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Sensory, Sonic and Symbolic Features of a Collaborative Media Art Practice


Abstract and Figures

The “Lo-fi” project applies iterative and prototype-based processes to a collaborative media art practice. The project has entailed several modes of experimentation: electronics, sound, programming, interactivity, iterative design and evaluation. The prototypes and interactive artworks that have been built through the project are treated not only as works for exhibition but also as objects of study, examinable both in terms of empirical research outcomes and in terms of their symbolic import for viewers and interactants. We discuss a methodology for gathering data in a gallery context, based on the inaugural exhibition of the first Lo-fi artwork, Push/Pull (2009).RÉSUMÉ Le Projet « lo-fi » applique des processus itératifs basés sur des prototypes à une pratique collaborative dans les arts médiatiques. Le projet a entraîné plusieurs modes d’expérimentation : son, électronique, programmation, interactivité, ainsi que design et évaluation itératifs. Les oeuvres d’art interactives et les prototypes créés pour ce projet existent non seulement pour être exposés mais aussi pour être étudiés, tant dans le contexte de recherches empiriques que dans celui de leur importance symbolique pour observateurs et participants. Nous présentons en outre une méthode pour recueillir des données dans une galerie d’art en nous fondant sur l’exposition inaugurale de la première oeuvre d’art « lo-fi », Push/Pull (2009).
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Canadian Journal of Communication Vol 37 (2012) 109-119
©2012 Canadian Journal of Communication Corporation
Melanie Baljko is Associate Professor, Department of Computer Science & Engineering, York University.
Email: . Website: Nell Tenhaaf is Professor, Department
of Visual Arts, York University. Email: . Website: .
Research in Brief
Sensory, Sonic, and Symbolic Features
of a Collaborative Media Art Practice
Melanie Baljko & Nell Tenhaaf
York University
ABSTRACT The “Lo-fi” project applies iterative and prototype-based processes to a collabo-
rative media art practice. The project has entailed several modes of experimentation: elec-
tronics, sound, programming, interactivity, iterative design and evaluation. The prototypes
and interactive artworks that have been built through the project are treated not only as
works for exhibition but also as objects of study, examinable both in terms of empirical re-
search outcomes and in terms of their symbolic import for viewers and interactants. We dis-
cuss a methodology for gathering data in a gallery context, based on the inaugural exhibition
of the first Lo-fi artwork, Push/Pull (2009).
KEYWORDS Collaborative research; Media art; Human-computer interaction; Embodiment
RÉSUMÉ Le Projet « lo-fi » applique des processus itératifs basés sur des prototypes à une
pratique collaborative dans les arts médiatiques. Le projet a entraîné plusieurs modes
d’expérimentation : son, électronique, programmation, interactivité, ainsi que design et
évaluation itératifs. Les œuvres d’art interactives et les prototypes créés pour ce projet existent
non seulement pour être exposés mais aussi pour être étudiés, tant dans le contexte de
recherches empiriques que dans celui de leur importance symbolique pour observateurs et
participants. Nous présentons en outre une méthode pour recueillir des données dans une
galerie d’art en nous fondant sur l’exposition inaugurale de la première œuvre d’art « lo-fi »,
Push/Pull (2009).
MOTS CLÉS Recherche collaborative; Arts médiatiques; Interaction humain/ordinateur;
In our collaborative media art practice, we have built both prototypes and interactive
artwork for exhibition, as well as engaging in “evaluation” in the fields of both
human-computer interaction (HCI) and contemporary interactive art. Bridging our
very different backgrounds as Computer Science researcher and New Media artist, we
have identified the common research goal of rendering and studying complex cogni-
tive and physical interactions between human and non-human agents who coordinate
behaviours (see also Sawchuk, 2008).
We focus here on the iterative design process that resulted in our first collaborative
interactive artwork, Push/Pull (2009), which started from the notion of representing
populations of artificial agents using pared-down means, (i.e., depictions using clusters
of light moving across the display surfaces of the artwork and electroacoustic sounds).
