Friday, January 22, 2010


Constructed Narratives

Constructed Narratives at the Kiasma
Museum for Contemporary
Art in Helsinki, Finland.

The Constructed Narratives project has been designed for use in public spaces where there is the opportunity for individuals and groups of people, who are not acquainted with each other, to encounter the game and subsequently each other. The goal is to provide a platform that supports discourse in environments where “keeping comfortable distance” between oneself and others is the norm.

Constructed Narratives is a block-based construction game that is based on the form and function of children’s construction toys but designed primarily for adults.
The act and metaphor of construction is used to demonstrate how a simple artifact, a building block, can be used to make connections and mediate discourse and discovery between collaborating participants who are participating in open self reflective play.

The goal of the Constructed Narratives project was develop a framework to design social interfaces, or “discourse wranglers,” the function it is to facilitate dialogical exchange, and support the inter-subjective contextualization of ideas, assumptions and beliefs among its users. In particular, the research focuses on developing methods to explore the inter-subjective public space and how we generate and can possibly challenge meanings and explanations we generate to understand the events around us.

Constructed Narratives is a mediator, or discourse wrangler, that encourages meaningful dialogical exchange between people in public spaces. The observation, which will vary culturally, is that except under unique circumstances, most people do not engage in meaningful discourse with others they encounter that they do not know, or know well. Meaningful discourse is defined as conversation between individuals that extends beyond basic introductions of name and/or personal logistics. An example of a unique circumstance is when an unusual event occurs that creates a shared experience (i.e. street performer, automobile accident, shared physical experience such as dancing or playing sports, or an unexpected person, animal, thing or event enters the shared space.)

All of these events have the potential to create a common-bond experience – a moment of shared experience or knowledge that places a metaphorical bridge between two people or two “worlds.”


The Dynamo project (2000-2003) was concerned with how to integrate interactive information devices in shared public spaces with the objectives of (i) developing a model of shared interaction, (ii) constructing a working system, and (iii) evaluating the system in a real working context. Our research was timely; it took place against a background of rapid advances in mobile communication technologies, an increase in the availability of online information, a growing prominence of digital display technologies in public spaces and the widespread adoption of low cost personal devices. The research outcomes from the Dynamo project made a number of significant contributions, in terms of understanding, conceptual developments and system architecture.

Very Nervous System

In the 1980s, the Canadian artist David Rokeby programmed an interactive system called Very Nervous System (VNS). This system creates an interactive art space in which the solitary participant's bodily movements are traced by a video camera. The video pictures are transformed into fluctuating digital data, describing the shifting color values of each pixel. These data are then used to generate audible expressions, in some instances in the form of elaborate musical scores, in others as sound modulations. Of course, the data describing the participant’s movements cannot ‘create’ this audible expression, but only execute and modulate stored sounds and scores and align them with the formal and rhythmic quality of the participant’s actions. The feeling of congruence is underpinned by the fact that the computational system works with a minimum of delay, so that the sound is generated simultaneously with the participant's movements. The result is that participants experience a direct correlation between selected parameters of bodily movements and particular sounds, and thus feel that they are actively ‘dancing’ the sound scape and musical scores. But because of the very tight feedback loop the sound also seems to ‘dance’ the participant, triggering new, seemingly unintentional movements.

This paradoxical feeling is further enhanced by the fact that the responses from the computational system are not based on a oneto- one relationship to the quality of the movements, as one might initially suppose. Rather, the algorithmic system brings about little shifts and variations, small enough to ensure the sensation of correlation between sound and movement, and big enough to cause reactions to the triggered sound and music. At this level, VNS – based as it is on the alternation between bodily and audible expression – is more a dialogue machine than a sound triggering machine.

