On Designing Interactive Performative Space with Responsive Computational System
This thesis focuses on studying interactive space and the people within from a performative perspective. Through constant forming and reforming, an interactive space provides opportunities to create a new kind of performance experience — an interactive performative event. The potentials in applying responsive computational technology into making the space truly interactive and performative is discussed in depth. By conducting three design experiments and reviewing relevant works in the field, I attempt to propose a framework which can be applied in making interactive performative space.
The idea of combining architecture with performance lies in the centre of my research interest. As Rufford puts it in the book Theatre & Architecture:
Architecture articulates space, giving it a particular function and feel. Staging a performance is about acting in architecture: it is a practice that demands we pay attention to distance, style, person-to-volume ratio and the immaterial architectures of light, heat and sound.
(Rudfford, 2015, p.4)
Performance is a temporal art but it is highly influenced by the size, shape and materials of the space where it happens. Architecture, on the other hand, is a spatial art that requires the knowledge of geometry, mathematics, human anatomy and astrology (Vitruvius, c.25 BCE). They are interconnected as they both share the attributes of spatiality: performance is a spatial event while architecture provides the space where events happen.
It struck me when I first discovered the possibility of approaching performance and architecture as one subject rather than as two when working with Chaoge Wang in 2017, a director who is famous for creating large scale site-specific immersive theatre work in China. I worked as a set designer responsible for developing an immersive theatre for her new work ‘Again, HeNan'(2020). The work unfolds as an audience of two hundred journey from set to set, room to room in four built spaces where performances took place in multiple directions, including above the audience’s sightlines. Our team worked closely with the architecture team who were responsible for designing the building where all the sets are sited. The resulting work was a combination of architecture, performance, theatre stage, film set, installation art, new media art which are all built and created specifically for the play. ‘Again, HeNan’ combines performance and architecture in such a deliberate but natural way where the space only exists for the performance and the performance can only happen in that space. Robert Wilson and Hans Peter Kuhn’s H.G. is another example of this kind of performance work (1995). The performative event is designed to happen at different but connected places in various rooms and areas in The Clink Street Vaults in London. In these settings, visitors found carefully placed beds, shoes, plants etc. that all together creating a sense of the everyday. The performance here is no longer a classic theatrical act nor does the space a traditional architectural building. They merge into a new form of existences. The space, the objects, the performer, the audience and the performance itself all become one entity.
It is noticeable that the definition of performance and architecture have significantly shifted from what they were in eighteenth century in the cases above. Pitches & Popat (2011) examine the performance from six aspects of performance — body, space, time, technology, interactivity and organization in the book performance perspectives. They point out the meaning of performance has become more extended. It is now widely interoperated both in strictly artistic terms and as simple action in everyday life. The sense of performance spanning both everyday and specialized cultural domains has been one of the main fields of performance studies over the last decades (Pitches & Popat, 2011). Similarly, architecture has been approached in a much broader framework with the advancement with STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and mathematics, challenging the limits of current processes and practices (Rufford, 2015). Computational generated, analytical programmed hi-tech strands of architecture come into the field as major architecture schools like Bartlett School of Architecture, MIT School of Architecture and Planning and increasingly architecture firms are taking up this approach. From various perspectives within performance and architecture study, I will narrow my research down to examine the concept of the “performativity” within the framework of spatial design specifically of those which involves interactive computation. This paper focuses on exploring the principles involved in using digital and new media technologies to make space that can genuinely be experienced as interactive performance. The technologies referred to in the paper are confined to a real-time responsive system to collect data from the electronically sensitised environment my collaborators and I have created whilst generate behavioural change of the space.
This thesis attempts to analyse the core of creating interactive performative space with responsive computational system and to propose a model that can be referred to when designing such space. It is written in two chapters. Part one examines the concept of “performative” and “interactive” in the context of designing space with responsive technology. I begin by reviewing both key terms in performance and architecture studies from a theoretical perspective. I then proceed to adapt and expand the definition of “performative” and “interactive” into designing space with digital and new media technology by surveying practical works relevant to this field of study. Trying to pinpoint the particular elements: the use of responsive computational technology as the fundamental element that make up interactive performative space, I propose a system that can possibly address the theoretical and technical design process of creating such space.
