Conscious Tech

 In Insight

Technology is becoming more intelligent. Artists and designers are being urged to hand over control to algorithm, data and sensory input. But this should not devalue, nor discredit the creative process, on the contrary, it should promote its intuition.

Generative designer and fine artist Eno Henze created the above and below ‘Ambush‘ pieces by attempting to programme a computer to draw like a human.

Generative design, a practice still in its early development, can refer to differing methods. The variant under recent consideration, is that of using computational algorithm to dictate an uncontrollable outcome. In ways, the idea of letting go of control in design, contradicts its very nature. Is a piece designed at all if large parts of the decision making is handed over to uncertain circumstance? If we consider our natural environment and the way that the biological world is ‘designed‘ to adapt, generative design only seems like a natural step forward in the creative process.

The field even harnesses naturally observed sequences. The above image is of a 3D printed Fibonacci Zoetrope Sculpture, the Fibonacci Sequence being a naturally occurring phenomenon. A mathematic rule that generates an ever growing series of digits, often visually expressed as a spiral.

The nature of the sequence lends to an ever evolving geometric pattern, one which is captured when the sculptures are filmed at a frame rate, synchronised with the form’s rotation. An image is captured at every 137.5o, ‘the golden angle.’ – The same effect can be produced with a strobe light, when viewed in real-life. The resulting geometric evolution look quite natural, like that of a flower blooming or wave crashing.

The process of taking a naturally observed element such as the Fibonacci Sequence is known as ‘Biomimicry’ or ‘Biomimetics’. Another designer using this process is Janne Kyttänen who’s ‘Dahlia’ wall fixture (above) generates a geometric pattern based upon it’s namesake flower. Here technology is being used in a different way, concentrating on the output rather than the experience. Without the geometric algorithms, natural intricacy in this piece would not have been possible.

Machines cannot only be programmed but are becoming reactive. We’ve probably all seen the Apotek ads that react to the movement of subway trains, a simple idea using motion sensors. Artists are now harnessing the power of brainwave sensors, such as in the above image, part of the ‘Subliminal Reflection’ project by Almost Silent Collective.

The interactive project invites viewers to sport an electroencephalogram (EEG) that registers neural activity and sends the data to be interpreted into its audio component. The audio component, essentially a large speaker, sits below a tank of water. The water has an image of the moon projected through it. As your neural activity triggers the speaker, the water is disturbed and the moon distorts according to your thoughts. The idea is far from simple, but the execution is certainly mesmerising. Having your internal thoughts stimulate a living artwork really does captivate, finding a commercial use for the technology however, is yet to be discovered…

Reactive tech is being used for all kinds of folly. Above is a juicer designed by Yen Chen Chang, a student at the Royal College of Art, the juicer operates by two people hugging a giant knitted ball. However impractical this may seem, it belongs to a project called ‘Knit Sensors’, which “aims to encourage people to re-imagine how electronics could be when integrating different sensing technology”. Technology often separates us from one another, using soft material and novel ideas, projects like this attempt to reverse such a principle.

For Londoners, the reactive tech theme may conjure memories of the Barbican’s Digital Revolution exhibition, personified by Chris Milk’s Treachery of Sanctuary, a conscious artwork that gave the viewer wings. Or perhaps the Rain Room, also at the Barbican, which invited us to be surrounded by artificial rain without ever getting wet. But where’s the Conscious Tech trend heading now?

In his work Phantom (kingdom of all the animals and all the beasts is my name), Daniel Steegmann Mangrané is currently using Oculus Rift technology to transport The New Museum’s guests into an eerie black and white rainforest. The piece has been described as being ‘as mesmerising as a star lit sky’ and ‘the next best thing to an actual rainforest’.

Last months ‘Hyperculture’ trend crosses paths with Conscious Tech in the trip inducing ‘Cosmic Trash‘ (screen shot above) a game with no objective, where players jump around aimlessly on floating pizzas while looking at strobing, multicoloured cats.

Another way in which technology is being used in art, somewhat reminiscent of Warhol’s objectification of the subjective, is the referencing of technology in an art environment. A literal interpretation of this can be seen in Richard Price’s Instagram Portraits. They’re somewhat crudely assembled, simply printed out on an inkjet printer and hung on the wall in the Gagosian Gallery. The images are pixelated, highlighting the shortcomings of a technology that promises to make an artist of anyone. Playing with themes of banality, sexism and folly in a medium that appears throwaway.

Working as part of the collective Depthcore, Jeff Huang created three speculative, planetary bodies (one above) for their ‘Tempo’ lab. The collective leave much to the imagination in terms of their original brief to Huang, assuming from the title and the work, the brief had much to do with music and rhythm, Huang’s work in particular being reminiscent of generative audio visualisation.

Konrad Rappaport digitises the traditional poster format to display and convey more complex information. The A0 sized interactive poster helps explain scientific research surrounding the future of our oceans. The format not only encourages interaction and enables the communication of a larger quantity of data but ensures the information remains up to date and relevant. More info.

When iconic concert hall Sage Gateshead turned ten, the venue commissioned Mbryonic and Atomhawk to create an iPhone and iPad app that enabled users to interact with the space. The resulting solution turned the physical environment into an actively musical one, users can make electronic sounds using the app and the space corresponds, coming to life.


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