We describe the advantages in our collaborative approach, outline anticipated and
unanticipated features of Push/Pull and analyze some viewer responses to the artwork.
These were gleaned over a two-day period in December 2010 during its firstpublic ex-
hibition, in thelivingeffect.1We interviewed approximately a dozen people as they exited
from their interaction with Push/Pull, with the aim of conducting evaluations and user
studies. We composed interview questions in collaboration with Dr. Kim Sawchuk,
who has worked with the Lo-fi project team since 2006. This embracing of the empir-
ical in an art setting has created opportunities; for example, it has enabled us to see
the display of art within the conventions of the gallery context in a new light. It has
also posed challenges: the data gathered showed a wide spectrum of responses to the
artwork and defies easy analysis.
Collaborating across paradigms
Within the context of the iterative and prototype-based process of building Push/Pull,
we now find that we have conjoined the meaning of “abstraction” from two intellec-
tual paradigms: Art/Media Studies and Computer Science. In art parlance, the config-
uration of sound and light in our work is abstract because of its selective elimination
of specific levels of detail, breaking its clear referent associations: a cluster of LED lights
is used both to embody artificial agents and to embody human-representative agents.
Abstraction, in the software design sense, is invoked in the use of a single computa-
tional agent architecture to instantiate agents of two different types: either as endoge-
nous (initiative and behaviours are triggered autonomously within the agent itself,
each running on its own particular computational thread) or exogenous (behaviours
run by an interactant). A single agent is represented by a particular electroacoustic
sound and cluster of lights, with one colour for agents that represent humans and an-
other for artificial agents that are completely controlled by the system. Other light phe-
nomena appear in the same physical infrastructure, and the sounds are sampled from
real-world sources and intensively processed using digital effects. We have coined the
term “low-fidelity embodiment” for this abstract representational strategy and use
the rubric “Lo-fi” to describe the project as a whole.
For Push/Pull, we also experimented with various levels of abstraction in the in-
terface. The artwork is circular in shape, approximately five feet in diameter. Light dis-
plays are created on the uneven topography of its surface via arrays of optical cables
that are connected to individual LEDs, mounted on circuit boards (see Figure 1). Two
small cameras mounted above the sculpture and a ring of infrared LEDs around its
top edge allow the cameras to track interactants as they circle around the sculpture in
a darkened space. Four speakers are placed about eight feet away from the sculpture.
The interactant negotiates the physical space around the sculpture; through move-
ment, the interactant is “tagged” by the cameras by passing through “sweet spots” in
the space around the sculpture, so that he or she can move a cluster of lights that is
visible on the surface of the sculpture. Being tagged also launches a short video that
110 Canadian Journal of Communication, Vol 37 (1)
Baljko & Tenhaaf Collaborative Media Art Practice 111
essentially demonstrates the movement required to operate the work. This is another
sense of the work’s abstraction; all of the features of Push/Pull point back to itself and
its placement in a space in a highly self-referential mode.
One of the primary goals in designing Push/Pull’s interface was to elicit conversa-
tion that includes the interactant (i.e., “conversation” in the basic sense of the term,
as a free exchange of turns). In doing so, the key challenge was to abstract away detail,
but to leave certain core, salient features of classical interface design in place, specifi-
cally mapping functions. The mapping function pertains to the yoking together of an
interactant’s movement (moving forward/backward corresponds to the cluster of
lights moving up or down, and moving left/right corresponds to its left/right move-
ment) and his/her agent’s movement through the abstracted Cartesian space of the
agent world. The mapping function is discovered by the interactant, who engages in
a process of iteratively refining his or her conceptual model of the artwork as he/she
interacts with it.