In order to test the model that I proposed in Part One, in Part Two I conducted three design-based experiments collaborating with my colleagues at Interactive Architecture Lab to further investigate how space can interact with people and perform. First experiment RE-FIT questions how a person can project his/her own existence to a virtual space and being influenced on his/her own existence. Second experiment LUMINA focuses on how space can be created and translated to bodily movements. Third experiment QUANTUMminus explores how autonomous robotic system and augmented reality technology can help create a mixed reality space which constantly changes itself responding to the person in it. Following each experiment, I discuss in more depth how in a range of ways “performative” and “interactive” can be implemented with responsive technology, comparing similar works from the field to mine.
1.1 Definition of ‘performative’ and ‘interactive’
The term ‘performative’ first appeared in the context of philosophy of language in 20th century by John Langshaw Austin in his philosophical lectures How to do things with words (1962). In the context of speech acts, he defined “performatives” or “performative utterances” as the act of doing something other than describing something. The statement is not truth-evaluable but rather “happy” or “unhappy”. Later when Judith Butler (1994) adopted the use of the word in the context of identity, she redefined the meaning as a ‘stylised repetition of acts which reiterate and reinforce a set of norms’. “Performativity”, as a complex concept deeply rooted in philosophical discourse, is often interpreted in two types: one is its application in performance and the other one is its application in events in which the environment constantly develops itself (Rubidge, 2009).
The second example implies that the space and the occupants are both considered as active entities that make up the performance. This can be best supported by Michel de Certeau’s interpretation of human bodies in urban spaces. In chapter Walking In The City in his book The Practice of Everyday Life (2011), he offers a poetic and practical framework for understanding the dynamic relationship between the bodies and the space. He claims that the anonymous, random and ‘undirected’ passengers in an urban space, knowingly or not, switch between the roles of being the performer and the viewer at times in the event. In another words, passengers walk on different paths with different rhythms in the space. They meet each other, avoid each other, constantly making decisions of their next steps. In this setting, the passengers are always looked at by the others whilst watching the others. And for people who are not in the scene, the temporal geometrical or geographical shapes of the group also can be regarded, at another level, as a performance.
The term “interactive” implies “a reciprocal relationship between the individual and the larger institutions” (Rufford, 2015). When talking about interaction within a reciprocal mechanism, it is important to look at the fundamental concepts in the context of cybernetics study. Cybernetics essentially studies the use of feedback loops within machines or living structures. First order cybernetics explores the feedback loop between two variables with the observer being outside of the loop. Second order cybernetics, proposed as ‘cybernetics of cybernetics’ by Heinz von Foerster, refers to the feedback loop of cybernetics to itself with the observer being within the system. The “interactivity” discussed in this thesis only refers to the second order cybernetics because people who influence the spaces are also part of the system in my case. Van Foerster (2003) also wrote in Cybernetics of Cybernetics that ‘the observer who enters the system shall be allowed to stipulate his own purpose: he is autonomous’. By recognizing the importance of the observer’s autonomy, he confirms that the observer is aware of its own role and also of its relative role in the cycle.
A good example of adopting a responsively incursive mechanism can be seen in Henri Lefebvre’s book In The Production of Space (1991). He claims that the space itself needs to be considered as an integral aspect of the performance experience and such space is created and defined through the distinctive activities which take place there. It is worth noticing that, in the book, he claims the people in the space as spatial bodies which can be considered as machine:
A body so conceived, as produced and as the production of a space, is immediately subject to the determinants of that space … the spatial body’s material character derives from space, from the energy that is deployed and put to use there. Considered as a ‘machine’, the spatial body is two-sided… the notion of a two-sided machine naturally implies interaction within its bipanite structure. This machine’s devices for the emission and reception of small-scale energies lie in the sensory organs, the afferent and efferent nerve pathways, and the brain…the same goes for the coexisiting tendencies to explore space and to invade it.
