Colony residency: final push

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).

Cabourg stack waiting to be assembled

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:

Hands free!

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.

Sanded plywood vertebrae – much more touchable

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.

“Colony creatures are having a quick run-through of their presentation for next week’s Lunchtime Talk at @PMStudioUK”

Have we got space for another close-up of some curves? Yes. Yes, I think we might…

…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.

The playtesters get acquainted with the creatures

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:

Colony Playtesting 12/09/2014

Colony Playtesting 12/09/2014

Colony Playtesting 12/09/2014

Colony Playtesting 12/09/2014

Colony Playtesting 12/09/2014

Colony Playtesting 12/09/2014

Colony Playtesting 12/09/2014

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:

Colony Playtesting 12/09/2014

Colony Playtesting 12/09/2014

Colony Playtesting 12/09/2014

Colony Playtesting 12/09/2014

A set of my photos and videos from the day is on Flickr.

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.

Exciting!

Coming up: being a bit whooshy with the National Trust

Next week I’m going to start a short stint working with a couple of digital producers based at the National Trust’s Croome Court property in Worcestershire.

It’s a pretty amazing place with gorgeous sweeping Capability Brown landscaping and a house with many stories to tell. (Click for larger versions of the photos below.)

I’ll be helping Clare Harris and Ashleigh Moore as part of their 4-year mission to investigate new approaches to the Croome visitor experience.

They’re currently working on a time-travelling adventure mission for families and I’ll be helping them with prototyping and trying out some ideas. My brief: “a bit whooshy with the right amount of peril”.

I’m looking forward to it!

Inkvisible #4: smooth moves and scribbles

Today was our last day of Inkvisible playtesting. Having decided to move away from the L.A.S.E.R Tag software to a motion-tracking based system, it turns out we still stayed with the Graffiti Research Lab.

Ben Eaton hacked an installation of BlitzTag to work with a Kinect sensor.

Inkvisible Day 4

Inkvisible Day 4

After a bit of configuration for the space, we started getting our first curious bystanders.

They rapidly became participants!

Inkvisible Day 4

The first observation was that this system gave much smoother results. Strangely the projected line almost felt elastic at times. The second was that people seemed to get really very absorbed into the movements – in the same way that you might run your fingers through sand on the beach or trail them through water. It’s quite a different experience from the version that tracks a laser pointer. This is much more about the movement of the body.

The snippet of video gives a small sense of this, but basically we were finding that people (of all ages) were doing this for several minutes, content to just swirl their arm around and see the traces formed.

With very few exceptions, the results all looked like this:

Inkvisible Day 4

Although we did have one or two cases of people writing their names:

Inkvisible Day 4

People seemed to filter out the paintings we were hoping they might respond too. I think most people would have preferred to have had a blank area of wall to mark onto.

This, however, was not what we were trying to investigate so, time to change things up a little!

We relocated to the gallery next door and set up over an abstract painting. Here we wanted to see if we could find a base layer that resonated more with the projected graffiti layer.

Inkvisible Day 4

Inkvisible Day 4

It started to show some promise, so we did a slow pan of the room to see what different scales and substrates did.

I very much liked the feel of working on a huge scale as when happened when the projector reached down to the far end of the room. The corresponding drop in intensity was noticeable though, in that the lines were quite faint. It would be really good to try something on this scale, but with a much more powerful projector so that the results are still vibrant.

Next we came to Ana Maria Pacheco’s Man and His Sheep.

Oh yes.

Now we started to be actually interacting with the artwork. Admittedly still through kind of scribbling, but when you mark across a face, a part of you feels it on your face too.

Inkvisible Day 4

Inkvisible Day 4

Inkvisible Day 4

Inkvisible Day 4

So, this was significant not only for the shift in interaction, but also because this was the first time we had been able to successfully project onto 3D sculpture (reflection and scatter problems with the lasers).

Both systems we trialled have their pros and cons. In particular with this one we missed the ease of being able to tweak settings and the effect of the paint drips.

As with L.A.S.E.R. Tag, BlitzTag was not without its quirks when it came to problems with tracking. For some reason it simply would not detect and respond to the movements of several people.

