Q&A with Lauren McCarthy: Provoking ‘fellow feelings’ in her own way

Ars Electronica Q&A with Lauren McCarthy about her Transmit³-Residency: The Changing Room.

Designer, artist and programmer Lauren McCarthy explores the structures and systems of social interaction, identity as well as self-presentation and the potential of technology of how it can influence the dynamics between those traits. During her Transmit³-Residency she wanted to find out about the influence of Big Data on the togetherness in front of The Cube.

Photo by Lauren McCarthy

Read more


Residency presentation: The Cube as a smart social environment

Hi, Lauren here. I’m wrapping up my two month TRANSMIT3 Residency at The Cube and next Thursday 11 August will be the official opening of the new piece I’ve been working on with the team.


The event will feature an interactive performance installation in which we dine together in a near future where we change feelings like channels on a TV, swipe left for nostalgia, swipe right for glee, and follow each other as The Cube tracks us all.

Stay tuned for my last blog post which details how this event plays out.



Turning The Cube into an emotion machine

It’s been a busy few weeks at The Cube. I started with a few workshops with kids thinking about ‘homes of the future’. Participants imagined the toys they’d play with, clothes they’d wear, rules they’d follow, and robots that would serve as caretakers. They learned to code using p5.js, a platform for building interactive artworks online, and built their own rooms of the future which we combined into a one big apartment building.


The students' output of the rooms created with code in p5.js

The students’ output of the rooms created with code in p5.js

While reflecting on things learned in the workshops, I also worked with The Cube team to rig up The Cube space with extra sensors and create a system that links all the zones of the space with the data being collected as people move through it. We started with some basic tests to see how it felt to control the movement of objects on the screen with our bodies.

Unknown-1 Unknown-2

After some experimentation, I landed on the idea of turning The Cube into a sort of emotion machine. People will be asked to determine how they would like to feel, and The Cube will get to work molding the feelings of everyone around it into the desired emotion.

We began with some tests of the interface to select emotions. I want it to have the feeling of an ice cream store with hundreds of flavors. Each one you pick brings on an entirely different sensation.


In the next few weeks, we’ll be developing the content and interactions much further and I’m planning a final performance that will happen over dinner at The Cube next month.


Hello and welcome, Lauren McCarthy

Hi! I am an artist from New York, in residence for the next two months at The Cube. My practice involves looking at our social interactions, the rules and expectations that govern them, and the effects of technology. I have always been a pretty socially awkward person, and my projects are often attempts to hack my way to better relationships.

A few years ago, I went on a series of dates with people I met on an online dating site and crowdsourced my dating life by paying workers online to watch a video stream of the dates and tell me what to say and do. (Social Turkers, 2013, http://socialturkers.com)


Thinking about algorithmic enhancement of relationships, together with Kyle McDonald, we made a Google Hangout app that would monitor your speech and facial expression and provide real-time prompts to “enhance” the conversation. (us+, 2014, http://lauren-mccarthy.com/us)


Most recently, I created an Uber-like app and service where you could hire a stranger (I was actually the Follower) to follow you for one day . I’d tail the person based on their GPS data, keeping just out of sight but within their consciousness, leaving them at the end with just one photo from sometime during the day. (Follower, 2016, http://lauren-mccarthy.com/follower)


For this residency, I am focusing on the idea of the Smart Home and Internet of Things, and all of the promises these offer. I am going to turn the Cube into a smart home for QUT students and community, gathering data through its many sensors, and interacting with the people in the space through ambient instructions on the walls. The point is to question and critique the idea of a surveillant space that guides you mindlessly, while also exploring more interesting possibilities.


Often the idea of a smart space or AI is represented by thermostats that adjust themselves and either the complete lack of any human feeling, or a sci-fi fantasy female character.


I’m planning to dig deeper into the process of socialisation. Who are the human authority figures that teach us how to behave and relate to others. Maybe it is your mum or dad, an older sibling, teacher, or friend, or role model. How do these people watch over us and influence us. Could this social intelligence be captured and embodied in an artificial intelligence?

These are some of the questions I aim to explore with this project. I’ll be starting research with a series of interviews and workshops open to the public. Stay tuned for more details if you’d like to participate!


Introducing Friedrich Kirschner and the Society for Cultural Optimism

The Cube is excited to welcome its newest Ars Electronica Futurelab TRANSMIT³ resident, Friedrich Kirschner, who will be teaming up with the Society for Cultural Optimism to simulate an alternate reality through social interventions, performances and interactive content on The Cube.

