The Data Body
The Data Body, an interactive wall art, is a work by Chloe Chang, Paige Latimer, Olivia Fang and Jen Poodwan. We combined projection mapping, animations, conductive paint, woodshop, Arduino and Max software to create an immersive experience. It was exhibited in The FINA Gallery at the University of British Columbia Okanagan Campus from 9-13th March 2020.
Through interacting with a brain or the heart of a black figure, participants will stimulate animation related to electronics in the background. A projected wall full of matrices will be shown as a reference to data generated every second. Our goal of The Data Body is to let participants experience that in a stimulation, our heart and soul are still highly connected to the virtual world. It is to increase awareness of the high amount of daily usage of social media, video games, work and other purposes.
We understand there is a risk of buying conductive ink based on a Youtube promotional video ( which is further proven later on, but we chose this brand of ink because it is not harmful, delivery time within our requirement and price.
The formation of our group came naturally since we all embraced the idea of working on an artwork related to big data in late January. After creating a group chat to further communicate ideas, we decided to focus on one artwork to be projected on a wall. We draw drafts to explain and discuss ideas. When deciding the animations, we wanted them to be the same style and format. We asked Jen the painter to create illustrations, spray paint a wood figure and I was responsible for animations, managing file export format and video editing. While waiting for the conductive ink to arrive, Olivia started to create Arduino, a software that enables users to create interactive electronic objects files that receive input from human interaction. She also figured out a way to connect Arduino to Max, a software that helps design the projection mapping. In the meantime, Paige started exploring Max and designing paths to link all the animations through Apple mini.
The second stage of work includes trials and errors. The conductive ink did not respond to a large canvas as we expected compared to a drop of ink. Even though the situation is not as bad as we have to give up completely, we had to spend a lot of time trying to find the best way to connect human interaction to Arduino. For my part, I have to figure out a way to lower the videos to 15 fps, a lower resolution for Max to run properly. For a while, I figured Mac mini might be too old to run demanding software.
Before we set up the exhibition, we worked in CCT the whole time. When having to move all the parts to the gallery, we had to unplug the Arduino, which leads to us did not save Max files. Thankfully, Paige was already very familiar with the file and she fixed it soon. Thanks to Philip, Jacob and Joanne’s help with wood cutting, creating a metal strap for the mac mini, strewing needles into the wall, taping the cables, connecting cords to the design, setting up projectors in the right wall all went smoothly! Besides, we did not realize the HDMI cord connecting to an ethernet receiver requires a battery connection. It caused a mini panic. After that, we have to reposition the body figure to a reachable spot. Then we had to troubleshoot for 2 days. We also have to come up with a name on the spot that we all agree to. The exhibition went really well and luckily, the Arduino did not break. I also did a video of our work for future references. After the critique with the class, the last step is to remove cables, fill the holes on the wall.
Throughout the process, I have started questioning the necessity of physical interactivity in an artwork. My concern is mainly split into two, does it distract the participants' experience more than providing an immersive space, and how to preserve the user experience? During the exhibition, I created a “touch” sign to direct people to experience our artwork. However, even though physical interaction might leave them with a stronger impression, I am puzzled by the importance of this feature. What is the role of participants when attempting to start the animation?
Currently, FINA gallery a web gallery that preserved artwork through text and photographs. . Rafael Lozano-Hemmer in Best practices for conservation of media art from an artist’s perspective ( ) wrote about when recording a video, it would be great to add in narration. When looking into new ways to preserve exhibition, would virtual reality be the preservation?
The preservation issue was raised during the exhibition. I found out that there is a Digital Media Showcase in the Digital Media in Education Conference that I am interested in joining. We’ve talked about the possibility of setting up the exhibition again but realize it is hard to preserve the original form and had to let go of this idea. Moreover, a video version of the artwork cannot replace the experience. It fails to capture all the possible experiences and the emotions created.
Also, does the navigation system age (well)? In The Disappearance Act, Verbruggen wrote “the interplay between project and user may well also be part of their preservation approach”, recording how the current generation interacts with the installation environment is important. For The Data Body, I wonder if future generations who wear Microsoft HoloLens, which requires eye tracking and hand gesture to navigate, will understand our design. If not, then how do we explain in a manual our design and preserve it in the best form? Do we copy the Max code and record the Arduino sensitivity to the conductive paint?
Verbruggen concludes that preservation should start almost the same as the creative process, which I agree with, if we have time to recreate the artwork, I might want to create a more tangible installation that people can experience everywhere. Fortunately, after learning the difficulty of preserving time-sensitive art pieces, my awareness of preservation is raised. Besides documentation, user reports and impact studies are equally important to provide a snapshot of the physical exhibition.
From my presentation of installation artists, I have learnt that I would like to create artwork that connects humans to something unexpected and creative. Joining Paige, Olivia and Jen to create an interactive art about big data worked out perfectly, because it is a topic we are all familiar with and surrounded by. My focus of the research was the overall design setup, ways to interact with participants. My first inspiration is our previous class creating a wall of projections. Also, I really enjoy the human participation element of Data String Art ( ), because it shows that art has no barrier. Oeuvres colorées et lumineuses d’Adela ( ), Teamlab designs and data visualisation technique from architectural design perspective ( all introduce me to a world of wonder. OK Google ( ), a 2D animation that captures the essence of human-computer interaction also inspired me to use simple visual design. Most of my exposure to interactive installation is from Google search, Youtube, Pinterest and Aleks’ recommendation, which now when I look back was not enough. There are so many multimedia artists that had great artwork based on realist, virtual reality, lights that I would love to continue exploring.
In this day and age, we are all part of digital citizenship. Artwork will continue to evolve with technology. The Data Body taught me teamwork, communication, curiosity, research and openness to trying new things. I am excited to create more that reflects on how technology and human interactions.