Blogs Media Lab

Catalyzing Conversation and Transcending Technology at INST-INT

INST-INT—an international conference of acclaimed creators exploring the intersection of art, technology, and interaction—returned to the Walker for its second year over the weekend. Organized by the same folks responsible for the Eyeo Festival, the September 25 through 27 gathering focused on installation art, interaction, responsive environments, smart objects, public art, and the challenge of creating engaging experiences.  A series […]

Obscura Digital project illUmiNations: Protecting Our Planet, presented by the United Nations Department of Public Information in partnership with the Oceanic Preservation Society and Insurgent Media, New York, 2014


INST-INT—an international conference of acclaimed creators exploring the intersection of art, technology, and interaction—returned to the Walker for its second year over the weekend. Organized by the same folks responsible for the Eyeo Festival, the September 25 through 27 gathering focused on installation art, interaction, responsive environments, smart objects, public art, and the challenge of creating engaging experiences.  A series of amazingly inspirational presentations covered a wide range of topics, from machines conveying sociopolitical messages to public sculptures made with advanced material studies to the use of technology as an extension of the body. The most interesting were those projects that not only made use of technology in creative ways, but also used it to catalyze conversations about social or political issues and examine ideas beyond the technology itself.

Social and Political Interaction

For example, Japanese artist Sputkino presented her Menstruation Machine,  a wearable device fitted with a blood dispensing mechanism and electrodes simulating the lower abdomen that simulates the pain and bleeding of a five-day menstruation process. Sputkino also presented The Moonwalk Machine, a work that reimagines NASA’s Mars Rover to leave female traces on the surface of Mars through the use of new wheel tracks outfitted with high heels. I could not help to draw parallels between these works and a project by Megumi Igarashi (aka Rokudenashi-ko) in which she distributed electronic data that could be used to replicate models of her genitalia using a 3D printer, a project that landed her in jail on charges of obscenity. These projects are inspiring as a form of social activism in the face of the shifting role of women in Japan.

Dan Goods, a visual strategist for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, gave the most inspired talk of the weekend, focused on the “million things that could mess up your visionary project.” Dan talked about how bad wires, Congress, holes in the ionosphere, the Vatican, and other unforeseen circumstances can threaten to derail your project, and he discussed ways to plan for disaster. About his work, he said, “I am passionate about creating moments in peoples lives where they can interact with something beautiful, meaningful, and/or possibly profound,” and expanded on this by saying he wants to, “create experiences where people have a moment of awe about the universe.” This passion really became evident during his presentation on the HI JUNO project, where more than 1,400 ham radio operators collaborated to transmit “HI JUNO” in Morse code, in unison, as the spacecraft made its slingshot pass around earth. The work made it clear that some of the best projects are those that give many people a chance to consider the unknown and to imagine the space beyond our physical world. Goods closed his talk by demonstrating a Muon detector and described how these invisible particles are bits of exploded stars that are moving through all matter on earth, equating our bodies with space matter and recalling the the temporality of life.

Considering the recent People’s Climate March, I was also extremely inspired by the Obscura Digital project illUmiNations: Protecting Our Planet, organized in partnership with the Oceanic Preservation Society (OPS) as a lead-up to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Climate Summit. For this project, many organizations collaborated to create a 30-story architectural projection, which lit up the United Nations Headquarters in New York with images of extinct species and a call to make climate action a reality in every society across the globe. As a prelude to the People’s Climate March, which filled the streets of New York with more than 300,000 people who marched to protest international inaction on climate change, the intent of this project was to inspire citizens to take climate action. This theme of social or political action was evident in many of the projects in various forms. This opened up some larger conversations about the role of art in society, need for many different forms of interaction, and the power of participation in public space.

Architecture, Materiality, and Virtualization

The relationship between built form, public space, and our connection an imagined world were important aspects of many of the projects presented by showing how they pushed material limits, reclaimed public space, or questioned our relationship to digital technology. Jen Lewin’s presentation titled Please Touch the Art detailed her large interactive art installations created to activate and connect community. One question she is interested in is, “How can interactive sculpture be used to transform and change public experience?” Looking at projects like The Pool and her Light and Sound Harps, it becomes clear how she has found a way to bring together her interests in painting, light, architecture, and dance. Using specialized rotational molding of plastic and other fabrication techniques her studio creates interactive public art that has withstood the abuse of more than 4,000 people in one day—an effort that requires significant material research.

Janet Echelman Skies Painted with Unnumbered Sparks, Vancouver, Canada, 2014


This need to explore and examine the materality of physical form was no more evident than in the work of Janet Echelman, who discussed her largest most interactive sculpture, Skies Painted with Unnumbered Sparks. In collaboration with artist Aaron Koblin, creative director of the Data Arts Team in Google’s Creative Lab, Studio Echelman developed a massive suspended sculpture of net and mesh for the TED conference’s 30th anniversary in Vancouver. Pushing material boundaries, this project was made possible through the development of custom 3D modeling software that allowed Echelman to simulate environmental conditions and complex geometries. Using Honeywell Spectra fiber, a lightweight, durable material 15 times stronger than steel, this work spans 745 feet between Fairmont Waterfront and the Vancouver Convention Center, and is equipped with an interactive lighting environment that allows visitors to use their phones to interact with the work.