Donald Norman’s (1988) Human Action Cycle is predicated on the observation
that humans are “explanatory creatures” and seek to build conceptual models of the
objects with which they engage. We anticipated that the Human Action Cycle would
be useful as a descriptive model for certain facets of an interactant’s understanding of
the piece. In particular, we observed consistent evidence of the execute/evaluate cycle
that Norman (1988) postulated, as the interactant adjusts her or his movements in
order to derive a conceptual model of the state transitions and behaviours of the system
(the term “system” here views Push/Pull as an assemblage of parts, including its pro-
gramming and visual/aural outputs, that operates as a whole; state transitions refer to
changes in the system’s configuration over time). Once the mapping function is discov-
ered, the interactant has acquired a mode of “communication” between his/her em-
bodied agent and the artificial agents; the mapping function mediates the conversation,
since it affords a turn-taking among the agent population, human-representative in-
Courtesy of Paul Petro Contemporary Art, Toronto. Photo by Zev Farber.
Figure 1: Interactants engaged with game-like panel of Push/Pull, 2009
112 Canadian Journal of Communication, Vol 37 (1)
cluded. The type of conversational exchanges that can be jointly performed consist of
sequences of one or more greet-response pairings. A cue to the interactant to initiate
this “conversation” is provided in the form of a video that is displayed on a small LCD
screen embedded in the sculpture, that shows two abstracted figures conversing and
moving in a way that mimics the movement required to activate the agent population.
Collaboratively designing and building interactive artworks
The collaborative spirit of Lo-fi permitted experimentation with custom LED circuit
boards, acoustic representation of agents, novel physical structure, and collaborative
methods for programming and evaluation. The Push/Pull artwork exemplifies each
of these areas.
Baljko and media artist Nick Stedman developed the communication protocol to
be used between the computing platform and the LED-controlling circuit boards so
that software (MaxMSP and Java) could control the LED light levels. The lights visible
on the surface of Push/Pull are wired to custom LED boards via fiber optic cable. The
design and fabrication of the boards, carried out by Stedman, was in some ways an en-
gineering design task since the communication protocol needed to be as fast and effi-
cient as possible; however, the efficiency of the protocol depended on the nature of
byte packet traffic (the information) taking place between the computational platform
and the circuit boards. This cannot be known entirely in advance, since it is determined
by the overall size and complexity of the agent embodiments on the display and the
complexity and refresh rate of their behaviours. Our solution was for Push/Pull was to
employ a protocol that uses individual LED indexing.2
The Lo-fi project also required electroacoustic processing, which was carried out
by sound artist John Kamevaar, and was a particularly good fit for the project because
the process retains a vestige of the sound sources, but is barely representational. The
project required a cumulative sense of involvement for the interactant, as the inter-
actant moves around the sculpture. Kamevaar developed a soundscape for the first
phase of the interaction, whereby sounds are triggered by the interactant before the
sculpture is “unlocked” and begins to lead the interactant through its routines. These
sounds, such as walking on various surfaces, are just discernible and serve to focus
the interactant on understanding the active space of the work. A pulse in sound pro-
vides the cue that signals the unlocking of the full interaction, at which point the
agents are either distinct and singular voices, or a chorus of voices (the latter occurs
when the interaction is vigorous and a whole population of artificial agents is con-
versing among themselves and with the human-representative agent). Kamevaar re-
sponded to the conversational mode for co-agency in the interaction by leaving a
clear sense of human voice in the human-representative agents’ sounds—there are
two of these sounds, assigned to different agent shapes. The digitally-processed
sounds generated for Push/Pull are aural behaviours that strongly contribute to the
characterization of both the system and the agents as co-constructors of the experi-
ence, with the human interactant.
The collaboration on the Push/Pull project brought together students and faculty
from both the fields of Media Arts and Computer Science. A number of students, both
graduate and undergraduate, collaborated on the project3; Tenhaaf led the physical
Baljko & Tenhaaf Collaborative Media Art Practice 113
design and building of the Push/Pull sculpture, which is modular (in four panels that
form a circle) and shows the LED cluster agent population on any of those panels at
different times, depending on the interactant or group of interactants’ movements;
while Baljko led the software architecture design for the agents, as well as the integra-
tion of the agents with the circuit boards (via the communication protocols) and with
the other software components. Several programming languages and software toolkits
were used, including Java and RXTX (Baljko), as well as MaxMSP and Open Sound
Control (Tenhaaf).
