Non-reflecting reflections

We’re continually fascinated by mirrors, the first selfies, regardless of what Borges might sayWired introduces us to the work of interactive artist Daniel Rozin and shows us a few of his mechanical marvels.

This artist makes kinetic ‘mirrors’ that echo your movements
The interactive element is crucial, according to Rozin. “My pieces are very boring when there’s not a person in front of them,” he explains. “But the minute a person stands in front, it takes your image. I try to think that maybe it takes more than your image, that maybe it’s capturing something about your soul and displaying it back to you.”

How this guy makes amazing mechanical mirrors
Daniel Rozin, Artist and Professor, Interactive Telecommunications Program, NYU, makes mechanical “mirrors” out of uncommon objects that mimic the viewer’s movements and form.

Daniel Rozin, “PomPom Mirror,” 2015

As well as creating mirrors from fur and hundreds of stuffed toys, what else could you use? Mud?

Interactive sculptures mirror visitors’ movements in shimmering fabrics and cracked clay
In his recent piece Cracked Mud (2019), a mound of clay pieces undulate and upturn in response to visitors’ movements below a low-hanging orb. The suspended light mimics the sun, hovering over the manipulated and cracked earth below. Another piece, Fabric Mirror (2019), uses a digital camera and 400 motors to capture the movements of those who walk past, imitating their gestures in twisting gold and red fabric. Both works allude to how the sun interacts with our bodies and the earth, the former representing a barren future, while the later explores our reflection bathed in shimmering gold.

The global design collection Universal Everything take a similar but more high-tech approach here, with this installation that greeted visitors to The Barbican’s recent AI: More Than Human exhibition.

Futuristic shapes mirror human movement in a responsive animation by Universal Everything
Future You presents a non-human animated figure that wiggles, shifts, and bends in tandem with the user, presenting up to 47,000 possible variations in appearance. The animation also evolves alongside the user, becoming more agile as it learns movements specific to the visitor’s body.

Future You installation at AI: More Than Human, Barbican, London

This website is so frustrating!

You must check this website out, it’s so bad it’s good.

Behold, the most (intentionally) poorly designed website ever created
Sometimes we take Web and user interface design for granted—that’s the point of User Inyerface, a hilariously and deliberately difficult-to-use website created to show just how much we rely on past habits and design conventions to interact with the Web and our digital devices.

We don’t appreciate how many user interface conventions we take for granted, until they catch us out like this. It’s crammed full of twists and jolts and frustrations. It took me an age to get past just the first page!

Art in the age of Netflix

The Dalí Museum isn’t the only one to use new technologies to draw in the crowds.

The Cleveland Museum studied how to best engage visitors in the age of Netflix. Here’s what they found
The Cleveland Museum of Art’s initiative, an interactive three-room experience (and app) called the ARTLENS Gallery, is one of the more comprehensive projects in the museum-tech sphere. It offers the opportunity for visitors to virtually explore artworks up close, create their own digital compositions, and learn about the museum’s collection by taking pictures with their phones.

To pre-empt any charges of gimmickry, perhaps, the museum conducted a two-year study on digital technology and visitor engagement.

Perhaps the most interesting figure had to do with millennials, an elusive demographic whose attention—and money—has long been coveted by institutions.

Millennials were 15 percent more likely to visit the digital galleries than older adults (44 percent compared to 29 percent, respectively) and 88 percent said that the digital component of their visits made them appreciate the value of an art museum.

“We’re not competing with other museums. We’re competing with Netflix,” says Jane Alexander, the museum’s chief digital officer. “You can be six years or 80 years old, you can have an art history degree or not—we want people to realize there’s something here for everyone.”

Accidentally empowering museum audiences

I’ve always believed that the central tenet of interactive art, borrowed from Quantum Theory, is that the act of observing affects that being observed. Perhaps we could see these two recent news stories as examples of that.

Safe sealed for 40 years until museum visitor spins the dial
“I said, ‘That’s quite the time capsule.’ I said, ‘I’m going to try this now for a laugh.'”