(Lefebvre, 1991, p.195)
This paragraph clearly states that the body in the space, in and of itself, can be considered as a machine which reflects and refracts the environment. As a two-way autonomous machine, the body can also adapt and influence the space through various activities whilst maintaining its own goal. Together, the environment and the body become a Deleuzean machinic assemblage. The body or the space is neither individual object nor a collection of parts — rather it is an assemblage of spatial flows and interactions. Â The concept of ‘assemblage’ rose from the A Thousand Plateaus by Deleuze and Guattari (1987). It has been further developed by Dovey(2010) and other scholars into a spatial and social theory. An assemblage is machinic in nature. It is not a thing nor a collection of parts. Assemblages are ‘wholes whose properties emerge from the interactions between parts’ (DeLanda, 2006). All the parts connect in certain ways and the connection itself makes it a dynamic process. Assemblage has a fourfold structure from the intersections of two primary axes (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987). The first of these axes opposes and connects materiality to formal expression; the second axis, construed as vertical, involves an opposition and movement between the formation and erasure of territory (Dovey, 2013).
Applying the idea of assemblage to the concept of spatial design, a space is physical but not fixed. The materiality of a space is manifested in the existence of the parts which make up the space. However, the state of the steadiness of space is always temporal as the space is becoming rather than being. It is always in a state of forming and reforming.
1.2 Implications of the Fun Palace
In further investigating in the possible ways of combining space and performance, I look into the potentials of a reciprocal relationship between architecture and performance. Specifically, how space performs and how performance is spatialized by the events happening. The example that best responds to my question would be the Fun Palace project conceived by architect Cedric Price in collaboration with Joan Littlewood and Gordon Pask (1961).Â
tarted in 1962, the theater producer Joan Littlewood hired Cedric Price to put her long-time vision of creating ‘a laboratory of fun’ or a ‘university of the streets’ into reality (Mathews, 2006). Littlewood wanted to create a new kind of theater where people of all walks of life could come together sharing and co-creating the experiences (Littlewood, 1995). She saw place, space, and art in architecture as living experience, ‘a way of life’ (Machon, 2013). Cedric Price who believed that the correct use of new technology would benefit in building responsive architecture came up with a proposal to build an interactive and improvisational building for such purpose (Glynn, 2005).
As a result, Fun Palace was designed as a socially interactive virtual machine that could adapt to visitors’ needs and the many activities taken place there. Based on the theory of feedback loop from cybernetics and the application of uncertainty from game theory, the building blocks of the Fun Palace would be ceaselessly moving and forming different spatial compositions according to the current needs from the visitors. A program that could take the current needs as input and give how the blocks move as output would be created for running the Fun Palace. According to Mathews,
The program of the Fun Palace was therefore not the conventional sort of diagram of architectural spaces but much closer to what we understand as the computer program: an array of algorithmic functions and logical gateways that control temporal events and processes in a virtual device.
Though never built, the Fun Palace — bridging performance and spatial theory in a completely new way — has become a paradigm for architects or artists including myself to look at for making the performance, the space and the people as a unified entity. ‘The paradigm of the machine became the foundation for modernism in action, through its role in the programmes of social engineering that architecture was enjoined to carry out in the post-war decades.’ (Hillier, 2004). Fun Palace centers the physical environment around human activities. It can be considered as a powerful response to Hillier’s spatial configuration principle. According to Hillier, the central way in which the physical environment contributes to human life is through configuration (Seamon, 2003). In Space Is the Machine, Hillier defines spatial configuration as the tool that makes physical environment contribute to human life.
