A Case Study on How Things Stick, Panel discussion at ISEA2002 in Nagoya, Japan
Consider the following keywords within a realm where creative practices and technology intertwine: [collaboration] [playfulness] [systems] [knowledge] [research] [theory] [practice] [active participation] [new public contexts] [audience] [environment] [perception] [cohesion] [culture]
All of the notions listed above can either be considered as free-floating entities with their own particular meaning, or they can be re/combined with each other within unconventional contexts, and hence continuously stretch the elasticity of their own semantics. Instead of focusing the discussion on one of the separate topics, this panel will attempt to look at the substance [glue] or action [gluing] that is needed for this collection of concepts to stick together, resulting in a congruent and valuable creative practice. The notion of [orai] will be a starting point for an inquiry into the literacy needed for the cohesion of a vast variety of topics and methodologies employed in the arena of participatory arts. All panellists apply specific kinds of glue to help create instances of cohesion and adhesion within their creative/technological practices, which occur on the cusp of research, production and presentation of artistic works.
Components of tenacity The intersections of empirical knowledge and critical theory are pondered, cultural research methodologies are examined. Strategies for sustainable collaboration, creative exchange between heterogeneous groups are tested in practice. Collaborative efforts between developers and audience generate new public contexts, where the visitors/participants /players are actively involved in the modelling of responsive environments, networked performances and a range of adaptive systems. Creative output is designed as an incubator for new development, as well as a site for analysis and evaluation of the work process.
Stickiness The consistency and thickness of the glue varies for the different case studies presented by the panellists. However, we distinguish one indispensable quality for adhesion: play-fullness. From the inquisitive endeavours within research projects, to the output formats of public experiments, to improvement of the group dynamics. Glue your own!
Moderators Maja Kuzmanovic (B/NL/HR), Nat Muller (NL)
(by Maja Kuzmanovic)
When I think of glue in the context of ISEA, we should to avoid talking about the most obvious adhesive substance: the technology connecting the different media, people and spaces. I would like to keep the discussion a little bit broader, and describe how I see the process of gluing occurring in the interdisciplinary practice involved in developing responsive environments.
I very much agree with the Japanese society - alcohol and the amount of personal and cultural walls that this substance can melt is unpreceded. I would like to add that alcohol is just one part of this two component glue that has to power to hold multidisciplinary and multicultural teams together - food is the other component - the process of preparation, presentation and consumption of food, its related cultural rituals, and their informal breaking are added to the fluctuating loss of control that alcohol brings about.
Food, in all its forms and tastes is one of the first glues that FoAM found successful in every constellation of disciplines - txOom, one of FoAM's publications in 2003 will describe how we glued this project together through more or less elaborated food events on all meetings, workshops and presentations.
Furthermore, we have decided to make food an official part of our programme in 2003, a trajectory called f0amf0od, in which we will use food as an additional medium to achieve the synaesthesia of sensual perception in responsive environments.
Simple but crucial comforts such as food and drinks can be seen as the first state of the gluing process used to melt the surface of the substances that we want to stick together. Once passed this stage, when the surfaces begin flowing, the sticky substance in between gets really slippery, sometimes dissolving the whole material, sometimes not penetrating enough through the surface. This is the period where the glue particles from the food are processed into waves of energy being freed from the separated parts, usually known as language. This is where the quality of the glue and the cleanliness of the parts are tested.
From my experience in mixed reality projects, two of which I'd like to touch upon today, I would like to propose a linguistic 'formula' that can sufficiently liquefy the surfaces, so that the parts can not easily detach, but even if they do, their material will be sufficiently contaminated by the particles of the other part, that the process of gluing will become visible - by the effects of its failure, that can sometimes for the people involved, be even more valuable than perfect end results. This formula involves neutral language, as a flexible glue allowing the substances to endlessly oscillate around each other.
Every narrative begins with an assumption that its writers and readers agree on: the 'as if' hypothesis that precedes every imaginary world. Creative practices are generally based on the same hypothesis. As long as both parties agree that the underlying logic of the world is valid, even if it might appear absurd compared to the logic of reality (i.e. ordered societies), the story or a world in the case of the projects we discuss today can begin revealing itself.
When the practice involves not only building a world with known tools, but also the development of the governing principles and instrumental mechanisms, the 'as if' hypothesis must have a proof of its validity that can be translated into a practical, material process, compatible with the physical and social world in which it will be embedded. We enter into the “arena of irreversible consequence”, (in the words of Malcolm Le Grice). The second world, the reality we live in, operates on a different hypothesis: the causal if/then principle.
The 'as if' methodology, well known to the creative practitioners proved to be the thinner for the glue in applied interdisciplinary collaborations with scientists and engineers - i must add that projects with strict deadlines make the glue particularly thin. Bound by the restrictions of hardware and the formalisms of software, the 'as if - then what?' became most often posed question in projects where the artistic visions met the scientific inventions.
In such projects, the disciplinary boundaries are contaminated by alien paradigms and processes, spawning the research and production methods based on a adhesive 'As if/then…' hypothesis. This is when a collaborative project succeeds and the formula works.. More often however the internal disciplinary 'religious dogmas' prohibit the team members to compromise, and the discussion ends in the 'you don't understand how impossible this is' or 'do not tell me how to do my work' statements - and these are among the milder ones. The as if / then hypothesis allows everyone to question each other's approaches and even their subject matter, and opens new channels of perception for both the disputed question and the project as a whole.
These 'world building tools used for propagation of mixed reality worlds are founded on the principles of dynamics and transformation, and so should be the generated worlds. The 'as if / then' formula demands the realities to be conceived in a dynamic language that can be compared to the movement of verbs instead of the symbolism of nouns.