The Society for Cultural Optimism develops situated social games that engage participants through overwhelming optimism. They strongly believe that someplace north-east of cynicism, popular culture can be fun and engaging.

For Friedrich’s TRANSMIT³ residency, they will investigate a time and place in which The Cube transforms the everyday as a conduit to the virtual, and they will invite the public to help in their research and implementation. As part of their research, the team set up a base camp at Robotronica late last month.


Friedrich: During QUTs Robotronica festival, we had the opportunity to establish our first expeditionary base camp. Using our newly constructed Weltmaschine, a device that helps us simulate possible future realities, we encouraged visitors to share their thoughts on technological development and possible future scenarios. From the data gathered, and using the Weltmaschine in its first incarnation, we generated a poem of the future.


QUT EMARE Residency: Christoph Wachter & Mathias Jud present Landung in Australien

Christoph Wachter & Mathias Jud present Landung in Australien, an exhibition that explores the complexities surrounding refugee and asylum seeker policies within the context of Australian national law.

We experience nowadays a shrinking world with simultaneous communication and borderless travel options. The continents get closer, cultures meet, and goods and people can constantly exchange. At the same time worlds drift apart between those who are privileged with civil rights and residence permits, and those who are excluded and suppressed.

The lives of those who came by boat – of those men, women and children in indefinite, mandatory detention – lies completely in the hands of the Australian authorities. What they eat, what they read, when and with whom they can speak – all this is consistently determined by the authorities of Australia, the same country they shall never reach.

Dramatic escapes and traumatic boat odysseys continue in pointless undetermined detention. Who ever has the choice of travel opportunities would never undertake a life-threatening non seaworthy boat. Horrifying experiences that can hardly be conveyed are extended in detention, in a limbo whose only purpose is to use these people’s existence in this place as a deterrence for others.

Here, it remains to reconstruct exactly what the current world characterises: the shortening of distances, the approximation, the options for connections. It is about finding a link and making a connection despite censorship and upheavals. In the forming of connections lies also the option to learn something about actual underlying power conditions. We might establish connections, that open insights and work as bridges over specific, contrary horizons of experience and beyond a divided world and power political segmentation.

These connections are complex not only because certain forms of communication are prohibited in detention: differences also stem from cultural and individual forms of expression, and may result in the forming of a political meaning. But in dire situations it touches even more crucial possibilities: to appear as human beings and to receive social attention. This attention is existential, because it decides whether survival is possible or whether humans are left sinking in forced neglect and disclosure. It involves the necessity to be able to transmit a sign of life and to appear on the surface, as persecuted, threatened and marginalised voices and not to be drowned as a deposit in a power political and geopolitical whirl.

To be recognised and perceived as life depends on not going down, whether on the open sea or in the whirl of power political debates.

Wachter and Jud entered Australia with an eVisitor (subclass 651) visa. Landung in Australien showcases the outcomes of a 9-week research project held with the QUT Creative Industries Precinct as part of Move On: European Media Artists in Residence Exchange (EMARE).


QUT Precincts welcomes Christoph Wachter & Mathias Jud

The QUT Precincts would like to officially welcome Christoph Wachter & Mathias Jud to the Creative Industries Precinct residency space at Kelvin Grove.

Hailing from Germany, Wachter and Jud are currently working onsite at the Creative Industries Precinct developing their project, Landung in Australien, which aims to explore the current stories, issues and policy surrounding refugees and illegal immigration in Australia.

Wachter and Jud are working collaboratively on extended research into current refugee policy, and the lack of communication and the isolation that surrounds asylum seeker detainees. Through their work, Wachter and Jud aim to consider an expanded dialogue that attempts to hear the voices of people living in detention, including the currently excluded perspectives on this complex humanitarian issue.

Christoph Wachter & Mathias Jud have worked together on participatory community projects since 2000 and their collaboration fuses art, science and technology.  The duo have received numerous international awards and accolades from Ars Electronica, Transmediale, the Saxon State Ministry for Science and the Arts, and the Swiss Federal Office of Culture just to name a few.

Wachter and Jud will reveal their research outcomes during their Landung in Australien residency exhibition. The opening night event of this exhibition will be held on the 31st of March at The Block, QUT Creative Industries Precinct, Kelvin Grove.

Landung in Australien is a 9-week research project as part of Move On: European Media Artists in Residence Exchange (EMARE).


Past Resident Recognised in Celebration of Unorthodox Instruments

A big congratulations to Monica Rikic, one of our 2014 artists-in-residence, who has been nominated for the 2015 Guthman Musical Instrument Competition. Monica was recognised for her project, Buildacode, which she developed during her residency with The Cube last year.

