Art in Your Pocket 4: Net Art and Abstraction for the Small Screen

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"The Facets of Obama" created by Jonah Brucker­-Cohen using the Fracture application by James Alliban, 2011

The devices we carry with us can do much more than simply act as communication tools and entertainment appendages. They can also bring us into a growing world of artistic projects that could have never been imagined without their existence.

The recent boom in creative software for the iPhone and iPad now enables artists to remake existing web projects as iOS apps or use the physical world as a canvas for augmented reality, reimagining our physical surroundings through painting and rendering. In this article, the fourth one in a series that I've written over the past six years of reviews surveying art for the iPhone and iPad, I cover projects that both revive net art pieces that were once only possible on traditional computer systems or in browsers, as well as those that use the iPhone and iPad's sound and camera capabilities to their fullest.

 

Thicket

Thicket:Classic (Hairy Circles mode), 2011, Interval Studios (aka Joshue Ott and Morgan Packard)

Beginning with abstraction and sound, two works examine methods of sound production through algorithmic composition. Thicket (2011) by Interval Studios (programmer and artist Joshue Ott and composer Morgan Packard) is an amalgam of abstract shapes and patterns that engage with touch-based interaction, visual stimulation, generative pattern creation, and mesmerizing sound transference. The original version of Thicket, or Thicket:Classic, feels like a musical masterpiece on the edge of a high precipice. As a user changes the orientation of their phone in four directions (up, down, right, left) the onscreen graphics shift to new modes.

Thicket 3.11 Video, Joshue Ott and Morgan Packard, Interval Studios.

My favorite mode in Thicket:Classic is "Hairy Circles," which features menacing yellow-orangish circles of tangled lines that correspond to each finger's touch and shift when dragged around, creating a machine-like beat that evokes an industrial assembly line. Ott explains, "Thicket uses a bunch of different algorithms—for both audio and visuals. The aesthetic came from repeated experimentation and rapid prototyping of modes. Sometimes we would start with the visuals, sometimes with the audio, but there was often a back and forth process of each of us adjusting our part until we both liked the results."

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Prosthetic Knowledge Picks: The Year of the Oculus Rift

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The latest in an ongoing series of themed collections of creative projects assembled by Prosthetic Knowledge. This edition brings together projects that make use of the Oculus Rift, a device that has reignited interest in virtual reality and provided creative inspiration for hackers and artists alike.

 Kim Laughton, Timefly.

Every year, there is usually at least one piece of technology that stands out, that captures the attention of engineers and creatives, that inspires new ideas and makes new experiences possible. At various times in the past, you could have said this in relation to (for example) the Kinect, Arduino, 3D printing, the Processing programming language, or projection mapping software. This year, one piece of tech stood out, one which reinvigorated an idea from the 1980s and 1990s, making it exciting and within the reach of anyone with a computer or console: the Oculus Rift.

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Mediated Location: Kessler, QR codes, and the new AR

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Jon Kessler, The Blue Period at Salon 94, 2012

Where are you?  Jon Kessler's The Blue Period involves surveillance cameras, cardboard figures, collaged portraits, and video monitors to answer that establishing question in different ways.  In his exhibit, viewers are located via camera capture, then turn to find themselves on video screens.  They become spectators and a part of the spectacle (Kessler has an acknowledged affinity for Debord), pinpointing their actual and metaphorical whereabouts by viewing themselves in a loop of mediated images.  

Jon Kessler, The Blue Period at Salon 94, 2012

If one of the cameras in Kessler's piece had localization functionality, it could infer position based on a current view of the scene like a QR code can.  In scanning a QR code for embedded information, an individual effectively informs on himself, firing a flare in space.  A sort of inverse to The Blue Period's accumulation of intermediary images with unlocatable sources, QR codes create an augmented reality where a mediated physical environment gains content through revealing position.

Eric Mika, überbeamer mapping, 2011

The überbeamer, a hand-held, spatially-aware projection system reminiscent of Ghostbuster weaponry by artist Eric Mika, expands on augmented reality by using a projector to draw content directly onto surfaces.  The device knows where you are relative to where you've been, storing a three-dimensional model of its environment.  Comprehending the geometry of a scene, and your location in it, the überbeamer has the same functionality as a QR code to overlay digital information and track location.  And it does so without covering the world with robot barf.

 

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Track One (2011)- eteam

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Lets turn into a narrow street where it’s dark and less busy. I can’t catch it when the sun is shining. We need grey days for this. Here it comes, all by itself. Small, bigger, bigger, whoosh, smaller, smaller. Nice! Now some stillness. I double behind your shoulder. Me, the rear view mirror. Objects are gone before they appear. Small, big, bigger, whoosh, vanished. Keep going now. We’ll run into it again by coincidence. Waiting makes no sense. Remember the sign? “no relax no easy”. I count until twenty. No. No. No. No. No. Yes. OK. Replay. The object is replaced by the object that was removed. Cherry Crap. The bus drove in. How absurd. Where is that bus coming from?

eteam's Track One, screened at the Migrating Forms festival last month, is now available online. eteam, a collaboration between Franziska Lamprecht and Hajoe Moderegger often explore the tension and developing relationship between the real world and the virtual world. In 2008 they received a Rhizome Commission for Second Life Dumpster, a project that highlights the levels of consumption and disposal in the virtual world. The pair constructed an evolving virtual garbage dump, a repository for deleted objects tagged with a custom decay script written by the artists. In Track One, weaving together various global locations, they similarly assemble real and virtual properties to create an amalgamation of the physical and virtual worlds.

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Kevin Slavin's Talk on How Augmented Reality isn't Real Enough

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"Reality is augmented when it feels different, not when it looks different. And when the senses of time and obligation, and rewards are altered, maybe the aspiration of 3-d optical augmented reality begins to feel a little bit like pornography. Like a thin veneer of the actual experience that is flattened for the eye—that is rendered for the eye, which is the one sense most easily fooled to begin with," said Kevin Slavin (co-founder of Area/Code) recently at Mobile Monday Amsterdam. It's a thought-provoking talk, and one bound to be referenced in years to come as augmented reality transitions from cyborg theory buzzword to an unavoidable component of the digital experience.

Slavin quotes film studies professor Elena Gorfinkel (cited in Salen and Zimmerman’s book Rules of Play): " The confusion in this conversation has emerged because representational strategies are conflated with the effect of immersion. Immersion itself is not tied to a replication or mimesis of reality. For example one can get immersed in Tetris. Therefore, immersion into game play seems at least as important as immersion into a games’s representational space." He considers augmented reality as an uncanny valley "not for the human face, but for the actual world around us."

And here's a great response to the talk from Rhizome contributor Greg J. Smith on his blog Serial Consign:

[T]he initial buzz was slightly misleading as it suggested that the presentation was an outright dismissal of AR. I don't really think this was the case...My reading of the talk is that Slavin is extremely curious about augmenting reality—as praxis—and suggesting we (startups, developers and consumers) need to be considerably more thoughtful in our application/exploration of the emerging medium and consider how it might activate other senses – AR ...

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