Klaus Obermaier and Ars Electronica Futurelab, Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) by Igor Stravinsky, 2006


Taking a different approach to interaction, Klaus Obermaier discussed his staging of Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) in his talk titled Interactive Installations vs. Interactive Performing Arts. Recontextualized for contemporary society, this 1913 ballet and orchestral concert work is transformed by Obermaier into a live 3D projection performance, in which the dancer and the orchestra contribute to the form of the work through real time interaction, generating the viewer experience. Amazingly, this work premiered in 2006, when things like Kinect motion tracking did not even exist. Of course, this work is not just about technology, and that’s what makes it so interesting. “The issue of the day is the authenticity of experience in the light of the ongoing virtualization of our habitats,” Obermaier said. “It is the dissolution of our sensuous perception, of the space-time continuum, the fading dividing line between real and virtual, fact and fake, that takes us to the limits of our existence.” Indeed, we find this struggle in our own lives, all to often consumed with social media and digital culture. By reinterpreting a controversial historic work through the lens of technology, Obermaier asks powerful questions about the effects of technology on humanity and significance of being in relationship to the digital world.

Clearly, many themes emerged during the conference, but the real value was in connecting with such inspiring people. As a rich open-source community, almost every person at this gathering was willing to not just share their greatest ideas, but also give you the building blocks of their projects to use and modify as your own. It was an amazing opportunity that offered a chance to see the most cutting-edge interactive, experience-driven, technological work from artists who traveled the globe to have conversations about the direction of new media, find new ways of collaborating, and to develop methods for making work. Thanks to all the people at INST-INT for another fabulous gathering of minds. I was honored to participate. Be sure keep a lookout for the talks to be posted online, and don’t miss it next year.

See Change 2014: Creative Inspiration

See Change 2014 conference at the University of Minnesota (in its fifth year) brings together another diverse set of creative perspectives on design and the undercurrent of change driven by design. This year was no different. In the five years I have attended See Change, it has consistently given me inspiration and a view into […]

See Change 2014 conference at the University of Minnesota (in its fifth year) brings together another diverse set of creative perspectives on design and the undercurrent of change driven by design. This year was no different. In the five years I have attended See Change, it has consistently given me inspiration and a view into a world of design which I am now entering late in my software development career. As an MFA student in interactive design, I consider attending See Change part of my curriculum. As an artist, I feel a connection with the creative drive of those who have made visual expression their line of gainful employment, sustaining, in a sense, both sides of their lives in one endeavor. All this appeals to my personal sense of holistic integration.

Conference presentations ranged from how we work and interact as individuals to creativity theory. Along this spectrum Aby Wolf lead us through singing exercises, Paul Trani looked at the 3D printing revolution, and two inspiring photographers showing their great work and telling wonderful stories. If any theme stands out among this diversity, it is this: how to find inspiration in your creative work. On that topic, photographer Douglas Kirkland responds, “keep many irons in the fire,” and his vast body of work expresses this passion and sustained inspiration. Annie Griffiths, after recounting her story of engaging in a photographic subject one hurried morning, when she forgot to wear pants, advocates, “find a passion that makes you forget to put your pants on.”

For the finale, genial professor Barry Kudrowitz compared close links between creativity a type of humor based on incongruity, making non-obvious connections (as opposed to slapstick or cathartic types of humor). Making non-obvious associations, Kudrowitz posits, means getting past the obvious ones, which itself seems obvious. But what studies have shown might not be so obvious: it is the simple correlation between the number of ideas and having good ones. This happens because the good ideas are usually found at the tail of the chart—he’s also an engineer, so there were charts! Getting past the usual and obvious means getting past the first ten or so ideas.

If it is possible to summarize See Change 2014 with an agglomeration of quotes (lacking attribution—sorry), here is what that could be: scale is the enemy of doing good work, print is still important, collaboration is a key ingredient, suspend judgment, the quiet power of space, stay open, know your inspiration, just the right amount of wrong, find the creative hook and make bold statements, be comfortable being uncomfortable, silly ideas can be stepping stones, Tigers and Bears (hey, you had to be there!)

Digital Karma: Cory Arcangel on the Recovery of Warhol’s Digital Works

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Artist Cory Arcangel (right) with CMU Computer Club member Keith Bare. Still from Trapped: Andy Warhol’s Amiga Experiments, Part 2 of The Invisible Photograph; © Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

It’s not every day that new works are discovered by one of the most famous artists of all time. Perhaps that’s why the recent recovery of Andy Warhol’s early digital experiments on an Amiga 1000 has been one of the most important art stories of the year. In addition to adding an important new twist to Warhol’s canon, the story of their recovery has become a catalyst to a growing conversation, both about digital conservation and also the nature (and value) of images in a media-saturated world.

It’s incredibly fitting that the driving force behind the recovery was artist Cory Arcangel. One of the first artists to take strategies from conceptual and performance art and apply them to hacking and the digital world, Arcangel’s work has always existed in realms which, by their nature, are constantly facing obsolescence and the need for documentation. In a series of interviews by phone and email, Arcangel discussed—with excitement bordering on total giddiness—ideas of digital conservation, cultural karma, and our disappearing culture.

Nathaniel Smith: Can you tell us what you’re working on at the moment?

Cory Arcangel: I have an opening of my new merch/lifestyle line, Arcangel Surfware on May 17, a pop-up shop titled You Only Live Once. Under the Arcangel Surfware brand, I’m making linens, tees, hoodies, iPhone covers, and a bunch of other stuff. It’s “everything you need to chill in bed all day and surf the internet.” LOL. The pop-up will be half exhibition, half shop. I’m collaborating on the brand and pop-up with the same company that did the Kanye pop-ups, Bravado, so I’m pretty pumped. It’s been a lot of work though, because I’m showing all these new open-edition things, but also showing a ton of new fine art(ish) things. It’s gonna be 40-plus objects—all in a Holiday Inn conference room.

