Collaborative art in the city: netart Unnumbered Sparks

If you think that creating is fun, imagine the exhilaration at creating a giant artwork together with the people around you, in the middle of a city. Unnumbered Sparks is a collaboration between artist Janet Echelman and Google Creative Director (and data artist) Aaron Koblin.

What makes this sculpture unique, literally, is that the designs projected in light on the webbing are created by the spectators, via an app on their smartphones. They can draw, scribble, swirl and splash colour and movement onto the luminous “canvas”, which means that it’s always changing, never the same. The shape of the canvas also changes, billowing with the wind, folding in on itself, taking over the sky.

collaborative netart unnumbered sparks

As impressive as this looks on the screen, it must have been quite something in reality.

(And, while the term “netart” is increasingly being used to describe art created on the internet…. this really is netart. Hah.)

 

An Interactive Garden of Earthly Delights

hieronymous bosch

“The Garden of Earthly Delights”, by Hieronymus Bosch

I was at the Prado recently with my son (quality of life: I live within 15 minutes of three of the world’s greatest art museums – jealous yet?), and we stood transfixed in front of this painting for what turned out to be almost an hour. I so wish I’d discovered this interactive version first – the painting’s hypnotic craziness would have made more sense. Although I’m not sure that “sense” is something that you want to have in mind when looking at Bosch’s paintings.

Close-up of "The Garden of Earthly Delights", by Hieronymus Bosch

Close-up of “The Garden of Earthly Delights”, by Hieronymus Bosch

Punching holes with swirling lines

An amazing interactive screen app by the artist LIA which lets you think you’re controlling the image, but you’re actually only influencing it. Move your mouse around the screen and watch the hypnotic lines follow and swirl. Hold the mouse still for depth. Press the “a” or the “f” keys to go faster or slower. Click on the screen to erase and start again. Absolutely enthralling.

From LiaWorks.com - withoutTitle

From LiaWorks.com – withoutTitle (click to launch app)

 

Reflektor: an interactive video of light and meaning

This is absolutely amazing, both technologically and creatively. Director Vincent Morisset and Aaron Koblin at Google team up with Arcade Fire (who also collaborated on The Wilderness Downtown) to create a hypnotic mix of sinister and irreverent, with exuberant joy and desperate colour, hopeful faces and shielding costumes.

(from www.justareflektor.com)

(from Just a Reflektor)

The novelty of Just a Reflektor is largely in the interaction between your phone and your computer screen. You get access to the desktop web via a code you type into your phone, which you then hold up to the computer’s camera. For the first part of the video, your phone is “beaming” light and clarity at the image. Move your hand holding the phone, which has to be facing the screen, and what you see changes, it becomes more lucid or even switches image. For the second part of the video, after the mirror (= reflector!!) scene, your phone shows a different segment. Very, very cool.

(from Just a Reflektor)

(from Just a Reflektor)

The song is perfect for the video, or the video for the song, as it talks about the technological age and how it comes between real human connections:

“I thought I found a way to enter
It’s just a reflector
I thought I found the connector
It’s just a reflector.”

A thought-provoking song which makes us reflect (yes) on relationships and reality, especially when you realize you’re experiencing it via not one but two screens. And the especially cool part of the experience has to do with reflections, of light and of images.

“Now the signals we send
are deflected again.
We’re so connected,
but are we even friends?”

Is deflected the same as reflected?

(from Just a Reflektor)

(from Just a Reflektor)

The irony comes in with the presence of passion. For passion you need connection, not reflection. At the beginning of the video, the faces are remarkably passionless, but as the story unfolds, passion becomes a protagonist, along with it’s main fuel source, light.

In this case, reflected light.

“Trapped in a prison,
in a prism of light.
Alone in the darkness,
a darkness of white.
We fell in love,
alone on a stage,
in the reflective age.”

Light can blind (the darkness of white), literally and figuratively. With so much media in our lives (a prism of light), can we be free to really connect?

Which brings us to the last part of the video. The image on your phone doesn’t match the image on the screen. Until you turn your phone to face the screen. Again, you’re watching through two screens. And controlling. The screens are connecting. Is that the way we break free?

 

 

A film, a dance, a digital masterpiece

This is pretty amazing… All images are captured in-camera, as in, not CGI’d on later. As in, they’re projected onto flat screens, which are then filmed. Very cool programming, incredible choreography, stunning digital effects…

Happy Sunday! It’s Mother’s Day here in Spain. I got a beautiful drawing from my daughter. She spent so much time on it, and it turned out so well, that I got a lump in my throat…

Games, blood and a whole lot of questions

In late 2014, a game aptly called “Hatred” appeared on Steam’s Greenlight track. For those of you not into online games, Steam is the main online digital games store, and its Greenlight track lets gamers have a say in which indie games get put on sale. Hatred shocked even die-hard gamers with its violence and its amoral focus on murdering innocent civilians (with plenty of graphic detail), and it was pulled very shortly after. Sigh of relief. Even the trailer is truly disturbing, so much so that I couldn’t appreciate the graphics, which is always my favourite part of online games. (Okay, I did notice that it was in black and white, except for the blood – of which there was a LOT – and the explosions and the flashing cop lights. But still.)

Hatred_Outside-1024x576

Two days later, it was back again, and the Managing Director of Steam sent an apologetic email to the creators. Hatred rapidly accumulated enough votes to reach No. 1 on the list, made it onto the sales platform, and should be available for download any day now.

