After a very busy/somewhat shitty month, I have finally found myself able to sit down for a bit without worrying about deadlines and assignments. I go to bed at 3am, wake up late the next day, cook breakfast and eat it patiently without looking at my watch, spend hours procastinating online without feeling guilty, have time to read books, I can go to a park and spend an entire afternoon laying in the sun… it feels good. I know that in a week or so, all the madness will unleash again but in the meantime, I’m really enjoying having some time off. I needed it.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been polishing the script for The Bridge, my first short film, which I hope to shoot sometime this year; writing painful project management reports for my MA, and working on my first interactive installation, of which I feel kind of proud. It’s called Framed and it’s a very straightforward piece of work that I recently exhibited on our “End of Term” show at London Metropolitan University. When I started thinking about possible themes for my Responsive Environments module, I knew right from the beginning that I wanted to focus on Interactive Art, particularly on an installation that could allow the spectator not only to interact with it but to become part of the artwork as well. With that in mind, I decided to explore the topic of Digital Folklore, a subject I’ve been reading about for a while.
According to web artist Olia Lialina, Digital or Web Folklore encompases “the customs, traditions and elements of visual, textual and audio culture that emerged from user’s engagement with personal computer applications during the last decade of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st century”. Out of that range of elements, I chose to focus on animated GIFs (Graphics Interchange Format), a bitmap image format that has been around since the late 80’s, and that still remains an ubiquitous part of Web culture. By encouraging a playful behavior, the installation aims to engage users into an interactive experience in which their facial gestures, body movements, position in the gallery space, cooperation with other users, and their interplay with the installation will directly influence the outcome: a one-off 20-frame GIF-like animated loop of themselves.
There are many aspects of the animated GIF that makes the format an interesting subject for web artists all around the world. With limited color palettes, no sound, rhythmic repetition, and low-res image output, the most distinctive characteristics of the animated GIF fitted perfectly the idea I had for my project: an interactive installation that wouldn’t require a very complex technical implementation, but most important, one that was more about people than technology itself; an installation in which the user could have the opportunity to be both viewer and producer. This human approach has always been at the core of my work.
I also wanted the project to refer to the ethereal nature of the Internet, a place in which content exist today but might not be found tomorrow (banned websites, broken links, collapsed networks, and overloaded servers are all good examples of this); to celebrate the relationship between the Internet and its first users and the way in which these early contributors pushed the boundaries of the medium at a time in which the web “was more about spirit than skills”.
In terms of interaction, I wanted the installation to be reasonably intuitive but without neglecting the user’s skills; there had to be room for more “experienced” users to experiment and explore more complex domains. And it kind of worked. People got very confused when they first approached the installation (the set up was probably not very convenient and maybe needed clearer instructions), but once they figured it out, most of them had loads of fun playing around with it.
In the end, Framed proved to be an installation anyone could experience (a lovely girl in a wheelchair gave it a try and it was AMAZING – I regret not having any footage of that particular interaction because it seriously rocked!), and at the same time, it posed a challenge on the most curious users who wanted to experiment with group collaboration and less basic body movements to produce more complex animations.
After its debut, I realized there are MANY aspects of this piece that could be improved but it seems to me like this is a good starting point.
I’ll keep working on it.