Computation, as a medium for programming, supports scientists, mathematicians and
“algorithmically-creative” (Amabile, 1996) workers very well. ‘Deep’ programming environments,
with few, or "exible constraints, are designed for these kinds of computation.
However, most artists, designers and other “heuristically-creative” (Amabile, 1996) workers
must make do with more ‘gentle’ programming environments, such as Max/MSP or Processing,
which support particular conceptual spaces well. Yet once the constraints of those
spaces are come up against, they are found to be rigid.
The new media world is, by now, used to seeing interdisciplinary work that involves artists
and technologists in collaboration, sometimes in response to this difficulty. These collaborations
combine the power of artistic modalities of thinking with the full capabilities of
computational media, but still the computing medium must be mediated for the artist by
the technologist. Such mediation is at risk of reinforcing boundaries between artists and
technologists, and denies artists ‘hands-on’ creativity in the medium, which is not only
frustrating but also can destroy artistic meaning (Candy & Hori, 2003).
How can we make computational media better support creative workers, in and out of
collaborations? My answer stems from the roles of constraints which surround conceptual
spaces, but which can support creativity only as far as they can be changed in response to a
change in conceptual spaces (Boden, 2004). Computation is an attractive medium because
potentially supports highly changeable constraints. However, this potential is not realised—
there are plenty of constraints within computing today which are neither inherent
nor useful for creativity, but imposed as a result of industrial practices which are decreasingly
relevant in today’s techno-society. An example is the constraint around every compiled
program preventing any modification of that program. Since these constraints cannot
be changed in response to changing conceptual spaces, creativity is limited.
To remedy this technological disjunction between conceptual spaces and supportive media,
I have made recommendations for future computing systems in which imposed constraints
are not rigid. For example, if someone wishes to explore or change a particular constraint
in such a computing system, they can ‘lift the hood’ and discover what’s happening and
change it, recursing if necessary to the level of computing fundamentals, but using a similar
interface paradigm to that which they have already been using. Such a computing system
allows people to change a computing medium to fit with their changing conceptual
To illuminate the accompanying social issues of supporting interdisciplinary collaboration,
I carried out a grounded theory inquiry into the roles of collaborating experts—predominantly
artist and programmer—working in interactive art collaborations. By studying firsthand
reports and conducting interviews, I was able to build a rich theory of technology’s
role in the collaborative process. Most importantly, I found that non-programming artists
prefer to use shared language and boundary objects (Fischer & Ostwald, 2003) that are also
meaningful in computing terms. An example is when a programmer constructs ‘computational
toys’, which sit between conceptual spaces and thus can be manipulated to create
technical, aesthetic and computational meaning simultaneously.
To evaluate these findings, I synthesised the computing recommendations and the toymaking
methodology, and examined prototypical examples of them in the light of a realworld
art collaboration called Cardiomorphologies v. 2. The collaboration involved the development
of several computational toys in the Max/MSP computing system, and also a
technology for quickly creating toys.