1) Matt Pyke et al.: Communion

I’ve looked at this artist’s work as a whole and am impressed at how whimsical and lifelike his digital creatures are. The whole process in making the wondrous room is detailed here, but in summary, Communion is a “generative installation” in the walls of a room comprised of panels. Each panel contains a digital creature that evolves from simple structures to complex human-like organisms as they dance their way through development, as a “celebration of life.”

Just by making these creatures dance, the artist is able to make them become endearing and characterize them; the fact alone is astounding. I’m reminded of Thomas Was Alone, a game that only has rectangles as the characters, but by giving each of the rectangles a personality, suddenly the visuals become trivial and the jumping rectangles become personal to the player. Likewise, these creatures become “characters” and the audience becomes free to attach personalities to the creatures; they might even be named. And as if the dancing itself wasn’t dynamic enough, the creatures change–evolve–in front of the audience’s eyes. Although the creatures are confined to the boxes, they become part of the world by their dynamism. A recurring theme in Pyke’s works, after all, is applying human or animal tendencies to an object. According to an interview, he wants to make viewers empathize with technology, a vision of utopia.

It could have been even more effective (but of course more expensive) if each panel had a motion sensor that could allow the creature to react to the close presence of a viewer. It would create more personality for the creature, and allow for more active participation from the audience rather than the passivity I saw in most documentations. (This is the fullest documentation I could find of the piece without the audience)

2) Disney Research Hub: AIREAL 

This one surprised me because I didn’t know research in tactile interaction was going on, let alone significant progression in the field. Basically, the project, made by a small group of researchers, looks much like a webcam that follows your hands around as it shoots off air pressure at appropriate moments to create a sensation not unlike touching something out of thin air.  It is such a silly solution too–it looks hilariously primitive but effective at the same time. It does what it needs to do. Right now it doesn’t seem to be in the distributing stage, but its inspiration and motivation are mainly for games and interactive environments. When it is ready for distribution, I would like it to not be so obstructive in the interaction, however: it’s kind of obnoxious whenever it moves. Will there be a subtler way to push for tactile interaction, in free air?

3) loop.pH: SonUmbra

This project is beautiful, but highly disappointing. It is an audiovisual experience of standing under the umbrella structure, which takes in the surrounding noise and presence to react accordingly with patterns and lights. I was expecting to be mesmerized, and I was, really, but not as much as I wanted to be. I wanted the visual to react strongly to the biggest sounds, the sounds that stand out, but there were many moments (in multiple documentations found online) where I wasn’t even sure if the structure was reacting to the environment. The patterns are beautiful, yes; they look as if branches are growing in thin air. But it is supposed to be an audiovisual experience, and I only found the visual to be profound. Then again, maybe I will absolutely have to be under the umbrella to get the full effect, to understand the work.