There are a lot of very violent games on Steam. It even has a tag for “violence” and another for “gore”. So where is the line? Why would some games sail through, and others get (temporarily) pulled? Steam isn’t disclosing their criteria. The Greenlight rules state that games “must not contain offensive material”. If Hatred isn’t offensive with its complete disregard for human dignity, I don’t know what is.

Back in 2012, the sexually explicit strategy game “Seduce Me” was removed, because of “offensive” content. So, senseless killing isn’t offensive, but sex is? Really? If the debate really is about what the word “offensive” means, shouldn’t we, the audience, be allowed to have a say in that?

Maybe we already have. When Hatred was removed, it had reached #7 on Greenlight’s list. That’s pretty high. Although it’s a fair bet that any ultra-violent game espousing genocide would probably, lamentably, find a following. Online, it’s not hard to find your niche.

So what, then, is the platform’s responsibility?

That question opens up the even bigger question of gatekeeping and morality. Valve, the platform’s owner, is a private company, and therefore should be able to set its own rules and enforce them as it sees fit. But, Steam dominates the online game market with a 75% market share, and over 125 million active users. When you reach a certain market share, do you not have a wider responsibility? Especially when you have the power to affect peoples’ psyche, to inure them to the shock of violence?

So, do we insist that Valve enforce moral values, even if it doesn’t want to, just because it’s powerful in its sector? If so, what moral values? Who decides? Who draws the line, and where? Should we insist that Amazon only sell “nice” books?

I find games like Hatred completely distasteful and damaging. But, games are an art form. Just because I don’t like it, or just because it has dubious moral values and a lot of blood, does that mean that it’s not art? Let’s say that Valve removes games because they don’t like them, or they don’t fit in with their values. How is that different from censorship? Should we allow private companies to dabble in censorship?

Personally, I think that widely used platforms should set standards. You could call it moral obligation, or you could call it common sense. Generating too much controversy will attract unwelcome attention from the regulatory authorities, the boycott lobbies and the class action lawyers. Being the “good guy” is generally is much more profitable than promoting bloodshed and pain. Some of us like those games, but the vast majority of us don’t. Extremely violent games will find another outlet. The problem with the Steam/Hatred controversy is that Steam does not have set rules as to what is and what is not acceptable. “Offensive” is way too vague a term. Removal of a game from the platform should be based on definite rules, which should be adjusted as the need arises. Adjusted, and published, so that other developers can also take design decisions based on those criteria. Removed games should be given a chance to tweak their design to comply with Steam’s rules, if they want to. If they don’t, there will be other, less mainstream, outlets. This isn’t censorship. It’s good business sense.

The game has not yet been released. When it is, I imagine that we’ll see even more controversy and outrage. Which will, of course, give it a huge amount of publicity, for free. This could well end up sending the message that, to stand out from the pack in a crowded gaming market, you need to shock. No-one will stop you. You’ll attract attention. You’ll get coveted press coverage. You’ll generate a lot of interest. That is actually even scarier than the game itself.

Swirling sands in a digital dance

Another beautiful human and digital interaction from the artists who created Pixel, which we looked at a few weeks ago. Sable cinétique is a digital table that sends whirls of pixels around any object that touches it, creating a magical choreography and visual experience.

balls

(image from Colossal)

Add the perfection and mysticism of a crystal ball, and the effect is quite stunning. Complement that with more spheres, and the dance gets layered and playful.

Why is it so mesmerising? Maybe because the swarming effect of the light pixels looks both random and choreographed at the same time. Beautiful.

Meta-digital art in artsy.net

This is digital art in its purest form. Meta, even, in that I get to talk about digital art within digital art.

This is artsy.net.

artsy

Addictive, inspiring, and beautifully designed, it lets you “browse” art of practically any kind, from anywhere. You indicate your tastes on signing up, you choose a few artists, galleries and/or museums to follow, and then you happily click and/or “favourite” your way into aesthetic bliss.

artsy code 1

And, get this, they are currently displaying the first ever auction on the Art of Code. Now that’s digital. I won’t wax lyrical about this from a visual point of view (see what I did there? Visual, view? Sorry…), because there’s nothing that takes my breath away (although I quite like the tie with Perl code), but the idea is amazing. Code is an art form, after all. Certain strokes and sequences create images, sounds, experiences. So this auction and exhibition is hopefully the spark that will ignite public recognition and inspire even more creatives to take to the keyboard.

artsy code 3

 

Impossible architecture and improbable beauty: Monument Valley

As I’ve said before, I’m not really into electronic games. But Monument Valley is definitely an exception. Easily the most beautiful game I’ve come across so far, its mind-blowing take on optical illusions and geometrical puzzles is not only pleasantly addictive, but also provokes frequent “Whoa!”s, much to the consertnation of all those around you.

monument valley 4

An adorable little princess (stick with me here) navigates her way through a fantasy land of staircases and doors, with the occasional black crow and waterfall blocking her way. If it sounds too childish for you, the brain-twisting puzzles and mind-bending shapes, not to mention the incredibly sophisticated programming, will dispel that notion right away. I’m sure children will love it, but it’s not designed with them in mind.

monument valley 2

And the art is stunning. Original, fascinating and utterly beautiful, if I ever saw a book with pictures like these in it, I would buy it and keep it. The creativity of the impossible architecture, the complex characterization of the simple protagonists and the surprising geometric designs provide pleasure for the eye, exercise for the mind, and suddenly you want to know where the afternoon has gone.

monument valley 3

The numbers are pretty stunning, too. It’s not a free game, it costs €3,99 in the iTunes store. And yet almost 3 million people have bought the game, giving the developers ustwo almost $6 million in revenue. Not bad for an app.

monument valley