Smith: A funny place to follow up your last show in New York, which was at the Whitney [laughs]! Busy times, especially considering the debut screening of the documentary Trapped: Andy Warhol’s Amiga Experiments just happened. One of the main things I wanted to speak with you about is the recovery of works Warhol made in 1985 on his Amiga 1000.

Arcangel: Yeah, definitely. It’s been a wild few weeks with all the attention, but fun, of course. What I liked about it was the Kryoflux, the USB-attached drive controller used in the effort to make low level virtual copies of the disks, has gotten so much attention. Also, I’m glad a lot of the coverage really forced a discussion about digital preservation which I think is important and will become more and more important as more of culture gets virtually “lost” due to obsolescence.

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The Kryoflux, used to interface a modern PC to the Amiga floppy drive. Still from Trapped: Andy Warhol’s Amiga Experiments, Part 2 of The Invisible Photograph; © Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Smith: This kind of conservation is obviously an interest of yours. I immediately recall your Creative Capital Grant to publish the computer source code for your entire body of work…

Arcangel: That’s right! The first four issues of that series are actually finally finished. After eight years! They can be bought at my pop-up store for $19.95 after May 17. They are part of the Arcangel Surfware brand. LOL. They are printed on 300-year archival inks and papers, so yeah, they definitely are an intervention into the “conservation” of my own work. These product shout-outs are striking me as very Warholian. Very on topic. Ha.

Smith: What is it about conservation that is important to you, particularly in a fluid format like web or digital files?

Arcangel: It’s all—and by all, I mean culture—gonna disappear! As long as it is all in the cloud, or something like it, that is. So conservation is essential. Both with stuff that people think is important and stuff they don’t. So, that’s my main angle. Also, of course, I like mucking on old computers. Can’t seem to get away from that. Funny, though, what were new computers in 2000 when I started making fine art(ish) are now really old computers. So there is always lots to work with, even my own work, at this point.

Smith: Do you remember the first time you saw the YouTube clip of Warhol painting Debbie Harry, or the time that you began to wonder if he had worked on other digital works?

Arcangel: I don’t remember the first time I saw the YouTube video, although I’ve seen it several times over the years. Jason Kottke tweeted me, though, and asked if I saw it on his blog for the first time, which is possible. But, I have read Warhol’s diaries, and there is lots of stuff in there about technology. It always had me wondering.

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Andy Warhol (and Debbie Harry) working on the Amiga 1000. Still from Trapped: Andy Warhol’s Amiga Experiments, Part 2 of The Invisible Photograph; © Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Smith: When you contacted the Warhol Museum about the Amiga equipment, were you aware of the previous two searches?

Arcangel: I was not aware of them. I was aware of all the tech stuff Warhol did, though: recordings, early video, etc. I had been to Pittsburgh so many times over the years—the city has played a big part in my art life—so I knew if I ever went back, I would try to ping the Warhol Museum about his old video tapes and Amiga disks… just out of curiosity.

So, Tina Kukielski, the curator of my 2012 show at the Carnegie Museum, and I set up a meeting at the Warhol Museum when I visited in 2011. For that meeting, I had brought with me—prolly like a nerd—all of these clippings and random articles I had collected about Andy Warhol and the various tech stuff he did. Anyway, in regards to the Amiga stuff, I asked head Warhol archivist Matt Warbican three questions: Did Warhol actually have an Amiga? Do you have any of that stuff? Did he have any floppy disks? It was “yes” to all three!

After that we approached Golan Levin at the Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, which is an organization that pairs artists outside Carnegie Mellon to resources inside Carnegie Mellon, and that’s how we got hooked up with the legendary and totally amazing Carnegie Mellon Computer Club.

Smith: When you saw all the equipment, what were your expectations? I mean, did you actually expect to find anything in particular?

Arcangel: Initially we didn’t think anything was on the disks; they all looked like commercial software disks. So, yeah, for a few years, the project moved ahead without any expectations, which was fine by me, and I was just interested in the gesture of such a project, not the outcome.

Smith: This may sound strange because it seems so immediately obvious, but: what do you see as the value of the recovered images?

Arcangel: What is their value? [pauses] I don’t know if anyone has asked me that before. Do you mean, like, the cultural karma?

Smith: Do they have value as actual images, in a way a painting does, or are they given value through the story of their rediscovery?

Arcangel: I would say three things about their value. One, it’s cool to show that he was fluid and super sick in a medium which most didn’t know he worked on. Two, they raise people’s awareness about the digital conversation. And three, they are valuable because people can learn about clubs like the CMU Computer Club, which was incredible to work with. There is nothing cooler than a retro-computing hacking club in my mind! Especially at a place like Carnegie Mellon.

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Arcangel (right) with Matt Wrbican, chief archivist at the Andy Warhol Museum. Still from Trapped: Andy Warhol’s Amiga Experiments, Part 2 of The Invisible Photograph; © Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Smith: You mentioned over the phone that Warhol was not the first major fine artist using a computer to make work and that in his diary he mentions that young people, artists like Jean Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, were using computers. What was different about the equipment that Warhol was using, both from an art historical perspective and from a tech-history view?

Arcangel: At the time Haring and Basquiat were probably using Macs, thus working on black and white. So, Warhol had a jump on them, because he got his Amiga so early and it was in color. His Amiga was so early, in fact, it had stickers on it which said the FCC hadn’t approved it for sale yet.

Art historically, I’m not exactly sure, but, you know, computer arts go back quite some time, but that said, Warhol was definitely on the earlier end of things. Also, just from an art perspective, it’s worth pointing out, he was pretty sick with the paint bucket tool, so he definitely saw 30 years ahead on that one. I’m still trying to catch up.