An example - the Argentinian writer Borges, in his story bundle Aleph proposed a language that consists of only impersonal verbs that can function as adverbs by adding a suffix or a prefix to the word - above the liquified gurgling flowing, it mooned. Borges was opposed to the concept of ordered societies, and was exhorting the importance of dynamics and chaos as generative forces in life. Nouns are used across disciplines as symbolic machines, that are burdened with cultural and historic baggage, building a wall between his readers' sensual experiences the processes transformation in the story's imaginary world.
In txOom, we found that using verbs to describe the processes in the media and materials and the experiences of the players in the conceptual and design phase of the project, has successfully glued the software/ hardware engineering with audiovisual, textile, costume and architectural design. In the previously mentioned dynamics engine, that allows the media worlds to evolve coherently through sound, image, tactile sensations, the state spaces are described as verbs and adverbs - verbs for individual player states, adverbs for global changes in the environment. For example: a player can find herself in states of alertly spawning or turbulently revealing the media worlds, at the same time, her co-player can alertly feed or turbulently morph another part of the environment. This language has helped the software engineers and interaction designers to discuss 'what makes sense to sense' in the players' actions in one or another state, but has also allowed a lot of room for interpretation of look and feel of the responsive environment by the media designers.
Another example of the use of the 'as if/then' hypothesis from txOom - The team agreed that the premise of all designs (be it materials, physical objects or media) is that every shape is a diagram of risks and opportunities, fluctuating between form and process. At this moment, we are preparing a new version of the project, to be presented in a circus building in Gt. Yarmouth, in coproduction with Future Physical and 4 other European partners. In this version all designs are metaphorically shaped by the airflows produced by the different circus acts, so instead of designing a shape by saying that it represents something (no matter how abstract this something is), it had to be designed by analysing the actions that would produce particular airflows that would then allow a particular shape to be generated.
In other words, we are using material processes rather than rigid definitions to describe both what the physical end results should look and feel like as well as how the media worlds can evolve. With this approach, we are trying to reglue the false dichotomy between physics and the information, body and mind, real and virtual. With txOom, and other responsive spaces that FoAM is working on, such as the TGarden, f0amf0od or our new excercises in colloquial luminescence - we are trying to reopen the materiality of perception that channels the movement of information to our different senses.
Remember the poet Rilke, who according to Kittler wanted to reveal the primal sounds of matter by tracing the groves of the body with a gramophone needle…. responsive environments are the exquisite gluing spots the different components of the real . I'm personally not interested in the electronic arts as the arts of the immaterial information, but as the arts of actualised potential, of movement and transformation. In order to achieve that, the gluing of mixed realities should move swiftly from the slippery language phase, to the sticky action phase.
Although very slippery, the language and communication phase of the gluing process is not the most messy. When the language is starting to solidify into actions and artefacts is where most accidents are waiting to happen. Collaborative multidisciplinary implementation (both co-present and remote) is where the teams actually perceive the effects of the more abstract, linguistic gluing process. The pressure builds up as the glue looses its liquidity and the parts start realising that they are not quite ready to be assimilated into a whole, whose sum is topologically transformed, so that the parts became unrecognisable. It is here that the egos boost and the disciplinary walls are pulled back up….. realising that the glue is impossible to remove, and is sticking to all possible surfaces…
This phase of the project is longer and sloppier than most teams expect. It requires a lot of tolerance, and even more out of the box problem shooting techniques, and very often, some more of the fresh two component glue, made out of food and drinks needs to be added for the surfaces to stick.
A good case study for this gluing phase was one of the txOom's public workshops called Play Lab on Open Grown Territories, where we deliberately, but artificially 'unglued' the 'physical' playSpace from the 'virtual' gameSpace and tried using play as a methodology to glue them back together.
However, during the process of the workshop, the two teams (playSpace and gameSpace) have diverged so much in the more or less playful methods that gluing the physical and the virtual back together would need a whole new implementation process, with a new language construction and further development of both worlds by creating new adhesive zones. This workshop was an accelerated version of what happens in a lot of media productions where the different media are glued together after they are developed in their separate disciplinary chambres, so that the glue does not have a chance to penetrate and fuse the substances together.
In the p~lot workshop, one of the parts, playSpace was a site specific role playing game. The village of Groznjan, Croatia was used to situate the game in the local history and mythology, by building physical installations as portals to the virtual world, together with a physical adventure game and a bestiary of game characters based on the workshop participants and inhabitants of the village. This part of the workshop was using a free form methodology, where after an initial period of information exchange, the participants were allowed to use different means to develop their physical playful public spaces.
The gameSpace participants have managed to learn, in an amazingly short time of 2 days, how to use the Quake III game engine and a plethora of media editing tools to build a virtual mirror and an ethereal extension of the village. Both groups were, mainly through time shortage completely immersed in one of the two worlds, that when the time came for the integration, both groups were engaging in diverging even more.
We will continue the development of the p~lot worlds online, trying to bring groups of people from both workshop branches to develop parts that interest them further, and hopefully next year we will continue with the on site gluing.
A lot multidisciplinary projects unfortunately don't have a luxury to give the gluing a second try. The glue most often used is some kind of super glue that dries up in 2 seconds and never lets go….. this is not the glue we should be using…..
I'd like to propose that something like liquid polymer gels would be more appropriate binder as slower solidifying, and remaining flexible types of adhesive substances, where after long testing periods, there still remains a possibility to unglue and reglue parts that are threatening to disassociate or introduce organic rot in the whole. Materials that are inactive and isolating should be removed as soon as possible, for in this last, stickiest phase, the whole became dependent on the substances sticking together, in action and interaction with new substances. The players, users or inhabitants of the responsive spaces are the ones who decide when to remove the clamps and push the freshly glued worlds through the final test: a physical pressure of human mass and humidity.