We had our open studio today. The Forest Creatures were set out on the tables and the children showed these, as well as their visual diaries, to their parents. About a dozen parents came, and we had about a dozen come in at any one time to the Ellipse studio where Forest Reflections1 was set up. I discussed the interactive art system with them. As you can see from the photos, this work uses a candle as an interface. Moving the candle would reveal parts of the screen image, interactively. Most of the image appears to be in shadow and in doing this ”revealing”, stop motion animations of the Forest Creatures (created by the children) would be ”lit up”. Moving the light also disturbs ‘leaves’ in the ‘water’, and a fluid, dynamic movement accompanies the interaction.
INTERFACE Two children would move the candle at any one time. This candle holder was kindly loaned by teacher Jackie Semple. It is normally part of the Montessori birthday ceremonies. It is a heavy glass and metal construction – perfect for the behaviour I wanted to encourage and the corresponding interactive experience. That is, being heavy and fragile, it necessitates slow, careful movement. This works better in ‘revealing’ the image. It is also consistent with the reflective experience I wanted to engender. Using interface materials that correspond to the concept behind the interactive artwork is consistent with a Constructivist aesthetic (as in the Constructivist Art movement). It also draws on the concept of Affordance, a tenet in Gibson’s theory of perception as something which is interactively constructed between the individual and their environment; i.e. the glass material has a meaning to us that is based on our lived experience of it as something heavy and fragile; thus we see frame our view of it, and our understanding of it, in these terms.
Of course my investigation of alternative interfaces is key to the way that I work. That is, I reject the paradigm of an interface as a typewriter or television – at least for the artwork I’ve done so far:) Using a candle as an interface is also consistent with the idea of spotlighting. This is walking at night with a torch to ‘spot’ nocturnal animals for viewing. Things are changing – only one girl in the class said that she’s been spotlighting 😦
CONCEPT & METHODS OF CONSTRUCTION The reference to spotlighting was an early starting point in defining this interactive artwork and the Forest Reflections project as a whole. I had it in mind right from the start. It did, however, develop and absorb some of our collaborative encounters: reflections and looking into the water as we did on our first excursion is the most particular example. Other concepts, strategies and techniques brought into the project include concepts relating to the Gestalt – where many parts combine to create a whole that is more than simply the sum of those parts; and ideas relating to perception and having a reflective experience. Techniques include the children’s use of assemblage techniques to create the Forest Creatures and stop-motion animation techniques to animate them. These animated creatures contributed to my pallette as I wove them together into the interactive artwork composition; the ‘parts’ that I combined into a ‘whole’.
During the course of making this interactive artwork I have also been investigating concepts relating to the texture of the gum trees, which children have photographed during the Perspective maps exercises; and the habitats of animals of the forest, as discussed at the educational session at Walkabout Creek yesterday. These ideas may still inform the Forest Reflections interactive artworks for our final installation on Saturday September 10.
Images shown above are from the installation of Forest Reflections during our Open Studio today.
I would like to take a moment to draw a few threads together. Firstly however, I’ll relate a personal experience:
Many years ago a little boy was drawing the most beautiful, elaborate birds. They had wings, eyes, tails, legs, feathers in a range of colours. They were very detailed and considered images that involved the act of looking at birds and recording their features. Then one day the drawings stopped. Instead the boy was drawing an icon of a bird: a big letter ‘M’ for wings with a triangle for a beak. His mother was devastated. What had happened? It turns out someone at school had told him that his (original) birds did not look like birds, and showed him how to draw them the “right” way. It was a tragedy! The bird drawings were reduced to symbols, a means of communicating the concept of a bird rather than rich, creative explorations that involved looking and learning from was observed. I don’t know if she (the mother) ever got that door open again…
I feel very strongly that people – children especially – should be encouraged towards creative exploration. And I think that acknowledging there are many ways of seeing plays a role in this (such as our different points of view when taking the photos that make up our collaborative perspective maps). Another very tangible aspect to this position is the way the brain works, theory which informed our earlier mirror-symmetry drawing exercises. These ideas relate to one-another as follows:
Today I started working individually with the children. I am helping them to complete their ”forest creature” by attaching the finished wings to the body. We then animate these wings using stop motion techniques. The creatures are animated against a light table.