Lo-fi is a highly iterative project with various outcomes. The iterative approach
means that we incorporated the findings from mounting prototypes into further de-
velopment, weighing and considering feedback gathered primarily through interviews
and observation, both in situ and on the basis of collected video data. Dr. Sawchuk has
designed user experience protocols and carried out interviews with us on a number
of occasions prior to the Ottawa Art Gallery exhibition: twice at the Ontario Science
Centre in Toronto, Canada in 2007 (May and July), and twice also on York University
campus: March12-14, 2008 in a public space in the Technology Enhanced Learning
building, and in August, 2009 in a studio space in the Goldfarb Centre for Fine Arts.
The first prototype testing for a tracking system was at York in a project room in the
Accolade West Building in May 2006.
Symbolic features intended in the design of Push/Pull
In developing the Lo-fi artworks, the research on Artificial Life (A-Life) and the host
of A-Life artworks that have appeared internationally over the past several decades
were highly instructive4 (Tenhaaf, 2008), including artists’ robots and electronic dis-
plays that may adapt and evolve over time, as well as hybrid software and physical sys-
tems that can include living parts. In developing the Lo-fi artworks, we have looked to
aspects of A-Life research in which the emphasis has been moved away from the build-
ing and the studying of the A-Life artifact itself, and toward the exploration of a social
environment in which such artifacts are deployed. Thus, the manifest behaviour in
our work depends on the behaviours and choices made by the human interactant(s)
in a conversational exchange involving the community as a whole. Consideration of
this social environment also required consideration of what the interactants would
bring from their experiences with other software interfaces, including everyday inter-
faces and even those used in gaming, in particular when the latter involves whole body
Social relations among interactant(s) and sculpture are established through a
chain of events. First, the human interactant needs to imbue the system, via the sculp-
ture’s interface, with certain characteristics or properties in order to treat it as a co-in-
teractant. We conceptualized this as a process whereby the interactant makes
presuppositions about the degree of the system’s agency. This can be rationalized in
part by prior research, which amply demonstrates that humans readily apply social
rules, even when interacting with computational media (and even when they know
the media is computational), and that computational agents are anthropomorphized
by human interactants (Reeves & Nash, 1996). The anthropomorphizing urge is very
strong, and there was no evidence that interactants with this piece were any exception.
114 Canadian Journal of Communication, Vol 37 (1)
Push/Pull shows the degree to which a conventional interface can “disappear” (or the
manifestation of the interface be subverted by offering very little in the way of instruc-
tion) and still elicit a strong response of anthropomorphization. In line with the ab-
straction strategies at the heart of Lo-fi discussed above, the un-conventional,
minimalist interface that allows us to explore, among other things, the progression
from “novice” to “expert” user of the system remains of particular interest.
Within the abstract arrays of lights and sound, both the sculpture itself and the
light cluster agents may be anthropomorphized and assigned agency; however, the
anthropomorphization of the light clusters relies in part on the mapping of the inter-
actant to their representative agent, and this requires very active and purposeful move-
ment that not every visitor is willing to make. It also relies on the interactant’s
conceptual model that recognizes his/her representative agent’s behaviours within a
population of other agents. Further, on another level of conceptual abstraction,
Push/Pull has strong qualities of self-reflexiveness (as opposed to narrative associa-
tions), such that it foregrounds its qualities as an interface and seems to be about in-
teractive technology itself; it is consequently interpreted by interactants as a system
with some kind of “intelligence” that appears to be setting the terms for the interaction
through its own logic and purpose, even though those terms are not overtly cued. The
current state of the piece is signaled through highly abstract means: there are different
views of the same agent population at its four different panels and the interactant’s
window into the state of the whole system depends on which of the panels she or he
is looking at. The shift in granularity from this agency invested in the whole object, to
the agency of LED clusters displayed within the object, requires a non-intuitive cogni-
tive shift.