He leaned his ear close to the lock, began cranking the lock and listened intently for the telltale click, click, click.

“I put in 20-40-60, three times right, three times left, one time right. Tried it, it’s like, oh my God.”

The door creaked open. The room filled with a cloud of dust and a round of applause.

“When it opens, total surprise and amazement, right? I have a little bit of luck but hopefully I didn’t use it all up on this one.”

Solved: A case of mistaken identity in a Madrid art museum
Pastor, who is 39 years old and currently living in Luxembourg, was so sure he was looking at Rodin that he thought he had misread the caption. While still in the museum, he began googling Leopold—who is remembered primarily for presiding over a genocide in the Belgian Congo. While the two men clearly shared a resemblance, Pastor couldn’t shake the feeling that this was a case of mistaken identity, and he resolved to get to the bottom of it.

Dalí’s back

Another art and AI post, but with a difference. An exhibition at the Dalí Museum in Florida, with a very special guest.

Deepfake Salvador Dalí takes selfies with museum visitors
The exhibition, called Dalí Lives, was made in collaboration with the ad agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners (GS&P), which made a life-size re-creation of Dalí using the machine learning-powered video editing technique. Using archival footage from interviews, GS&P pulled over 6,000 frames and used 1,000 hours of machine learning to train the AI algorithm on Dalí’s face. His facial expressions were then imposed over an actor with Dalí’s body proportions, and quotes from his interviews and letters were synced with a voice actor who could mimic his unique accent, a mix of French, Spanish, and English.

Behind the Scenes: Dali Lives

Whilst we’re talking of Dalí, let’s go behind the scenes of that famous portrait of him by Philippe Halsman. No flashy, cutting-edge technology this time, just wire, buckets and cats.

dalis-back-2

The story behind the surreal photograph of Salvador Dalí and three flying cats
The original, unretouched version of the photo reveals its secrets: An assistant held up the chair on the left side of the frame, wires suspended the easel and the painting, and the footstool was propped up off the floor. But there was no hidden trick to the flying cats or the stream of water. For each take, Halsman’s assistants—including his wife, Yvonne, and one of his daughters, Irene—tossed the cats and the contents of a full bucket across the frame. After each attempt, Halsman developed and printed the film while Irene herded and dried off the cats. The rejected photographs had notes such as “Water splashes Dalí instead of cat” and “Secretary gets into picture.”

dalis-back-3

Time.com have a great interview with Philippe Halsman’s daughter Irene on what that shoot was like.

The story behind the surrealist ‘Dali Atomicus’ photo
“Philippe would count to four. One, two, three… And the assistants threw the cats and the water. And on four, Dali jumped. My job at the time was to catch the cats and take them to the bathroom and dry them off with a big towel. My father would run upstairs where the darkroom was, develop the film, print it, run downstairs and he’d say not good, bad composition, this was wrong, that was wrong. It took 26 tries to do this. 26 throws, 26 wiping of the floors, and 26 times catching the cats. And then, there it was, finally, this composition.”

Coincidentally, Artnome’s Jason Bailey has been using AI and deep learning to colorize old black-and-white photos of artists, including that one of Dalí’s.

50 famous artists brought to life with AI
When I was growing up, artists, and particularly twentieth century artists, were my heroes. There is something about only ever having seen many of them in black and white that makes them feel mythical and distant. Likewise, something magical happens when you add color to the photo. These icons turn into regular people who you might share a pizza or beer with.

Switched on

Here’s a poetic exploration of the humble light switch, highlighting what may be lost if everything becomes smart.

Let there be light switches – from dark living rooms to dark ecology
It means the resilient light switch, like the door handle, reveals the accumulated touch of all those gone before, a patina of presence. Juhani Pallasmaa said that the doorhandle is the handshake of the building; is the light switch the equivalent for the room?

