Spectacle is the ability to prioritize the technical and aesthetic properties of a medium over the conceptual exploration of a medium. Speculation is the ability to prioritize conceptual exploration of a medium over the technical and aesthetic properties of a medium.
Universal Everything's Walking City (2014) is mostly spectacle. The piece explores the methods of animating the walking motion and the transitions between the methods. The character's motion is constant and continuous. The character does not exhibit any emotion and is walking toward nothing. The background is blank. The purpose is to show the animation skill, not display a meaning.
The piece leans toward acceleration, is it shows off a new technical boundary of animation. The piece is very visible, as it very clearly shows what it is demonstrating. It is surplus, as it is useful for future work but useless from a conceptual standpoint. It was created commercially as a technical demonstration of the studio's ability. It shows only function.
Spectacle is most easily recognized in works that milk the most out of current technology--it's usually flashy, engaging, easy to understand, for capital gain.
Speculation pushes the edge of understanding + technology--it is not self conscious, can also be flashy, but also confusing, uncomfortable, in the midst of coming to terms with itself.
Trimalchio, AES+F, 2010
AES+F is an art collective that plays a lot of faux realistic 3D through 3D modeling and photo manipulation. This particular piece, Trimalchio, was made in 2010. It's hard to categorize this as either speculation or spectacle because I think it's so much both (maybe it does reclaim spectacle into speculation). At first glance, the aesthetic is very beautiful, with many references to renaissance/greek god type imagery. But as you watch the videos, the references to all kinds of humanity + culture come out of nowhere, seamlessly blending into this utopic world. I think AES+F uses 3D in an interesting way because it's not the tip top frontier of 3D imaging, yet the blend of photo+manipulation makes it look extremely real. It's the photography that brings it out of uncanny valley, and the very intentional play with scale, imagery, and context that bring it into the weird, which I think is awesome.
Spectacle can be defined as the category containing computational art created by commercial studios and highly funded collectives that focuses on being impressive through scale, detail, or polish.
Speculation can be defined as the computational art, often academic, that yields more freedom to speak critically about society, while usually relying on technicians hired by the artist to handle the technical aspects of the project.
Theo Jansen's Strandbeests, while not fitting totally cleanly into one category or another, definitely align more closely with spectacle. They are an evolved and evolving species of physical sculpture whose evolution (at least that of the mechanical leg components, as the evolution is a mix of computer generation and educated human choices) is driven by an evolutionary algorithm working towards an ideal walk pattern. The project carries little to no social message, and is rather an exploration in the creation of mechanical life forms. Many of the creatures exist on a massive scale. They are incredibly, sometimes twice or three times the height of a human, and their massive sales wave in the wind. They arrest attention as they walk down beaches (their primary habitat).
By the dichotomies presented in Warburton's video, Strandbeests clearly fall more into the category of spectacle. The sculptures' evolution and release seems to indicate a sense of acceleration rather than dragging. While many of the changes may be small, there are moments of major leaps forward in the sculptures' technology. The pieces are massively visible: they are released in public spaces (beaches), move, are mesmerizing to look at, and they are very large objects. They seem to exist in a surplus: there are a lot of these sculptures at various stages of the evolution, many of them move along the same beaches rather than become waste. In a departure from spectacle, though, the sculptures are most certainly art over commerce. They are not designed to be bought and sold, rather they are designed to be observed and appreciated. Finally, they exist somewhere in between function and dysfunction. While the sculptures do not serve a necessary function in society, every iteration of the Strandbeestintroduces some sort of functional mechanical advantage making it a better survivor than the last: better leg part ratios, more efficient methods for capturing energy from the wind, balance or collision avoidance, etc.
This project was intended to be a collaborative bridge builder. When the user presses and holds the mouse, a line appears, centered on the user's mouse, that is two-thirds the size of the gap between the two ground banks. When the mouse is released, physics will begin applying to the line and it will continue to fall downwards unless it is obstructed by something. Since a user can only place one line at a time and no line is the width of the gap, a single user cannot build a bridge by themselves. In order to build a bridge, there must be multiple users collaborating. When the user logs off, though, all the lines they have set down disappear. Thus, if a user wants a bridge that will survive if all the other users logoff, they will have to lay their lines in such a way that they would be able to support themselves without the other user's presence.
Unfortunately, I was unable to get the application to work. I attempted to use glitch.js to allow for the multiple users to interact with the same scene and p2 as the physics engine. Having trouble with the interactivity and physics, I attempted to simplify the project by having the users stack blocks instead of build bridges. While this simplified the interactivity and graphics little bit, it still involved figuring out how to use glitch and p2 together. Because of the server-side preference in glitch, I was unable to get the physics engine in p2 to work properly, as it has to run in the server rather than the browser. In order to get this to work, I would have had to take the mouse data from each user in the browser, send it to the server, which would then create the rigid bodies for the lines and calculate their interactions, and then send all of that data back to the browser. In addition to getting the code to compile with the p2 library, I was unable to figure out how to code the transfer of all this data back and forth in this manner.
While it does not compile, I have attached the app:
Unfortunately, this demo sometimes has issues being embedded due to camera integration. Please run it here if it doesn't work: https://face-game.github.io/
The Face Game is an attempt to create awkward, anonymized interactions by pairing two players' facial expressions.
Players move around their face in various positions without knowing that their picture is being taken. After a few head-moving tasks, players are shown their face side-by-side with other players who have completed the same tasks. The intended affect is to make two players seem like they may be kissing or licking each other. After the game completes, the player's images are upload to a database where (pending approval to filter out NSFW content) they can then be randomly selected to be shown when a new player plays the game. The game's interaction is one-to-many where the many is infinitely growing. The anonymous yet intimate nature of the game makes players both uncomfortable seeing their intimate faces next to a stranger but comfortable in that they don't know the stranger and the stranger did not witness the interaction.