Features of the work that followed (unpredictably) from its design
As an art object, Push/Pull reminded one interviewee (an art historian) of László Mo-
holy-Nagy’s Light-Space-Modulator of 1930, a kinetic sculpture that he built to design
displays of light and movement, and a piece that was intended to be used in dance
and theatre performances. This highly abstract work is an example of the link between
abstraction and event (rather than between abstraction and image) in the history of
art, which has both historical and contemporary resonance for media artists. For ex-
ample, the canvas for Abstract Expressionism is an arena for action as much as a space,
as exemplified in Action Painting. Chris Salter (2010) ties abstraction to the performa-
tive qualities of media artworks, through Futurist and Constructivist experimental the-
atre and beyond, to immersive qualities in works such as the large-scale projections
of Granular Synthesis.5
A meeting of the spheres of art and Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) research
occurs in Lo-fi in the arena of performativity. Many of the same HCI design challenges
that apply to an interface for an everyday technology also apply to an interactive art-
work. In both cases, the user is invited to engage with, or perform with, an artifact.
The user must first of all be transformed into a participant, and secondly, must be
guided in the co-construction of meaning in a back-and-forth with the artifact. A fur-
ther parallel between interface design and art lies in the principle that perception plays
a performative role. Dalsgaard and Koefoed Hansen (2008) argue that it is the aware-
ness of a spectator, or even the potentiality of one, that transforms a user into a per-
former. A first-order relationship with the sculpture is easily established by interactants
through their movement around it. If a spectator is present, this can establish a sec-
ond-order relationship with the work because the spectator’s experience is mediated
by their observations of another person. In a further variation, an interactant may
change his/her behaviour when aware of being in the role of perfomer. Push/Pull al-
lows for multiple interactants, and so an ambiguity among roles of interactant and
spectator can arise. We are currently exploring ways other than exhibition settings to
reveal Push/Pull’s amalgam of behaviours more thoroughly to the public; for example,
performed by an interactant for an audience.
Co-construction of experience in interacting with Push/Pull requires a recognition
that the work itself is a performer, a parallel to the interactant’s understanding of “in-
telligence” in the work, described above. This sets out a commonality of experience
among interactants. At the same time, however, the process of interaction is highly in-
dividualized and the interactant’s experience counts, whatever it is and no matter what
feedback the system gives. Indeed, there is no “right” way of interacting; yet, interac-
tions built into Push/Pull are potentially frustrating (to both designers and users) if
the cues for eliciting them are not perceived. For example, one of the panels reveals a
population that grows from two to six artificial agents, but only provided that the in-
teractantrst succeeds in performing two greet-response interactions with the artificial
agents that are initially shown. This is the most game-like moment of Push/Pull, al-
though its rules of game-play are not overt and instead must be discovered through
the interaction. The execute/evaluate cycle from HCI, mentioned above, was particu-
larly apt for describing this component of the artwork’s interactivity. Our user inter-
views have shown that the composite of Push/Pull’s repertoire of behaviours with the
interactant’s performance is clearer to some interactants than to others.
Two senses of “getting lost” converge in Push/Pull. One is the sensation, highly ap-
pealing for some people, of losing themselves in an experience. The other is a confu-
sion of not knowing one’s way, or knowing whether one is “getting” the (presumably)
“gettable” which is, as Norman (1988) posited, a way of thinking and developing ex-
pectations that is quite pervasive. The latter sense is exploited in the recent “gamifica-
tionof everyday interaction to entice people to participate, offering rewards for levels
of achievement. Along with its game-like mode, Push/Pull also allows a more experi-
ential mode of interaction, which lends itself to the first sense of getting lost, which is
a sense of immersion. The very low light level in the installation of Push/Pull for some
contributed to a sense of immersion, whereas for others served to push them away,
even to the extent of quickly aborting the interaction. Some members of the public
expressed their fear of entering the dark space, their concerns about bumping into
something and causing damage, or simply found it unpleasant to be in the dark for
the period of time that it required for their eyes to accommodate to the low light.
