A brief history of the Oulipo

What is Oulipo?

Oulipo, short for Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, is an experimental literature group made up of people from different professions – from poets and novelists to engineers and mathematicians. Their works, mostly, are set within certain literary constraints; creating challenges to seek new forms and structures in order to find unknown and unbeknownst possibilities.

As seen in the video below, the results are playful and often humorous.

What the Oulipo intended to demonstrate was that these constraints are felicitious, generous, and are in fact literature itself. What it proposed was to discover new ones, under the name of structures.

These manipulations of language structures reminds me of the first rule from Lev Manovich’s Five Principles of New media, where he wrote about discrete units. An Oulipian example of playing with the discrete units of language would be La Disparition by Georges Perec – a novel without the letter E. At 26:15 in the video below, you may view a description of the novel.

Having read The Garden of Forking Paths as well, I can see how New Media owes much to traditional literature. Not only did it introduce hypertext, the relationship between the reader, author and text equates to the viewer, artist, and artwork. In a way, literature may be referred as the “source-text” and new media – the said deviations.

I think the most interesting thing about the Oulipo, even though it is not an original idea today, is that mathematics may play a significant role in the creative process. It can help in conjuring and permutate situations, such as Matthew’s algorithm as seen in 25:50 of the video below.

(You may try the algorithm in the link below)

http://markwolff.name/wp/research/mathewss-algorithm/

In terms of application in design art, Oulipo has inspired many other -po movements such as the Oubapo which is comic version of the Oulipo. They created scrabble inspired game called Scroubeabble, that allows the players to generate comic strips in an uncommon way.

Scroubabble

The application of ‘cross-breeding’ fundamentals from different fields, is rather ironic. Despite still applying restraints, it also removes limitations. It puts the creator in a new environment , perhaps a new perspective that does not exist within one’s home-field. It brings the boundary to light that there are physics of one subject that cannot exist in another. But as Oulipo has proven, that might not be true.

Close up of Scroubabble

Reading:

https://nickm.com/classes/the_word_made_digital/resources/12-oulipo-p.pdf

MINIMALISM at the National Gallery

Minimalism, in my opinion, was one of the more difficult art movements to comprehend and appreciate. The artworks are highly conceptual. At the surface, the style is extremely simple with no visible value and many may cast it off as ‘too easy’. One thing that I noticed about Minimalism was that it had a lot to do with space and experience. There were less of “stand and watch” artworks and more of alluring objects that tempts interaction of action or senses. My favourite example of this was Ai Wei Wei’s A Ton of Tea.

Ton of Tea by Ai Wei Wei

As a tea lover, standing in front of this giant tea block, I kept dipping my head to get a whiff of it. It had a familiar scent which I guessed and later confirmed was Pu’er (普洱茶)- a common domestic Chinese beverage easily found in any Chinese dining. Location and placement was significant to this piece as Ai Wei Wei originally wanted the cube to be placed in direct contact with the floor but because the tea was fragile at the edges, the timber pallet beneath was needed for practicality. However, if that were so, the geometric cuboid will create a direct relationship with the space and surroundings. That way, it engages the minds of the viewer to ponder over the industrial tea block, from “What?” to “Why?”.

Rachel Whiteread’s Twenty-five spaces, I believe, also arouse strong urges among its audience. I almost sat on it, thinking they were chairs. So I assumed others also have the same reaction. This work varies depending on its location, at Tate Britain it was a hundred but here it was only twenty five. Does the amount matter? Does the numbers change the meaning?

Twenty Five Spaces by Rachel Whiteread

This piece was about bringing obscurity into light and its effects work better in numbers. The more populated, the more prominent. Unlike Ai Wei Wei’s Ton of Tea, Rachel Whiteread plays with normality. If not told, the artwork can be difficult to be identified.

“Where space stops, her sculpture begins.”

As Twenty Five Spaces was a reference to Bruce Nauman’s (A.k.a. the guy walking contrapposto in a square) A cast of the space under my chair, we can see the resemblance of inducing new perspectives with the manipulation of time.