I think that my project is successful in creating an awkward interaction. When I tested the game on my peers, it took them a moment to figure out how to move the cursor, but they then got the hang of it very quickly. One pitfall is that moving the head to the edge of the screen often moves it out of frame if the player is too close to the camera. Another pitfall is in the varying quality of computer webcams. However, the game works fine most of the time. My peers found it odd to see a picture of someone else at the end, but they always laughed. They would then want to play it again and see if they got a different result.
My original idea was to have two face silhouettes side by side. One user on one side and one user on the other. The game would coerce the two players to kiss and then snap a picture. However, this was difficult to implement and hard to understand. I think that the one-to-many approach with the hidden goal is much more successful.
Spectacle is characterized as being more passionate about technology than the underlying theory. Speculation, on the other hand, is tends towards criticism and reflection rather than rapid adoption of new technologies. If technology wasn't advancing so fast, the academia would have caught up, keeping a thorough record of things, putting things in perspective, and constructing relevant theories. But currently, the two fields operate at a different pace with contrasting ethos.
I think Ken Goldberg & Joseph Santarromana's Telegarden (1995) is a great example that marries speculation and spectacle. By incorporating a new and popular technology into a very familiar discourse, they correctly exhibit the current state of technology. More importantly, they speculatively bring the technology into an everyday situation, and engage the audience in contemplating the future. It's full of theory. Below is how I see the work positioned between Warburton's dichotomies:
Brief: There are surprisingly many emojis out there (or more accurately stored in your OS). I wanted to make use of this rich source of images somehow. This Emoji Editor grabs the emojis from the hidden file of your computer, enlarges them, and lets you conveniently reconstruct images. You can create virtually infinite number of combinations with various transformations. The resulting images look familiar, but still feel somewhat different from ones we're used to seeing.
My project is about reaching through a kind of field or veil of abstract shapes to communicate with other people on the other end.
https://the-veil.glitch.me/ - (url because the embed only works in the WordPress preview for me?)
The idea for my project started as a way to play around with interactive, emergent behavior, however, the more I considered this project and its nature and the more I fiddled with my code the more this project because about the various abstractions we use to communicate and interact with one another. I really wanted to play with how much I could limit the rules of interaction while still allowing for that feeling of 'someone on the other end.' In a way, communication it self is just us arranging things such as ink, light, our bodies, or the air around us to get ideas across, so why not add weird glowing circles into the mix?"
(you will probably need to open the app in a new tab to allow webcam permissions, and as far as I know it only works on google chrome.)
My telematic environment shows the optical flow of up to nine users in a square grid. I used oflow.js to find optical flow, and also started with this template that Char made using p5.js and socket.io.
Some things that I appreciate about optical flow after doing this project are that 1) it allows more anonymity than a video chat, and 2) it focuses on expression through movement (change), so nothing will show if you stay still. At times I was worried that the user wouldn't be able to distinguish optical flow from just a pixelated video, but I think that by staring for a bit it becomes apparent that your movements are being tracked.
Something to note with this project is the lag. It can track the optical flow of the user at a fine rate, but transferring all of the flow data takes a while and makes the other squares become choppy. They play about one second behind in time (in the example above you can see that the orange user moves much more fluidly than the others). Since the project was meant to be synchronous, ideally this wouldn't happen, but I think it has an interesting and slightly spooky effect.
Honestly, I struggled with ideas for this project and I wish the final product involved more communication between users. My initial idea was to overlay the feeds on top of each other so people could collaboratively "draw" with their motions, but that was too messy and difficult to discern what was going on, which is why it is a grid now. I also tried having instructions appear on the screen for every user to follow (such as telling them to freeze, or wave at each other), but I removed that since it felt disruptive. Although I like the appearance of the uniform squares, it is a bit of a letdown that they are just 9 independent boxes.
Thank you to Char for the templates, and Golan for the project title!
Visual Echos : Let your interactions leave a visual footprint. WASD to move.
Notes on bugs: A player isn't removed if they disconnect. If you refresh, you will start with a fresh screen, but on everyone else's screen, you will appear as a new player and your old particle will just be a moveable object.
Looks cooler with more people, but also potentially gets buggier.
I wanted to explore equal collaboration/competition, creating an environment where either can manifest. In the process of working with a physics engine, I became interested in incorporating the ceding of control to external forces. In this case, you and the other players may be collaborating, but there is still chaos that hinders that, yet creates satisfying after images. The white line between players makes the canvas itself dynamic, as it erases past drawings.
This is getting into "it's a feature not a bug" territory, but I actually like the freedom you have with the thin lines, because now you have to negotiate the speed of your movements as well, in order to create or avoid creating smooth shapes.
I didn't get to try everything I wanted to do, but I think I touch upon some ideas worth exploring further. I think it lacks a lot polish, in terms of the color choice and overall feel, as I definitely could have fiddled around with the design elements more.
My original idea was to create a many headed worm(inspired in part by the cartoon CatDog), but I think I end up exploring the visuals that result from interactions, rather than the gamified mechanics.
These are some progress screen shots of what it might have looked like with a chalkboard kind of aesthetic.
Some things to explore still:
using real colors
changing the aspect ratio
distinguishing features for the players
Below are some sketches of the original idea. I discovered that you could record the path of the interaction and I thought it might be more interesting to deal with geometric relations instead.