Smith: Can you take me through the technical details of rendering an image from the Amiga 1000 to be viewable on a modern computer, but also perhaps the philosophical differences of altering an image to modernize it? What changes in this transformation?

Arcangel: Well, as you know, with digital born material, this is no “is.” Every manifestation of the work is a real-time expression of code. Even an image on your cell phone is code executing. So, it’s not helpful to think in terms of original or master. It’s more helpful to think of this real-time expression of code being like a live music performance. After all, instruments are technology designed to execute code—aka notes and silence. So the same way a band tours playing the same song every night, an image will appear in different contexts, on cell phones, browsers, newspapers—each performance slightly different, none “realer” than the others.

For the Warhol project, the Amiga images were rendered for modern computers. The files themselves can’t be shown as-is because of their obsolete format, but even with this out of the way, another snag is they were made on the Amiga, which had non-square pixels, meaning, they look squished on modern computers. So they had to be “rendered,” aka stretched for modern machines which have square pixels. Not to mention CRT monitors and LCD are not similar.

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CMU Computer Club member Keith Bare, and the first recovered Warhol image. Still from Trapped: Andy Warhol’s Amiga Experiments, Part 2 of The Invisible Photograph; © Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh

Smith: Your work has always blended the two aspects of this recovery project, basically breaking down any separation between the art world and the digital hacker world. Can you tell me a bit how these overlap so cleanly sometimes—or about your term “ghosting”?

Arcangel: Well, in the project my role was as a translator. I was able to both speak the language of the Warhol Museum and CMU Computer Club. Or, maybe “glue” is another way to put it. Also, I’m lucky to be an artist. Artists have the ability to “ghost,” or float through walls and different disciplines, in a way most other professions are not allowed. In this case, the Warhol Museum was generous to let me and the club in for a visit/project. They were incredibly welcoming! Shout out to them!

Smith: An important aspect of the Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry’s summary is the possibility of further exploration of Warhol’s equipment. How involved might you be in such an effort? What is most exciting to you about these continued explorations?

Arcangel: Oh man, this project that has taken three years. So, I just haven’t thought about what happens next. I need a break first!

Smith: Before you go, are there any last things you would like to say about the project?

Arcangel: This project was really the combined effort of four groups: the Andy Warhol Museum, the Carnegie Museum of Art, the CMU STUDIO for Creative Inquiry, and of course, the awesome CMU Computer Club. It was really just a crazy coincidence that Warhol’s Amiga stuff was only miles away from one of the best retro-computing clubs in the world. And again, one last thing I wanted to say is that the CMU Computer Club, they were, amazing.

Smith: Since we talked on the phone the first time and this wasn’t possible, this time could you sign off with some of your signature emoticons?

Arcangel: Had no idea they were my signature. :/

The documentary Trapped: Andy Warhol’s Amiga Experiments can be viewed for free at nowseethis.org, Hillman Photography Initiative at Carnegie Museum of Art as Part II of their Invisible Photograph series.

8-Ball (Eyeo Edition): Kim Rees

During the June 3–5 Eyeo Festival, we opened up the Media Lab blog to the many coders, artists, and web developers speaking at the conference, which took place at the Walker. To give presenters a chance to introduce themselves, we sent out our 8-Ball artist questionnaire, in which we pose some of life’s most–and possibly […]

Peroscopic's data exploration tool on US gun violence

Peroscopic’s data exploration tool on US gun violence

During the June 3–5 Eyeo Festival, we opened up the Media Lab blog to the many coders, artists, and web developers speaking at the conference, which took place at the Walker. To give presenters a chance to introduce themselves, we sent out our 8-Ball artist questionnaire, in which we pose some of life’s most–and possibly least–pressing questions. Three, Hong Kong-based coder/designer Cédric Sam; Giorgia Lupi, founder of the Milan–based information design company Accurat; and–today–Kim Rees, took us up on the offer. The head of Information Visualization at Periscopic, a Portland-based data visualization firm, Rees says she’s particularly excited about a current project, a landmark because it’s the first time she’s used textiles to visualize data: “I’m working on a series of textile pieces that are based on custom and personal data from about 20 people I’ve met recently.”

Here’s our favorite eight responses of the many Rees answered for us:

What technological innovation is going to most dramatically alter our near future?
3D printing and nanotech. (Nanotech is so old, but has so much potential. Someday there will be a renewed interest in nanotech, and I will get self-cleaning clothes and nanobots that will keep my nails perfectly trimmed).

What global issue most excites or angers you?
Human trafficking and modern day slavery. It’s so difficult to combat and goes undetected or unaddressed. It’s very distressing to me and outrages me that it’s not causing a global, public outcry.

Which living person do you most admire?
Somaly Mam. She escaped life as a child sex slave and now works to rescue other girls. She’s an incredibly strong, inspiring, and humbling person.

What’s your most vivid memory from childhood?
A field fire we drove by in rural Minnesota. I was very young. It seemed like the world was on fire.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Politeness. Kindness is mandatory, but pleases and thank-yous are affectation.

What artists would you like to collaborate with?
I would love to work with Maya Lin on something. I have this dream of obtaining an aircraft carrier and turning it into a floating anachic society. I would love to have her design the landscape.

Is there anybody you’d refuse to shake hands with?
There are lots of people. We’re working on some things about gun violence. In the course of this project I’ve read a lot of stories about child murderers and sexual predators. There are many sickening stories that I will never forget. Those people — I could never shake hands with them or possibly even be in the same room with them.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what would it be?
A dollar bill. I’d love to be a fly on the wall, so to speak, to see how people live, see what they value, see their exchanges.