Baljko & Tenhaaf Collaborative Media Art Practice 115
From the interview process during the course of the exhibition thelivingeffect, it became
clear that there was a great degree of hetereogeneity in the interactants’ experiences
with the work. A core premise is that once agency has been attributed during the in-
teraction, it is not merely an information exchange but a communicative process. Be-
cause movement establishes the mapping function, and thus recognition of agents,
anthropomorphization, and conversational turn-taking as features of Push/Pull, it
would seem that a key indicator of variation in experience would be proxemics, or
how one uses physical space in a communicative process.
Our desire to probe the proxemics of the varied interactions with Push/Pull moti-
vated the development of what we call praxigrams, which is a visualization format that
characterizes the interactant’s movement around and toward the artwork as if viewed
from directly above. In principle, proxemic data could be identified and extracted com-
putationally from a video stream from an overhead camera (the challenges from low-
light conditions, tracking multiple interactants, and data processing demands
notwithstanding). Instead, we elected to videotape the interactants using two cameras
positioned at different angles, and then transcribe the proxemics from the video after-
ward. To derive the praxigram itself, we implemented a customized software interface
whereby a transcriber can use mouse movements to trace out the interactant’s move-
ments as observed in the video. In the case of multiple interactants, the transcription
process was repeated for each interactant. Both camera angles were consulted to in-
terpret the interactant’s movements as they would appear from a hypothesized bird’s
eye perspective. This included direction and speed of motion relative to the sculpture,
as well as time spent at any of the sculpture’s panels. We also recorded Tenhaaf, a very
experienced interactant, interacting with the sculpture and generated a corresponding
praxigram to create a basis for comparisons (see Figure 2).
The behaviour of the videotaped interactants was possibly affected by a number
of factors; namely, the need to secure prior informed consent from the participants,
and the physical presence of the data collection equipment (and the human opera-
tors). An interactant who has the sense of being observed may behave differently
than if unobserved.6The cameras themselves were visible to the interactants (and
the LED indicator of the camera was mistakenly understood as being part of the art-
work by one interactant). It proved impractical to leave the cameras running during
all exhibition hours, which meant the cameras needed to be activated and deactivated
We have coordinated the praxigram data of two sets of interactants with their re-
spective interviews: one a solo interactant (S) [see Figure 3], and the other a pair of in-
teractants (P1/P2), (see Figures 4 and 5). Each of these three interactants self-identified
as experienced and knowledgeable viewers of art exhibitions. P1 and P2 reported a
strong sense of immersion in their interactions, whereas S did not. P1 and P2 each re-
ported that they forgot about interacting per se, so that a feeling of immersion would
predominate. For example, P1 felt that he/she was “listening to and observing
[him/her]self,” more than being consciously aware of interacting. P2 described how
he/she repeatedly stopped to take in the sculpture’s behaviours, and then had to “re-
116 Canadian Journal of Communication, Vol 37 (1)
member that there’s an interaction so I have to move.” S was very concerned with fig-
uring out what to do, reporting that she asked “am I making it work?” during the in-
teraction and that she “wasn’t even sure I was supposed to circle around it.” S felt that
the piece was not explicit: “people aren’t going to get it.
The P1/P2 interview, correlated with their praxigrams, showed that there was
something to be achieved from interacting with Push/Pull even without the overt, di-
rect “readable” response from the system that many interactants expected and needed.
Interestingly, the greatest contrast among these praxigrams was between the group of
P1/P2 and Tenhaaf, and the S praxigram.
