The #glitch Machine (#B46): Development

In my very first imaginings of how I might want to develop my practice through this mode of study I envisaged a crank that when turned would activate an algorithm that simulated the effects of the Mandlebrot set on a users personal narrative text.

Sketch of the “Mandlebrot Crank”

In this installation the user would use the crank to manufacture a pictorial representation of the content of the text using the text characters.

The key to this installation, based on my own reflection is centered around the nature of feedback. That is how the user controls the crank to produce a representation of the text that he thinks appropriate to the meaning of the text itself and subsequently how that meaning translates and feeds back into the original text and becomes organic and self-perpetuating.

The specific use of the Mandlebrot equations was linked to chaos theory and how, with enough iterations the seemingly chaotic patterns output from the machine would begin to order themselves in line with natural forms.

I was confident in my ability to build the software needed for this machine using arduino and processing being familiar with the applications of using actuators to drive software systems however, at this point I was unfamiliar with the nature and provenance of this idea in a new media context.

It was more than a year later when considering the content of my production project that the concept of the crank reappeared in my thinking after considering and investigating projects based on projection mapping, glitch and liminality.

Conceptual Layers

Glitch and ideas of liminality, the unfinished, the becoming and the ever developing had began to influence my thinking around the nature of interactive new media art and the cyclical motion of the crank seemed to also embody references to the provenance of my work.

Introducing an element of glitch art into the work also seemed to have echoes of the Situationist International in that the glitch in the context of my thinking was a forced error in a digital system that could produce a parallel, disruptive and subversive language that questioned our understanding of and our relationship with the moving image.

Just as Debord sought to upload error and juxtaposition to “the spectacle” I felt that the crank driven interface might offer a similar means of offering opportunities for recontextualisation and reconsideration of new media art.

Thus the machine as a concept began to develop with multiple layers of historical references encapsulated in the nature of the window/mirror interface that aimed to disrupt the traditional concepts of the moving image, the digital and our relationships and understanding of these concepts that was liminal in its always moving design.

These conceptual layers became as manifold as complex in terms of their inter-relations as my own conceptual dérive through 20th century thinking and as well as representing the application of some of the critical theory I had been researching, there were eventually other layers that became more personal as I sought to investigate the operational mechanics of the machine.

Hard Hands/Soft Hands

Having settled on the crank as the means of interaction with the machine, one of the first problems I faced was the manufacture of such a piece of hardware and it was at this point that the project became collaborative as I sought advice from someone I knew would be able to advise me on such issues; my father.

He suggested that a communtator, a rotary electronic switch would offer the means to produce an alternating signal I required for the crank to drive a moving image image installation; this alternating signal could be processed to simulate a mechanical projector by advancing the image forward or backward with each individual signal received.

Thus we decided that the best course forward in terms of experimentation and development would be through hacking old electric drills.

The process of repurposing these drills was to reverse their functionality: instead of using electricity to drive the rotary motor we wanted to turn the motor in order to produce an electrical signal that would be read into the software system via an arduino interface.

The next problem I faced was that of direction. It was important to me that the direction of the turning of the motor would have an effect on the image produced (i.e. effect the direciton of playback in the system).

At this point I enlisted the help and advice of several people from the local pub who posessed a range of skills and backgrounds and were able to offer mechanical solutions to this issue via discussions and diagrammatical flow diagrams:

Working out directional concerns at the pub

While I was overcomplicating issues with thoughts of sensors and clutches a friend came up with the idea of using a simple two way switch that would be struck by the handle of the rotor and forced into a position whereby it would be able to generate a signal that could be translated as “forward” or “backward”.

Once these hardware issues had been solved it only remained to route these signals through the software environment in order to build the functionality of the machine.

On reflection, it soon became apparent to me that there was yet another conceptual layer within the development and realisation of the machine; while I was of a generation of the rise of computers and digital systems, I was working and collaborating with those of a generation more familiar with industrial, analogue technology.

It seemed that the machine was also beginning to be representative of the relationship between the industrial and post-industrial worlds; while my technology was small, intricate and in may ways soft, my collaborators understanding of the manipulation of technology was larger, more robust and somehow harder.

These seemed to people who had worked with technology directly, very “hands on” as it were, while my experiences had been “softer”, mediated by the computer screen.

While the difference between these hard and soft hands was apparent to me and again representational in a cyclical way of my application of critical theory it also occured to me that these hard hands and their experience had also been mediated by tools, albeit the tools of a more analogue industrial generation.

Thus the construction of the hardware and indeed the software meant that the machine was now taking on an element of itself being a tool of remediation (in line with new media theories) whilst simultaneously representing the very concept of remediation through its relationship with the industrial.

Thus the machine became a détourned artifact, a kind of readymade, in its hacked, repurposed state that was a window/mirror on the industrial and post-industrial worlds that was aimed at producing a screen mediated détourned artwork that investigated our relationship with the moving image and the critical theories that surround it.

NEXT > The #glitch Machine (#B46): Prototype at Chapter Arts 13th June 2012