Be Nice, MIMMI is Listening!

The nature of Twitter is ephemeral: a shout into the digital void that quickly fades away. This summer in Minneapolis, however, your tweets may have physical impact on the environment — or, a very small microclimate, at least. Meet MIMMI: MIMMI is a large, air-pressurized sculpture suspended from a slender structure located at the Minneapolis Convention […]

The nature of Twitter is ephemeral: a shout into the digital void that quickly fades away. This summer in Minneapolis, however, your tweets may have physical impact on the environment — or, a very small microclimate, at least. Meet MIMMI:

MIMMI is a large, air-pressurized sculpture suspended from a slender structure located at the Minneapolis Convention Center Plaza. Cloud-like in concept, the sculpture hovers 30 feet above the ground, gathering emotive information online from Minneapolis residents and visitors to the plaza. MIMMI analyzes this information in real-time, creating abstracted light displays and triggering misting in response to this input, creating light shows at nighttime and cooling microclimates during the daytime. Whether the city is elated following a Minnesota Twins win or frustrated from the afternoon commute, MIMMI responds, changing behavior throughout the day and night.

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Allen Sayegh (left) with Nate Solas

In other words, MIMMI displays Minneapolis emotional temperature in light — in real time.

Last week Paul and I took a walk across Loring Park and found our way to the convention center’s sunny plaza to catch a glimpse of the installation just hours before the official launch. We were lucky enough to chat briefly with Allen Sayegh, the founder of the global design research and user experience consultancy behind the project.

“I call these types of projects Highly Evolved Useless Things that are beautiful to look at and have an evocative power,” wrote Sayegh in a followup email. “Because it is a large structure in the city that has to withstand all the elements and engage the public on many levels, the team at INVIVIA (which is an interdisciplinary team composed of architects, engineers, programmers, landscape architects, robotics experts, psychologists) had to do many rapid iterations and prototypes with custom written software to come up with the installation that at the end we hope everyone agrees is beautiful to look at and experience.”

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Sayegh described the work in terms very familiar and dear to the Walker’s New Media Initiatives department: “At the end of the day this is a research project for us. We had to use many open source tools/ technologies such as Arduino, actuators, special lighting, and different sensors along with complex physical manufacturing in a very tight schedule to achieve a level of design that works for this city.”

On the software side I was curious how they were extracting the mood from Twitter. “In this project we are reading social media feeds and do basic language analysis to detect what people are feeling. Although by no means is this supposed to be scientifically accurate, we did base our software on a recent scientific paper that was published on this topic.” Here’s a screenshot of the mood-informing keywords from the live site:

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I have yet to see MIMMI properly lit at night, but I’ve been following the live webcam feeds. Sayegh included a final picture along with this note:

Formally speaking MIMMI is a cloud or an abstraction of a cloud. The aesthetic choices of form, color, and lighting were driven by a general interest of the hybrid perceptual state of digital and physical.

There was a very conscious decision to make MIMMI look as if it was digitally rendered in its built form.

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This project appeals to me personally on a number of levels: art, interactivity, technology, space-making, and also because the city was able to get it installed in such a public place. More like this, please.

 

8-Ball (Eyeo Edition): Giorgia Lupi

During last week’s Eyeo Festival, we opened up the Media Lab blog to the many coders, artists, and web developers speaking at the conference, which took place at the Walker. To give presenters a chance to introduce themselves, we sent out our 8-Ball artist questionnaire, in which we pose some of life’s most–and possibly least–pressing […]

"The real Montalbano," a data visualization from Accurat's La Lettura project

“The real Montalbano,” a data visualization from Accurat’s La Lettura project

During last week’s Eyeo Festival, we opened up the Media Lab blog to the many coders, artists, and web developers speaking at the conference, which took place at the Walker. To give presenters a chance to introduce themselves, we sent out our 8-Ball artist questionnaire, in which we pose some of life’s most–and possibly least–pressing questions. Two, Hong Kong-based coder and designer Cédric Sam and Giorgia Lupi, founder of the Milan–based information design company Accurat, took us up on the offer. Lupi says her company is her most exciting project at the moment. Founded two years ago, Accurat is opening a New York office, where it’ll expand its work in “imagining new ways to tell stories through data.” Our favorite eight replies to our questions:

What is your favourite inanimate object?
My pencil case (even I don’t feel it being inanimate).

If you could pose one question to every person on earth, what would it be?
What (why) do you live for?

What’s your favourite place to people-watch.
The Underground (and Twitter).

What artist turned your world upside-down?
John Cage.

If you own a pet, what characteristics do you share with it?
Getting bored of everything after a little while.

What’s your favourite recording of all time?
Synapscape‘s Act!

What have you been listening to lately?
Battles’ “Wall Street” (Gui Boratto remix)

What is your advice for young people today?
Do a lot and stop complaining about meaningless stuff. Draw, and fight for beauty.

Multitouch Kiosks Highlight Collection

It’s difficult to blog about a collections-focused touch screen in a museum without drawing comparisons to the amazing Collections Wall at the Cleveland Museum of Art — and feeling entirely inadequate. We’re not (yet!) anywhere near that scale, but luckily for our egos we weren’t aiming there with this project. We wanted a simple, intuitive interface and […]

It’s difficult to blog about a collections-focused touch screen in a museum without drawing comparisons to the amazing Collections Wall at the Cleveland Museum of Art — and feeling entirely inadequate. We’re not (yet!) anywhere near that scale, but luckily for our egos we weren’t aiming there with this project. We wanted a simple, intuitive interface and something we could evolve in-house after watching and analyzing user behavior.

