Research Critique: Ken Goldberg’s TeleGarden

“ This installation was developed at the University of Southern California in 1995 under the co-direction of Ken Goldberg and Joseph Santarromana. In 1996 the Telegarden was moved to the Ars Electronica Center in Linz, Austria, where it remained online until August of 2004 [12, 27]. The garden itself is a small plot encircling an industrial robotic arm. A web-based interface allows users to activate the robotic arm, view the garden through a camera mounted on the robotic arm, change the view, plant a seed, water it, and (if one is a successful gardener) water the resulting plant on an on-going basis. Many thousands of remote users have interacted with the Telegarden in such ways.”

Extracted from 2005 IEE International Workshop on Robots and Human Interactive Communication

So this installation seems like a simple project with a robotic arm, which might be the most impressive part. However, after reading through their use of investigation, data collection and coding for interaction, I wouldn’t use the word ‘simple’ too loosely . The 13 weeks they used to consolidate 22 952 posts before it was relocated from Untied States to Austria. The whole model for relationship was based on the previous project by Friedman, Kahm and Hagman who analysing the relationship between humans and Sony’s AIBO robotic dog. The methods for developing systems of interpretation were based largely from the developmental psychology for coding qualitative interview data (P.H Kahn Jr, 1999). Hence if a post included several instances of  a single category, that category was coded as used only once, thus accounting for the expression varying in a range of topics and attitudes within one statement (P.H.Kahn Jr, B.Friedman, 2005).

So what are my thoughts about this? The mediated and telerobotic interaction that goes from vitality to time-based reality ( 3 months in short). The point is to create a ecological relationship through interconnected infrastructures, between our natural environment and users of the ‘unnatural’ world ( I think the term ‘unnatural’ is awesome in this context ). Beyond the virtual (cold environment)  to physical (warm environment) interaction, there is a form of attachment  that creates for users to make sure they water or plant the environment with new seeds etc. I think achieving this attachment as humanly as possible is an achievement itself. It does engage participants toward a betterment of a purpose. Imagine the thousands of facebook users who play the virtual community garden virtual games having a real garden in the process that blossoms as the game progresses.

However, lets be critical about one thing. Interaction. Ken Goldberg wanted to play with the juxtaposition of having a robot do the last thing you could imagine or want a robot to do, which I think he did perfectly. But we beg the question of whether we trying to share some light on how we are able to connect to our environment even behind our keyboard and screens? If yes, it does sound so enriching and positive. But at what cause? Does it sound natural or we trying to redefine what is natural? Have we grown to be so pre-occupied with the world we have created around us that we cannot appreciate the small yet development process of planting? Thus, as an art form, this sounds superb of virtual to ecological systems. But from what I read, people are serious in making this a scientific study that will bridge the gap between the ‘absented’ human and its surroundings. If so, we are at a hopeless end of trying to create the world just for ourselves that things like plants and other living things are perhaps no longer worthy of our physical affection and presence. Imagine nursing a loved one in coma, retrieving him from his critical stage through a recorded voice of yourself everyday and when he finally recovers from his unconscious state to realize it was a recording and not a real person speaking to him and making him come to live, he might not mind it but the recording only serves as a treatment not a test of the relationship you have with your loved ones. Interaction is the word cause through interaction are things like dedication, trust and importantly love can be felt- true love that is, not the ones that cyber criminals imitate and deceive  against 16 year old teenage girls. Hence, this is a worrying question. Have we become so cold that we are trying to find ways to balance the socio-ecological environment as we sit behind our (cyber)gated community? Don’t let me get started with the potential commercialization of this that will counteract the efforts of the primary meaning of this installation.


Overall, I think we should leave it as an art form that just tells us that is possible and that we are at the attempt of emerging a cold environment like the web into a warm environment like the ecology that keeps us alive. Its fine the way it is. Some things don’t need to improve or progress- they are good the way they are and best kept as such.


Research Critique: Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin’s ‘The Listening Post’

The Listening Post by Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin is basically a interactivity broadcasting installation that allows you to see a glimpse of the forums and discussions that occur ‘independently’ in the internet. A Short Summary is as followed:

“Listening Post is a ‘dynamic portrait’ of online communication, displaying uncensored fragments of text, sampled in real-time, from public internet chatrooms and bulletin boards. Artists Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin have divided their work into seven separate ‘scenes’ akin to movements in a symphony. Each scene has its own ‘internal logic’, sifting, filtering and ordering the text fragments in different ways.

