Last week, we left the Eyeo Festival bubbling with insights, inspiration, and new ideas. And a couple new friends. This is an attempt to highlight some of nuggets that stuck (or at least the things I managed to scribble down in my notebook) before they fade away in memory. I know it’s long and wordy, some things deserve more than 140 characters of reflection…
Paola Antonelli kicked off the event with a lovely keynote about critical design in it’s many forms, but what stood out the most to me was the word “Thinkering” by itself on a slide. It’s probably one of my favorite portmanteaus I’ve seen in a long time because now that I know there’s actually this neatly packaged word to describe the process of thinking through making it seems like a real “thing” to be used, explored, and understood.
Rachel Binx applauded the animated GIF in her awesome ignite talk. It’s hard to believe that the GIF is 25 years old. But at the same time that sort of makes sense. Back in its teen years the GIF was awkward, but as the GIF has matured into it’s mid 20′s it embraced its quirks and became a whole now form.
Tangible Interaction finished off the evening with some big glowing balls. Huge helium filled balls that lit up and made sound as the audience played with them in the air. It’s probably the most enjoyable interactive sound pieces I’ve experienced in a long time. It just made everyone in the room so happy.
Kevin Slavin started the day talking about the element of luck over the years and how the culture of chance has played a role in America. Lots of interesting notes but the one line (when in reference to the history of Bibliomancy) I jotted down was: “No one has treated the computer as a vessel to the divine or supernatural insight.” And it makes me wonder… why is that? This idea of interfacing with computers/spirits has been something I’ve been thinking about for a while (Human Spirit Interaction) and something I’m interested in exploring more. Not that I’m particularly spiritual, but there is something poetic about the rituals people use to talk to these intangible powers.
Ayah Bdeir, inventor of littleBits, talked about the idea of interaction-oriented-hardware, which is really refreshing. While things like Processing created a level of abstraction that gets right to what you’re trying to do (ie, drawing a circle or something), it seems like when playing with hardware a lot times it seems like I’m limited to the basic blinky LED project. The meaningful difference she talks about is that “it’s not about the motor, it’s about motion. And it’s not about LEDs, it’s about light”. It’s less about what the thing IS and more about what you want DO.
Golan Levin, Jonathan Harris, Mark Hansen, and Shantell Martin, on a panel, talked about how performance plays a part in their work and how giving talks or presenting work publicly is such an integral part to their practice now. It seems the 18 minute TED talk is the thing to aspire to these days. I certainly feel like giving talks is an art in itself, and an form that still has a lot of room for experimentation. Certainly there are more interesting ways to share knowledge than a slideshow. I feel like that’s an area still largely untapped.
Robert Hodgin is perhaps a perfect example of someone who really knows how to work the art of presenting, in addition to being amazingly talented artist & coder. He had all new work to share with us (check it out here) which was both awe inspiring and entertaining. But also interesting to me was the way in which he utilized his desktop as a presentation format (by neatly arranging the videos and apps to be shared on a pre-designed template bacground) and embraces the format (playing with fake folder names on the desktop for the audience to find). Seems like a silly thing to focus on considering the amazingness of the rest of his talk but those are the little details that I really appreciated.
Julian Oliver gave a great talk about Critical Engineering and how “the internet is just a deeply misunderstood collection of technologies upon which we increasingly depend”. It’s interesting to think about how little most people understand about how the internet actually works, including the people who are attempting to regulate it. And there’s this idea that people are trying to move towards an ideology of seamless when really being able to see the edges is what helps us understand. I’m slightly conflicted about this since I totally believe in open-ness and everything but I also believe in preserving some of the magic and leveraging a little bit of wizardry. But the idea that “media is the nervous system of democracy” makes it clear how important it is to not lose control of media.
Kate Hartman shared some wearable tech projects from her students. While I used to get super excited about the whole fashion + technology side of things I feel like I haven’t seen many things lately that really stood out to me. Except for this Kegel Organ, which is played with your kegal muscles. Love this one.