Certain configuration of a space can induce specific behaviors from people, and vice versa. A recent example of this kind is the Bund Finance Centre in Shanghai, designed by Fosters + Partners and Heatherwick Studio (2017). The building is encircled by a moving veil which is made of three tracks of 675 bamboo-shaped tubes. As each track is able to move independently, the veil thus can change its own form and the use of the building. The building in this case is a performative machine which responds to the spatial and social needs. Through the design of architecture, people and the physical environment become inescapably related. To some extent, people are pre-programmed by the types of the association between the design of architecture and its function to behave in certain ways. This idea that architecture is machine and people are also machinic opens up new approach to study the design of a space, connecting physical with potential. Like Deleuzean assemblage, the space itself, like a machine, perform. Unlike Deleuzean assemblage, the flows between the space and people are not organic, but instead are carefully and interactively designed with specific rules. Despite of the differences, however, the continuous exchange between the space and the people never ceases.
1.3 Developing an Interactive Performative Space: Case Studies Review
Drawing heavily on the assemblage theory of Deleuze and spatial configuration principle of Hillier, in this thesis I discuss the thinking behind designing a space of becoming. As humans, we are always in a continuous process of changing and becoming yet space is, on the surface, relatively stable. I’m interested in exploring how in various ways spaces come into changing and becoming; in other words, come into momentary or temporary state of being. Through a broad range of case studies from studios and artists in the field, several key factors which facilitate the creation of a truly interactive and performative space are identified and explored in the following sections.
New performances, blurring the line between dance, film, theatre, installation, architecture and technology, have brought a period of profound change. These performances combine and manipulate images, lights, sounds, and space in real-time along with live elements in performance creating new performative dynamics and aesthetics (Broadhurst & Machon, 2006). Susan Kozel and Gretchen Schiller’s trajets (2001) and Sarah Rubidge and Alistair MacDonald’s Sensuous Geographies (2003) both employ a diverse range of interactive technologies into the performative scenes. In these installation environments, because the design of the interactive installation requires visitors to actively engage with it, the visitor’s behaviour together with the movement of the installation create a performative space.
In trajets (2001), twelve screens are suspended from the ceiling. Each of the screen is motorised gently rotating in response to the visitor’s bodily movements. Videos showing traces of human movement are projected to each screen. The projected footages, according to Schiller (2005), are at times figurative and at other times abstract. When visitors walk through the space, they trigger the screens to spin around them. The rotational speed, the angle, and the direction of the screen is in direct relation to the behaviour of the visitor. In return, the visitors’ movements are affected by the rotations of the screens and the videos shown on the screens. These screens can be seen as flexible walls co-existing with moving bodies (the visitors) inside the space. With constant moving and repositioning of both the screens and the visitors, the architecture of the space forms and reforms itself at all times.
In Sensuous Geographies (2003), visitors are invited into a spatialized sound environment where their bodily movements were translated into acoustic compositions. The visitors are covered with silk robes of red, green, blue or yellow full bodily in the space which allows colour-tracking technology. The whole area is electronically designed to use the visitor’s moving trajectory towards the centre of the space as the source to generate or manipulate sound. According to the colour, each visitor is assigned with a specific sound when entering the scene. As they move towards the central area, the sound’s tempo, pitch and quality change responding to the velocity, direction of the visitors and the distance between visitors. A fluid landscape that consists of invisible sound layers is thus formed. Like trajets, the installation Sensuous Geographies applies mapping feedback mechanism between the visitor’s bodily movements and the spatial compositions to not only create a dynamic space of sound but also a piece of improvised group choreography.
It is worth noting that the constructed environments discussed above are both within the framework of Deleuzean assemblage. The viewers, the installations, the flow exchanged between the two create machinic spaces. The flow exchanged in these installations serves as the key factor to create such an interactive environment. This feedback mechanism is at the heart of the study of cybernetics. First order cybernetic systems introduce the feedback loop as the exchange of the information between the system and its environment. Second order cybernetic systems nest a first-order cybernetic system within another one (Glanville, 2003). In trajets and Sensuous Geographies, a second-order feedback loop exists in each pair of visitor-installation modular unit. Each installation (the object) itself is a first-order cybernetic system. Triggered by the movements of the visitor, it keeps updating its position which in return effects how the visitor moves. Unwittingly, the viewers who are experiencing the interactive installations become part of them. With choreographic strategies, visitors encounter the space, the others and themselves through the responsive computerized system.
