Echo reverberates across The Cube

“Empathy is about finding echoes of another person in yourself.” Mohsin Hamid

Here we are, the final Echo reverberates across The Cube in hybrid glitch form.

The photo booth is installed, the virtual mirror throbs in anticipation and the Echo character maps across the space. She navigates us, “Come closer”  she says, you are now part of something bigger”.

The last month has seen many creative and technical developments, including the integration of the narratives. They began as fiction and ended as readymades. Real intimate stories from real people. Through the mirror our storytellers confide in you, the user, revealing moments of their lives where they have suffered or overcome hardship. As their narrative unfolds the features of your face slowly morph into their face. They operate you with their expressions and leave you placed firmly in their shoes. This intimate experience forces us to relate and connect with those outside of our normal social sphere. Narrative has long been a tool for empathy, awareness and social change, Echo intends to push this further still by immersing the viewer visually as well as through the imagination.

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Tuning back in from the reverberating world of ECHO …

A month under my belt and still two to go. The project is growing limbs by the second and each day seems more exciting than the last. Tech wise our facial tracking application is well on the way to having the main functionality working smoothly.  Here’s a taster video of the first stage recorded live from the application with a few treatments added.

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The next stage is user interface design and narrative content. It’s time to bring fiction, drama and sound to the work so you might see me cruising around Kelvin Grove campus collecting and researching personal stories. Don’t be shy, come and say Hello and get involved in my project.

Over the next three weeks I’ll use this research to write some intimate stories with the help of the creative writing and drama students.  These narratives will be integrated into the final user experience where you literally see through someone else’s eyes, kickstarting the empathy engine..

Still so much to do but with the support of The Cube and the Creative Industries team, anything is possible!

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Welcome Georgie

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Ello!

I’m a multimedia artist completing a residency at The Cube for the next three months.
I studied Vis Arts at QUT way back in the 90’s and since then I have been travelling across Europe and Australia making audio visual work for both stage and screen. 17 years later I’m back and with my geek on…

Here’s a link to my Showreel if you’re interested: https://vimeo.com/159136216

My creative practice has, for many years, used technology to explore notions of physical and emotional empathy. Here and now I’ll be developing a project called Echo. Over the next few months I’ll be designing elements and software for an interactive installation that is a morphing virtual mirror. The viewer will be able to customise an interchangeable avatar and fragment and mix their own face with the features of other people and animals, creating a range of morphing hybrid personalities. We’re also developing a real time facial tracking application that copies your expressions as you wear anothers face or multiple faces.

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I want to explore how we respond to our face being fragmented and manipulated by others and if it is possible to build community by developing a truly ‘shared’ identity? Does a combined identity extend the parts of us or dilute us? What can we learn about narcism and empathy through this experience? And what can we learn about micro expressions?

Two weeks in and already progress is being made within Unity, the game engine we are using to build the software. I’m also loving getting lost in transmission chaos land of animated glitch fragments! Here’s a video link to some animation tests I’ve been playing with: https://vimeo.com/203231463

In April the installation will run and the animated portraits will be installed into The Cube with an event that showcases the application as a live tool for Public performance.
Will tune in again soon, hope to face mosh with you…

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The Changing Room—final performance

My residency at The Cube concluded last month with the opening of my piece The Changing Room.

How would you like to feel? What if you could make it happen with a touch of a screen? What would you do with complete control over your own emotions and those of the people around you?

The Changing Room is a custom software installation and performance that allows participants to select one of hundreds of emotions, evoking that emotion in them and everyone in the space through a layered environment of light, visuals, sound, text, and interaction exhibited over a multi-level, many-sided display. Dealing with themes of surveillant architectures, social technologies, and smart homes, the piece simultaneously invades and cares for the emotions of passersby.

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Upon entering the main space, you are confronted with the question, “Do you want to feel?”, and you are given the opportunity to select the emotion you’d like to experience.

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The Changing Room then gets to work trying to make everyone in the space feel that emotion as intensely as possible.

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Every zone of The Cube becomes active with different instructions, graphics, and activities that it guides passersby through. In one zone, your voice is interpreted as animated objects moving around the screens. If you touch them to pop them, a command is released instructing you to “hug the person next to you”, or “curl up into a ball”.

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People in the booths are confronted with a monolithic block that slides back and forth roulette style, randomly choosing a booth to light up with an instruction intended for that group.

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On the second floor, your body position is analyzed as you’re guided through a series of positions and contortions. The process of assuming the various positions is designed to  evoke the emotion that’s been selected in the main space.

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In another zone, ambient sound and voices are picked up by a series of microphones distributed throughout the area and analyzed. Depending on the currently selected emotion, you are instructed to adapt yourself to “share your feelings”, “calm down”, or “express more joy”.

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The opening was accompanied by a special performance and dinner during which participants were fully immersed in The Changing Room. Performers took cues from The Cube and worked to amplify the emotions and guide conversation around themes of surveillance and social technology.

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The evening concluded with a series of toasts to the future. While participants felt a mix of hope, fear, and ambiguity, I think we all left with a sense of open curiosity and questioning.

The Changing Room was created in collaboration with Sean Druitt, Ryan Bargiel, Allan Bishop, Samuel Collins, Daniel Fisher, Simon Harrison, Brian Jeffery, and the rest of the QUT Cube Team, and Andy Bates and Yu Kao. Performers included Viv Coburn, Brittany Hurkmans, Jacob Nye, Tiffany Symons, and Jackie Taylor. This project was completed as part of a TRANSMIT³ Residency at The Cube, QUT. The residency is presented by Ars Electronica and QUT.

Thank you QUT for having me and supporting this project! I am back in the states now and missing Australia already.