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AJ explores some of the garden artwork on the new screens.

We stayed true to the original idea of a “big swipe” interaction, creating what’s essentially an enormous photo-viewing application with zoomable images and some video mixed in. As another way to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, we chose to launch the screens with highlights from the Garden.

Under the hood

The screen are running Google Chrome in Kiosk Mode and displaying a simple web page supported by a lot of custom Javascript. To keep things fast each screen is running a Squid web proxy to keep a local copy of the content, and the videos are also stored locally to avoid buffering issues. I thought Squid would manage to cache the videos, but due to the way they’re served using HTTP Range Requests I had to install a very vanilla Apache server locally to get them working. A bit of ugly overhead that keeps it from being a truly standalone solution, but something we were unable to solve on a deadline.

table_change

Design and New Media hanging paper representations of the screens to get a sense of scale and placement.

We’re also logging interactions using Google Analytics’ Track Event API (easy, since it’s just a web page!). Right now we’re tracking when the screen is “woken up” by a visitor’s interaction, when they open the textual “Info” button, and when they play a video. With video we also separately track if they watch all the way to the end, and if they don’t we log the timestamp they stopped watching.

The project is on our public Github account, so please have a look if you’re interested.

Content admin

The content is fed to the web page via a simple JSON file. AJ built an online editor that allows us to rearrange slides, import new collection objects and video, and edit or create the “Info text.” Very often our public-facing projects run into tight deadlines to launch and the admin / maintenance side of things never gets finished, so I’m quite excited to have this working.

Screen Shot 2013-06-06 at 1.31.58 PM

Lessons Learned

Gestures are different at this scale.

Sure, we know HTML5 and Javascript and have built some nice gestural interfaces before, but we weren’t prepared for the differences of a large-scale screen. Instead of tidy touch events using single fingers, we were seeing people swipe with their whole hand, or two fingers, or four. People tried to zoom using whole hands dragging in and out. Kids would “tickle” the screen and overwhelm our scripts, leaving the device crippled. While we gained many days by developing and designing in a familiar toolset, we lost almost as many days trying to rapidly mature our touch library. Midway through the project Ideum released Gestureworks Web Socket bindings for Javascript, which is absolutely the approach I’d take next time if we stick with HTML5. We learned the hard way that a true multi-touch vocabulary is not something you can just “whip up” from scratch…

Attract screen felt like a “home page”

Eric built a fantastic opening animation to attract visitors’ attention, which they would then dismiss to start interacting with the slides: “Tap to begin.” A number of our early testers mistook the animated gestural instructions for a menu, and were quite distressed when they couldn’t find a way back to the “menu.” We toyed with changing the intro and couldn’t solve it until finally we realized we just needed to change one word: “Swipe to begin.” By making the intro video actually be the first slide, users were able to discover the operation of using the screens (swipe) at the same time as they “dismissed” the intro. And the intro was always available by just swiping back. It’s a no-brainer now that we see it, but it’s one I’m glad we tested and re-tested.

Video is being watched until the end!

… about 10% of the time. That doesn’t sound like much, but it’s honestly higher than I expected (caveat: only a few days of stats). The space isn’t an especially inviting one for consuming media, but the content is compelling enough people are happy to stay and watch. We’re still collecting data to see if there are any trends around the timestamp when people stop watching — I hope this will inform the type of video content that is most appropriate for the medium and environment.

Position matters

So far the right-hand screen is used almost twice as often as the left-hand, which is a bit deeper in the space. So it may just be ease of access and people engaging with whatever they reach first, but we’re watching this closely for clues for future content: maybe one screen could be a long-running silent video? Maybe one screen never returns to the attract mode? Do we run something entirely different on each screen so there’s a reason to try both?

 Summary

A fun and challenging project that launched on-time and does pretty much what we set out to do. Can’t ask for more!

If you’re in the Twin Cities, please stop by and try out the new screens, and tweet us @walkerartcenter with feedback.

 

8-Ball (Eyeo Edition): Cédric Sam

With the Eyeo Festival bringing an international array of coders, designers, and artists to the Walker this week, we decided to open the Media Lab blog to conference speakers. To give all presenters a chance to introduce themselves, we’ve sent out our 8-Ball artist questionnaire, in which we pose some of life’s most–and possibly least–pressing […]

With the Eyeo Festival bringing an international array of coders, designers, and artists to the Walker this week, we decided to open the Media Lab blog to conference speakers. To give all presenters a chance to introduce themselves, we’ve sent out our 8-Ball artist questionnaire, in which we pose some of life’s most–and possibly least–pressing issues. The first to take us up on our offer is Cédric Sam, a designer and coder who hails from Montréal but has lived in Hong Kong since 2009. Tomorrow morning he presents on what he’s learned about social media in China and how his experiences there might inform the work of designers, programmers, and journalists into the future.

Describe a recent dream in 15 words or less.
I was lost in an endless indoor shopping mall in Hong Kong…

What technological innovation is going to most dramatically alter our near future?
I think it‘s going to be affordable mobile broadband Internet. I lived in Hong Kong for three years and fast Internet on the go is relatively affordable and created many new use cases that we don’t yet see in North America.

What’s your most embarrassing moment?
When I was in high school, we participated in an overnight quiz competition. I was so tired by 1 am that I entered and used the girl’s bathroom. And they printed it on the event’s newsletter. So here it is again. :)

Fill in the blank: What the world needs now is _________________.
More delightful data experiences. Or more experiences with delightful data.

