IxD and Assistive Technology at UNSW Art & Design

Advanced Multimedia Authoring – Week 01

Advanced Multimedia Authoring – Week 01

Classwork

I decided sometime last year that interactive/installation work was something that I really want to pursue. For me, the term ‘interactivity’ has little to do with the internet and fares little better when it comes to gaming (so far). I hope to take my own practice in the direction of dynamic and temporal installation design. Sound and light are two worlds that interest me greatly and when they’re coupled with exploratory interaction, I think some really amazing experiences can occur.

So, I’m quite happy to continue using Processing after the first Multimedia Authoring subject during semester one this year. Unsurprisingly, some of the students in our very small new class of five (!) were expecting to find themselves in a Flash design workshop and so the conversation took the path of explaining why concept is more important than software package. I’m really tired of hearing the complaints of people wanting to come to university just to work through Adobe/Pro Tools/Final Cut and then expect to walk into a top-level job in an international company. I can’t imagine that those organisations got to where they are today without innovation and amazing conceptual work. Not by knowing a simple program inside out. But I digress, and even I’m getting tired of this digression. Onto the semester ahead…

Wii remotes are a pretty nifty piece of hardware. Well, at least they were when the Wii exploded onto the market a few years back. Now, it seems the technology inside a Wii remote is carried around inside the pocket of every iPhone bearing Apple fan-boy around the world. The information being generated by the movement of this device is what we’ll be using this semester for interactivity, rather than continuing on with the camera-based work of session one.

wiiRemote
The Wii remote

As you can see from the above image, there’s quite a lot of useful data being output from a Wii remote, and that’s not even taking the buttons/triggers into account. What will be tricky is that the remote’s position in space isn’t tracked. That is, is doesn’t actually know where you are. It only knows how far you’ve moved and in what ‘type’ of movement. Sounds like it could be a little bit fiddly, but fortunately we’ll be handed a kind of template, which will sidestep the ‘hacking’ of the Wii remote.

One of the reasons the Wii was so successful was its reduction of controls into a more intuitive interface. My mum can pick up a Wii remote, start waving it at the screen for a while and pretty quickly pick up what’s going on. And that’s really saying something: I still get phone calls asking how to set the time on the VCR. I think that keeping with the spirit of the Wii remote and remaining intuitive will be a big focus of whatever I decide to do this semester.

Research

I was immediately keen to get my hands on a Wii remote so I could – of course – pull it apart. Apparently the actual pieces that transmit the data we’re interested in are quite small, making it possible to turn the television-remote-shaped device into something a little more inconspicuous. So I found myself on eBay, under the influence. Generally a dangerous situation, but I managed to pick myself up a brand new Wii remote, including the nunchuck for half the price you’d find it in stores here. It’ll take a week or so to arrive from Hong Kong, but I’m definitely proud of my drunken purchase.

My initial response to finding out that not only are we able to deconstruct the Wii remotes, but we will be receiving data via Bluetooth (instead of infra-red, which technically tethers you to an object, like the Wii itself), was to consider an exhibition I saw at CarriageWorks recently, called There Goes The Neighbourhood. Within it was a wonderful installation called Ghost Train by the Evil Brothers, which comprised of a cardboard city skyline and aerosol cans fitted with lights, which allowed you to explore the dark corridors. It was a child-like experience and really encouraged elements of play. I think there’s potential to connect the data from a Wii remote to something like a torch and really experiment with ideas like this.

For this subject, we have weekly required readings. No doubt as the semester wears on I will read less, but this week I went over the short paper, Seven Ways of Misunderstanding Interactive Art, (Huhtamo, Erkki). Some of the authors responses I disagree with. In fact, I agree with the detractors arguments more so. I think for the most part, interactive works have some way to go before the concepts are fully realised and matured. Of course, there are artists out there that are getting it right already, but like any art form, there are many more who aren’t quite hitting the nail on the head. I would like to see the area develop and evolve, rather than defend it for what it is at this moment.

However, there were a couple of interesting points made in regard to the history and consideration of interactive work as an art form. When suggesting that interactive art was still too emergent to be considered art…

“…[only looking at the past few decades] overlooks the fact that interactive art is firmly rooted in the aesthetic upheavals of the 20th century. The questioning of the role of the artist, the work, the audience, the market and the relationship between art and society by the dadaists, the constructivists, the surrealists and others prepared the ground.”

And when comparing interactive art to computer games (which I think on many levels are in fact art), or applications…

“Video games may be remarkably complex in their architecture, but they are a form of goal-oriented activity, whereas art is multi-layered and open-ended. There is no final “solution” to an interactive artwork, no way to exhaust its meanings.”

The latter particularly gives me something to think about for my own work this semester. Whether I want to give users of the work a finite number of options, or ways to interact with the work, or if I want to make it entirely dynamic and open to interpretation is something that I will need to consider as a major element of my concept.



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