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

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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.

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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.