Only 5 more days of the residency at the PM Studio left; I’d better squeeze in another update!
After the first wave of lasering and constructing with Sarah Barnes, there was just enough time to refine the design of the creatures and squeak out enough cuts to make 3 creatures out of plywood (a lot nicer material to work with and handle compared to the MDF I had been using for the previous prototypes).
Version 9 of the spine has vertebrae that echo the street layout of Cabourg: a French seaside resort and influence in Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. I like this as an allusion to the multi-path error phenomena from which the creatures’ movement is derived.
Speaking of their movement, it was a very nice moment when we got this tail moving:
It had been tense moments up until that point because as well as the change in vertebrae material I’d also changed the hose I was using for the ‘spinal column’ and tweaked the positioning of the hole used for the driver cord.
Alongside changes in the overall dimensions, we now had a structure that was a lot lighter and more manageable to carry. It would still be a bit of a weight to carry for any length of time, though, and since I want people to be able to use their hands for sensing movement rather than gripping and carrying, we also did a few experiments with binding the creatures to their guardian:
The process of wrapping up yourself and a creature in a long length of fabric is an interesting one and I think it has a lot of potential for symbolic beginnings and fostering empathy.
Once the 9 days of laser cutting were over (gosh we came a long way in that short amount of time!), it was time to return to the Pervasive Media Studio and tackle the code and electronics once again.
Wait! No! What am I saying?! Once the 9 days of laser cutting were over, it was time to spend a couple of days sanding the edges of all the vertebrae in order to remove the burnt wood and to make them smooth to the touch. The result was well worth it, though.
After another couple of days soldering electronic circuits, the creatures were ready for assembly with GPS units, batteries, Arduino and the servos that control the articulated tail section. This isn’t yet the final set-up I want to use, but I had a group of playtesters arriving in Bristol the next day and I wanted to get something up and running so that they could have something landscape-reactive to try out.
The night before the playtesting I lay the freshly-assembled creatures out on a convenient table in the Studio and it was borderline unnerving to see them twitching away and generally just sort of quietly owning the place. Y’know, in a good way. In a very good way.
…And then play testing was upon us!
I’d invited a crack squad of playful people who I believed would ask me some challenging questions and push my assumptions about what I thought I’d made: Jen Southern, Stuart Nolan, David Morton, Kat Jungnickel, Sam Underwood and Laura Kriefman. I wasn’t disappointed! Much to consider, interrogate and experiment with.
In the few hours we had we didn’t focus on the landscape-reactiveness of the creatures so much, but there was a lot of exploration of how their forms related to the people carrying them. Here are just a few examples:
The other discovery was that the creatures were a MASSIVE invitation for strangers to approach us, ask what they were and, often, pose for photos with them. This process had started even before we’d left the studio, and once outside they continued to pique the curiosity of young and old alike:
This was all very satisfying and followed on nicely from my Lunchtime Talk at the Studio last year where I talked about how I see the things I make as permission givers and invitations for triangulation. Yup, I’m very pleased with that.
This Friday I’ll be giving another Lunchtime Talk at the Studio and, fingers crossed, by then we should be in a position to also try out some of the flocking aspects that Tarim has been working on.