By pulling text quotes from thousands of unwitting contributors’ postings, Listening Post allows you to experience an extraordinary snapshot of the internet and gain a great sense of the humanity behind the data. The artwork is world renowned as a masterpiece of electronic and contemporary art and a monument to the ways we find to connect with each other and express our identities online.”

By Science Museum, London

These descriptions would all look wonderful in theory but of course they don’t seem to be able to give light about the experience that participants would be facing. We must remember that an interactive installation will never be complete in paper unless we experience the situation or get involved – that is why they call it interactive. Hence, to perhaps give much more feel into this installation, I have attached an article written by Megan Gordon-Gilmore. The article not only explains the installation piece but includes description of the the situation and the environment. The author also does bring some perspective with regard to this installation being an art form.


Do read if you are interested but definitely, don’t stop here. I have my own input which is followed.

Overall, I think the project when it started in 2000, had so much meaning and context such that it seemed like a warning about the future – the future we are currently in. However, the dedicated meaning or the intend that the project was based on, might have been lost along the line of classification and data-sorting, especially when we want to categorise this as an art form. Hence, I shall go through this in great detail as I write on.

The Warnings

“Our early writing on the piece talked about a ‘global conversation’ and now that seems to be happening more broadly on Twitter and other social media, not IRC” (Hansen, 2014)

Hansen was right! The broadcasting medium expanded exponentially over the years and their project proposal and installation became something that was foreseeing this. However, the terms were no longer text. The whole idea of text based information was interpreted as text itself and that created the system that made it possible for them to sort out and filter these text for broadcasting. Hence, on their first curtain call, there were people who wrote things like ‘ I am 18’ and then eventually when it ‘webbed’ itself to the interne, there were things that made sense yet did not make sense. This seems okay when you are dealing with forums and discussions those days. But times have changed and text is no longer text in the context of art. Text is a symbolic expression of our feelings, thoughts and overlapping context. So what’s the difference between the past and the present when they are all text? Randomness. The randomness is not the same with the text that were spilt out during the curtain call of the installation. But the randomness is a burst of expression, call for activism etc. It is like its medium- a social too within another social tool. An article that I was reading by Bernard Enjoiras on Transcending Participatory Divides (2012) examines using web text data analysis from on social media re-affirms or transcend socioeconomic divides in terms of cyber participation – which means that there are aspects that make things complicated just by the sorting out of text. An example would be the use of emojis and sequenced gif images to construct within a text based environment to convey their message. Like the internet, the social interaction aspect of the ‘global conversation’ has expanded to include non-text elements together with text elements to create expressions. That’s what I meant by complicated.

Hence, for the group to be able to use the same project even in 2013, with a few tweets, to me becomes nothing more than an outdated installation cause the actual meaning and perhaps message is lost. But in 2000, when the project first started, it sent out a powerful message – someone can be watching and someone is. If it were myself, I would be scared to put an input cause there is a system out there, back then, that is already able to retrieve information about what you say. Just that in this installation, it was filtered to create a sort of visual sensation. Today, we are at debating about censorship and how National Security Agencies are spying on us. Well, don’t say they didn’t warn you. Its just that we were too overwhelmed by the presence of the internet.

An Art Piece?

The question is this is visually an art piece even with voice modulation and text layering via Max/MSP ( which is an awesome yet slightly expensive software) ?

“The artists used a principle called Minimum Description Length (MDL) to cluster possible topics. MDL says the best model provides the shortest description of a given set of data while still capturing the important features evident in the data” (Hansen & Yu, 2001)

Many a times, we associate art as thinking out of the box and it seems like this installation is befitting of such definition. But it goes through this regime of sorting and filtering – in such a system. Its like putting rules and regulation for different forms of art when art is a form of expression. How can you restrict expression? If you did filter expression, does it truly represent the system in the internet. Making cognitive sense might be part of the project’s for people to better understand what is happening, which I can sympathize with them. But in the name of making it an interactive installation, a system that filters these information on a text base syntax, makes it directed – which is no longer an interactive anymore. Hence, if they could either randomize or create a system that does not filter it based on text syntax but rather loop syntax might be able to make more sense


I might sound like I am pinning this down but honestly, I am not. I think this is still a great installation but that needs to perhaps redefine what makes this an art installation within the context of the 2010s and its message.