Baljko & Tenhaaf Collaborative Media Art Practice 117
Figure 3: Praxigram of S
back wall
Wall with door
20 second interval
Figure 2: Praxigram of Tenhaaf
back wall
Wall with door
20 second interval
Figure 4: Praxigram of P1
back wall
Wall with door
20 second interval
Figure 5: Praxigram of P2
back wall
Wall with door
20 second interval
Low-fidelity embodiment has been a productive concept at the core of the Lo-fi project,
both for making artwork and for the collaborative process with its core focus on bridg-
ing conceptual and terminology gaps between the fields of Computer Science and
Media Arts. We have used it as a bridge between the research literatures from Human-
Computer Interaction and art/media studies. It has been very effective as a represen-
tational strategy and a template for the design of interactive behaviours. Low-fidelity
embodiment for agent representation has a level of abstraction that allows for subtle
shifts in an interactant’s perceptions, from artificial entities to other manifestations of
light (such as the video imagery) and other computational imagery (such as the cel-
lular automaton that we used to close one phase of the interaction in Push/Pull).
The long, collaborative, research-based process for making art is very different
from the more familiar process of materializing a concept and resulted in the interac-
tive work Push/Pull converging to a state that it would not have otherwise. It is a multi-
layered artwork that is much appreciated by viewers as both an aesthetically appealing
and intriguing object. It is also a challenging work for the art public. Our user inter-
views and videos show a wide range of experiences: at one end of the spectrum are
gallery-goers who have a very immersive and body-based experience with the work
and who also are not concerned about whether they are “correctly” performing the
work’s interactivity; at the other end are people who, throughout their engagement
with the piece, wonder whether they are “getting” either its routines or its symbolic
import, to the extent that the spontaneity of their actions is undermined.
Push/Pull is a shaper of behaviours. Whether it is best experienced as first-order
(as an interactant) or second-order (as a spectator of the interaction) depends very
much on the individual. Our research outcomes related to prototyping, exhibiting, and
evaluatiing Push/Pull have given us some insight into how different viewers navigate
a subtle interface that opens up highly abstract content. These different modes of nav-
igation, and one might say their success, are directly related to viewers’ appreciation
of the symbolic or aesthetic merits of the work. This kind of study is new in a gallery
setting and can contribute to a broader study of the impact of new media artworks.
1. thelivingeffect group exhibition was curated by Caroline Langill and held at the Ottawa Art Gallery
in Ottawa, Canada between November 2010 and February 2011. The title refers to artist Norman White’s
quest to capture in his work the subtle energies and forces inside every living creature.
2. Stedman and Baljko examined the tradeoffs of vector-based v.s. individual-indexed approaches to
signaling LED light levels. They identified the tipping point of the optimality from the first approach
to the second, in terms of total number of LED changes per frame. Each approach has its merits.
3. See the Lo-Fi website. Our thanks to all of the students who participated in the project: Eng Chuen
Chuah, Zev Farber, David Jacob, Michael Kaftarian, Heather Phillips, Miki Rubin, Niknaz Tavakolian,
and Dustin Wenzel.
4. See also the Fundación Telefónica website.
5. Granular Synthesis is a renowned audio and video performance project of Austrian artists Kurt
Hentschlaeger and Ulf Langheinrich.
6. The researcher’s immersion into the research field is known to affect results, see Davies (1999).
118 Canadian Journal of Communication, Vol 37 (1)
Fundación Telefónica.
Davies, Charlotte Aull. (1999). Reflexive Ethnography: a guide to researching selves and others. London:
Dalsgaard, Peter, & Koefoed Hansen, Lone. (2008). Performing perception: Staging aesthetics of in-
teraction. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction, 15(3), 6.
Norman, Donald A. (1988). The design of everyday things. New York: Doubleday/Currency Ed.
Reeves, Byron, & Nass, Clifford. (1996). The media equation: How people treat computers, television
and new media like real people and places. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Salter, Christopher. (2010). Entangled: Technology and the Transformation of Performance. Cambridge
and London: The MIT Press.
Sawchuk, Kim. (2008). Artificial life and lo-fi embodiment: A conversation with Nell Tenhaaf and
Melanie Baljko. Atlantis, 32(2), 6-17.