The competition celebrates pushing musical boundries, and challenging the way instruments and music have traditionally worked.


Monica is among 20 semifinalists to receive international recognition for out-of-the-box musical creations. Instruments from this year’s semifinalists range from sculptable interfaces to the Space Age string instrument, the Yaybahar.

Keep an eye out for those colourful cubes – they will be showcased in the coming months and at Robotronica in August this year.

Buildacode – Tangible Sound Programming from Mónica Rikić on Vimeo.


TRANSMIT³ Residency: ARS Electronica interview with Zachary Lieberman and Lubi Thomas (Part 3)

In December last year, Zachary Lieberman returned to The Cube to continue work on his project as part of his TRANSMIT³ residency. In this project he aims to present scientific content on the enormous canvas of The Cube, where visitors can use a particular mechanism to zoom the image on the virtual wall in or out.

In this interview with ARS Electronica, Zach Lieberman and Lubi Thomas, Senior Curator at QUT, talk about the recent steps in the project.

How is it to be back?

Zachary Lieberman: It’s great to be back, to eventually be jamming and testing with the wall and to get a feeling for the infrastructure. It feels also great meeting the students and researchers again and being able to really explain what this project is.

In our last conversation we talked about the idea of adding something mechanical to The Cube to enable zooming in and out…

Zachary Lieberman: I have whittled it down to a hand wheel, which is basically a kind of a wheel with a crank. We’re using a medium-sized one. It’s a wheel that you spin and thus it has a very physical action. It’s not like a lot of things that you interact with like touchpads and smartphones, where you touch with your finger which is quite a small movement. This thing is actually a real serious movement, it’s like stirring a pot: you know you’re doing something. I really like this tool because it’s heavy. That means there is an actual feeling like you are physically doing something.


Where will this wheel be situated?

Zachary Lieberman: We are going to build a podium. The podium is going to have that hand wheel on it as well as an iPad. The iPad will display content about the researchers. As you zoom, it will kind of give you some feedback and when you get to a specific work, you kind of dig deeper and see what the researchers are about and read texts about what they are doing.

I was quite worried that it’s going to be too small because The Cube is such a big environment, but the prototype actually feels quite nice. We have been holding it while walking around and watching each other. In general we have got a good feeling that this is going to work and we can figure how to use it. The mechanical element I think is pretty much solved. There is still some work to do from a technical perspective, e.g. getting the data from the hand wheel into a computer, where we have to use some sort of sensor, like a rotary encoder magnetic sensor, some sort of positional sensor for the hand wheel.

Lubi Thomas: I really like how the crank is reminiscent of some of the really big microscopic and also telescopic mechanisms. It’s literally the same object, which is kind of amazing considering how long that has been around.

Zachary Lieberman: It has a camera-operated point focus. There is an aspect of something similar to pulling or rotating, something that brings things in and out of focus and I think that relates to a lot of different often-used practices.

There’s a lot of different ways you can interact with The Cube system: there are these touch screens, there are the Kinects, and all of these potential ways of designing something new. But I think sometimes if you reduce the interaction point you can make it a more sensitive exploration. The hand wheel is not about a complicated system that you’re figuring out and learning how to play with, but actually it is super intuitive as you know how a hand crank works – I’m zooming in, I’m zooming out – you know it’s like that and this is what I like about it. We live in a world of very virtual interfaces, lots of buttons and lots of options. Though, especially now, it’s quite important to actually have simple physical interactions and really highlight that.


The next question concerns another challenge we tackled in our last conversation. Have you developed some ideas on how to cope with the size and the speed of the zooming?

Zachary Lieberman: I’m working on this and feel pretty confident with the interface but I’m still testing. We still have some more testing to do, but I feel we’re going to get it. And I know from previous projects on the Cube that flipping and turning fast makes people sick. I think it’s the camera movements that are problematic but things can animate quickly. But a main reason why you get sick or the reason that it affects you is that you are perceiving motion and your ears are not, because the body is not moving. So there’s going to be some limitation on dramatic movement.

Let’s talk about the collaborative part of your residency now. How do you work with the students and the idea of the micro commissioning phase which is going to be happening soon?

Zachary Lieberman: The students have done an amazing job of collecting data from these researchers and specifically getting them involved in a conversation, of doing the outreach, gathering the data, collating it, and trying to figure out what scale these researchers are working at. I think for many of them it’s been great to learn about what’s happening at the university. It’s kind of a weird challenge to actually go talk to the people that they would never talk to. I’m super excited by the material that they have produced and some of them have been around this time when I’m out.

