Falling Light by Troika

Falling Light by Troika is an installation that will be available to view at the V&A;’s British Design exhibition opening on 31st March.

50 ceiling suspended mechanical devices each incorporating a custom cut Swarovski crystal optical lens, a computer programmed motor and a white LED, comprise TROIKA’s installation ‘Falling Light’.

The white-painted metal armatures rise in syncopation by rotating cam before gravity releases them earthward, activating the LED to move away, closer to the crystal lens. The lens acts as a prism, transforming through diffraction, the LED’s white light into a rainbow myriad, in turn creating the rhythmical ebb and flow of the floor-strewn droplets.

I always like how technology plays a part in Troika’s work, but it’s as a medium, not as the content. Words don’t do it justice — Seb describes it best in this video.

The Art of Isolated Thousands

Bicycle Built for Two Thousand from Aaron on Vimeo.

Information used to be scarce, held by the rich and powerful and carefully guarded. Now we have and overwhelming amount of the stuff and each leave huge trails of it wherever we go, online and offline. It is no wonder that Data Visualisation has become such a rich area for the blending of designers, artists, programmers and number fetishists. These days there are enormous datasets, often with open APIs to mine.

Aaron Koblin’s project, Flight Patterns gained a lot of attention for its beautiful, ghostly patterns of flights in and out of the USA built from FAA flight data as did his work on the Radiohead House of Cards “video”.

But what do you do when you want to create a large data set all of your own? I went back to Koblin’s site for a lecture I am writing and was thrilled to discover a whole set of new projects in which he has crowdsourced input from thousands of people using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform.

The above video is from A Bicycle Built for Two Thousand – a collaboration with Daniel Massey – in which over 2,000 people were asked to record themselves emulating a tiny snippet of audio sung by a computer from the famous song.

sheep market.gif

For The Sheep Market, 10,000 participants were asked to “draw a sheep, facing left”. But my favourite is Ten Thousand Cents, which has also been around the web quite a bit. For Ten Thousand Cents, 10,000 people were paid one cent to draw 1/10,000th of an image of a $100 bill.


Like The Sheep Market it uses a custom drawing tool that records the drawing process, which is played back as you explore the images. It reminds me a of Andy Deck’s Glyphiti project, which has been around for some time now, except that in the all the Mechanical Turk instances, none of the participants had any idea of the end goal. This, for me, is where the magic lies.

There is something quite powerful about the idea of thousands of people creating a work of art in tiny, unrelated chunks, unaware of what they are contributing to. Quite apart from the end result, it provides an engaging commentary on our networked society both in terms of online connections and the global economy and sustainability.

And the sheep are hilarious.


AC/DC’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Train created as ASCII art in an Excel spreadsheet “smashing through the corporate firewall”. I’m having flashbacks to my schooldays with BBC Micros.

Some people have too much time on their hands. (But, wait, I’m blogging it. What’s worse?)

You can download the original spreadsheet and play it yourself if you like (but it didn’t work on my Mac because Office is so lame).

(Originally tweeted by Mark).

An Audience of Mirrors

Audience is a new installation from rAndom International, with software by Chris O’Shea, for the Deloitte Ignite Festival at the Royal Opera House. 64 mirrors are places in a ‘crowd’ and programmed to behave with different ‘human’ characteristics.

It’s a witty reversal of the normal roles of art and audience although obviously still in the vein of camera-based interactives (and following on from interactive mirror works by people like Danny Rozin. But for me the two most interesting things are how simple movements can make the mirrors seem quite alive and sentient as well as how people try to “work out” or “trick” the system.

Check out the guy in the pink t-shirt who ends up performing for the other onlookers in the video above. It’s always fascinating to see how physical interactives can make people do all sorts of things they would otherwise not consider doing in a public space.

Art is the tonsils of education

I interviewed the renown fantasy illustrator, John Howe, for Desktop last week. I had a great chat with him and he talked about design and art education, some of which I had to cut out due to space. The tonsils comment I couldn’t bear to leave on the surgery cutting room floor:

“Art is perceived as a necessary appendage in schools. Art is the tonsils of the high-school system – everyone agrees that it is important, but they certainly can’t figure out how to teach it. I think it’s a right-brain left-brain confusion between learning to draw and learning to write.”

He went on to explain how we are taught to write with a pen or pencil in a certain way and then apply that to drawing because we use the same tools. But that means we use our analytical, language side of the brain to draw. (John holds his pencil quite differently from writing).

Most adults draw like 12 year-olds unless they go on to work in an industry where they still draw, because it’s no longer perceived to be a useful skill in later life. It is a great shame because the skills of imagination, thinking and seeing that one learns through drawing are useful for so much more.

Why is so much New Media Art so shit?

I’ve been pondering this question a lot recently whilst writing my PhD stuff recently (it covers this area a lot).

Fortunately the Near Future Laboratory explain why with their Top 15 criteria that define “interactive” or “new media” art. It’s worryingly spot on, which makes me suspect the writers have made a few of these themselves.

I’ve been guilty of some of these and my students have definitely been guilty of all of them. What’s worse is that I’ve seen plenty of multi-thousand dollar grants go towards much of that crap too. (I’m just jealous of course – I want someone to fund my lame ideas to the hilt too).

In answer to my own question, I think it’s because it takes itself and the medium too seriously. That makes any kind of art shit in my book.

(Thank Nik)

Peter Polaine at The Pin Mill Studio


Christmas Dinner by Peter Polaine

Quick plug for my dad, Peter Polaine, who has an exhibition of his woodcut prints on at The Pin Mill Studio in Suffolk at the moment until the 18th July.

If you’ve ever wondered what Playpen’s dad sounds like, he was interviewed by Georgina Wroe on local BBC Radio today. He told some anecdotes about his time at art college where he studied alongside the likes of Ken Russell and Peter Blake as well as surprising me (and the presenter) by his choice of Banksy as one of the contemporary artists he likes and Brandy Carlile’s The Story for his play-out music. (I’d not even heard of her over here in the 80s music wormhole that is Germany – sigh).

You can listen to the BBC’s RealAudio (why do people still use it?) version of whole programme here or my edited MP3 version with just the interview.