We weren’t really in a situation that enabled us to do de-bugging of what was causing this, but we suspect it to be partly to do with differences in clothing.

Inkvisible Day 4

The system was generally able to detect me, so we devised a couple of work-arounds that sometimes worked. The first was to give people my brown shirt to wear (see above) and the other was for me to stand in front of people to act as a sort of shield.

In summary we think this has got a lot of potential, but we think any next steps would benefit from a particular context (giving a direction to the types of responses being sought) and a big chunk of time that could be spent de-bugging the installation and customising the nature of the projections.

That’s us out of time, though. Next week we report our findings back at King’s College.

Inkvisible #3: Associations, assumptions and frustrations

Having previously decided on our location and homed in on some of the aspects of interaction that we wanted to encourage during a planned final even, our aim for last Friday was to set up in situ and perfect the tech and social set-ups.

It all started well, with some excellent exchanges. Following an observation from Ben, we made a bit more of people having their photos taken alongside the marks they had made.

Inkvisible Day 3

We’re interested in how this may change the dynamics of what people draw and also the ownership they take of it.

Inkvisible Day 3

A Dutch artist echoed the paintings she usually does that consist of white and blue lines. She was very keen to take lots of photos of everything and there was a very strong sense that she would go on to share these with others.

Inkvisible Day 3

We don’t often get people writing text (it’s quite difficult, especially on your first attempt), but someone who I’m guessing was a visitor from East Asia, contributed an I ♥ You.

I’m curious about how this behaviour might relate to whether people consider themselves tourists or not. As a nice juxtaposition, though, this member of staff was also keen to have a go and to know where she could find her photo online afterwards. (pssst! It’s here!)

Inkvisible Day 3

We also had our first genitalia drawn – suffice to say from an unexpected source!

It’s been very interesting talking to people and finding out about their expectations and assumptions about what ‘everyone else must draw’. We think there’s some interesting psychology going on here beyond anything too Freudian.

Unfortunately we then hit a point where the technology started to seize up on us; first working intermittently and then failing to work at all.

This has scuppered our plans to hold a formal event at the end of the month, however you could argue it has furthered our learning and the conversations around it quite a bit.

After some wrangling we decided we couldn’t run an advertised event with the technology being as unpredictable as it was. We have a fair idea of what we are asking from such an event though, and increasingly how to achieve that, so we’re still going to design and plan one – we’re just not going to try and make it happen just yet.

In the meantime we’ve still got one more day at BMAG: stay tuned to find out how we’re going to use it…

Inkvisible #2: Provocations

Last week we had our second playtesting day for the Inkvisible project. (Here’s the write-up of the first one.) This time I was at BMAG with Dr Gretchen Larsen, our King’s College academic.

With or without a PhD, we all start in the same way!

After struggling to get the L.A.S.E.R. Tag software we’re using to track our green laser pointer in the orange space of the Buddha Gallery, I’d bought a purple laser pointer to try out. In parallel to this, we’d also been talking to a BMAG conservator to ensure our lasers aren’t doing any damage.

It turns out there’s not a lot of published research regarding the use of laser pointers for drawing graffiti within the museum environment!

The conservator is going to do some calculations and research into fluence and intensity, and whilst we think we’re a long way off the sorts of powers, spot sizes or exposure times that would be needed to do any damage, we’re making sure we err on the side of caution.

Inkvisible Day 2

This means that we will restrict the use of our green lasers to glazed oil paintings (framed behind glass), ceramics and sculptures, and our purple laser (with its shorter wavelength and increased likelihood of generating ultra violet radiation) to only ceramics and sculptures. Fortunately the area in the Buddha Gallery we were interested in using contains stone and bronze statues.

Inkvisible Day 2

We’re interested in this particular gallery partly because of its links to a community that come to leave devotional offerings and partly because of the overlooking balcony that means we can potentially project down into the space.

