Random International was founded in 2005 by Hannes Koch and Florian Ortkrass as a collaborative studio for experimental practice within contemporary art.
I first heard of them when I chanced upon their well-known interactive art installation done titled “Rain Room”. In which participants are invited into a space, to experience what it would be like to be in the rain but not get wet. I was immediately intrigued by the dichotomy presented in the work and decided to read more about the work itself as well as the artists behind it.
“Questioning aspects of identity and autonomy in the post-digital age, the group’s work invites active participation. RANDOM INTERNATIONAL explores the human condition in an increasingly mechanised world through emotional yet physically intense experiences. The artists aim to prototype possible behavioural environments by experimenting with different notions of consciousness, perception, and instinct.”
– excerpt taken from Random International biography from website here
As a designer, I am deeply passionate about how design and art is able to explore tensions and gaps in the human experience and manipulate these gaps to create new environments for us to inhabit both physically and emotionally. Why I chose Random International as an artist is their continual exploration of the human condition, and they express their discovery through creating innovative and thought-provoking work that stirs up dialogues between people and within ourselves which I feel is the very core value of an interactive media art piece.
In his book “The Language of New Media”, Lev Manovich attempts to contextualise and analyse the new media revolution and the “shift of all culture to computer-mediated forms of production, distribution, and communication.” Which has had an immense impact on all stages of communication, and it causes us to rethink of our definitions and values when comprehending the media of today as compared to that of old.
Under the chapter of “Principles of New Media” he reduces all principles of new media to these fundamental to five — numerical representation, modularity, automation, variability and cultural transcoding. As so aptly summarised, these principles “should be considered not as absolute laws but rather as general tendencies of a culture undergoing computerization”
Manovich’s principles offer us some handles in helping us analyse the function and systems of our projects and how it relates to the topic of new media, which I will elaborate further on. But before that, I would like to elaborate more on the concept and mechanism of Sensorium.
Sensorium explores the sensoral phenomenon known as “Synesthesia” in which a stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. In short, when an individual’s particular sense is stimulated, the individual may experience multiple or an alternate sensory experience. For example, indivuals may sometimes “see” a certain colour in response to a certain letter or word.
This is achieved by allowing viewers to experience a “sensory” overload and a disconnection with common objects and behaviour much similar to Synesthetes. Viewers would hear certain sounds, and see ink-drops (of a particular colour) when they interact with the work. This is done through setting up light-sensors beneath the object that would respond to the changes in the object placement and provide a feedback accordingly.
Now back to Manovich’s principles and how does it relate to Sensorium?
1. Numerical Representation
Manovich describes that all new media objects are composed of digital code and thus can be subject to algorithmic manipulation. In short, media becomes programmable.
Similarly, Sensorium utilises Arduino system that are programmable as the brain of the art work. In addition, the use of LDR sensors also mean these readings are being actively translated into binary data script for the Arduino system to process.
New media objects are ‘object-oriented’ composed of parts made up of smaller parts reminiscent of a “fractal structure”. These elements are assembled into a larger scale object but continue to maintain their separate identities. This also allows for augmentation of the smaller areas and portion of independent parts.
The different mechanism of Sensorium is modular and is made up of smaller parts. This includes the code, the software, the hardware or even the way the installation is experienced.
For example, in terms of hardware, the receiver is modular in that the use of an LDR results in a particular experience for the viewer. (The selection of this component by us as the main receiver) By changing the receiver, such as using a different sensor it would alter and augment the set up of the work.
However, what is unique about our project is that this would not ultimate affect the outcome of the experience as the output (the colour dropper and sensor) remains the same.
The modularity allows us to control and decide on the type of experience and objects that we want to create for our viewers.
Another characteristic of New Media is its ability for automation as a result of the modular structure and numerical coding where the computer now takes over the role of operations.
Sensorium uses an Arduino system to allow for Automatic feedback and responses to be generated for the user. This allows for the system to run with the absence of a human to physically change the system accordingly.
This automation is limited however, due to certain contraints in the system in Sensorium created. Such as, the need to top up ink fluid in the dropper and also replace the water in the tank once it becomes too murky and cloudy.
Manovich mentions how “a new media object is not fixed once and for all, but something that can exist in different, potentially infinite versions”
In this principle, Sensorium allows for a diverse range of variability despite its simple output. The system of Sensorium is fairly direct. In short, it invites viewers to move and interact with certain objects. For example, should a viewer lift a box, this would trigger the light sensor and cause the ink dropper to release ink drops (coloured) into the tank. A sound would also be heard. Regardless of how high you lift up the object, or interact with, the output remains the same. However, certain factors that would affect the variability in the experience of the work includes:
– Duration of the object being held. The longer it is lifted up, the more times the ink drop would occur and the longer the corresponding sound would be heard.
– Prior participants. The presence of other viewers would mean that the ink in the tank would be visible to the viewer and thus affect the experience of the viewer.
– An amalgamation. Due to the nature of the system, all 3 inputs can be happening at the same time and would allow for trigger of multiple drops to happen at once. The way in which the ink drop clouds drops and forms also is another variability of the project.
A digitisation of what we define as ‘culture’. Manovich talks about the interplay between both the “computer layer” and the “cultural layer” of this digitisation. And the combination of the two results in new experiences created.
When computerised, the experience is changed when the reaction creates a disassociation, of what is known and replacing it with something that detaches them from the space.
Sensorium plays on these experience, through a similar disassociation. There is a disconnection experienced (between the object seen, touched as well as sound heard and the colour ink seen). The physical is being digitised through the sensors and is being read as data and the subsequent result or feedback is converted again to a physical experience to be felt. As such, what we come to know or think, through a disassociation, creates new meanings.