Nervous System (Jesse Louis-Rosenberg and Jessica Rosenkrantz) shared their process of creating generative 3D printed jewelry, and also interestingly the process of creating tools for people to create their own pieces. The distinction between co-creation and curation in the context of shopping is interesting. It seems that while we applaud the idea of co-creation, when it comes down to it, most consumers just want to be able to curate, or pick from an existing selection of pre-made things.
Golan Levin, Jake Barton, Julian Oliver, and Kevin Slavin discussed code and public space, although the best part was probably the discussion (aka trash talking) around augmented reality. Kevin asked the audience who was using augmented reality. In a room full of technologists, all of 3 people raised their hands. It seems augmented reality was cool the first few times but now we’re left wanting something more than just a magic trick.
Design I/O (Emily Gobeille and Theo Watson) showed a lot of their newer work, which is largely in the sphere of playfully interacting with playful projections in dark rooms. I do love their work though, and I’m especially excited to play around with their free Kinect + OSC arm tracking app once I get my own kinect. Also super excited about their new experiments with creating “holograms” using spinning ipads. Hoping to see some cool projects come out of the few experiments we saw so far.
Jake Barton showed a lot of new work (including some well executed AR projects), but the most interesting thing to me was a pitch for a project that actively used the sun. As he noted, “bright sun is the enemy of all projectors and monitors.” So what do you do when the space you’re given is a huge sun lit hallway? In his case, propose a project that uses the sun to write/burn things. Sadly the client didn’t go for it, but I think it’s fantastic. I’d like to work on a series of interactive media projects that not only work in sunlight, but are enhanced by it.
Kyle McDonald shared a lot of great work. All the face tracking stuff is super fun and I’d love to play around with Face OSC soon. But also interesting were the stories about the online communities he’s involved with over the years and his living/working situation. A lot of times I see artists doing all sorts of cool experimental personal work, and always wonder, “but how do they pay the bills?” so I always appreciate when people talk about the more practical side their lifestyle as well. Of course the idea of just living simply is hardly new, but it’s at least an inspirational reminder to think about how to prioritize time/money spent on projects vs lifestyle stuff.
Andrew Bell also talked a bit more about the practical side of things as a “creative coder” coming from a vfx sort of background. Like Robert Hodgin, Andrew’s presentation itself was really great and funny. I wonder how much of their presentation skills were a result of having spent time in the agency world. Another small detail that made me happy was the fact that he said “she” when describing a hypothetical developer. It seems a little silly to get so excited about something as small as that, especially when I’m not even really a “pro” coder myself, but it does make me feel slightly more welcome to the code clubhouse.
Scott Snibbe has been working in the world of “interactive entertainment” for a long time, so it’s really interesting to see how some of his earlier experiments are coming to fruition thanks to things like the iPad. My biggest take away from his talk was the idea of using cinema as a metaphor for interaction, as opposed to something like “the desktop.” Cinematic interaction is something my advisors and I talked about quite a bit during thesis, so it’s interesting to have it pop up again in a different context.
Zach Lieberman opened with a live performance of Drawn which combines live drawing and interactive animation. I pretty much exploded with excitement I loved it so much. I am of course partial to interactive projects that include drawing and animation. Of course Zach is amazing and has lots of other interesting projects as well, but again I really appreciated the shout out to women in tech and the encouragement to get more women into the code clubhouse. He mentioned this Etsy Hacker Grant which is a good start, just too bad it’s too late for this year’s batch. But maybe next year?
The Event as Artform
Overall I felt like Eyeo was one of the best festival/conferences I’ve been to in terms of organization and curation. I really appreciated all the built in socialization time. I left out all the awesome evening open bar party time in the summaries above but I feel like that was probably one of the best parts of the whole thing. Even though I normally tend to be a little timid, it was great having the opportunity to mingle with a bunch of smart people working on cool things, including some of the speakers.
Having been to a bunch of events somewhat recently I’ve begun to really pay attention to the overall experience of being at these things, and really appreciate the design of the event in itself. It sort of relates to the presentation as an artform bit. But also this idea that it’s not just about the work, or the speaker, or the presentation, or any one element. Instead it’s about how all those things add up and how this collective experience lives on once the event is over.