I n t e r a k t i o n s - L a b o r
(Toronto, Canada, and WAAG, Amsterdam)
Projektbescheibung der Arbeiten Jeff Manns:
Below is some text about the LiveForm project we (my partner Michelle Teran and I) are doing at the Waag. The first part of LiveForm was in 2002, it was a 3-month laboratory in Toronto, and the final outcome was the dinner party described in the text, which took place online between InterAccess (Toronto) and the Waag (Amsterdam).
In 2003 we will do the sequel, LiveForm part 2, but now Michelle and I will be at the Waag in Holland through 2004. I think this time we will be working in a little more public/urban space, using wireless interfaces. we'll work with InterAccess, but also with other partners we haven't chosen yet.
LiveForm is an international collaborative live art lab founded by Canadian artists Jeff Mann and Michelle Teran. In our projects and productions, we have both worked together to define a set of concepts and practice enabling LiveForm to develop the use of networked media and networked physical objects for live art process in connected spaces. Using an investigative laboratory approach, LiveForm works with other collaborators to create experiential situations and dispersed social networks. Like the situations produced, the lab itself takes place in multiple physical locations, connected through live networked media channels.
April 6, 2002: The dinner table as physical platform for networked media supports live video streams, tele-robotic talking fish, gourmet cooking, KeyWorx media mixing, wine-pouring machines, telematic toasts, party games, and a magic show; linking two dining rooms and thirty dinner guests across the ocean in a mediated mechatronic middle-space for social interaction and game-playing.
In 2001/2002, LiveForm produced the LiveForm: Telekinetics project at InterAccess in Toronto and the Waag Society in Amsterdam. This four-month project engaged a team of eight artists and technologists within an iterative, process-based exploration of connected environments and augmented reality. The connectivity employed streamed digital media including sound, video, and graphics, as well as custom-designed sensors, tele-robotics, and networked kinetic objects. These systems are integrated into an elaborated social situationin this case, a series of dinner partieswhich also considers aspects of improvisational and experiential narrative, communicative ritual, and creative play.
How are these relationships and spaces transformed in the presence of remote live connections via broadband networking technology? What new forms and mutations of social interaction, entertainment, or play might arise? How can the artistic imagination be applied towards replacing simple forms of networked spaces, such as the videoconference, with more subtle and rich systems that are attuned to human sensibilities, gestures, physicality, and modes of attention?
LiveForm takes the approach of a multiplicity of media. We employ corporeal objects that manifest digital image, sound, and gestural data streams in physical space, and act as communications interface devices. Objects have meaning. Objects are used in and out of context, in various combinations and juxtapositions, to create significance, character, and drama. The use of objects and hybrid spaces addresses some of the issues of the purely disembodied simulacra of virtual reality. As well, the use of physical objects with embedded sensors as interface devices is preferred to the use of various motion-tracking systems. People are generally accustomed to and adept at manipulating objects with their hands, while the waving of various body parts in mid-air is a less comfortable form of activity for the average person not trained in movement or dance. Kinetic objects are also used as output devices. However, as opposed to a model where users remotely operate a robot to perform some task, we prefer a two-way interactive model where tele-operated kinetic objects are used as signaling and communications channels between connected spaces.
Each networked element may be simple considered on its own: clinking a wine glass with a spoon triggers clinking in the remote space of another glass by a motorized spoon. They are not been intended as "pieces" in themselves, but as part of a larger context of social interaction. Hence, the clinking of the glass signals a call for a toast or speech at the dinner table. The table itself contains an embedded live video stream of its counterpart, layered with a text chat. Before and during the enactment, the guests engage in a variety of activities: preparing and cooking food, social introductions and chat, party games and entertainment. Speeches and toasts are received through the main dish, a talking fish. The effect is of a participatory social environment made up of many diverse elements both familiar and surprising.
Questions of the relationship of connected social spaces to audience, and sustainability of public interface, are an ongoing topic of research in the lab. LiveForm makes a distinction between live art process and the notion of performance. The idea of the participatory audience is well established, yet commonly this still means that the public is invited to be presented with a novel experience for a few hours. However, as we build more technologically and socially elaborate ecologies for networked live art process, we find that a longer period of time is required for people to acclimatize themselves to this foreign environment, to feel at home, and to have meaningful experiences within it. The work has resonances with earlier forms of network art such as mail art and telecommunications art exchanges, as well as contemporary forms of online environments and dimensions; forms where participants are engaged in a long-term process of social and cultural interaction: places that people populate, habituate, decorate. Therefore, LiveForm is not proposed to develop performances per se, but networked social ecologies in public/private places that may require repeated engagement and socialization, yet are still considered within the tradition of performance and live art.
Through the ongoing activities of LiveForm, we aim to make contact and create exchanges with geographically and culturally dispersed colleagues and collaborators. As each iteration of the lab engages a different group of people and a new location, we hope to seed the necessary skills and experience to establish an expanding network of participants and spaces equipped to carry out further exchanges with each other. We also promote this as an activity and art form that can be engaged in by anyone, through the publication of detailed recipes for the various elements we develop and use. For the LiveForm: Telekinetics project, we produced a website containing a comprehensive cookbook with illustrated instructions for the preparation of network systems and electronic devices, collaborative process, social interface, and Russian pierogies with potato salad.
Connected spaces may be mediated through real-time video and audio streaming, collaborative networked graphics systems, as well as applications of networked kinetic and tele-robotic objects. The focus of LiveForm is on the integration of these media into architectural, social-performative, and intimate habitational spaces. LiveForm rejects the "business machine" keyboard-and-monitor interface of the personal computer as irrelevant to live art, and the concept of an audience sitting silently in front of a projector screen as outmoded. In LiveForm, everyone can playnot the disembodied play of the video game fantasy spectacle, but in intimate real places where participants are no longer audience but friends and neighbours. In LiveForm, mediating technologies are human-scale, built into architecture, embedded in furniture, decorations, utensils, toys, and the bric-a-brac that we surround ourselves with. In LiveForm, the interweaving of advanced electronics and home cooking, of the quotidian and the absurd, is a lens that focuses both the solidarity and mystery of our everyday social reality.