The act of performing in these constructed environments is embodied in three senses:
- the installation itself is performing in the eyes of visitors
- the visitors are performing with the installation in the eyes of other visitors
- the space which consists of the visitors and the installations is performing in the eyes of the people outside
These spaces are designed to be interactive and performative in modular unit. Networks of interactive devices and interfaces can create semantic relationships that results in different spatial tensions and volumes (Davidson, 2016). The modular unit, if connected, can thus create a variety of unique communication patterns. How units are connected defines the invisible structure of the physical space, for it is the networks of the information flow that guide the visitor’s path.There are many works that explore different forms of relationship between the modular interactive units within a responsive system. TeamLab, a studio who have gained international reputation in creating sensory-responsive environments, tries to answer this question with their large-scale immersive digital art museum teamLab Borderless. This 10,000sqm museum is divided into five large spaces that all together inhabit more than 50 artworks. The boundary between the spaces is blurred and almost invisible transforming into each other with carefully designed connecting corridors.
TeamLab Borderless is a group of artworks that form one borderless world. Artworks move out of the rooms freely, form connections and relationships with people, communicate with other work, influence and sometimes intermingle with each other, and have the same concept of time as the human body. People understand and recognize the world through their bodies, moving freely and forming connections and relationships with others. They lose themselves in the artwork world. The borderless works transform according to the presence of people, and as we immerse and meld ourselves into this unified world, we explore a continuity among people, as well as a new relationship that transcends the boundaries between people and the world.
(From teamLab official website https://borderless.team-lab.cn/en/)
TeamLab employs a variety of sensory technologies to capture the movement of the visitor’s body in each space. With the language of image, light, sound, the visitors exchange his/her presence with the art works. The exchange happens through a network of sensory interactive systems. Activated by motion, touch, and shadow, the visitors affect the artworks in accordance with the other visitors. The artworks are consequently unique in every second as it is the combination of the viewers’ behaviours and current artworks appearance determines the future shape of the artworks. In this sense, the artworks and the visitors only come into ‘being’ temporarily. The space thus is only territorialised from time to time but are always subject to deterritorialisation. The space comes into being only as a temporary state. This unpredictable, non-repetitive state of being comes from the inter-connected, organic, and growing network of all the interactive relationships in the space.
The interactive behaviour between each visitor to artwork or visitor to visitor can be regarded as an interactive unit in the responsive system which is the space itself. The pattern of the network is rhizomatic rather than hierarchical. Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (1980) in A Thousand Plateaus define rhizome as an a-centred multiplicity – multiple multiplicities with no pre-existing structure. Multiplicity can be understood as magnitude and dimensions that can’t change in numbers without completely changing its nature. Each interactive unit in teamLab’s responsive environment is like multiplicity unit. Any unit can be connected or disconnected to any other no matter how similar or different. The connection between each interactive unit can be broken off at any point but it can also start off again. Sometimes radical, sometimes subtle, the ever-changing network of a rhizomatic interactivity help break boundaries between the art works and visitors, creating a truly borderless world.
The works reviewed above are all interactive and performative in different senses. However, it is noticeable that they share common features. The space is comprised of ‘choreographic’ objects which respond to visitors’ certain behaviours. These ‘choreographic’ objects can be installation objects, projected artworks, movable lights or in Sensuous Geographies’ case, even sound. The interactivity between the ‘choreographic’ objects and visitors exists in unit level. Individually or collectively, these interactive units connect with each other, generating a rhizomatic pattern of communication flow. As a result, the space itself appears to be performative and interactive in multiple perspectives.
Concluding from what have been discussed in part one, a truly interactive and performative space should be autonomous and communicative in itself. With the evolving technology, sensing and responding in real-time, I propose a new way of thinking the configuration of an interactive, performative space. Identifying the importance of combining feedback mechanism, rhizomatic practice, and choreographic objects, I attempt to draw a framework to create such a space with these quintessential elements. Build upon these key features, I collaborate with my colleagues from Interactive Architecture Lab to test and improve my theory with our design experimentations.