This affordance of being able to have all the technology up out of sight seemed to have a distinct effect on the interactions with museum visitors. In contrast to when we had the projector and laptop out in plain view and people readily came up to ask us what we were doing, here the mechanics were somewhat hidden and people tended to stay back to watch from a distance. We could still hear the appreciative exclamations, but it was almost as if when the workings are visible they act as an invitation for people to come up and ask what’s happening and how it works.

We’re also wondering if this effect is related to how many people are with the laser – if it’s just one, do visitors feel they need to leave them alone to do whatever it is they’re concentrating on?

Whilst the invitation seemed to have been removed, it was replaced with more of a sense of magic. “Is it real?”, one man was heard to say.

Something else was to become apparent too: the big bronze statue of Buddha didn’t like the laser!

Inkvisible Day 2

The above image might look like a lot of indiscriminate scribbling, but it’s us trying to figure out why the projected graffiti would stop as the laser passed over the statue. With a bit of tweaking of the software settings, we managed to get the laser to track over the (basalt, I think) surround, however we could not directly draw any traces over the statue itself. (Only drips or traces that were offset due to tracking misalignment.) We think this was because of the reflective relief metallic surface bouncing the laser off in all sorts of directions therefore making it invisible to the tracking camera.

The result was really quite eerie and added to the feeling of transgression.

The same thing happened when we tried the statue of Lucifer in the Round Room.

Our next stop was one of the Pre-Raphaelite galleries. Having had a wander around the museum we felt that Inkvisible would work best in the more traditional galleries: the new history galleries for example are lovely and spiffy, but our stuff would just look too normal in them, it would disappear.

The Pre-Raphaelite collection at BMAG is renowned and attracts a lot of visitors expecting a particular kind of museum experience. We deliberately sited ourselves here to get a feel for what sort of responses disrupting that would produce.

Inkvisible Day 2

This was our first interaction: a woman who was drawn to it as if to a car crash. She was horrified at the prospect of having marked over the paintings, but couldn’t tear herself away. Result.

Inkvisible Day 2

Not long afterwards we were descended upon by a series of groups of school children. Rising to the challenge we invited them to take part, giving as many of them a go as we were able to.

This was good learning for us as up until now we had only dealt with participants in twos or threes. Instigating countdowns to mark the end of turns and designating a Special Assistant to help with clearing the screen, we kept groups of about 10 7-year-olds engaged at a time.

Chatting to them between changeovers it was interesting to explore the extent to which they had already been trained in ‘appropriate’ museum behaviour. They enjoyed the opportunity to draw all over the walls and to not get into serious/expensive trouble!

Inkvisible Day 2

We were a bit nervous about handing over some Class 2 lasers to some excited small children, so for the most part we used an alternative method. Rather than tracking laser light reflected off of the walls and paintings, here we used a torch held so it pointed straight back towards the camera.

This had obvious advantages in terms of safety for both the artefacts and the participants, but it lacks something in the feedback for your movements that you get with the laser pointer unless you are right up close to the projection surface.

I like this a lot – it’s a very different experience when you can see the brush marks on the surface you are graffiti-ing over and this method also encourages you to move your (whole) body in a different way. We got some of the groups to try jumping and making marks as high as they could.

Inkvisible Day 2

Struggling a bit with the lack of correlation between movement and mark, also with the tracking system not being able to keep up with very fast movements, we switched back to the laser pointer method with some of the later groups.

Here it was very apparent that the children would treat the area of wall above the paintings as their canvas, avoiding the artworks below unless they were specifically encouraged to work lower down.

Inkvisible Day 2

After the school groups had all got on their respective coaches, we were paid a few visits by chaps from the Digital Heritage Demonstrator project. One of the comments was “I bet everyone draws lines across the eyes straight away”. Well, er, no, actually. Nobody had! It was interesting to think about what people assumed would be the obvious first thing to do.

We’ll be running a public event on the 26th of July where you can come and do some mark-making of your own.

What will you do?

Inkvisible #1: Getting to know the medium

Last month I was invited to take part in in Arts and the Digital Ideas Lab (part of King’s Cultural Institute’s Creative Futures programme, produced in collaboration with Caper) as a creative technologist.