Plaster cast of a dog

A cast captures a moment, its surface holds the imprints and contours of the mold, leading the viewer back to the absence of its origin. This can be seen in the plaster cast of Pompeii victims. It can also be noted that memory of something dead retains more life than one that is still living.

Humans think and understand better through space in relation to self.  E.g. “Up” is usually good. “Down” is usually bad. This is because one is upright when healthy and alive, laying down when sick or dead. Using space to communicate with the viewer is to speak in the universal language.

References:

https://www.hrichina.org/en/content/3189

https://www.theartstory.org/artist-ai-weiwei-artworks.htm

https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2013/apr/11/rachel-whiteread-sculptor-shed

https://www.moma.org/artists/4243

On literal narratives

HomeStuck is a webcomic created back in 2009. It is illustrated in MS Paint and written as if the reader is playing a game; a sort of interactive comic/flash game hybrid – with the use of hyperlinks, gif, video, music and actual game-play etc.

https://www.homestuck.com/

It has inspired fan-content of similar fashion. In this fanfiction – Bones of the Black Marrow especially in chapters 1, 4, 6 and 36. The content may be NSFW, however, the execution of the story is one which I had never seen before. The author uses html to alter the interface to make the reading more engaging.

https://archiveofourown.org/works/14692911?view_full_work=true

Another work that I found, one that takes traditional narrative to the next level is facebook by new york-based interactive art director Lim Si Ping. It is an interactive book that uses facial recognition to track your online profile using search engines. The book then writes the narrative according to your personal information. “As the story unfolds with each turn of a page, you realize that this is a story about you.”

https://www.designboom.com/art/handson-facebook-interactive-facial-recognition-book-story-01-18-2019/

tree

Description

This is an interactive installation of a tree that seeks attention. When one walks towards or around it, the tree draws it’s branches in and out as if its ‘calling out’ to the viewer. Its roots crawl beneath the grass, ‘speaking’ through sounds from nature when presence is felt; such as birds tweeting and crunching of leaves.

 

Concept

As natives of urbanity, we tend to overlook nature in motion because of their stillness and ordinarity. The tree, a representation of nature, reacts to an approaching viewer; showing eagerness to connect and bring us closer to those we often ignore. It is a bashful tree, its movement more prominent when approach from a far; smaller more minute when near. It is a static object ‘brought to life’ through human attributes, displaying modern communication tendencies by craving interaction but shuns away when confronted. Together with its miniature size, the tree evokes endearment and encourages viewers to reach out as well.

The interface of the tree includes the grass patch with leaves specifically placed to guide the viewer to step on the Audio switches underneath and the make-believe tree facade to the mechanism. It classifies under valued users as (preferably) only a single person interacts with it at a time. However, the viewer is not responsible for all events, only the majority of the results are dependent on the viewer. Even without the user, the tree will be wiggling some branches to attract interest.

It is a parallel of real world experience as the feedback is in real time and place. The tangibility of the tree allows viewers to feel better connected with it while searching barefoot for its ‘tickle spots’ and being able to step into a transformed space. The interface is has constant elements that provide continuity. Results are repetitive but in random sequence to create an open structure. The viewer is free to communicate however they like by walking, hopping, crawling, rolling etc on the grass to gain different combinations and discover how the tree will react.

 

Position of switch mark with leaf clusters
Ambient lighting
Interact by walking around
Curious viewer reaching out
Close up of mechanism
Parallel Circuit
Testing prior to final presentation
Contruction of canopy
Construction of tree trunk
Putting everything together

 

Artist Reference

Reflection of the Age

The tree was inspired by Slovak Designer Juraj Kotian’s Reflection of the Age. His work ” is a analogical visualization of the exaggerated desire for the unreachable — something that we lose as soon as we want more than we can ever get at that specific moment in time.” Similar to that, we wanted draw attention to our tree by tapping into one of the raw desires of humanity.

 

Technical Setup

  6x Ultrasonic Sensors

14x Servo Motors (180°)

  1x Aluminium Circuit Floor Mat (2m radius semicircle)

16x Sponge Switch

  6x Portable Chargers

 

Technical Description

Technical aspect of the tree is divided into two parts – moving branches and ‘talking’ roots.