If you could have any career, what would you choose?
Dataset tamer.

What’s your most vivid memory from childhood?
Playing in cornfields in suburban Montreal. They’re now occupied with houses and a Canadian Tire.

What’s your favorite comfort food?
Shepherd’s pie (aka Pâté chinois, in Quebec). And my Chinese comfort food is congee.

What is your advice for young people today?
Avoid bandwagons. Talk to people (not just at your school or in your own country) to figure out what those bandwagons are!

Getting Mobile in the Garden

This summer marks a major milestone for the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden: 25 years as one of the country’s premiere public sculpture parks. The New Media Initiatives department’s contribution to the celebration comes in the form of a brand new website for the garden, a fully responsive “web app” that has been an exciting challenge to […]

This summer marks a major milestone for the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden: 25 years as one of the country’s premiere public sculpture parks. The New Media Initiatives department’s contribution to the celebration comes in the form of a brand new website for the garden, a fully responsive “web app” that has been an exciting challenge to build.

Opening screen of the web appMap view of the garden

The new site is a radical shift from the static, research-focused 2004 version, and instead becomes an on-demand interpretive tool for exploration in the garden, including an interactive, GPS-capable map, audio tour, video interviews, and short snippets called “fun facts.” One of the most exciting features is the new 25th Anniversary Audio Tour called Community Voices. Last summer we recorded interviews in the garden with community members, first-time visitors, and some local celebrities, and it’s all come together in this tour to present a fantastic audio snapshot of just how special the garden is to people.

Detail view of Spoonbridge and CherryInterpretive media for Spoonbridgegarden_phone_5_sm

The site provides light, casual information “snacking,” with prompts to dive deeper if time and interest allow. It gives visitors a familiar device (their own!) to enhance their visit at their own convenience.

Of course, we didn’t neglect our out-of-state or desktop visitors, but the site’s focus remains on getting people to the garden. For those unable to experience it physically (or for those frigid winter months), the new website provides a browsable interface to familiar favorites and up-to-date acquisitions and commissions.

Behind the scenes

MSG Web Data

Our proof of concept for the site was lean and mean, built quickly using open source tools (leaflet.js) and open data (OpenStreetMap). We didn’t have latitude/longitude positioning info for our public works of art, but as it turned out some kind soul had already added a significant number of our sculptures to OpenStreetMap! We set about adding the rest and knocked together a new “meta API” for the garden that would unify data streams from OSM, our Collections, Calendar, and existing media assets in Art on Call.

Fuzzy GPS

garden_2

Next we began the process of verifying the data. We’d created custom map tiles for the garden so we could maintain the designed look and feel Eric was going for (look for a future post on the design process for this site), but it involved  some compromises to make the paths line up visually. The New Media team spent a few hours walking the garden in the early spring, making notes on sculpture GPS anomalies, misplaced paths, and trying to avoid having anyone appear to be inside the hedges. No two devices gave the exact same GPS coordinates, so we ended up averaging the difference and calling it close enough.

Native-ish

It’s not a web app. It’s an app you install from the web.

As we discovered while building the mobile side of the new Collections site, a properly tuned webpage can start to feel a lot like a native application. We’re using swipe gestures to move between information “slides,” pinch and zoom for the map, and followed most of the tips in the forecast.io blog post (above) to further enhance the experience. We’ll never be quite as snappy as a properly native app, but we feel the cross-platform benefits of the web fully outweigh that downside. (Not to mention our in-house expertise is web-based, not app-based.)

Need for Speed

garden_pagespeed

This was the make-or-break component of the mobile site: if it didn’t “feel” fast, no one would use it. We spent untold hours implementing just-in-time loading of assets so the initial site would by tiny, but then we’d have the images we need just before they were supposed to be on screen. We tuned the cache parameters so anyone who’s visited the site in the past will have the components they need when they return, but we can also push out timely updates in a lightweight manner. We optimized images and spread the map tiles around our Content Delivery Network to prevent a single-domain bottleneck.

Finally, and perhaps foolishly, we wrote a safety fallback that tries to estimate a user’s bandwidth as they load the welcome image: by timing the download of a known-size file, we can make a quick decision if they are on a painfully slow 3G network or something better. In the case of the slow connection we dynamically begin serving half-size images in an effort to improve the site’s performance. We’ll be monitoring usage statistics closely to see if/when this situation occurs and for what devices. Which brings me to…

Analytics

garden_heatmap_sm

I hope I’m right when I say that anyone who’s heard me speak about museums and digital knows how adamant I am about measuring results and not just guessing if something is “working.” This site is no exception, with the added bonus of location tracking! We’re anonymizing user sessions and then pinging our server with location data so we can begin to build an aggregate “heatmap” of popular spots in the garden. Above is a screenshot of my first test walk through the garden.

We’re logging as many bits of information as we can about the usage of the new site in hopes of refining it, measuring success, and informing our future mobile interpretation efforts.

Enjoy!

Please visit the new Minneapolis Sculpture Garden website and let us know what you think!

 

Secrets of a Museum Social Media Manager

Two or so years ago, Kristina Fong, the Walker’s Marketing and Audience Research Coordinator, was handed the keys of the Walker’s social media accounts and, ultimately, a new title: Digital Marketing Associate. At that point, social media at the Walker meant accounts on Twitter and Facebook. Today, the Walker has 374,000 Twitter followers, 49,000 Facebook […]

FongHands

Two or so years ago, Kristina Fong, the Walker’s Marketing and Audience Research Coordinator, was handed the keys of the Walker’s social media accounts and, ultimately, a new title: Digital Marketing Associate. At that point, social media at the Walker meant accounts on Twitter and Facebook. Today, the Walker has 374,000 Twitter followers, 49,000 Facebook likes, 13,000 Tumblr followers, 8,800 Instagram followers, and a presence on other platforms, including Pinterest and Storify.