[…]

Pallasmaa, in his The Eyes of the Skin, noted that touch is a key part of remembering and understanding, that “tactile sense connects us with time and tradition: through impressions of touch we shake the hands of countless generations”. Is this reach for the switch merely functional, then? A light switch can stick around for decades, as with the doorhandle. When you touch the switch, you are subconsciously sensing the presence of others who have done so before you, and all those yet to do so. You are also directly touching infrastructure, the network of cables twisting out from our houses, from the writhing wires under our fingertips to the thicker fibres of cables, like limbs wrapped around each other, out into the countryside, into the National Grid.

If we always replace touch with voice activation, or simply by our presence entering a room, we are barely thinking or understanding, placing things out of mind. While data about those interactions exist, it is elsewhere, perceptible only to the eyes of the algorithm. We lose another element of our physicality, leaving no mark, literally. No sense of patina develops, except in invisible lines of code, datapoints feeding imperceptible learning systems of unknown provenance. As is often the case with unthinking smart systems, it is a highly individualising interface, revealing no trace of others.

I think I now need to re-read Bret Victor’s take on the future of interaction design, that I mentioned earlier.

Pictures under glass

Following on from yesterday’s post about Joe Clark’s frustrations with various aspects of iPhone interface design (and smartphone design more broadly, I think), here are a few more.

First, Craig Mod on the new iPads — amazing hardware, infuriating software.

Getting the iPad to Pro
The problems begin when you need multiple contexts. For example, you can’t open two documents in the same program side-by-side, allowing you to reference one set of edits, while applying them to a new document. Similarly, it’s frustrating that you can’t open the same document side-by-side. This is a weird use case, but until I couldn’t do it, I didn’t realize how often I did do it on my laptop. The best solution I’ve found is to use two writing apps, copy-and-paste, and open the two apps in split-screen mode.

Daily iPad use is riddled with these sorts of kludgey solutions.

Switching contexts is also cumbersome. If you’re researching in a browser and frequently jumping back and forth between, say, (the actually quite wonderful) Notes.app and Safari, you’ll sometimes find your cursor position lost. The Notes.app document you were just editing fully occasionally resetting to the top of itself. For a long document, this is infuriating and makes every CMD-TAB feel dangerous. It doesn’t always happen, the behavior is unpredictable, making things worse. This interface “brittleness” makes you feel like you’re using an OS in the wrong way.

How we use the OS, the user interface, is key. Here’s Bret Victor on why future visions of interface design are missing a huge trick – our hands are more than just pointy fingers.

A brief rant on the future of interaction design
Go ahead and pick up a book. Open it up to some page. Notice how you know where you are in the book by the distribution of weight in each hand, and the thickness of the page stacks between your fingers. Turn a page, and notice how you would know if you grabbed two pages together, by how they would slip apart when you rub them against each other.

Go ahead and pick up a glass of water. Take a sip. Notice how you know how much water is left, by how the weight shifts in response to you tipping it

Almost every object in the world offers this sort of feedback. It’s so taken for granted that we’re usually not even aware of it. Take a moment to pick up the objects around you. Use them as you normally would, and sense their tactile response — their texture, pliability, temperature; their distribution of weight; their edges, curves, and ridges; how they respond in your hand as you use them.

There’s a reason that our fingertips have some of the densest areas of nerve endings on the body. This is how we experience the world close-up. This is how our tools talk to us. The sense of touch is essential to everything that humans have called “work” for millions of years.

Now, take out your favorite Magical And Revolutionary Technology Device. Use it for a bit. What did you feel? Did it feel glassy? Did it have no connection whatsoever with the task you were performing?

I call this technology Pictures Under Glass. Pictures Under Glass sacrifice all the tactile richness of working with our hands, offering instead a hokey visual facade.

And that was written in 2011. We’ve not got any further.

The YouTube video he links to isn’t there anymore, but this one from Microsoft works just as well.

Years ago and years away

I’m getting impatient for the future, it’s not coming quick enough.