Photos by Kyle McDonald

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

TRANSMIT³ Residency: ARS Electronica Interview with Lubi Thomas and Zachary Lieberman (Part 2)

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

Why did you plan or why are you planning to involve other creative coders, you know, the micro-commission idea?

Zachary Lieberman: For me it’s really important to suggest this idea of art as not an individual but collective doing, and really like art as kind of laboratory. We have a tendency to promote individuals, and even you see this in museums like they would rather put one name up than five names.

Lubi Thomas: Well they do it with science too. They have one – the ‘hero’ scientist – and the other 25 that made it possible get lost.

Zachary Lieberman: Yeah, exactly. There is a tendency to do that and I see projects like this as a way of engaging the community and engaging people who have something to say about one of these questions. For me that’s really interesting and I got very inspired by James George, Jonathan Minard and the folks that work on the Clouds project because they took some of the funding for that project and did these micro-commissions. I did one of the commissions with Shantell Martin and we created part of the Clouds project, there were other artists that also got a small amount of money to make a small part of a much larger kind of tapestry. I think a project like this really invites that. We can have these different scientists, these different research questions and it’s quite easy to say ok that’s something that Abby does really well or Lucas does really well let’s send them this question and see if they have a response and let’s use the budget to get into dialogue with different people from the community. For me that’s really exciting.

Lubi Thomas: And I like the way that it mirrors what the project is doing, so the project is about that thing called The Cube and through this project we are running the tentacles out into the community of researchers of QUT who may or may not have a relationship to The Cube and then the way that you are producing the project is actually doing the same thing. Then you are again running tentacles out into the community who may or may not have heard of The Cube and are making connections to a much broader number of people. So I really like that the conceptual idea of the project is being expressed through the process making of the project. VReef

This could be an early question, but what do you think visitors at The Cube will experience? Do we have a vision of that?

Zachary Lieberman: Yeah, the way that I’m envisioning now is that there will be a kind of pedestal and on that pedestal there will be a knob and maybe a kind of small display which will be the means of interaction with the surface. The surface is quite large and there is a possibility of doing touchscreen interaction. I’m not very sure about that at the moment, but I’m definitely sure we need some sort of physical control, something that’s very gestural and very clear that you are interacting with the system. I’m still trying to imagine this but the idea is that I really want to take this physical gesture and show it the same way that you might change the zoom on a camera or change the setting on a telescope. I think that this physical gesture is changing your sense of scale. This physical gesture is moving you through a world and that world is comprised of different artistic responses. With this you are going to be able to zoom in or zoom out in a way that people are used to it with physical devices.

I want to connect that kind of physical action to the virtual environment to create the same feeling to what people do when they are working with an optical apparatus. I imagine connecting this feeling to the visualization. Therefore, I am thinking about layers and scale to show that movement through scale. For me that’s an interesting challenge and there are a lot of open questions; interesting visual questions about layers, about depth and about showing a kind of navigation through material. I really want that to be rich. It is about watching these artistic responses but also about the general feeling of scale like just being able to kind of zoom and navigate through. You zoom down and you are seeing, things are getting smaller and smaller and smaller, and things are getting bigger, and bigger and bigger. We have to figure out how to show this and how to make this experience interesting.

Lubi Thomas: And it’s interesting that you are trying to – and that’s part of this challenge – to embody the physical interaction into the visual experience which again is another of those layers of concept that give richness to the whole project. For this space it is a special challenge because there is no invigilator to give you instructions and the last thing you want is for someone to have to read what to do before they can do it.

Zachary Lieberman: Another thing I’m really concerned about is that it is such a big surface that we have to be really careful about the speed of movements. I don’t want to create something which makes people nauseas or distracts them. It has to operate visually with some level of concern for the environment.

Lubi Thomas: And it can’t move very fast.

Zachary Lieberman: I’m quite worried about that and I’m really sensitive. Of course I can’t really tell anything yet, my content is not up. But I want to find ways expressing scale change without dramatic zooms and shifts and where you have items moving really quickly. There is a lot of stuff you can do with focus and other more settled ways of expressing scale change. I think seeing that kind of stuff is important, too. I am worried about the nausea because The Cube is huge. And you are possibly going to get nauseas because you are not moving but it’s going to feel like you are moving as it’s not a small screen, but almost like something that you are inside.

Lubi Thomas: You will have total visual immersion as you won’t be able to see outside of The Cube. That definitely creates challenges.

Zachary Lieberman: The next steps on here are to organize and help coordinate the students because their semester is starting now and they have a very limited time frame. They have about ten weeks. From now I have to do a lot of work to make sure that the students are on point and getting the work done. I will have to develop a visual system next and focus on the technical work to make the visual system possible on The Cube. So helping them get that work done, beginning exploration on these visual systems and really kind of trying to imagine who from the community will be good, and even ways of reaching outside of the community are major tasks I have to do now. Those commissions don’t necessarily have to be other generative artists that are working on the ground of generative graphics and information visualization, but also maybe thinking about craft and about other types of artistic responses that could fit within this computational world.

I’m going to come back in November where I have to connect again with the students and test the content. I want to come back with the project in some – it doesn’t have to be complete – rather ready state to be tested and adjusted and tweak. I don’t have a lot of time on the display when I come back, so I have to be very concrete with what I do when I come back. Even feeling comfortable with the overall visual system and having some of the sketches in, I think would be really good and would also provide a kind of documentation for others who might be working on the project to get into the project and to understand it. Zach team
Any other last parting thoughts or comments on your whirlwind week?

Zachary Lieberman: I just feel really honoured to be able to create a project that will be living in this space that will be surrounded by people. I think it’s especially something like this at The Cube; you could see it being used for a lot of kind of illustrative purposes, or for connecting with things that are happening at the University but it’s really quite interesting that it’s being used for art, that it’s being invited to be used in this way and for me that suggests a lot of different possibilities.