The micro commissions is the next step to identify artists within the community and outside of the community, which we think could be a really sympathetic fit to the research. The artists are then brought together, each with a scientist to create visualizations for The Cube together. I think that this is a kind of a matchmaking job that’s going to happen very soon. There’s a lot of magic that’s going to come from that process.

Lubi Thomas: It’s really nice, some of those researchers seem very enthusiastic now since Zach’s talks. I like the fact that unsurprisingly it’s turned into a community. So you are building a community around a single project and you are also linking researchers together who haven’t met each other before.

Zachary Lieberman: I think there are art projects that are about the story the artist wants to tell, and then there are art projects that are more sort of system-driven. Here we have something that is really systems-orientated and we can create a system that involves – no, it needs – people to come to. This project really needs researchers, it really needs other artists. And I like that. It’s like having a party.

Last but not least, is there a plan yet for which scientific and research content you want to show?

Zachary Lieberman: We definitely have a short list. We have not identified the exact ten, but there are ones for whom it’s really obvious and clear. Researchers that are looking at the structure of materials, looking at what for example graphene – these are honeycomb-shaped carbon atoms – looks like to an electron microscope and those kinds of incredible visuals are what we are looking for and what we can choose from. Especially looking at the edge of how we can look at materials seems to be really interesting. And there is a researcher who is focusing on printing the body. So he asks questions like how do you print a tissue or how can you print elements of the body? And there’s an art researcher focused on restoration of natural environments and ecology.

We do have a pretty good short list. It’s not one hundred percent settled yet, as I think there are some open questions concerning scale to make sure we have enough research represented on this sort of far end of the stratum: the macrocosm versus the microcosm.

TRANSMIT³ Residency: ARS Electronica Interview with Lubi Thomas and Zachary Lieberman (Part 1)

Zachary Lieberman, Cube Resident and Lubi Thomas, QUT Senior Curator – digital media, talk to ARS Electronica about what inspired them about this project.

Lubi, what do you think is special about TRANSMIT³, the joint residency Program of QUT and Ars Electronica? What is your perspective on it?

Lubi Thomas: TRANSMIT³ is a project about possibilities that enables innovation and inspiration in our residents, participant students, research communities and general publics. TRANSMIT³ is about bringing elite practitioners to The Cube and through their projects exploring the capabilities of The Cube as both a hardware/software object and also as a site for public engagement, discovery and inspiration. We hope that The Cube affords our residents an opportunity to extend their knowledge as they tackle the challenges and possibilities that this site offers. And, in turn, the outcomes of resident’s projects help to expand our vision of what is possible with The Cube. It’s all about discovery, knowledge sharing and creative invention expanding our ideas of success at The Cube.

Zach, why did you decide to participate in the TRANSMIT³ residency?

Zachary Lieberman: First of all I was very interested in the residency because it was with Ars Electronica that I have a long history with and experience with and because QUT is for me a really exciting place to be. It seems like a really interesting university and there is a lot of unique research happening there and interesting people. As soon as I got to know Lubi Thomas, who is curating The Cube, and the rest of the team there I really felt like it’s going to be a great space to come and visit.

And what inspired you about this project?

Zachary Lieberman: What inspires me about this project is that it is an opportunity to create an artwork but also connect with different scientists and researchers that are working within the university. So the nature of this project is that it’s going to be a kind of mechanism for having conversations with the people on the university beyond the people in this building around The Cube but actually around the campus and other campuses. For me it’s really exciting to connect people.

Lubi Thomas: I like the way that you are utilizing a project for The Cube, which is in the Science and Engineering building, as a way of actually creating tentacles and some pathways out into what is a massive university community, a lot of whom never come into this space. So you are giving them connections that start to make The Cube relevant to them. I think that that’s an extremely strong idea.

Zachary Lieberman: You know The Cube itself is really large; from photographs it seems quite large, but being here it’s impressively large. It’s a two-story projection and LCD display. For me it’s an enormous surface. And I have to ask the question: what does it mean to have this kind of surface in the environment that you are in? Especially as it is not in an empty building, but actually there are hundreds of students in and around it. The building is quite active and you see students studying and talking and working in this space. What does it mean to have this kind of thing that we are basically living around? For me this makes it really exciting to create something because it’s going to be creating an artwork on a single display in a corner in a back room, but that is a kind of a hub or a centre for the building. Especially as architecturally the building seems to go around The Cube; it flows around it. The final outcome of my work will be something everybody is confronted with and is living around it.

