A local art gallery opens this weekend advertising that every work will be touchable and connected within an immersive environment, with your curiosity piqued, you venture to the gallery on Saturday morning expecting a space filled with technology and the backlit glow of led screens. Stepping inside, there is a moment of hesitation, as this appears to be the normative white cube gallery space with framed paintings on the wall, sculptural objects on plinths, and labels adjoining all of the pieces as individual works.
However, one exception is the title wall, “I’m Touched” with explicit signage that all surfaces can be explored by touch, prodding, proximity, or even poking. Your first reaction might be that this is some play on Marchel Duchamp and the Dada art movement, or maybe that this is some psychological experiment to evaluate how the public reacts to habituated cultural norms.
A quick touch on the image of a bird located within a large wall mural surrounding the title wall is met with the audible call of a crow, ‘Caw Caw Caw’ and a projected image of a flock of birds emerges out of the artwork flying across the wall and sweeping into the gallery space. A step across an invisible threshold activates subtle lighting effects and audio to draw you into the space, like waking up an environment by your presence. This act of connecting the visitor to the work and the space continues as your move through, sometimes telling the story of the artist, others times connecting disparate works together, and taking the visual story out of the frame and into sound, projections, haptic feedback, and of course lighting effects.
This is but one straightforward idea of how invisible technology could transform our cultural experiences, blurring the lines between what defines interactives, normative spaces, technology, content and immersive environments. Based on this premise of working beyond the screen, an simple idea was born, experiment with this technology off the record, without a client, and using what we had available in the studio to see how conductive paint could translate to other projects from Science Centers to Museums, and any other cultural or entertainment based space for the public.
The premise is simple enough, a electrically conductive paint that can be painted like acrylic, printed as a 2d graphic, applied to an object, used as a sensor, activate lights, sounds or projections, the list goes on for its potential applications. I started following a little company in London awhile back that has been progressing the low voltage technology of conductive paint into realizable and commercially available products and online resources to learn how to program and use the paint in all sorts of different applications. In a period of ever increasing complexity with technology, there is a straightforwardness and approachability to conductive paint that allows room for play in the creative process to experiment with ideas and possibilities, all without having to spend vast amounts of time or money in the process. I am always a proponent of an activity that is equally compelling for any age group, from seeing an led light turn on using potatoes for a power source to creating a responsive public exhibition space.
Our internal 2018 project is called “Sounding the City”, and is based on the idea of touching objects and images to activate sounds that reflect the City of Vancouver. In the centre is the wired Arduino circuit board contained within a classical gold gilt frame from a painting, and connected to it are a number of painted circuits including a glass bottle that reflects a thriving craft beer scene and our local brewery next door to the studio, my drawing of a boat that activates sounds of the active harbour city, a photo of a crow sounds the nightly migration of thousands of crows across the city, an illustration of the skytrain that sounds the familiar voice of public transit, a model race car is stuck in traffic, a dog barks, a cloud unleashes the all to familiar rain storm, a framed “Yeah!” celebrates a festival city, a bicycle cog reminds us of how awesome Vancouver is for riding a bike, a UFO draws on the curiosity of the unknown and thinking bigger than ourselves, while last but not least a traditional museum label activates our company’s owner Leigh Byblow correcting me on spelling his last name wrong!
Where will this go for NGX Interactive? Anything is possible and we will try to incorporate this technology into future projects. In the meantime, we will continue to play, meander, discover, fail, and explore where conductive paint could be incorporated.
– Jan Beringer, Experience Lead