The Not So Passive Observer

In a recent post about the design principle of motion I promised that I would present more examples. Today let’s look at viewer activated motion. In these works the artist invites the viewer to become a co-author of the work.

One important aspect in all of these pieces is the concept of time. In our book, Design: A Beginner’s Handbook, we included the principles of motion and time in the same chapter. Motion without time is impossible.

Interactive art installation by Karina Smigla-Bobinski

In the installation shown above Karina Smigla attached thick pieces of drawing charcoal to the exterior of a helium filled sphere. The sphere was contained in a small gallery space and viewers were encouraged to play with the ball, bouncing it against the walls. Over time densely overlapping marks were left on the walls, creating a walk-in drawing. Neither Smigla nor the participants could anticipate the final form of the drawing, which evolved during the duration of the exhibition.

Participatory art installation by Roman Ondak

Roman Ondak also worked with museum visitors to create a drawing that grew over time. The installation, “Measuring the Universe,” consisted of marks left on the gallery walls, each mark the height of a participating museumgoer. Eventually a dark hand drawn band appeared on the walls. Think of each of those marks as one of Muybridge’s still images, adding up to a moving picture of the human universe.

Performance art Marina Abramovic and Ulay

Can motion be still? In the performance piece Imponderabilia Marina Abramovic and Ulay tested their endurance by standing perfectly still for three hours, turning themselves into a threshold into the gallery. It was the gallerygoers who activated the piece when they walked through this human doorway. The stage was set by the artists but the participants were the ones who made the decision of which performer to face as they squeezed through the narrow space.

Ann Hamilton participatory art installation, "The Event of the Thread"

Ann Hamilton is famous for her large scale installations. Many of her projects include a lone performer who is engaged in a repetitive activity. In the installation “the event of the thread,” Hamilton expanded the cast, turning the audience into an integral part of the piece. According to the New York Times “When the swings are in action, the curtain, made of a lightweight silk twill, rises and dips, and the air is stirred, causing further billowing and fluttering…”

The pieces I’ve discussed up until now could all be considered “analog.” Here are a couple of projects that involve interactive digital design.

Digital interactive art, Iris, by HYBE studio

Employing an expandable matrix of monochrome LCDs, custom software and a 3D motion tracking camera the design studio HYBE created an interactive media canvas. Liquid crystal discs opened and closed like the iris of an eye, allowing varying amounts of ambient light to pass through in response to the movement of bystanders.

Interactive digital art installation by Aaron Sherwood and Mike Allison

In Firewall Aaron Sherwood and Mike Allison built an interactive fabric installation. According to their website “A stretched sheet of spandex acts as a membrane interface sensitive to depth that people can push into and create fire-like visuals and expressively play music.

Like Sherwood and Allison, Rafael Lozano-Hemmer combines sound and visual information in interactive digital installations. This is how Lozano-Hemmer describes his installation Voice Array – “As a participant speaks into an intercom, his or her voice is automatically translated into flashes of light and then the unique blinking pattern is stored as a loop in the first light of the array. Each new recording pushes all previous recordings one position down and gradually one can hear the cumulative sound of the 288 previous recordings. The voice that was pushed out of the array can then be heard by itself.

Online interactive art project, The Exquisite Corpse, by Chris Milk and Aaron Koblin

This last project. “The Exquisite Forest,” is an online collaborative project, you might call it cloud sourced. Chris Milk and Aaron Koblin, working with the Google Data Arts Team and the Tate Modern, designed an online drawing tool that allowed users to make short animations that built off of the animations of previous users. They saw it as a branching structure “of ever-evolving narratives resembling trees.” The concept and name of the project was in response to the Surrealist “Exquisite Corpse” exercise. The project is now closed to new participants but click here to see what others made.

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