About 40 people took part – split more-or-less evenly split between representatives of academia (primarily King’s College London), cultural organisations (such as the Maritime Museum, Coney, Crafts Council and the Royal Shakespeare Company) and the creative technologists (always a delightfully ‘misc’ collection).

At a previous event 19 challenges had been arrived at and we started off by aligning ourselves to one of these. I gravitated towards “How can we nurture and sustain spaces for collective creative and critical thought in the digital world?”.

By the end of the day I was on a team pitching an idea that we later wrote up as:

Inkvisible is a hybrid framework of digital, projected graffiti; game mechanics; and narrative applied within the interior space of the museum.

Our aim for this phase of the project is to playtest different variations of the framework at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG) in order to gain an understanding of how it can be applied to create a channel through which the audience’s critical voice can be expressed and heard.

We got some money; we got the go-ahead from BMAG and now we’re doing it!

Starting yesterday, we began what’s effectively a 4-day residency to get to grips with what the affordances of this idea might be.

‘We’ now being a team consisting of:

(Others also contributed to the development of the initial idea.)

So, our first task was to get to grips with the technology we would be using to project the graffiti. We’d short-listed the Graffiti Research Lab’s L.A.S.E.R. Tag system (which seemed very much in the spirit of the voices we’re trying to encourage and the brief to use open source software as much as possible) and an alternative using motion sensing via a Kinect and outputting with Processing.

Ben and I set up in Gallery 10 and started experimenting…

Inkvisible Day 1

We had a bit if hoo-hah caused by insufficient cable-age and interference from the display cabinet lights, but before too long we were up and running and attracting curious observers.

Inkvisible Day 1

Inkvisible Day 1

It was immediately obvious that this was something that draws people (of all ages) in and can be used as a catalyst for conversation. Our task next is to make those conversations productive. We’ll be exploring that more when Dr Larsen and I are back in the museum again on Tuesday and Thursday next week.

For the remainder of yesterday’s experiments, we tried a few more locations.

Inkvisible Day 1

Our attempts at projecting down from the balcony into the Buddha Gallery were thwarted by what we think was a combination of distance, reflection angles and the background orange light.

Next we tried the iconic Round Room – the first bit of the collection you encounter as you come in from the main entrance.

Wanting to cover an area that overlapped with several paintings, we struggled again due to angles of incidence and the matt paint on the walls preventing the laser spot from being detected. We’ve been given permission by the conservation team to use our lasers on certain materials (not egg tempera, textiles or watercolours), but we don’t really want to upgrade to using a more powerful laser (we’re currently using Class 2).

So, out of a combination of necessity and curiosity, we then tried honing in on one single painting.

Inkvisible Day 1

Inkvisible Day 1

As you can imagine, this had a very different feel compared to when we were using a blank area of wall above the cabinet in the ceramics gallery.

Inkvisible Day 1

Inkvisible Day 1

Having a specific and almost-tangible object to interact with (you really get a sense of the (im)materiality of both the pigment and the overlaid light when you’re up close) gives the opportunity to respond to something in particular.

Inkvisible Day 1

Inkvisible Day 1

We had people telling us about what they thought of the painting, for example: having grown up in that area of Oxfordshire and how the landscape reminds them of home. We also had someone backing-off to sit down and think for a bit before returning and asking to write the word ‘sky’ – the element that struck her the most.

The location in this part of the museum was very well trafficked and we had an almost constant stream of people coming up to us to ask questions, share their thoughts and give it a go.

People’s responses were not always positive – which I think is fair enough – and these were also important conversations to have. A few people said they didn’t see the point and one man in particular felt that we were being quite disrespectful to the work of the artist.

That last conversation came towards the end of the day when the overlaid projections were getting quite scribbly and doodley. Our experiments also came the day after a portrait of the Queen was defaced with real spray paint.

Inkvisible Day 1

It seems that use of the laser pen and seeing the resulting ‘paint’ traces is experience enough, and we’re not sure how much narrative we want – or need – to wrap it up in. What I think we will have to focus our efforts on is how to steer the use of this tool towards eliciting comment on the institution.