Other Works that inspired Sensorium:
Lenses by Hush
A installation that converts light sensors and refractions to sound.
A Synesthesia Installation
A tactile installation that uses motion and touch to create light, colour and sounds as outputs.
The Industrial Revolution during the period of 1760 to 1840 marked a huge turning point in human history as it ushered in a period of radical technological, social and economic change. Some of its most notable changes included the transition from hand to machine productions, creation of new manufacturing processes through developments of machine tools as well as the rise of factory system.
Artistic movements prior was in stark contrast to the Industrial Revolution. Art movements such as Baroque (1590-1725), Rococo (1700-1785), Neo-classicism (Late 18th century – Early 19th century) were classified as Historicism where patrons of the arts were mostly monarchs or people rich enough to consume such art. Both the Baroque and Rococo period placed emphasise on “Beauty to the eyes” and the works produced featured heavy ornamentation and looked very extravagant. Since it was designed and built by craftsman for the rich to reflect their status. There was a shift brought by Neo- Classicism as they viewed previous styles to be too overly “cheesy” and began to rationalise beauty through the use of geometric shapes and platonic forms with minimal use of colours with the emphasis of “Beauty to the mind”.
The combination of several factors resulted in a favourable climate for the revolution in Britain. The Agricultural Revolution in 18th century resulted in an increase in food production, which meant lower prices for food and thus an increase in consumption for manufactured products. Abundance of natural resources also meant that Britain was able to utilise their minerals to run industrial machines. British Colonialism during this period provided a vast consumer market ready to purchase its manufactured good. This is also aided by the construction of vast Transportation Networks which reduced transportation costs and increased efficacy. Most importantly, Technological developments such as the Steam Engine (James Watt,1785), the Spinning Jenny (James Hargreaves, 1764) and Power Loom (Edmund Cartwright 1785) shaped the manufacturing landscape by allowing greater quantities for production and increased production speed.
The changes brought by the industrial revolution included the following:
1) The use of new basic materials, mainly iron and steel
2) New energy sources (steam power, fossil fuels, electricty)
3) Invention of new machines (and tools)
4) New forms of organisation of work
5) Developments in transportation and communications
Driven by increase in consumer demand, and technological developments and breakthroughs, Industrial revolution focused on the mechanisation of processes to improve efficacy. Invention of New machines and new organisation of work (factory systems) allowed for an increased production with smaller expenditure of human energy as well as mass production of manufactured goods. This resulted in increased job opportunities which increased the overall amount and of wealth and its distribution, enlarging the middle class, lower costs and prices for goods and a shifting role of workers from craftsmen to specialised workers, albeit terrible working conditions and social issues such as child-labour.
The shift in the roles of worker meant that labourers at factory systems would acquire new and distinctive skills, instead of being a craftsman working with hand tools as were the case in prior years, the craftsman now became a machine operator, subject to factory discipline. These new machines and systems replaced the craftsmen system with faster and cheaper production but often greatly inferior results as the critical eye and artistry of the craftsman was sacrificed for speed where the machine now determines the final product. This also meant that the works created were largely similar and not unique. With minimal ornamentation and simpler forms that made it easier to be produced in large quantities at faster speeds. One example would be Chair No. 14 by Michael Thonet in which the different components can be dismantled and put together and thus was able to be flat-packed. This was in contrast to French Rococo chairs by Louis Delanois which were bulky, had curvy forms and featured much ornamentation. This also marked the stylistic difference between Industrial Revolution produced works and the period before. Where the focus was on efficacy and function.
Industrial furniture was simple, practical, easy to mass produce and made to withstand harsh conditions. It was merely for daily work and not considered to be stylish.
At the height of the Industrial Revolution, Sir Henry Cole (1808-1882) a British Art educator and Prince Albert (1819-1861), Husband and consort of Queen Victoria pushed for the organization of The Great Exhibition of 1851, it was the world’s first World Exposition to showcase the industrial and cultural products of the world. Its purpose was to address the problems of taste, design and production in modern society ands also to showcase Britain’s success in innovation science, arts and engineering, establishing itself as a leader in the world’s first industrial leader. The main exhibit included over 100,000 objects from 15,000 contributors and included a range if products and items from modern machinery, cultural objects, jewellery and ornate furniture.
The exhibition took place from 1 May 1851 to 15 October. By the time it closed, the Great Exhibition was seen as a popular success as it had garnered over 6 million visitors, with the international nature of the exhibition giving visitors a powerful sense of a newly wide world. It had gained sufficient profit for the organisers to channel the resources to create the South Kensington Museum (also known as the Victoria and Albert Museum) subsequently. However, the critical reception for the exhibition was not as positive as critics panned the works that were created by industrialised methods to be shoddy and poorly designed. Owen Jones, an English architect and designer said in a journal of the Great Exhibition, “After wondering through the halls of this most wonderful assemblage of the world’s industry, the artist who passes down the nave from east to west will see on either side but a fruitless struggle to produce in art novelty without beauty – beauty without intelligence; all work without faith.” Jones’ comments seems to suggest of the works produced to have been over-decorated with unrelated styles, as though it was art for art’s sake. Jones’ use of the word “faith” in his description also speaks of a spiritual concept in design which is absent in the industrial based works produced during this period.
In conclusion, the distinct characteristic of the industrial revolution is its pursuit of mechanisation automation processes, the result is higher production quantities and lower costs of production however, critics have raised issue on how this had ultimately affected the quality of works produced as it no longer carried the spirit of the craftsman but rather simply machine determined. The values presented in the industrial revolution also set the background for Design Reformation Movements as critics of the period John Ruskin and William Morris decided to respond to such mechanised methods of production.