Today, sadly, is Kristina’s last day at the Walker, as she heads on to other adventures. Hers are big shoes to fill, but Kristina has kindly laid out some must-read tips for whomever succeeds her here–or for anyone doing social media for museums or other institutions. Here are the first five tips, but please go read the rest at her blog:

1. Know your museum, know it well. This is more important than knowing how to use TweetDeck, HootSuite, Instagram, Statigram, Facebook Pages, Google Analytics, etc etc. If you don’t really, I’ll say it, love your museum, you are lost. You may not love everything about it all the time (I never fell in love with dance, or other types of programming I felt I ought to love, although I tried to understand it), but the most important thing about social media is being genuine.

2. Your social media person has to be a good writer. You’re writing every day and you have to relay your message in short, pithy statements. You have to have a voice. It’s also not a bad idea to make sure your person has written online somewhere. How does the internet talk? You should be fluent in that. Confession: I’m not a great talker, unless I’m really comfortable in a situation. Words feel more like my ally when my hands are creating them, not my mouth. Someone whose personality screams social may not be able to present that online.

3a. ‘Likes’ and followers matter (even though the opposite was probably the first thing uttered at the very first social media panel at a conference). Is it the end all be all? Of course not (especially if you’ve gotten cheap ‘likes’ by saying “If you agree with this obvious statement that everybody likes, click ‘like.’) But they matter because it’s a simple fact: you’re growing your audience. Tell me this, would you be worried if you suddenly lose 5,000 fans on Facebook? Or you just stopped at 10,000? Probably. They matter. If you’re getting likes, that’s a vote of confidence. When I post something that people really respond to, ‘likes’ go up.

3b. Caveat: If your likes go up and your engagement numbers also don’t go up (number of active comments and conversations), that’s a problem. That means you’re boring your new followers. You’ve got to grab them when they’re fresh—that means every day, since you’re getting new followers every day.

4. Talk to people. There’s a lot to strive for on social media: engagement numbers, responses, participation, qualitative data. But overall, they’re the exact same goals as our general mission statement and our website/blogs. Engage, ask questions, be a catalyst for critical thinking, connect. Be available. Build intrigue & trust—if those two things are possible simultaneously. I strive to make our audience feel like they can approach us and that in turn builds a positive relationship with us. (Think how much more you like a person you meet if they simply ask you a question, say your name, or turn to say something directly to you.) So that can be through direct conversations, yes, but also just by sharing knowledge (you get the exclusive) and giving people the opportunity to make a comment (you feel knowledgeable).

5a. Make it genuine. I know when I’m forcing a tweet. It’s burdened with edits and necessity. (Necessity = “you have to tweet about this poorly selling event or else!!!”) You also can’t be excited about everything. An institution is an entity online. We read these accounts because they’re one stream, as one being. So Walker is an entity that loves contemporary culture and thought, dance, music, visual arts, family programs, esoteric artists-in-residence, a restaurant, and a Shop, and everything related to those things. That’s a lot!

But do you tweet about all the things you love all the time? No. You may have, say, 5 things going on the week. Some of them are big, some of them aren’t. You don’t talk about each with equal excitement. In your mind, you prioritize their importance and that’s what you communicate.

Same thing with museums. Not everything deserves three exclamation marks and a post every day. (Especially those esoteric artists-in-residence.)

5b. A confession: I’m hyper-aware about the number of messages being sent out from each channel every day.  Probably too much so. People don’t mind if you post several times on Facebook in a day, as long as those posts are spread out a little bit, but I’m very sensitive about it. You have to consider the reader’s feed, not just what you want to push out. I have tried, again and again, to stress the importance of “keeping it cool” to the various departments who have their own Facebook pages/Twitter feeds, and it does not always work. You may take 8 photos back to back, but you do not Instagram them all in a row. You may have a list of events to upload to Facebook, but you do not make them all in a row because every time you do, it shows up as another post on a user’s newsfeed. You see? You have to be aware of your mark. You have to look at the world outside your world. A few studies have declared that they have found the “sweet spot” of Twitter posts: 3. Or something. I forget. They say that engagement goes down after you tweet more than 3 times. This is null and void if you’re doing it right.

5c. What is doing it right? Paying attention to Twitter, what’s trending nationally, internationally (to a certain extent, don’t talk about pop stars in scandals), and within your sphere. That’s right. Follow influencers, follow places just like you, places you want to be like, the people who are talking about you, and share their information. You know very well that your museum is not a bubble.

5d. The argument for different voices is a consistent argument. I realized I just called the Walker an “entity” up above. But I also realize that every museum is a complex organism and that we appreciate more when we understand. If by voice one means perspective, I wholeheartedly agree. People need to see beyond the “voice” of the institution. Does that mean that they need a dozen different styles of writing, humor, grammar, and abbreviation in their lone Walker feeds? No! It is that designated person’s job to draw out what they need from the different voices, assess what might work well for social media, and invite them in to talk to you (quotation marks? super easy to drop into a post) and show their hand. Some people are terrified of social media. So don’t say, “Write a post for Facebook about this”, just ask them about it. The multiple voices are for blogs, and those blogs can be shared through social. (Ask A Curator-type days not included in this. Besides, maybe curators/programmers should just have their own Twitter accounts for this kind of thing and also everything.)

Thanks, Kristina, for everything. See you online.

 

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