Artist Selection: Blast Theory

Blast Theory

For my Hyperessay, I chose a new media piece by a Portslade-based artists’ group called Blast Theory, renown for their works that mix interactive media, digital broadcasting and live performance. The piece is an interactive, immersive, and collaborative work called, “I’d Hide You”. Linked below is the trailer for Blast Theory’s, “I’d Hide You”.

But who and what is Blast Theory exactly? What is it that they do? Blast Theory is in a sense, a community of pioneering artists creating interactive art pieces to explore social and political questions. Blast Theory does this by letting the audience members to play a vital role in the overall outcome of the production and outcome of the artwork. This way, the audience becomes the artists while the artist becomes the viewer. This makes the exploration of social and political questions a more personal and thought-provoking experience for the audience.

The Artists Behind Blast Theory

Blast Theory was created in 1991 by Matt Adams, Niki Jewett, Will Kittow and Ju Row Farr. And as mentioned before, Blast Theory uses a multitude of media; such as performance, installation, video, and online technology to highlight social and political issues that surround the very media they use. What makes Blast Theory avant-garde is the way they meld scientific technology with collaborative art while still taking a stance on social topics. Some of their other well-known works include- “Can You See Me Now?”, “Uncle Roy All Around You”, “Kidnap”, “Gunman Kill Three”, and “Karen.”

“Kidnap” (1998)
Picture from Blast Theory Website

“Gunman Kill Three” was one of their earliest works and was geared more towards live and performance art. This work and several other early works focused on the club culture to create multimedia performances. Even in their early works interactivity played a key role in the performance. “Kidnap” was one of Blast Theory’s more controversial and risky works due to the issue the piece tackled as well as the method Blast Theory chose to communicate the message with. “Kidnap” is an interactive and immersive experience that gives the participants a genuine “kidnapping” experience (with their prior consent). Blast Theory wanted to underscore the themes of violence, pornography, and politics. In “Can You See Me Now?” and  “Uncle Roy All Around You” are two of their successful multimedia pieces that integrated locative media with mixed reality.

“Can You See Me Now?” (2001)
Picture from Blast Theory Website

What drew me to Blast Theory was their ability to incorporate technology often associated as “anti-art” with social and political issues to create a stimulating an interactive art piece. This idea of mixing and recreating has always been an important value in my life and to see a group of artists express it so beautifully and simply resonated with me. Not only does Blast Theory feel like a source of comfort but also plays a part in inspiring me. Blast Theory stimulates both the audience and themselves. The artists within the group constantly try to challenge themselves with new technology, methods, and issues by pushing themselves to be more innovative and courageous.

In my next post, I will be discussing in more detail the art piece by Blast Theory that I have chosen to analyze for my Hyperessay.

Principles of New Media

Project Dream

       Our final project for Interactive Media is about the human experience of sleep. We chose to recreate and stimulate the stages and experiences of a sleep cycle. Our experience begins with the user entering a dark space with a projector projecting a video with a written story appearing word by word. This situation represents a person the dark room in which people sleep in as well as the dreams dreamt by the person. The dark room also symbolizes how our minds are in a sense a “blank canvas” that our neurons utilizes to paint a picture (or in this case- a dream). As the user gets comfortable in the chair, placing his or her finger on the pulse sensor, the sensor reads their steady heart beat and records it into the computer. Once the heart beat is steady, it triggers the timer that eventually ends with the alarms (rigged to the digital LED clocks surrounding the back wall) going off. As the alarm goes off, this triggers the sound sensors linked to the lights to cause them to flicker and for the video to start glitching. This represents the human struggling to wake up in the morning as the alarm in the outside world rings. The video (dream) is interrupted and the light (morning light seeping into your eyes) are all added to strengthen the experience of the sleep cycle. In order to fully wake up, the user will have to go around the space to turn off all the alarms. Upon doing so, the alarm sound will cease and the lights will continue to stay on; symbolizing that the you have woken up.

       According to Lev Manovich’s report, “What is New Media?”, there are five general tendencies that can be seen in New Media. These tendencies are not mandatory rules and exist on a symbiotic relationship with one another. These five tendencies are Numerical Representation, Modularity, Automation, Variability, and Transcoding. Of the five tendencies, our final project on the human dream experience consists of four tendencies. Numerical Representation, Modularity, Variability, and Transcoding.