We only got through about 6 people today. The process will be ongoing over the next few sessions.
Before I started working with them to animate these creatures, I reminded them about the process. (I’d given an overview last week). I also demonstrated the principle of persistence of vision. This enables us to perceive a series of changing things as moving, or as constituting some sort of illusion. It is achieved through the rapid succession of images, each of which persists as something called an ”afterimage” (which seems to stay on your eyes like an image of a bright light remains on your retina after you close your eyes). In this way a ‘blend’ occurs with the next image. A sustained, continuous illusion of an object that seems to move or of a bird that seems to be sitting on a branch (below) can be created in this way.
I demonstrated this by showing them the Thaumatrope and providing them with simple materials to make one. They will be able to continue working on their Thaumatropes over the next few sessions, individually. Its a fun exercise…
There are many examples of Thaumatropes available online. I find the Bird Thaumatrope designed by Joel M quite beautiful. It can be downloaded here for printing out, cutting out and gluing onto a round stick, such as a pencil. Of course I’m very excited by what the children will come up with to draw on theirs – the limit here is only their imagination!
Explaining the concept of Gestalt or a composition to 6-10 year olds has challenged (and improved! 🙂 my ability to communicate it.
When I talk about Gestalt I mean ”visual composition” or where ”the whole is greater than the sum of the parts”. Art theorist, author and perceptual psychologist Rudolf Arnheim is very articulate on the subject: he describes Gestalt Perception as a foundation of visual perception and draws on an 1890 essay by Christian von Ehrenfels to explain it with evidence from an example: “if each of 12 observers listened to 1 of 12 tones of a melody, the sum of their experiences would not correspond to what would be perceived if someone listened to the whole melody.” (“Gestaltqualitäten.” Vierteljahrsschrift für wissenschaftliche Philosophie, 1890, vol. 14, pp.249-292.) For Arnheim, “all perceiving is also thinking, all reasoning is also intuition, all observation is also invention.” Furthermore, Gestalt psychology’s position ‘’that vision is creative and not just a ‘mechanical recording of sensory elements’” asserts that the experience of seeing is not just “an entirely subjective imposition of shape and meaning upon reality” but rather “the process of looking at the world [is] an interplay between properties supplied by the object and the nature of the observing subject.” (See Arnheim, R., Introduction, in Art and Visual Perception A Psychology of the Creative Eye. 1954, University of California Press: Berkeley. pp. i-ix.)
While Gestalt, composition, the role of interpretation and the subjectivity of seeing are difficult concepts to convey to people who are only just learning to think abstractly; I am finding that these children are getting there. Remarkably quickly, in fact. Even by the end of Thursday I had seen an improvement in their comprehension of these ideas. (Their open-ness and flexibility in learning has impressed me, along with how good the teaching staff are with facilitating this development and student absorption and exploration of ideas).
In attempting to convey the concepts we have been talking about Recipes as opposed to a mish mash of ingredients; of the balance, perseverance and ‘heart’ or spiritual aspects involved in Andy Goldsworthy‘s landscape artworks as opposed to them being simply a pile of stones. We have also talked about the face composition that emerges from what otherwise could be simply a collection of food scraps or utensils in Jan Svankmajer’s “Dimensions of Dialogue” stop motion animation or Arcimboldo’s Summer oil on canvas.
So now when I point to a picture of a spoon in an artwork to ask ‘what is this?’ the answers I get include spoon but also ‘nose’; acknowledging the role of the composition and their understanding in what they see. Thus we also reinforce their understanding that perception is constructed, that interpretation plays a role in what we see, and that there are many different “ways of seeing“.
