Evaluation of the
Specialist Project

BH Digital Media Production

Ilze Kavi Briede
2011

Through the course of my Specialist Project I learned a new set of skills preparing me for the final stage in my BA degree education, namely Extended Major Project. I had to follow strict time management planning in order to meet every small deadline and ensure that my work was up to date and fully progressing. At the start of this project I created a rather small but concise planning sheet with tasks for each week and I succeeded to complete every single one. My online blog is a reflection of the development stages while my sketchbook shows more of my research work and ideas sketching.

For my Specialist Project I have produced a prototype version of a stage installation art piece in conjunction with sound. I have created a 3-dimensional sculptural object consisting of a few pieces suspended in the air and presented using a set design approach:

The idea behind this piece is to create an unusual and artistic solution for projections with prospects to be used on a larger scale for music bands, DJs or an orchestra. This piece should be viewed as a form of art with possibilities to be incorporated in different music events as a visual element. My approach while making it has it’s roots in a necessity to provide a new platform in visual art, using digital tools and to push the boundaries of already existing practice in this medium.

This project consists of a few elements: form, technology and generative visuals. The form is an aspect of the face, technology is explored by use of sensors and the generative side is supported by different software operating in real time and processing data received from sensors. The outcome is presented in the form of a digital canvas mapped onto pieces of a face.

I set out to create a sound responsive visual sculpture. My work consisted of three main stages: exploring the idea of the face, materialising it and working on the style and technicalities of the projections.

Exploring the idea about the face was deepened along with my research subject for my essay. I was looking into aspects of human cognitive faculties of recognising a face, the characteristics of human behaviour in perceiving faces as well as my extensive interest and many years of praxis in drawing faces. All of this contributed to the subject. I came up with very abstract shapes purposely to trigger new sensations in people’s perception which is the underlying purpose of my work. My research was geared towards understanding the science behind the human perception of faces and how I could use these findings to influence the design of my set piece.

Turning my idea into a physical object went quite smoothly. I started off turning the final design into vector graphics and printed it with a laser cutter onto a perspex sheet. Then I added to each piece a relief with the help of a heat gun and sprayed it white to maximise the quality of projection on them. I was very lucky to observe a friend of mine who is a set design student in Costume department and received some valuable advice on how to build a platform of set design of my own. It was my first attempt and I think I have done very well. The idea to use this approach came from looking at different set designs and how clearly they allow a spectator envision a real scene in real theatre set up just by looking at the smaller version of it. This display technique is perfect in being professional and at the same time suitable for showing my idea. I used several sheets of thick black foam-board to build the main structure and PVA glue and metal pins to secure the walls and small copper poles from which I hang the various pieces that make up the face.

The last stage involved aesthetics of the digital generative visuals and programming. I am using four programs which run simultaneously and communicate to each other to satisfy the needs of my project. The first program (Arduino along with the micro controller board) reads analog input (sensors), parses data to a second piece of software called Processing which is generating visual graphics in real time and taking incoming readings from Arduino. The third piece of software called Syphon grabs the screen of visuals and makes it accessible to the fourth piece of software called VPT (Visual Projection Tool) to project these graphical images onto mapped surfaces of the face. VPT is also used to mask the visuals so that they only show up on the face.

The only difficulty I have faced is working with sensors. In order to ensure smooth workflow with electronic components I have to understand the basics of circuit boards and specifications for each sensor. I managed to get the analog readings and implement them into my work but I had difficulty dealing with some errors in readings when the values started to fluctuate on a regular pattern and I couldn’t find the real cause for it. I tried to troubleshoot and rewire the circuit and test for the source of the error and it seemed to be pointing to the arduino board or sensors where my knowledge isn’t broad enough to solve. To overcome this I altered the arduino code to smooth the flow of data coming in to the computer in order to stop the data fluctuating so erratically.

The stylistics of the visuals is minimal and based on simple geometric forms. The reason why I chose working with such shapes is because of inspiration from the artist Bridget Louise Riley and various works from early Op Art (Optical Art) which is rooted in Bauhaus. I found it very exciting and challenging to find the right emphasis on the form using geometrical shapes. In Op Art lines are usually presented on flat surfaces and by specific arrangement they might suggest an optical illusion of 3-dimensions. My work is 3-dimensional already and the reason why I project lines is not to contribute to its shape but to do the opposite. I alter the shape of the line. Straight lines projected on relief surface become curved and it is an optical lie.

From all three stages of my project I found the work with sensors the most challenging. I concluded that in order to achieve an organic union between the sound and the visual sensors had to play a very significant role. It is essential to pair the right sensor with the right musical instrument in order to best represent the instrument through the visuals. Depending upon which sensor is used the musical instrument can be read and interpreted differently by the computer in a number of ways. I found that working with vibration and sound sensors along with a drum kit was not enough. If I will be working with a music band or an orchestra which uses many diverse instruments I will need to have an extensive knowledge in sensor technologies and what is available on the market as well as how practical and reliable they are. If I reflect on my work with the sensors I must say that is is one of the hardest medium I have chosen. I found it hard finding the right sensor to fulfil my exact requirements. This excites me because they are like a representation of the physical world encoded in numbers and it is up to us how we interpret it.

The skills I have learned throughout this unit will allow me to pursue my career as an installation artist. With this piece I am challenging myself to find a form of collaboration with musician or a band which can push my work to a higher level. It will allow me to sell my work and represent it to creative industries as a product with strong artistic value. But to gain such recognition I have to work very hard in order to know the technical side of it. I can see myself working as an artistic director with strong conceptual approach backed up with understanding in technologies and range of possibilities they can be applied to. 

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