Tenhaaf, Nell. (2008). Art embodies a-life: The VIDA competition. Leonardo, 41(1), 6-15.
Baljko & Tenhaaf Collaborative Media Art Practice 119
... Initial motivation for this work came from a number of discussions with Visual Arts Professor Emerita and New Media artist, Nell Tenhaaf [2,3,10]. A consistent thematic presence of opposition is developed throughout her art and one can look to exhibitions of hers where pieces such as Push/Pull are considered "a shaper of behaviours" as it attempts to entice an interactant's movements, and WinWin where she describes a "controller-controlled" behaviour scheme through human to non-human interactions that are transmitted back and forth via sound and light through a handheld controller and the structure known as WinWin. ...
Conference Paper
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The "Curious Creatures" project is an exploratory Research-Creation journey. Here, digital media practices in virtual reality (VR) are developed through an ongoing and evolving methodology. Sensorial engagement and embodiment practices are explored through practical exposure and theoretical study. Interactions between a user and their (VR) environment (as both agents of design and agents of use during the creation process) mirror intellectual and emotional decisions faced throughout the ongoing construction process. Through the study of and participation in the creative process, human agency is tested through these human-computer interactions where virtual environments are constructed with the anticipation of controlling the user's actions. Parallels are drawn to existing art, conceptual frameworks, engineering practices, and technology that inspire this curiosity driven exploration.
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Can human beings relate to computer or television programs in the same way they relate to other human beings? Based on numerous psychological studies, this book concludes that people not only can but do treat computers, televisions, and new media as real people and places. Studies demonstrate that people are "polite" to computers; that they treat computers with female voices differently than "male" ones; that large faces on a screen can invade our personal space; and that on-screen and real-life motion can provoke the same physical responses. Using everyday language to engage readers interested in psychology, communication, and computer technology, Reeves and Nass detail how this knowledge can help in designing a wide range of media.
Artificial Life artworks hold a unique place in the art world, one that has been largely mapped by the VIDA international competition through its annual recognition of outstanding works based on A-Life. Works that have received awards since the VIDA competition began in 1999 (25 prize-winning artworks and 56 honorary mentions) have gained viewer appreciation and popularity at the same level as any other kind of art. Yet these works define a territory of their own, delineated here through characteristics of A-Life art that arise from both the artist's studio and the research lab and that mark the 25 awarded artworks. Following this article, the Leonardo VIDA Gallery presents a selection of eight prize-winning works that show the breadth of the competition to date; each is discussed here.
In interaction design for experience-oriented uses of technology, a central facet of aesthetics of interaction is rooted in the user's experience of herself “performing her perception.” By drawing on performance (theater) theory, phenomenology and sociology and with references to recent HCI-work on the relation between the system and the performer/user and the spectator's relation to this dynamic, we show how the user is simultaneously operator, performer and spectator when interacting. By engaging with the system, she continuously acts out these three roles and her awareness of them is crucial in her experience. We argue that this 3-in-1 is always already shaping the user's understanding and perception of her interaction as it is staged through her experience of the object's form and expression. Through examples ranging from everyday technologies utilizing performances of interaction to spatial contemporary artworks, digital as well as analogue, we address the notion of the performative spectator and the spectating performer. We demonstrate how perception is also performative and how focus on this aspect seems to be crucial when designing experience-oriented products, systems and services.
Artificial life and lo-fi embodiment: A conversation with Nell Tenhaaf and Melanie Baljko
  • Kim Sawchuk
Sawchuk, Kim. (2008). Artificial life and lo-fi embodiment: A conversation with Nell Tenhaaf and Melanie Baljko. Atlantis, 32(2), 6-17.
Our thanks to all of the students who participated in the project
  • See The Lo-Fi Website
See the Lo-Fi website. Our thanks to all of the students who participated in the project: Eng Chuen Chuah, Zev Farber, David Jacob, Michael Kaftarian, Heather Phillips, Miki Rubin, Niknaz Tavakolian, and Dustin Wenzel.