       Numerical Representation states that in all new media objects are composed of digital code. This digital code can either formally describe an image or alter algorithms in order to manipulate the image. The process of Numerical Representation takes continuous data and digitizes it into discrete samples that can later be quantified into numbered. In our final project, we use numerical representation in the coding program within Arduino. The code itself is created through a careful compilation of numbers and symbols uploaded onto a system. For example, the heart pulse sensor takes the continuous data of the heart beat and breaks them down to numerical representations as the computer reads and records it. Also the alarms themselves have numbers on them and these numbers serve as an important factor as it triggers the experience. The numerical representation in our project later effects the variability and transcoding aspect of this project.

       Modularity believes that new media projects have the same modular structure throughout the entire object, and that these structures come together without losing their independence. Though the individual components come together to make a functioning whole, these smaller components do not lose their purpose or importance. In a picture, there is subject matter that when separate is still important but together in one image creates a story. Yet, the subject matter is also made of separate elements like color, shape, and size. A color, shape, and size depicted on an image is made up of pixels. New Media can be broken down into smaller and smaller constituents that regardless of their size, do not lose its function. For our project, the smaller components such as the abstract human reactions and interactions with the space, come together to create big picture of an interactive experience.

      Out of the five tendencies, our project does not have automation, as this tendency depends on the operations to continue with little to no human interaction. However, our project as a whole requires human interaction in order to proceed to the next step. We believe that human interact is vital for our experience as this customizes the experience to a personal level. The user and the experience share a more relatable connection with one another. And as the experience revolves around the idea of human dreams, a very intimate sensation, we chose to retain the human interaction.

Yoko Ono “Cut Piece”

       Due to the input of human interaction, our work is susceptible to a high degree of variability. Variability, like the name suggests, states that nothing is permanently fixed and can exist in infinite possibilities. This can be seen in New Media as components can be easily altered or removed, this in turn creates varying versions of the original object. Also, depending on how each person reacts inside the space, creates a different outcome. Whether they chose to turn off the alarm or when their heart rate stabilizes, all creates an outcome different from the previous person’s experience. Variability coincides with Numerical Representation and Modularity as the a change in even one of the numerical representations or components can change the overall outcome of the object.

Jae West, Public Message

       Lastly, our project all contains a hint of Transcoding. Transcoding is the transformation of media into computer data that in turn connects and and influences the culture around it. This relationship can also be seen in reverse, where the culture surrounding the computer can influence the data inputed into the computer and the method of computerization. For our projects case, it is a possibility that because everyone has has their own unique upbringing and habits that their response to loud noise, lights flickering, and the alarm going off will be different for each individual. Also, different people react differently to a dark room, resulting in an increased heart rate rather than a calm and steady recording. Since most of our users will be from Singapore and has assumably been raised in a similar social environment (no major wars or epidemics causing PTSD), there should not be any major variations to the computer data. However, one can never be certain as no two users are alike and can react differently based on the situation.

Before I Die Wall

History of Design: Deconstructivism Presentation Essay

History of Design


       Not considered an art movement but a common way of thinking and executing ideas, Deconstructivism begun as late as 1980 but continues to leave an impact on the modern landscape. Deconstructivism proliferated at around the 1980s, after the decline of Anti design and Memphis. Yet, all three of these styles are branches of Post Modernism. Post Modernism is a fragmented art movement that followed after Modernism as a response to the aftermath of the Modernist ideas. Modernism was a period in human history, following the war, where people held utopian ideas of society and encouraged mass production. There was also a serious deficit of ornamentation and a strict adherence to the mantra, “form follows function” and “truth to the material”. In response, Post Modernism rejected industrial processes and critiqued philosophical concepts of universal truths and objective reality. The artists of this time were dissatisfied with the lack of humanity in art. Regardless of their refusal of previous thoughts and movements, Post Modernism is known for incorporating certain characteristics from other existing art movements. For example, Deconstructivism kept the radical irregularity of the Russian Constructivists as well as the lack of ornamentation promoted by Modernism. The artists and designers of this time seemingly blended these two polarized characteristics in a harmonious and fluid way. The decision to retain these specific characteristics relate back to the theory that Deconnstructivist thinking is based upon.