2.1 Experimental Projects: RE-FIT
In a collaborative project Kongpyung Moon, Shodai Kayama, Jowin Foo, Weichen Tang, Dalia Todary-Michael (2018), and I designed an interactive projected spatial environment RE-FIT that responded to the visitors’ motions. We set out to transform the conventional two-dimensional wall into a three-dimensional interactive virtual space. The projected environment was generated from a controlled replication of cubicle space comprised of particle mesh walls. The walls were interactive, malleable in shape responding to the real-time dynamics of visitors’ motions. The visitors’ movements were tracked with Kinect camera which is connected to the scripted program on the same laptop. Identifying the skeletons of the visitors, the scripted program could then respond to the movements of the bodies. Standing at different spots in front of the projected wall, the mesh at corresponding spots in the virtual space would extrude and contract, changing its shape. Visitors recognized their presence in the virtual space purely by discovering the deformation of the mesh. Unknowingly, the visitors were moving full bodily trying to ‘see’ themselves. With this design, I wanted to explore the feedback mapping mechanism between the environment and bodily movements.
During 2019 Neuroscience BrainPower Festival, visitors of all ages were invited to interact with RE-FIT installation, to play with the projected environment. At the beginning before they stepped into RE-FIT, the visitors saw an empty three-dimensional space made of the mesh displayed on a large screen of man’s height. Once they stepped into the scene, the meshed walls were deformed responding to where they existed in the virtual space, that is their placement in the physical space. Two visitors were allowed each time to interact with the projected mesh space. For the exhibition, we added a new feature to the set the colour of the mesh to the proximity of the visitors to the screen.
During the show, it is quite common to see visitors moved, jumped, swirled only to find out where they were in the virtual projected world in front of them. When they realized they could not only affect the floor of the virtual world but also the walls and the ceilings, they tended to move in even bigger gestures, extending their arms, kicking their legs, reaching to the air, sometimes even working together to make the mesh extruding in larger scale. Standing outside of the picture, I found their movements together with the evolving mesh as background aesthetically beautiful and interesting. Mesh became the element that connected the physical space where the visitors stood to the virtual space where their presence were projected. In other words, the visitors became the mesh that transcended the boundaries between the real and unreal.
Results and Discussion
In designing RE-FIT, I intended to study the mutually constitutive processes of mapping bodily movement to the environment. The feedback mechanism was only designed to happen at one single level of interaction: visitors interact with the projected mesh by moving their bodies. Surprisingly, I found the visitors often were encouraged to move even more by seeing the changes in projected space. I realized that the feedback mechanism in RE-FIT not only existed at a mechanical level but also at a perceptive level. The virtual mesh space was not perceived as a projected image, but a dynamic environment within which visitors felt their presence. It didn’t separate the visitors’ actions to their reactions. Instead, it helped to give feedback experience to the visitors affecting their perception of their own existence.
Another interesting finding is that visitors who were not willing to participate in our space quite often would stand outside watching others interacting with RE-FIT. Schiller (2005) also identifies this phenomenon and defines it as a performative event. Like visitors in trajets, the participatory visitors in RE-FIT were unwittingly performing for the other participants who are outside the constructed environment. The space designed to be interactive becomes performative. This owes much to the feedback mechanism that is heavily based on bodily movements. While focusing on physical movements, this mechanism provides a platform extending the interactive object to a performative event.
2.2 Experimental Projects: LUMINA
In a collaborative project with Claudia Cortes and Danniella Viazarra (2019), we designed an immersive interactive light installation Lumina which translated bodily movements to the compositions of light rays.
