Principles of New Media – Research Critique 3

In his essay, Manovich questions what is new media, and where do we draw the line in defining this medium. He decides that defining it by the use of computerisation for distribution “is too limiting.” He instead focuses on the five principles that could define a new media piece, namely, numerical representation, modularity, variability, automation and cultural transcoding.

Memory foam applies the principles of modularity, variability and transcoding to certain extents.

“New media objects are object-oriented, composed of parts made up of smaller parts reminiscent of a ‘fractal structure’.” – MANOVICH on the principle of modularity.

The mattress and frame set up is a large piece that comprises of smaller parts such as each lightbulb and button is a singular circuit that is replicated 32 times across the structure.

Daniel Rozin has produced several artworks that function as mirrors but use materials that are seemingly non-reflective, such as the wooden mirror. In a way, his work is modular and similar to ours as each of his 830 rotating wood pieces are controlled by a tiny motor.

“A new media object is not something fixed once and for all, but something that can exist in different, potentially infinite versions” – MANOVICH on the principle of variability.

Our project carries the idea of variability through the participant’s natural instinct of interacting with different parts of the mattress to light one or more of the 32 bulbs on the adjacent plane and activating the sound for an amount of time that is specified by them. To a certain extent however, like Manovich mentions about selection, we have a set of pre-ordained buttons and bulbs that limit the options and outcomes it produces for the participant. They can only affect how the bulbs react to the extent that we have allowed. (Selection of the bulb and duration of the bulb being lit and music being played)

However, after some discussion, we realised that the piece is variable, in the sense of how it is built. We could use more or less than 32 bulbs, and how the bulbs manifest, in terms of colour, dimness, type, and in this sense, the work is infinitely variable.

Manovich defines transcoding as “the “reconceptualization” which occurs during computerization, the transformation of media into computer data.”.

Memory foam does not use heavy computerisation, or transform media into data, but it does this metaphorically. When the mattress collects an imprint of the human body, it translates this ‘data’ into the lightbulbs lighting up on the other side and the sounds that it plays through processing, for as long as the pressure is applied to that part of the surface.

All in all, these concepts Manovich presents about new media can be applied to the most simplest part of the installation. At its basic level, the installation is a simple light circuit with an aluminium contact switch replaced. Our challenge was to replicate this modular circuit 32 times across the mattress and add the element of sound with simple processing.


We’ve stopped trusting institutions and started trusting strangers / Reflection

Rachel Botsman mentions in a 2016 TED conference titled ‘We’ve stopped trusting institutions and started trusting strangers’ that “technology is creating new mechanisms that are enabling us to trust unknown people, companies and ideas. And yet at the same time, trust in institutions — banks, governments and even churches — is collapsing”.

Botsman makes reference to platforms like Airbnb, Tinder and car sharing services that are widely in use today. This phenomenon is made possible because of accountability. Each platform requires you to create an account that displays how highly you are rated on how reliable your services are, creating a sense of accountability. For ages, we’ve trusted large corporations and organisations. These people create the rules, and when they mess up, we just have to suck it up because they were the governing body. 

Entering the digital, we realise that institutional trust is not meant for this age and dealt with each other with the help of technology instead. This new form of trust that is being invented will advance person-to-person relationships through distributed networks and collaborative marketplaces and changes the dynamic of how ideas are created and shared. For example, Amazon’s Flex that was launched in Seattle in 2015 was a crowdsourced delivery service that employed the ordinary man (no uniforms, logos or branded vehicles) to deliver packages and the fact that there was trust in this transaction is a huge step.

Image result for Amazon Flex

This trust shift adds another layer to what we have to worry about, like device hacking and abuse of the system. What the future holds for this new shift in dynamics is no doubt uncertain and frightening even. But instead of focusing on the disruption of this trust shift, Botsman encourages us to learn and embrace the opportunities to redesign systems. This can be said for collaborative art and narratives, that are more transparent, inclusive and accountable. 

Memory Foam / Mid-term progress (Melo and Alvin)

Memory Foam explores the interstices of pain and memory through the simple interaction of human and mattress.

To understand this project, we must first explain the technology behind the inspiration for the installation, that is, memory foam mattresses.

Mattresses made from memory foam consist mainly of a material called polyurethane, making  it more viscous and dense compared to ordinary foam mattresses. Memory foam bubbles or cells in the material are open, creating a matrix through which air can pass through its interstices, making way for a body to be embedded into the mattress surface. The higher the density of the foam, the quicker it softens in reaction to heat (e.g from a person), capturing and creating a mould to the warm body within a small period of time. When the body releases, so does the foam, and is recovered to its original shape. For the few short seconds after the pressure is released, it forms an imprint that fades out. Here is a visual to illustrate that effect.