We’re in again playtesting on Tuesday and Thursday next week (18th and 20th of June) – do pop in and join the experiment.

Phoenix playtesting sessions #2 & #3

Due to low turn-outs, these sessions were more testing than play, however we still had some very big smiles!

By Thursday I’d made some units that communicated with each other via XBee radios. They remain happy whilst still in range, but once separated you have a short grace period in which to link up again. After that an alarm goes off.

For the first of the two playtesting sessions it was the first time the units had been taken outside, so we wanted to get a feel for what sort of maximum range they have. Not until after having experimented with corridors and lifts, first.

Faraday Cage

Faraday Cage: third floor.

Maplin’s carpark wasn’t big enough, so we moved on to the ring road and then the St George’s retail park. You can just make out the person carrying the other unit in the distance…

Full range

Range-testing in the biggest carpark we could find...

For the last session we headed into the city centre and experimented with corners, pillars and mezzanines in various streets, theatres, shopping centres and multistorey carparks. I’m afraid I was so engrossed in what we were doing that I totally forgot to take any photos!

Next step is to expand this out to a group and start working with range information to see how that affects the coalescence of a group moving through the city.

Phoenix playtesting session #1

I’m now approaching the half-way stage of my residency at Phoenix Square, however the last 2 days have been beset by various tech and mech crises so it feels like I’m only just getting started!

Last night was the first of my playtesting sessions in which members of the public have signed up to come along and get hands-on with whatever I’ve made.

Due to the slow start I hadn’t got the radio communication up and running, so we did a few experiments using the old faithful sonar goggles instead. After a gentle start in the empty room next door, we headed down to the public space of the cafe/foyer/cinema area.

Having now had their appetite well and truly whetted, my enthusiastic volunteers then wanted to use the goggles out on the streets!

We tried a range of locations and a range of challenges (including bollard slalom and fountain circumnavigation). This was the first time the goggles had been used in such an uncontrolled environment and I was very impressed as the guys’ willingness to try stuff out. As they said, the bar has now been set very high for the next time they’re used!

cinema

Corridor Challenge. The challenge being to not end up in either the cinema or the ladies loos!

Market navigation

Using the goggles to navigate from one side of the market to the other.

The video above shows a snippet from an experiment in moving together as a group: the lead person is using their sonar to navigate from one side of the square to the other, but the person behind has their sonar switched off, so they have to listen to the lead’s bleeps in order to be able to follow them.

My photos and video from the session are at http://www.flickr.com/photos/nikki_pugh/sets/72157629115638094/detail/

Colony prototype, in Holly’s words

http://www.hideandseek.net/nikki-pughs-colony-prototype/

It’s been deadline central around here for the last couple of weeks, so various things have slipped through the blogging net. Fortunately, Holly Gramazio has written a lovely insightful post outlining precisely what what going on last Tuesday:

We went out in a group of four, and wandered around, occasionally passing the bundle between us – just to see what it was like, how the vibrations felt, whether people looked at us oddly or didn’t notice, whether we felt friendly and warm towards the bundle or annoyed by it. In the end we wandered arond for an hour or so, everyone taking a couple of turns with the bundle.

The first thing we noticed was that was that holding the bundle gives you an immense feeling of entitlement. Only you can tell when it’s vibrating; only you can interpret its whims. Is it happy? Which way does it want to go? Does it have a name, and if so, what is it? Holding the bundle makes you feel like these are your decisions to make, even when you know perfectly well that the vibrations are random and you’re interpreting them pretty much as you like. It invests you with power.

Please go and read the whole thing!

The Bloop galleries

I’ve been compiling photos other people have taken of The Bloop game and sonar goggle experiments I did at the Hide&Seek Weekender into some Flickr galleries.

The Bloop at the Weekender #1
The Bloop at the Weekender #2
Sonar Goggle Experiments at the Weekender

It’s always good to see your events from the perspective of others and there are some really nice shots in there. Here are a selection of my favourites – click on them to go through to the source on Flickr.

Whales Ahoy!

The Bloop

Wining Whale

Hide and Seek

Find Each Other

Thanks again to everyone who took part – either as player or audience.



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