During Bartlett 2019 Design for Performance and Interaction (DfPI) Project Fair, visitors to the Lumina installation were given tracking wearables that registered their bodily positions and postures. When they entered the dark enclosed space where Lumina was hung, they then would be given a pair of headphone through which Bu Ert Joroin by Olafur Arnalds (2003) was playing. As they stood underneath Lumina, their positional data was then collected and manifested into different compositions, colours, and intensities of eight light rays that moved around them from above, forming a cone shape. While Lumina is a single user experience, the light made the use’s bodily presence visible to others. Lying or sitting down on cushions on the floor, other visitors watched the user interacting with Lumina as a performance while waiting for their turns to experience it. It became apparent when researching further that Sensuous Geographies and trajets also exhibited this feature.
As the light rays expanding, contracting and shifting colours responding to the user’s movement, Lumina becomes the representation of the user himself/herself. By shooting the ever-changing beams of light into the misty dark space, a sculptural quality emerges transforming the intangible to the tangible. The user doesn’t manipulate the light directly by our design. Instead, he/she is changing the reflection of the light. The light rays around the user are caused by reflecting a single light source with eight individual acrylic mirrors. The mirrors are attached to eight stepper motors that are electronically and digitally programmed to rotate the mirrors in relation to the users’ hands and body positions. The data was in real-time collected, analysed and translated into different forms, colours, and intensities of light rays. Standing within the light forms, the body becomes the space and vice versa. It is the user him/herself whose bodily presence defines the existence of the space. The boundary between body and space is completely blurred by Lumina.
Results and Discussion
Lumina is designed to be a choreographic object that brings one’s presence to life as colourful, ever-evolving light. A second-order cybernetic feedback loop is embedded in the system to encourage its user to explore his/her own bodily movements. Surrounded by immersive light and sound, Lumina helps the user to come to centre with the body and the mind.Many users of Lumina have confirmed that they felt being transported out of the current space feeling peaceful. Elegantly moving, Lumina made each user’s presence visible and performative to others. It was during the exhibition that I realized that the user, Lumina and the inhabited space all became one entity which was represented by light. Through light, performativity and interactivity were truly integrated in real-time. Interpreting choreographic object in the context of what the object causes rather than what the object does brings me new perspectives of looking at Lumina.
Performativity and interactivity can be interpreted at different levels with Lumina. First, Lumina itself is an exquisite instrument that moves with its user. It is performative and interactive to the user who is standing underneath it. We found all the users kept watching Lumina as they moved when exhibiting. They kept moving, trying to find how Lumina was shooting the light rays around them. Second, the user improvises with his/her arms and body initiating and responding to Lumina. Unknowingly, the user becomes the performer of the interactive performance. The user in this case is truly a two-way autonomous machine like what Lefebvre discusses: the user reflects what’s in the environment and influence the environment. The user keeps updating himself/herself while experiencing continuous movement feedback.
Additionally, the light rays caused by Lumina forms a ‘stage’ that is ever-changing and responsive to the performance content. The user defines the his/her own ‘stage’ with the encounter with Lumina. In other words, the ‘stage’ itself is performing. This dynamic structural relationship between each element continuously updates the appearance of the whole scene. The space is not active rather static.
2.3 Experimental Projects: QUANMTUMminus
In collaboration with Jingcheng Xie (2019), I am in the process of developing autonomously flying balloon robots that can communicate with each other and interact with visitors, envisioning and strengthening the relationship between humans and robotics. To take this vision further, we plan to design a mixed-reality environment where visitors will be surrounded by physical and virtual balloon robots that interlink and act in accordance with those around them. In this environment, we want to explore not only the relationship between the mechanical autonomy of our machine and human beings but also how all the entities can work together on the one hand as a modular unit and on the other as a group to create an ever-changing spatial configuration. QUANTUMminus is an ever-shifting environment where participants influence the space while being aware that it simultaneously influences them.