Typical difference in posture for German (crossed
arms) and Japanese (joint hands)

Wave Like an Egyptian

The user’s behavior and his interpretation of interactions with others is influenced by his cultural background, which provides a number of heuristics or patterns of behavior and interpretation. This cultural influence on interaction has largely been neglected in HCI research due to two challenges: (i) grasping culture as a computational term and (ii) infering the user’s cultural background by observable measures. In this paper, we describe how the Wiimote can be utilized to uncover
the user’s cultural background by analyzing his patterns of gestural expressivity in a model based on cultural dimensions.

With this information at hand, the behavior of an interactive system can be adapted to culture-dependent patterns of interaction.

Our cultural backgrounds largely depend how we interpret interactions with others, which aspects we find relevant, and what kind of behavior is deemed annoying or insulting. Culture is pervasive in our interactions and influences for instance how we negotiate or how close we stand to each other during an interaction. Picture above exemplifies typical hand/arm postures of German (crossed arms) and Japanese subjects (joined hands).
If we take the evidence from the literature seriously that users from different cultures interact based on such culture
In Picture: Typical difference in posture for German (crossed arms) and Japanese (joint hands) dependent heuristics, then it is necessary to acknowledge these differences for the design of interfaces.


Zora is a narrative-based graphical multi-user environment purposefully design to help people understand and affect the ways in which identity and values are actively constructed by both an individual and a community. Zora engages young people in building artifacts as representations of their complex self and creating communities in which values and attitudes are put to the test. It supports 1) creation of a virtual city with its different spaces, objects and interactive characters, 2) communication between the users, and 3) introspection about role models, personal and community values. This paper describes the theoretical framework that conceives identity as dynamically constructed by putting together diverse and conflicting elements and values. Based on this framework, Zora’s design principles are presented, as well as preliminary results from a pilot experience in which young people used Zora to learn about identity and values in a hands-on, constructionist way.

There is a growing amount of research on virtual environments which concentrates on characteristics, both from a technical and social perspective, that foster the development of community (Donath, 1996). The work presented in this paper also looks at virtual environments but focuses on issues of personal identity and values. The goal is to develop an approach, both in terms of theory and design principles, to help people learn about their own identity in the real world and the values they live by or consider important. Since identity and values do not develop in a vacuum but in constant relationship with others, a community is needed for this type of learning to happen; therefore the choice of a multi-user virtual environment as the technological infrastructure.


Computer Interactive Proximity and Touch Sensor Driven Audio/Video Installation

Bodymaps: artifacts of touch is a computer interactive sound and video installation recently exhibited at the Western Front Gallery in Vancouver, April '96, Ars Electronica in Lintz Austria from September 2nd to 23rd l996, and at Interaction '97 in Ogaki-City Japan March '97. The piece uses a specially designed sensor surface, embedded with 15 Electromagnetic Field Sensors which operate very much like 15 therapist, and 8 Force Sensing Resistor Sensors which can detect touch, pressure and the amount of force applied to the surface.

Together these sensors lie beneath a white velvet surface upon which is projected images of the artist's body. The surface yearns for contact and touch. Its rule base is complex and subtle, impossible to decode. Its effect is disturbing, erotic, sensual and subjective.

The intention of the work is to subvert the visual/objective relationship between the object and the eye, between click and drag, between analysis and power, to create a relationship between participant and technology that transgresses rules of ownership and objectivity and begs questions of experience, power, and being.

Pakistani-American Artist Challenges Stereotypes

Art Installations are Multi-Media Social Commentary on Women & Power

In this art installation, Chaudhri created an environment where observers walk into a room through a small doorway opening cut into a cloth wall. Upon entering the small white room, they encounter a towering, silent woman dressed in full burqa standing in the center of the room. The woman remains motionless except for engaging the observer with her eyes as an acknowledgment of entrance into her space. Instead of being afraid of making work that appears clichéd, Chaudhri says she “tries to use clichés to [her] advantage…to expand or to destroy them, all the while playing with the biases of the audience.”

Chaudhri would like her art to have the effect of “destabilizing people…to get them out of their own perception of reality – whatever that is.” She uses tools in her art “that give and take away power from the observer…and play with who has control.”

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