Northern Spark Notes

Northern Spark Notes

It was the night after Eyeo and we were chasing each other in giant twisted balloon costumes and running away from giant spirit monsters.

This was all part of Northern Spark, a city wide evening arts festival in Minneapolis. After having spent the past few days talking and looking at screen based projects it was great to see and interact with a variety of physical installations that ranged from low tech to high tech. But the two pieces that stood out were the ones that actually didn’t need any technology at all. They also would have been just as enjoyable any time of the day, which is a constraint I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.

Palace of Wonder by Patty Mitchell and Robert Lockheed was, as our friend Steven said “the happiest happiest time of my life.” It consisted of a large colorful motley palace (in the background above), some monsters, and these large wearable twisty balloon sculptures/costumes. When people talk about immersive experiences, they often talk about projected “caves” or like virtual reality or some other form of highly virtual experience. But you know, wearing these things and embodying the characters was the most immersive experience of the evening. They enabled participants to slip into an imaginary realm within the tangible world. Simple, fun, and highly interactive.

 Swing Hall, Swing All by Keetra Dean Dixon was playfully chaotic, and another great example of how tweaking one simple constraint can entirely change an experience. In this piece a long corridor is lined with evenly spaced out playground swings, except in this case they all swing in the same direction, front to back, in one long line. It starts out in an attempt to coordinate the rhythm of the swinging with everyone, but pretty much always ended in collisions. But it encouraged collaboration and interaction with your neighbors. And it was just a lot of fun.

Technology can definitely create some magical moments, but it’s also important to consider other ways in which we can create memorable and enjoyable experiences for people. Sometimes just putting a Kinect sensor in front of a projection isn’t enough. Not that I don’t love the Kinect (I have several Kinect project ideas in the works) but it seems a lot of the Kinect projects that have been proliferating lately are sort of one trick ponies. What can we do other than wave at the camera?

Leave a Reply