       The theory behind Deconstructivism begins with the Algerian-French philosopher, Jacques Derrida in the 1930s. Jacques Derrida’s theory itself had little to do with the arts and was concocted with the idea of language and semiotics in regards to law and fairness as its central focus. He states in his theory that the true meaning of words comes from the breaking apart and challenging of the physical text of the word and the associations (social, economical, political) held about the word. This is because the meaning of a text is not intrinsic but from the contrast made by the text itself and its associations. Especially, since associations and meanings have a tendency to change over time. Furthermore, by the 1980s, Jacques Derrida’s theory found its way into the budding minds of several artists in time for the Parc de la Villette competition. MOMA’s Deconstructivist Architecture Exhibition in 1988 lead to the proliferation of Deconstructivism and spotlighted several key artists of this methodology. These artists took inspiration from Jacque Derrida’s idea that true meaning was the result of fragmentation, and imploded their subject matter only to reassemble to form either a new or the true meaning. Deconstructivism unlike the previous modernist movement, did not believe in terms such as “form follows function”, “purity of form”, and “truth to materials”; instead the Deconstructivist artists would ask “Why not?” Despite their rejection of Modernist beliefs, Deconstructivist designers would not disregard their subject matters function. Art during this period tended to challenge the conventional with its seemingly haphazard appearance, curved forms, asymmetry, and dissonance with its surroundings.

       Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry, Peter Eisenman, and Bernard Tschumi are some of the more notable artists practicing Deconsntructivism. However, these artists do not like being labeled as “Deconstructivists” and tend to apply these idea to the architectural field. This could be because only buildings with their magnitude and presence, can aptly convey the the Deconstructvist meaning and idea. Some artists like Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry did dabble in the field of product design; Zaha Hadid creating a line of deconstructivist shoes and Frank Gehry with furniture design. Another prominent Deconstructivist product designer is AANDERSON, a design company that creates deconstructed products in order to revolutionize the way we use and see the product. Deconstructivism is more commonly seen in buildings.

       Buildings such as Dancing House in Prague, Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angles, and Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Cleveland were designed by Frank Gehry. Zaha Hadid’s famous works include the the aquatic centre for the London 2012 Olympics, the Guangzhou Opera House in China, the Heydar Aliyev Center, and the Vitra Fire Station in Weil am Rhein in Germany. All these buildings are characterized by there simple elegance yet its unconventional haphazardness appearance. And as previously mentioned before, these artworks evoke a sense of unease and controversy as they are drastically different from the buildings and space surrounding them. For example, the opinions on the jarring disparities between the Deconstructivist Dancing House building and its surrounding Art Noveau style buildings were polarized.

       These controversial desgns were in part due to the advancement in Parametric design, which is the architectural style based off of algorithms with the help of a computer. Parametric design led to the flourishment of Deconstructivism architecture. And though this style developed in the mid-1990s, Parametric design thrived in the early-21st century with the development of advanced parametric design and technology. With the term “Parametricism” coined in 2008 by Patrik Schumacher, an architectural partner of Zaha Hadid. The most identifiable aspects of parametric design is the curving of commonly rectilinear forms and the intricate repetitive designs. The benefit of Parametricism, which relies on a computers to calculate and visualize, is that the computer can calculate every possible factor and possibility. Parametricism also helps to calculate internal movement such as the way a person may travel throughout the building or how long they may spend on one floor. The end product of these algorithms and calculations result in fool-proof, rational scientifically accurate building. Though, some critics state that the reliance of a computer to finalize the design has generated a building that discredits its immediate surroundings and lacks the harmony commonly seen with buildings in an urban landscape. However, this dissonance from its landscape, in my opinion, adds to the goals of Deconstructivism. Emphasizing and extracting meaning and truth is made from the comparison and contrast of the broken up pieces, and in this case, the disparity of the parametric building and its neighbouring buildings or scenery.

       Deconstructivism, a common direction of thought and art, has left its impact on modern architecture and design by introducing to society an unconventional style of building rendering. This unorthodox approach to building design is in part due to the computer aided technology known as parametric design as well as the theories generated by Jacques Derrida. One must ignore the negative connotation associated with the term “Deconstructivism” as Deconstructivism is not about demolition or rebellion but the idea of fragmenting a piece to its simpler components in order to truly understand the whole of its meaning.

Link to Presentation