Microsoft has been dreaming of a pocketable dual-screen Surface device for years
The Verge revealed last week that Microsoft wants to create a “new and disruptive” dual-screen device category to influence the overall Surface roadmap and blur the lines between what’s considered PC and mobile. Codenamed Andromeda, Microsoft’s project has been in development for at least two years and is designed to be a pocketable Surface device. Last week, Microsoft’s Surface chief, Panos Panay, appeared to tease just such a machine, built in collaboration with LG Display. We’re on the cusp of seeing the release of a folding, tablet-like device that Microsoft has actually been dreaming of for almost a decade.

That was earlier this month, but here’s something from 2015 — concepts from years ago and still years away.

Microsoft obsesses over giant displays and super thin tablets in future vision video
While everyone is busy flicking and swiping content from one device to another to get work done in the future, it’s nice to see there’s still a few keyboards laying around. Microsoft also shows off a concept tablet that’s shaped like a book, complete with a stylus. The tablet features a bendable display that folds out into a bigger device. If such a tablet will exist within the next 10 years then I want to pre-order one right now.

But consider this:

Imagining Windows 95 running on a smartphone
Microsoft released their Windows 95 operating system to the world in 1995. 4096 created an amusing video that imagines a mobile edition of Windows 95 running on a Microsoft-branded smartphone. Move over Cortana, Clippy is making a come back.

It’s all very amusing to think of such old technology in this new setting, but we’ll be laughing at how old-fashioned the iPhone X is soon enough, I’m sure.

Twine, for telling interactive, non-linear stories

"You don’t need to write any code to create a simple story with Twine, but you can extend your stories with variables, conditional logic, images, CSS, and JavaScript when you’re ready. Twine publishes directly to HTML, so you can post your work nearly anywhere. Anything you create with it is completely free to use any way you like, including for commercial purposes."

http://twinery.org/

In(ter)activity

interactivitySpeaking as an old Interactive Arts graduate, this Onion article really struck a chord and had me shouting “Yes! Exactly!” at the screen over and over again.

Internet users demand less interactivity
‘We Just Want To Visit Websites And Look At Them,’ Users Say

Tired of being bombarded with constant requests to share content on social media, bestow ratings, leave comments, and generally “join in on the discussion,” the nation’s Internet users demanded substantially less interactivity this week. […]

Speaking with reporters, web users expressed a near unanimous desire to visit a website and simply look at it, for once, without having every aspect of the user interface tailored to a set of demographic information culled from their previous browsing history. In addition, citizens overwhelmingly voiced their wish for a straightforward one-way conduit of information, and specifically one that did not require any kind of participation on their part. […]

“Every time I type a web address into my browser, I don’t need to be taken to a fully immersive, cross-platform, interactive viewing experience,” said San Diego office manager Keith Boscone. “I don’t want to take a moment to provide my feedback, open a free account, become part of a growing online community, or see what related links are available at various content partners.”

“All I want is to go to a website, enjoy it for the time I’ve decided to spend there, and then move on with my life,” he continued. “Is that so much to ask?” […]

In addition to demanding less interactivity, Internet users requested fewer links and clickable icons connected to social media outlets through which they could email, share, tweet, pin, blog, or re-blog content. Many said that when they did come across something they found interesting or amusing, nine times out of 10 they just wanted to keep it to themselves.

“Don’t always ask me to send everything I’ve read to everyone I know. And by the same token, I don’t need to know if they’ve read the same thing. That information means nothing to either of us,” said Glendale, AZ shopkeeper Dan Allenby, who could not think of a single instance where it would be helpful to sign into another website through his Facebook account. “If I wanted to tell someone about something, I’ll just tell them individually. Or better yet, they’ll stumble across it on their own.”

The header image for the article is great, just people reading the web, but sat next to it are the obligatory share-this-with-everyone buttons showing some impressive scores, so whilst it’s hitting a nerve with me, there are plenty of others on the other side of the in(ter)activity fence.