Martin Hertig’s Sensible Data is an art installation made out of 3 interactive devices. It invites participants to make a physical passport through 3 distinct steps. The devices are modified variants of Piccolo CNC (an open source machine which uses arduino) and a Raspberry Pi coordinates all 3 machines to create a seamless process.
First, the participant takes a selfie portrait using the iPad. The first device will start making a line drawing passport photo of the participant.
Next, the participant is tasked to send an email to the a given address. This analyses and judges the selfie portrait they previously took using an algorithm. It returns data and triggers the second device to stamp in specific details on their passport such as beauty percentage, age, gender and mood. This information is stored in a database. The machines are very well made; not as efficient as a printer but the mechanical action is visible and adds visual interest.
Lastly, the participant presses a nondescript button which is actually a fingerprint scanner. This validates their passport, and the third device stamps a seal onto it. The physical passport is thus completed. An email with all the data of a matching person in the database is sent to the user. This begs a question so relevant in our modern age of information and technology: how much do we value confidentiality and the privacy of our personal data?
While the circumstances and conditions are intentionally absurd (it sends participants the data of another user whose portrait drawing has the same number of lines), Sensible Data brings up important issues that we have to consider, such as the tradeoffs of technology and immediacy, placing trusts in systems, measuring human qualities using computerised systems and assigning numbers to these qualities etc.
The devices come together pretty well and have a key role in the installation. Each device has a simple core concept and task it performs. I feel that asking the viewer to go through multiple steps and perform different actions is often less effective as the drawn-out experience requires sustained attention from the participant. It often makes for a choppy and cumbersome art experience. However, Hertig’s work doesn’t strike me as tedious or overly-complicated. It is successful perhaps because the end goal is clearly made known to the user from the start: simply make a passport. Each step also provides instant gratification and each action has an immediate, visible outcome. This sustains user attention and increases the continuity of the work.
First date? Meeting friends of friends? Family gatherings with people you aren’t quite sure how you’re related to? Lauren McCarthy’s Conversacube is an interactive device which aims to eliminate conversational awkwardness by guiding and prompting users on what to say in order to effortlessly navigate such situations.
The Conversacube is placed in the centre, with one side facing each user. Each face of the cube has a small screen to display prompts and a microphone to monitor audio levels and speech. Users are guided individually on how to respond in order to achieve smooth and attentive conversation. It also comes in different sizes for pairs or groups.
This gadget is both a conversation aid and an interactive device which generates physical and social interaction among users. At first glance, Conversacube may seem like an unnecessary novelty or a fun party gimmick. However, it brings up important questions about our modern social environment such as our reliance on technology, as well as social norms and behaviour. Will we eventually depend on a device to teach us how to be human? What soft aspects of ‘being human’ will we lose (or have we lost?) as we strive for innovation and efficiency? With redeuced face-to-face communication and increased dependence on virtual communication such as texting and social media, such a reality may not be too far away.
Touchy is a wearable interactive art device by Eric Siu, a new media artist from Hong Kong. It is a helmet-like device which resembles a camera and covers the user’s eyes, blocking their vision. When the user is touched by another person, the shutters will open and close, allowing the user to see for an instant. When the user maintains contact with someone for 10 seconds, the built-in camera in Touchy will take a snapshot of that instant, capturing the result of this togetherness.
Touchy touches on concepts such as physical communication, memories, social interactions and the ironic ‘un-socialness’ of social media. It also aims to combat problems like social anxiety and isolation (hikikomori), ramifications of our modern world.
The camera metaphor is pronounced as the device resembles a camera in terms of shape, colour and material. It also has shutters and a LCD screen at the back. Its helmet like shape with a pair of shutters at the eye area also has clear affordances of how it should be worn.
What is striking about this device is that the user and the device become one; so much so that they become another device altogether, a ‘human-camera’. The user no longer interacts directly with the device and instead becomes an extension of the machine. The interactivity occurs when this ‘humera’ interacts with other people. This interactive art device can also function as part of social interaction experiments and performance art pieces.
Wearable tech often serves the user and has practical, tangible benefits such as monitoring and providing information. However, Touchy actually impairs the user by limiting their vision in order to seek out ‘softer’ aspects of human interaction.
AR Music Kit is an interactive audio device created by London-based sound artist/designer Yuri Suzuki. It was developed in partnership with his YS Labs team and Google’s Data Arts Team.
AR Music Kit creates a unique ‘do it yourself’ musical experience which allows users to make music using just an app, print outs and everyday objects. Users print and cut out black and white square markers and stick these onto any objects they wish to create music with. Using a smartphone camera and the free mobile app, users capture themselves interacting with their setup. The camera senses when they ‘play’ a note/chord (by covering a marker with their hands) and the phone produces the corresponding sound. 3 modes are currently available: piano, guitar and music box.
It’s a very democratic and accessible interactive device as users don’t have to physically obtain or purchase it in order to enjoy it. Instead, it makes use of augmented reality sensors, paper print outs and a smartphone which are (relatively) easily available. The experience is also entirely customisable and can appeal to people of varying ages and musical ability.
The app is free and the software is available online on github in order to encourage developers, students or hobbyists to improve and further develop the project.
Aside from the great augmented reality musical experience, I really appreciate the spirit of openness and democracy of this device. It is simple, inclusive and enabling.
Other works by Yuri Suzuki: http://yurisuzuki.com/
Song Wig is an ingenious and playful piece of wearable tech by Japanese creative lab PARTY. This interactive device offers a new way of sharing music. The user experience has a large social element, as the users interact with the device as well as with one another.
One main user wears the device and shares music with physical proximity. It works similar to wireless headphones and syncs with devices via bluetooth. In terms of interactivity, it has limited user input and feedback. However, the metaphor and the resultant interaction that it generates between people makes up for this. It’s simple yet the affordances are easily identifiable. It also encourages physical interactivity between users.