My final projects for Readymades was a piece called “MY PHONE YOUR PHONE”. This is an interactive installation that requires two users to simultaneously connect to a local web server on their phones and navigate to a web page. This page offers a few variations on simplistic animations that feature the words: My Phone Your Phone Mine Ours.
Our “Emotional Objects” project was a readymade object paired with an emotion. For my piece, I decided to go with “serene plastic bag”. I’ve accumulated a fair amount of plastic bags, saving them for other uses instead of going straight into the trash.
Anthropomorphizing the bags in service of giving them an emotion was a little challenging. I noticed that many bags say “Thank you”, and not just the iconic ones you may be thinking of. But it felt a little flat or obvious to dwell on this too deeply. Ultimately, I decided I was going to accept a certain level of incompleteness in their personality. A plastic bag doesn’t do much for the majority of its life. If there was a kind of limit to their intellect, I could imagine them as blissfully ignorant, rolling and floating from one place to the next. Plastic bags don’t want or need anything. If doing nothing, more or less, is their natural state, then perhaps that is the state in which they are the most happy. I imagined a lump of bags swimming alone in the ocean, wanting for nothing and perfectly content with their lives.
The core is Arduino only, with outputs for light and motor (fans) and an analog input for an ultrasonic sensor (presence detection). There was a good amount of experimentation in regards to the build. Sometimes I have problems truly envisioning how something is going to look, and wind up having to actually build it. After playing with a few different ideas, my main approach was a two tiered system connected by string.
The top panel holds the fans in place, pointing down. The bottom panel holds the arduino, ultrasonic sensor and lights above, and the bags below. There are holes in the bottom panel to facilitate light and airflow. Extra bags are placed around all components to obscure the gear and create a “flock” of bags.
I wound up trying out a couple different motor shields for the Arduino, making my own fans out of DC motors and hot glue, and playing with a few different bag placement approaches as I went along.
The physics of the bags, the weight of everything, how things are secured and ways to create motion (not too fast, not too slow), turned into a moving target as the construction went on. Namely, it was hard to get visible motion and audible rustling of bags without making the movement too energized. I learned plenty and had fun, but I might wind up making more variations of this project now that I know more about plastic bags as a medium.
Readymades Emotional Object Story by Dominic Barrett
It had been a long journey. A long life, really. There was plenty of time ahead, but there was no getting around the “before” and “after” that so clearly marked this plastic bag’s existence. Before the ocean and after.
Plastic bag didn’t remember much of being born or it’s earliest days. Who does, really? But the first memory of being pulled and fully exposed to bright light and bare air would always stick with the plastic bag. Previously stacked nearly two dimensionally flat against its brethren, it hadn’t been used to the world or much of its three dimensions. And all of a sudden, hands, weight, swinging, knocking. It had held some cans, vegetables, snacks and a receipt. It was one of the few bags that had more than one use. It had been repurposed to transport left overs before being thrown into the trash. In its first trash home, it shared some time next to those left overs. There were some other bags, scraps of food, napkins, twist ties, rubber bands and coffee stir-ers.
It’s life space had collapsed again, however not in the orderly 2d dimensional sheets of its earlier life. It was now cramped in three dimensions. And it was also handled, but not the same way. A bag within a bigger bag, in a pile of bigger bags. Moved in a bin, a box, a truck, a ship. Motion was vague, detectable but far off. Muted tones and slight jostles marked legs of the journey that the bag could not see.
Too many times to count. And it didn’t matter, really. Most of it was simply dark and small. The bag didn’t mind. There was something to like about certain spaces, certain trash friends that would come and go.
But then there was the ocean. There was brightness and darkness. A free floating three dimensions but the reassuring pressure of the water surrounding it. And the fellow bags. The tides, their weight, the complicated liquid dynamics, all conspired to bring the bags together. Physics itself almost seemed to bend to make sure that the flock of bags would be together, slowly and luxuriously swimming in the middle of a vast ocean.
“Do you remember the hands?” they would ask each other, reminiscing. Sometimes they would twist into each other and play games. Other times they would simply be silent, and sway with the undulating current. But they were never mad or sad. They enjoyed sharing the memories as much as sharing the present. And when, occasionally, a bag or two peeled off from the pack, they were always happy and would wish each other good travels. “Goodbye! Thank you for everything! Tell them all about us here in the ocean!” they would yell as the departing bags approached the horizon.
There was before the ocean and after the ocean. Plastic bag liked the ocean very, very much.
For my assignment I want to attempt a “serene plastic bag”, (and yes, attempt to avoid the “American Beauty”-ization of the piece) with audio and visual elements that are calming. A collection of plastic bags, lit by blue light and slowly moving. The slow movements crinkle the bag, hopefully creating an ocean-like white noise.
The natural observation here is to recognize ecological damage posed by plastic bags in the ocean. I don’t want to confront this head on. In attempting to sanitize the aesthetics, I hope to create something that could be appealing on its own without any interpretation, but then can slowly reveal a grim reality upon noticing the details. Additionally, by creating a “fake” ocean, these bags avoid going into the actual ocean. Their (potential) beauty can serve an ecological purpose.
For our second Readymades assignment, we were tasked with creating a “Sound Object”. Our readymade was to be given a personality using only sound as an output. Max was to be used as the platform for making the sounds.
After thinking constantly about the idea of a readymade (and seeing them everywhere), I decided I wanted to use a wicker basket that I owned. The basket had some compelling properties to me. It is stiff, glazed with some kind of plastic to make it sturdy, and somewhat sharp at point. But it also looks natural, has a warm color, and I will habitually run my hands across it to make different noises.
Lately I’ve also been thinking about “mapping” sensory inputs in different ways that could produce interesting results. For example, consider that your ears are a certain distance apart from each other. Now imagine if you placed two microphones a similar distance apart. If you increased the distance between the microphones, you might be simulating what it was like to hear when your head was that much larger. If you reduced the distance to half, or a quarter, you might be perceptually “shrinking” yourself by that amount. I decided to use these thoughts as a prompt for my sound object assignment.
Multiple microphones are placed inside of the basket. These microphones feed into a multichannel audio I/O Max patch, which then processes and routes the microphone input to multiple speakers positioned outside of the basket and around the viewer. A pre-recorded recording of me rubbing, tapping, knocking, and playing with the basket loops until the microphones detect noise. When noise is detected, then the loop stops playing, and the microphones are positionally routed to the speakers.
My attempt is to prompt a meditation of a “box within a box” infinite regression. When making noise, you can become aware that something inside the box hears what is going on outside. You hear these noises, as they are positioned around and above you in a square configuration. While an out of body experience can also be a meaningful appreciation of the piece, my true attempt was to invoke the realization that the viewer is also in a box (the room). This box is also in a larger box, the building, etc, conceptually stretching outwards into the concept of space itself.
There were some technical challenges in creating the piece in regards to sourcing the proper microphones, speakers and calibrating the noise levels in the Max patch. I am happy with this first pass, however. If an opportunity to further refine the concept presents itself, I would have a solid knowledge base to build off of.