Lubi Thomas: Also there is a really interesting aspect about it which is rare, I think, for a university: it actually turns into this public space as there are lots of families and kids that come here as a destination. I think that is a nice opportunity to create something where you have got these diverse and unknown audiences. Through the project you intend to communicate something about the university that is often not communicated, even to the undergraduate students. It certainly is a challenge to communicate these topics, questions and research outcomes to the greater general public, stating what we do here at the university. Your project is really tackling that.

Zachary Lieberman: It’s going to attempt to at least try to identify one of the key questions that is being asked here at the university: what does this research mean? How do we tell the story of what’s happening here? Universities publish magazines or publish websites and there are ways to tell the story of the work in a very straight forward way, even in a kind of PR or news sense, but my project at The Cube is a very interesting, unique and pure way to tell the story of what’s happening here, to create responses, and to really explore the fundamental questions that researchers are asking. It also shows what an artistic response to these questions looks like.

Maybe the one question we explore is about black holes or mapping the genome or trying to come up with a model of the brain or trying to understand how cells work or understand how atoms work. Those questions are interesting and meaningful and profound.

I think they make great starting points for a conversation, for artistic conversations, and great starting points for people to work visually and to create, through a movement and through interaction, responsive forms that attempt to show these questions, possibly even show answers to these questions.

Lubi Thomas: Above that, describing in another language is really powerful. Therefore the content of the research has to be thought differently and described in a new language – may it be in a non-scientific structure or even visually. Some people can consume ideas easily and make sense of information through reading different kinds of texts but for others it actually is the visual language as well as the visual or an emotive response that gives them the hook into being able to understand what the research is or what the questions is that are driving research projects. The vision of bringing those different spaces and kinds of expression together is something that The Cube is really about. Moreover, The Cube is about bringing individual or independent disciplines together, to create intersections and spaces where things do well that often don’t do well together.


So, what do you think is the biggest challenge for this project?

Zachary Lieberman: The biggest challenge with a project like this is that there are a lot of stakeholders and a lot of people involved. Part of the difficulty is that I’m coming from really far away and I’m here for a short period of time. So there’s a lot of alignment that has to happen between different people and different interests. That’s the challenge. I think that also the distance presents some interesting and hard challenges about communication because New York and Brisbane are about 12, 13 to 14 hours away from each other. That distance tends to make communication go a lot slower. For example, you are writing an email and wait a day to get a response and wait a day and so on. But it also, I think, has kind of an interesting quality to slow down communication.

Maybe you take a little more time for responding as your words are more important in this not so fast communication. Somehow it feels like getting reminded that it used to take weeks to get responses, to write letters and postcards to each other, which made communication more precious and conscious.

So the distance is a big challenge but I think also creates a lot of opportunity. I don’t think it will be difficult to work with the students. I have met with the students and I’m really excited to jam with them. I think that it’s going to be an interesting challenge to have this group of students reaching out to people at the university and navigating and mapping it out. I think that’s going to be an awesome challenge. The actual work, I think, will come easily, if we get good questions and we get good topics I think everything will fall into place. The challenge is to make sure that we identify this and come up with a good map between now and November and then to March or April.

Lubi Thomas: Yes, absolutely.

How do you interact with students, researchers and other key staff? It’s a combination of ways really, isn’t it?

Zachary Lieberman: The most important thing is developing, having face to face relationships. Then we have email, phone calls and skype and so on, but that face to face relationship in the beginning is really crucial. For me that’s extremely important. I even want to spend some hours with students this week to get to know their names, and their background and what their passion is about. I want to know what they are interested in and I want them to get to know me, so that we can go back. And that when I go back and work remotely, that we are able to jam and coordinate and collaborate and I don’t think that can happen without face to face.

Lubi Thomas: I couldn’t agree with you more, I think it absolutely is the base established for everything, isn’t it?

Zachary Lieberman: Yeah, it is. So much about our communication is about email and other electronic ways which are really not very personal. It’s hard to understand tone and feeling. For me that’s a very important part of this project. I don’t think you can do this work without having an initial trip like this to understand everybody’s personalities and get a feeling of who they are and for them to get a feeling for who you are. That’s why I am asking for this when I come here for the first time.

Lubi Thomas: And that has played out crucially this week, we have gone from a lot of apprehension to actually just getting people to hang out with you and they have gone 180 degrees.

Zachary Lieberman: Yeah exactly, that is about really meeting and understanding, understanding where people are coming from. It’s kind of abstract if you say that this artist-in-residence is coming, here’s the URL, here is some Bio – it’s still very abstract.