Supportive methodology and technology for creating interactive art

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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 spaces. 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.
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