The moving branches were made using servo motors, gears, ultrasonic sensors and Arduino to code the whole set up. Ultrasonic sensors measure the viewer’s distance from the tree using the Arduino library “HCSR04”. For every 50cm, the Arduino-coded gears moves at different angles – 40 / 80 / 120 / 160 degrees. As for the servos, Millis was used to replace Delay for the duration of the servo motor to reach a certain angle.

The ‘talking’ roots were made using brown paper, aluminium foil, sponges, wires. Serial port was used to communicate between Arduino and Processing. Whereas the source code to randomize the music played was from http://forum.arduino.cc/index.php?topic=96456.0 edited to fit the project.

 

Individual Responsibilities

Ying Hui – Coding communication between Processing and Arduino to produce sound effects when switches are stepped on in the floor mat.

Najiha – Construction and painting of tree bark and planting of branches and leaves.

Gladys – Construction of mechanism and canopy.

Jamie – Arduino coding of the interactive installation. Also assisted in wiring system and building of tree branches.

 

Individual Reflections

Jamie

https://oss.adm.ntu.edu.sg/jlim233

– This project took a toll on me!! Prior to this project, I have never tried coding before, and it was really eye-opening. There were tons of information online to assist me on coding. I mainly did coding on Arduino, which meant tons of research and trying out of different codes and equipment. Firstly, I used PIR sensor to detect motion, which worked, but I realised that I’m unable to measure distance through the PIR sensor. I then switched to ultrasonic sensor, which is able to measure distance, but only in a straight line, and we tried to make do with it. When coding, the ultrasonic and servo motor coding had delay and delayed the whole circuit. This was a huge challenge as online information mostly used delay and i had no idea what to do. Thankfully, I overcame this challenge and used Millis instead. It was confusing initially as I didn’t understand how Millis worked but it managed to make the whole circuit not laggy! Another challenge I faced towards the very end of the project was trying to remove everything from the breadboard, and then solder and attach it to the tree. With some help, i understood how to make the circuit work without the breadboard. I also had a challenge in coding the servo motor as I wanted the servo to stop moving once the audience is at least 1.2m away. I keyed in a code, but it didn’t seem to work, but on some instances it worked.

 

YingHui

– Personally, for this project, while Jamie and Gladys work on the main code, I was part of the support crew with Najiha. I mainly took on the minor role of coding the floor mat and influenced the aesthetic of the whole installation by proposing the artificial grass mat. Originally, we were going for something more conceptual but because the grey coloured grass was too expensive and the product looked too realistic. Thus, the tree was made to match. As for the construction of the hidden circuit, the first idea to use photoresistors was too risky because the wire-parts were too fragile and prone to break under pressure.  So, I went with DIY switches with sponges and aluminium foil. Then there was the problem that if there is too little surface area, the circuit would not work. For example, when tape two pieces of aluminium foil on top of one another or when I attach a straight piece of wire on the aluminium foil. In the end, I wrapped the aluminium foil around each other and coiled the ends of the wires for better connection. Coding wise, things were fairly smooth. The only challenge would be the randomizing of sound played when pressing a switch. The plan was to print random strings of words (music title) as a variable of sort and allow minim library to read it. I had multiple methods such as StringLists, Arrays and ‘.shuffle’ to print random strings but minim was unable to read any of them. Eventually, after a night of countless iterations, I found that creating arrays of the AudioPlayer worked better than ‘arraying’ the sound files.

 

Najiha

https://oss.adm.ntu.edu.sg/a160123

In this project, I did the construction and decoration of tree which is made up of cardboard, and some wooden sticks to hold the shape of trunk. As mentioned during presentation, scale was meant to be at least 1.7m to make it a realistic tree, but due to time constraint and limited resources, tree would be better off in a miniature size. The tree trunk was made of paper mache, black tissue paper, paint and roots were made with newspapers – ironically materials were by-products of trees. As for branches they were made up of sticks and leaves were mainly cut out by me. There were different variations of tree leaves but we stick to simple green ones instead.

