As I started my final project, I finally felt a sense of solidification with the concepts described in class. In particular, one of the first articles we ever read by Garnet Hertz described critical media as an intersection between the cerebral nature of critical thinking and the tangibility that arises from production. They asserted that “critical making” could challenge both of these disciplines in the sense that the products made did not have to have explicit practical and convenient function and therefore could challenge the conventional qualifications about what should be considered a product. From the beginning, I know I wanted to design something that was interactive and visual, but with the intention of being cathartic or relatable in some way. It didn’t need to be a strong solution to any particular problem. The tools provided pushed me towards abstraction and emotionality, trying to create a representation of an experience I shared with other people. In this way, it was communicative.
Mindy Seu in “The Poetry of Tools” makes the simple assertion that “tools shape the way we behave.” They are extensions of us and are products that allow us to interact with other products. Learning this new tool over the course of the semester, I can assert that it greatly influenced the way I approached creating. It challenged me in many ways and the outputs often changed my trajectory or inspired different paths. My final product could also be considered a rudimentary tool. It is an audio reactive interface that intends to provide some momentary interest by encouraging unconventional behavior and investigation.
Ultimately, I desired to be intentional and artistic with my design. We discussed technology’s great power to reflect and modify us for better or worse, and in particular how this can happen through an “embodied self.” Our identity within the digital scape has bearing on our attitudes and perspectives. I aimed to imbue enough explicitly human traits to sympathize and yet enough of an abstract sense of “tech” to have a significant impact.
My project is essentially an audio reactive visual. I designed a 3D model heart that is textured by the webcam so the user is divided and reflected all around it.
Sounds produced by the user are translated into a numerical input which affect the model and background, making the heart expand. This is intended to be a representation of strong emotions effect on the body, not necessarily negative. Often, when I am extremely stressed or overwhelmed, there is a surreal sense of disbelief. I am hyper aware of the meaning I am assigning to things and how these calculations are causing me mental and emotional distress. This is represented through the material of the model being a reflection. It is intended to represent self-awareness, self-agency, and yet a sense of fragmentation under the cause of the pressure. The video in the background is the same as the one faded with the webcam footage. This is a similar logic of choice in the sense that individuals become of there environments in a myriad of ways and also have an effect upon their surroundings. I wanted there to be a slight lack of boundary between where the model stopped and the background began. It felt like a good way of displaying a vulnerability of the subject, as if they were becoming the surroundings and losing grounded-ness. I chose a human heart as the model for a few reasons. I was debating between that or a brain, since those are both widely and instantly recognizable body parts that are associated with the stress response. I settled on a heart because I thought it had a better balance of mental and physical connotations and because the pulsation reaction from the audio translated better to this organ. In addition to movement, the model changes color with the expansions. This almost looked like moments before an explosion, and this likewise went with my theme. Thus, I leaned into it.
As a student, I only had true context for what I imagine are the main concerns and emotions of other students. Even so, I think my thesis ties in to broader emotions shared by most of the world, and therefore I don’t consider my audience to be exclusive to this group.
I think my project fits well within the critical making sphere. It was process oriented with intentional decisions designed to call attention to an aspect of society. In this way, it falls under Hertz’s interpretation. One thing I would disagree with however, is the notion that expression should trump technical refinement. As we discussed in class, our world increasingly operates within these digital scapes. As such, a strong level of technical refinement is necessary for effective communication and expression. In this example, I had to get over certain hurdles within Max MSP in order to construct my idea and there wasn’t a way around that. Additionally, I believe strongly that tools and systems should be repurposed and rarely dismantled. The ways in which tech has changed us are opportunities for discussion about the nature of people as creators of an experience. When I designed my project, it was impossible for me to conceptualize it in a way that did not involve technology. It is such a socially ingrained tool.
One thing I found ironic was the way in which, in an effort to create a unique expression of a particular emotion I had to try and generalize it. I was thinking of it in terms of my peers and how the work would be received, what associations would make sense, etc. In this way, I can’t tell if I made the project for myself or others. If I recall correctly, in class we discussed how critical making is rooted in activism and therefore goes beyond the individual artist. I think I feel some sense of satisfaction and connection to something grater through the process of making art about an issue I feel passionately about. At the same time, because of the nature of tools as extensions of us influencing behavior, its hard not to wonder how my expression would have changed if the medium was different.