During Prototypes in Public Exhibition at Tate Britain, one helium-inflated drone balloon was exhibited in an enclosed space where two visitors were invited to interact with it every fifteen minutes. Using a design based on the way drones fly, the balloon robot’s movements were guided by four propellers. Distributed evenly on the surface of the sphere, two were vertically placed and the other two were horizontally placed at the central height on the balloon. The drone balloon’s path was determined by an algorithm, which dictated that it moved towards to the closest visitor among the two while taking both visitors’ velocity into calculation when deciding its own velocity. The balloon and the visitors’ movement around the space were tracked and updated in real-time with OptiTrack system, enabling the balloon to follow or to avoid the visitors.
The balloon was ‘friendly’, staying in reach of the visitors trying to approach, but also clumsy at times, bumping into the curtains and then got bounced back to the space. Visitors often described the balloon as pet-like company suggesting it was ‘alive’. They would touch, hug, and move with the balloon. We got asked many times by the visitors about how the balloon moved when they failed to conclude the behavioural rules of the balloon. Though only one balloon has been exhibited, it is in our design a modular unit in the entire responsive system. More balloons, augmented or real, will be made to move with the current balloon in the tracked area by the end of the November, 2019. These modular units will relate to each other and also to the visitors, making up the physical space the visitors inhabit.
Results and Discussion
QUANTUMminus focuses on designing the relationships between the modular units in the framework of constructing an entire organic responsive system environment. Aiming at making a truly performative and interactive space that is ever-evolving, this experimental project reflects my learnings from machinic assemblage thinking and rhizomatic theory by Deleuze and Guattari. The balloon robot’s behavior is not directly mapped to a single visitor. Instead, it calculates its path based on both visitors’ positions and directions in which they face. This approach increases the uncertainty in the balloon’s behaviors as it becomes unpredictable to a certain degree to the visitors.As a result, in each balloon-visitor relationship, like trajets and Sensuous Geographies, the feedback mechanism is embedded in all the modular units in the environment. Unlike those works, visitors will never be able to tell what will happen even though they fully understand the rules. This unique modular feedback system continuously engages the visitors to play with the balloon. It is noticeable that the visitors tended to stay in our space for quite a long time compared to the experiment projects discussed previously in Part Two. These interactions collectively constitute the choreography of the space.
Conceptually, QUANTUMminus challenges the existing perception of robots and space as unemotional lifeless entities. When fully developed, the space will be comprised of multiple modular units of visitors and balloons. Algorithm driven, the real balloons in the space will always find the nearest visitors to interact with. The augmented balloon, however, will always behave in accordance with the other balloons nearby. By forming an ever-changing relationship with one another, the balloons and visitors together will create their own temporal morphing space around them. Nothing is static in the space. It is truly a space of becoming. Like the rhizomatic relationships seen in the works of teamLab, QUANTUMminus introduces the same characteristics but in the context of spatial configuration. The responsive relationship within each modular unit exists individually but can also exchange with one another at any point.
The communication between the balloons and visitors is entirely fluid. This malleable feature inspires a new way of looking at all objects in the space as one dynamic entity rather than components of the space. Prior to this project, I have never considered this aspect of interpreting the performativity and interactivity of space. The statement will be tested when developing the current project in the next stage.
In this paper, I have presented the analysis and framework of how to make an interactive, performative space implementing responsive computational technology. Following reviewing the theories and cases related to interactive media arts and performative events, I try to test and further investigate my findings with my own design projects to create such space. To conclude, only when modular interactive units that are designed upon the second-order feedback mechanism relate to each other in a rhizomatic pattern can the space itself become truly interactive and performative. The interactive system is not separate from the performative perspective but instead enables the performance to emerge. The space comprised choreographic objects, bodies, with communication between the two considered as one entity which is ever-evolving and becoming. The dynamic relationship between all the parts constitute a systematic map as the invisible structure holding the space together. Such space does not need to be manipulated and watched at all times. It is autonomously intelligent in itself.This research also indicates that the interactivity and performativity of a space can be interpreted at different levels within a system. From the unit level, the visitor and the object are interactive and performative to each other. The unit as a whole shares the same characteristics when viewing from outside. From the spatial level, the space presents a fluid dynamic that continuously surprises our sense of movements. Interactively and performatively, the space is always actively becoming itself.
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