I felt that this project had a good concept where something natural like a tree is given an electrical/technological element like servo motors and sensors. Because it is nice to combine two elements together and turn it into a concept that is relevant to Interstices. Practical-wise, I felt that coding was left completely to my other group members, so on one side there is a heavy duty coding and the other side is more on crafty-aspect of the tree. Even though I lead the team initially, everyone’s work was individualistic on most occasions and towards the end we manage to put everything in place and the installation went smoothly.

 

Gladys

https://oss.adm.ntu.edu.sg/fook0010

– I am quite skeptical about how the tree would turn out in the beginning but I’m very relieved and glad everything came together! I could only finish finalising the design of the canopy 2/3 weeks before final submission because our group wasn’t sure which mechanism was the most suitable one to mimic the movement of branches. I tried pop-out paper mechanism but it was too flimsy to handle the weight of the branches, I tried cam mechanism but it was too bulky, hence I decided to go with the rack and pinion mechanism. I had trouble fixing the servo to the mechanism initially as I had to make sure that the rack had enough teeth when the gear turned 180degrees so that the rack wouldn’t fall off the canopy. We also wasted one week of our time as we bought the wrong servos and were figuring out how to control the speed and angle of the continuous servos. I had to cut the gears manually using thick paper to finalise the design before sending them to be laser cut. I needed to very precise and careful when I attached the pathway to guide the branches as the movements of the gears had to be very exact. If the pathway is slanted, the gear might get stuck and stop moving. Another challenge I faced was designing the branches as they had to be designed and positioned in a way such that it wouldn’t be too heavy and cause the moving mechanism to be unbalanced and fall off the tree. The wiring system was also a mess I had to make sure that the wires wouldn’t get in the way of the branches and gears.

 

Principles of New Media

First rule.

New Media refers to the means of mass communication using digital technologies which means “all new media objects can be described formally (mathematically)”; in the language of computers. So which part of the ‘tree’ is new media? At first glance, it is very much just a normal model of a tree, until someone approaches The only part of the ‘tree’ digitized is the automation – the code and the electrical components. Thought it is a piece of interactive art that uses digital technology, it does not classify under new media as a whole.

In the ‘tree’ project, we are transcoding psyche to give the illusion that the supposed ‘inanimate’ object is sentient. The sixth sense of presence is the “cultural layer” where as the “computer layer” is the Arduino and Processing code.

La maison sensible (from Intro to Interactive I)

Manovich states that “Media used in cultural communication will have discrete levels.” But he also states the opposite that it may not be applied to all kinds of cultural communication. Does body language have discrete units? Maybe not. But transcoded body language, has discrete units due to its “fractal structure”. Just like how art and design are 2 separate categories – design is art but art is not design, New media and interactive art co-exist in a similar way. Discrete units do not have any meaningful connotations unless you are making glitch art.

Ra9 added into the code (Detroit Become Human)

Discrete units of the computer code are purely technical and are meaningless yet it enhances the semantics of the artwork. Bridging the disconnection between audience and display. Because…

Second rule.

“A new media object is subject to algorithmic manipulations. in other words, media becomes programmable.” This type of programming leds to 2 closely related principles – automation and variability.

As the ‘tree’ is not a self-learning program, it is a “low-level” automation; “in which the computer user modifies or creates from scratch a media object using templates or simple algorithms.” Its feedback is pre-programmed and will not change.

Another way of identifying a “low-level” automation from a “high-level” one is that, the variability of a “low-level” automation is dependent on the user while the variability of a “high-level” automation is solely determined by the program itself.

“Computer characters can display intelligence and skills only because programs place severe limits on our possible interactions with them. Put differently, computers can pretend to be intelligent only by tricking us into using a very small part of who we are when we communicate with the.”

The ‘tree’ is also a special case of a “low-level” automation pretending to be a “high-level” one. As it is not an artificial intelligence (AI) program but it seems to understand meaning; as mentioned above in transcoding.

Lastly, the modularity of new media allows for easy editing. Manovich described to be building blocks of code, stating that “The objects themselves can be combined into even larger objects – without losing their independence.” The ‘tree’ comes in 2 parts – Branch and roots, which can be be removed and still function on their own. Removing the discrete units however, would ruin the entire system.

 

Reference:

The language of New Media by Lev Manovich