to test all of them to find out. She also added that at first she wasn’t sure of what to do because the door was a plain piece of cardboard with no handle or keyhole, but if there is a handle and keyhole, she would know naturally that the participants are expected to open the door.
Feedback we received:
The door may not have to be real-life size, it can just be something like a dollhouse
The concept of revealing a story is interesting; maybe we can make the door have several screens inside, so you can open it up like pages of a book to fit in the concept
We can make use of the gaps between door and door frame to put in speakers, but we can also put in a lot of keyholes instead so participants will have to continuously find keys to progress with the story. Moreover, it will be visually intriguing.
We can also make use of different heights of people; so maybe in one big door, there are smaller doors. The different gaps will play different people’s sounds, e.g. a small door will play a child’s sound and a big door will play an adult’s door. So we can make a story but through different perspectives.
One-person experience would be better. If the door is placed in an empty room, people will definitely be compelled to approach the door and find out more about it.
As for now, what we have to do based on the feedback is to focus on what we want to do first. Now we received a lot of feedback because we still have a lot of things we can play around with, and we still haven’t decided which idea to use exactly. After we decided on one idea, only then we can move forward with the project.
I do think this bodystorming helped a lot because the feedback we received are really valuable. They provide objective opinions and point out the strength and weaknesses we didn’t see in the beginning. At first I was really worried that people won’t be interested to find out about the door, but the participant told me she would be interested and even gave her idea on how to improve on that. Moreover, I can see other people’s works and learn from their troubleshooting as well.
I’ve never gone to Night Light Festivals previously, so this is a new experience for me. It was fun – my friend and I walked from place to place, exploring the installations. They are very spread out, which may be good since people have more places to explore, but it makes it difficult for people who want to go through everything in one go. I visited several of the installations, and I think they look magnificent.
Hyperbands by KopI/O
Pulse by Galina Mihaleva, Hedren Sum, Pat Pataranutaporn, Kathrin Albers, Audrey Ng
Graffiti Alive by Arup
Ember Rain by Starlight Alchemy
That being said, I have chosen two installations for me to talk about.
By LiteWerkz X 3M
This is the first installation that I went to. From afar, I could see a group of spheres – some of them lighting up, some of them don’t.
As I walked closer, I could see the see-through spheres, with quirky geometric shapes inside. The spheres were lined with lights so that we could see the insides of the spheres even in the darkness. Circular shapes were adorning the surface of the spheres. In the middle of the spheres, there is one sphere that is different from the others – it has circular objects that light up instead of geometric shapes inside the see-through sphere. A nearby sign informed us to try taking picture of the spheres with a flash.
At first, I took pictures without flash first.
After that, I tried taking picture with flash. The picture was so different from what I expected:
Upon closer inspection, I found out that the circular-shaped stickers were actually made out of 3M retroreflective materials. When given light (i.e. the camera flash), the stickers reflected light and gave the effect as if they were sources of lights (!). That’s the interactive part of the installation. Moreover, I think there’s motion sensors inside the spheres that triggered the lights inside the sphere, so the lights will only light up when you spin the sphere. (I wanted to post a video, but it’s so hard to post a video in OSS, i.e. I can’t.)
It reminds me of a galaxy (and apparently that was the intention of the installation, based on the description put in the National Heritage Board website), not in the appearance only, but also because it gave me a sense of wonder when I tried to find out how the thing works.
I think the installation is interesting for that reason, and also that the design of the geometric shapes are all unique; there’s also a center piece which is a bigger sphere that attracts attention although it actually works the same way as the others. However the fact that everything works in the same way may dull people’s interest quickly, and people may not take their time to see the spheres one by one; they may just check one or two and leave (that’s what I did). In addition, it might not look very good when no one is interacting with it.
The Leap of Faith
By Teng Kai Wei
Even from a distance, I could see the lights from the installation. At once, it captured my attention. My first thought is that it looks beautiful, and it reminded me a bit of hopscotch. From the explanation board, I found out that the intention of the installation is to encourage people to take a “leap of faith”, to trust in yourself while going on a journey to reach your destination.
The anatomy looks simple; it seems that the plates are equipped with pressure sensors, so when someone steps on it, the color will change. Moreover, the original color of the plates will change constantly; hence if you step on it after some time, the color change will be different. I found that interesting, and may compel people to re-do the experience. In addition, the color change is unique as well; when you step on it, the color effect will resemble a ripple.
There’s also some kind of sculpture in the middle with geometric-shaped lights. I am not sure what the intention is, but it probably acts as a center, which could also be used to represent the “destination”.
Anyway, it’s really interesting to see different people interacting with it; I could see how different people can be. Little kids jumped from plate to plate excitedly, exploring every single plate although the resulting light would be the same; adults stepped on each plate carefully, looking around, deciding where to step next. Some people travelled back and forth; some people just walked across nonchalantly, even stepping down on the ground when they needed to make a jump across the plates.
I enjoyed playing around with that installation. I do think it would be better placed over water to actually force people to step on the plates, but I realize that may be dangerous and more difficult to set up. The lights were also constantly changing, which made the installation looked beautiful without anyone interacting with it, and noticeable even from a distance.
All in all, I found the installations really intriguing. I could see how even with instructions, people interact differently with the installations. I could also see how important it is to compel people to interact with the installations, and that depending on how they could interact, people could easily get bored by the installations or may not even be interested to interact at all. I realize I’m not familiar with the anatomy of the installations, which left me guessing a lot of times. However, I really enjoyed looking at those; definitely would go there again.