Animated GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

This phenomenon is interesting to us because, just as quickly as the foam remembers the shape of the hand, just as quickly, it forgets it. In the same vein of thought, we experience pain in small or great amounts, and our brains are built to forget it quickly as a coping mechanism for survival. But do we really forget? When pressure is released from the mattress, its shape returns to normal. But, seemingly unmarred on the surface, the wooden frame underneath collapses to accommodate the pressure. The greater the pressure, the greater the collapse.

We aim to manifest this sense of unseen collapse through a light and sound installation.  Entering the space, the participant will observe a single bed frame with mattress mounted to one side of the wall and 32 filament lightbulbs on the other. If the participant chooses to touch the mattress, the lightbulbs will light up in response to the amount of surface area and pressure applied. In addition to this, certain parts of the mattress will activate a simple ambient soundtrack that will change the longer the pressure is applied / photosensor is activated (we have yet to decide on the best solution for this). The set up is illustrated below:

Input / Pressure sensitive switch and / or photosensor

Output / Filament bulbs lighting up and / or ambient soundtrack playing

It is intended for a single person to engage with the piece at one time but will work with multiple participants concurrently.

Flowchart of interaction:

Some of our work in progress and tests:

Prepping the foil
Assembling the switches
Mapping out the size of the bed
Honne logo


Our full-scale prototype test (pwd: test)

Actual mid-term run (pwd; memory)

User feedback influence in bold.

Since there are no explicit instructions for the participants other than that they are encouraged to touch it, the installation is intuitive and left for the audience to discover. The outcome of the lightbulbs reactions and soundscape will differ based on the amount of pressure exerted on the mattress and surface area covered. The greater the force of the participants weight onto the mattress, the longer the bulbs will be lit. We also decided to add a capacitor to each circuit so the lightbulbs linger on slightly longer before they fade out. The wider the surface area of the participant in contact with the mattress, the greater the number of bulbs lit. The soundscape will change with the amount of pressure exerted.

Memory Foam falls in between a passive and interactive installation. The audience can control which of the 32 lightbulbs and sounds are activated, but they are not in control of the type of light or sound that appears. The feedback in this installation is moderate to high as the light and sounds are immediate responses only when activated by the participant. However, there are limited responses to the lights and sound, and they differ only in position.

In our project, the user is valued and is responsible for all events as they are the only ones that can activate the light and sounds on the other side of the wall through their interactions with the mattress. This is due to the fact that each space on the mattress activates a different light bulb or sound. The user will be valued no matter how many participants there are at a certain time as each of their interactions trigger a different bulb each time. There is a parallel simulation of their interaction with the light and sound responses in the same positions on the bed, as well as an intuitive selection and result relationship. For the structure of the interface, feedback is provided about the location of each activator and what remains to be interacted with, with an open structure where the audience can play with the different switches through the bed.

Tatsuo Miyajima’s Mega Death (1999)

My second visit to Minimalism at the National Gallery was guided by head curator Silke Schmickl who brought character and insight to the seemingly simple artworks on display. I will be discussing Tatsuo Miyajima’s Mega Death (1999), the first piece she brought us to see and coincidently also the first piece I experienced on my previous trip there.

We began by stepping into a room, lit by only the glow of a few hundred blue LED counters from panels that were mounted on three sides of the wall. They would count down at different speeds from 9 to 1, skipping 0, over and over. Though the room was silent, each counter made a little tick sound in my brain and they would overlap, leaving me in an almost meditative state, counting in my head together with the LEDs.

Image by ANNA KUČERA, The Saturday Paper

Miyajima was commissioned to do a piece that summed up the 20th century. It was a simple set up, but the artist had intended for the numbers to represent the Buddhist cycle of life. If you had read about the piece, you would know that these lights would completely shut off at one point (Silke informed us that it happens when a certain sensor is triggered), which he termed Mega Death, as though the cycle of life was abruptly broken. Miyajima wanted this break of darkness to recognise the great and instantaneous number of lives lost in the 20th century through wars and killings. He also wanted to show how we picked ourselves up and begun again when the lights came back on one at a time, counting backwards again.

Video at:

The first time I visited, the lights blinded me in a starburst effect and I didn’t stay to experience the shut down – and missed the whole point of Mega Death. On the guided tour, perhaps it was the many feet of my classmates that triggered the sensor – mega death happened quite instantaneously after we entered. It was quite terrifying to be in the sudden blanket of darkness, even while knowing that it was supposed to happen. Put in context with the artist’s intentions in mind, this simple room with blue lights held substance and told a narrative.

Image by National Gallery Singapore

I enjoyed how he attached life and death, something so universal, to simple LED counters and programming them to turn off. When the lights started turning back on, we noticed there was one glitching counter that counted forward instead, and this was somehow endearing to me and really humanised this digital piece of work and I could empathise with it. I guess there’s always something different you experience in a piece of work each time you visit it.

I guess in relation to the project we are working on, we can learn how to strip things down to their essence, to find a relatable point and tell the narrative through different manifestations that are not entirely understandable at first glance. In a way, it is what we are doing with Mee Pok Man by stripping away the actors and telling the narrative through the presence of the props in each scene.