One of the exercises I had prepared for the students, and a primary reason for acquiring the digital cameras, was the creation of what I term “Perspective Maps”. These draw on the Typologies of the Bechers, mentioned earlier. However, instead of comparing different instances of the same object type (watertower or gas tank, for example), the perspective maps compare different perspectives of the same object. They are intended to reveal the different ways we see the same thing; our different perspectives. This is, in a sense, an inversion of how the Bechers’ typologies function. That is, in their work the ideal form of the object – the idea of what a water tower is, for example – is being compared. On the other hand in the Perspective maps it is the subjectivity of the observer that is being compared.
In our perspective maps we are studying the different ways we – people – see the forest. So we are photographing trees. The children’s differences in perspective include looking up, looking down, standing far away to take the whole tree in, photographing it up close to focus on the texture, etc. All of these are different perspectives of the same object.
The perspective maps investigate the different ways we all see the same thing. They are group efforts at making a composition. Like the Bechers, the approach taken is quite clinical:
- Divide into groups of 10-15 students
- Each group to choose a tree. This was done during the walk on our excursion to Walkabout Creek in The Gap on 28 July.
- Take turns photographing this tree. Thus each person takes one photograph of it. This choice of vantage point and composition is a personal, private step.
- Consolidate all the photographs into a matrix. Study and compare these to understand and discuss this tree, our understandings of this tree and of nature. Discussions of composition within the frame, such as decisions made by the photographer, are also facilitated by this process.
During our excursion we broke into 3 groups. The 3 Perspective maps are shown below.
During the process of assembling the perspective maps I also had the idea of compositing, or layering them on top of one-another. The resulting 3 images are, I think quite successful aesthetically. They are shown below.
We discussed all of these in class on Thursday 4th August. Our discussion reviewed how each of these composite images reveals something about the perspective maps – whether its pulling out distinct features such as the sillhoutte of the trunk and strangler fig vine in group 3 or the fan palm fronds as a texture in group 2 or a combination of these in group 1’s maps.
Perhaps it was inevitable, but I didn’t see it coming: during this class discussion one of the students said she wondered what would happen if we were to combine ALL the images (i.e. all the children’s photos of all 3 different trees)?? I quickly combined them there and then, and we discussed the result. It is also shown below. The students commented on how it was ‘blurry’ and I agreed that often things can turn ‘muddy’ when you mix too many elements, or colours… Some other students however asserted that they could still see all of the individual elements of sillhouetted trunks and the textures made by contrasting leaves and sunlight. Upon reflection now it occurs to me that colour palette is another aspect of these different compositions that prevailed and provided visual unity – the same could not be said if some of the maps were of urban images or taken at sunrise or in the moonlight.
Our full day excursion to walkabout creek involved doing rubbings of found objects, doing tai-chi and studying the wildlife. It also involved a visit to the wildlife centre.
Our excursion also involved going for a walk in the forest. We went part-way along the Aracuria track. Many different things were observed during this walk and we reflected on these and our wildlife centre experiences in our visual diaries.
Some of the animals encountered, things we saw or experienced are shown below. Many more images are on page 2.
(Left) Child working on Perspective Map 1.
This morning we went to the Kedron Brooke area behind the school. Children were tasked with (1) finding bauhinia and quandong trees (2) looking at the water in the creek to see it behave as both a mirror (what does it reflect) and a window, something to look through (what do you see). Lastly they were asked to find and collect symmetrical and interesting things (3). The following is some photographic documentation of this trip.
Some outcomes from this exercise came about that are very relevant to my research into emergence as well as resonating with the concept that seeing is something that is an active process of construction. It came about because the mirror drawings of the leaves were so close that when the mirror images were drawn, they would / could overlap. It was very very interesting to see how the children handled this: some children would shrink one or both drawings so that they could sit side by side. Some rubbed out the area of overlap and when I pointed out the faint pencil marks of overlapping shapes, they said that was a mistake. Some children opted to draw only one of the leaves. A few of them also drew them as overlapping. These overlapping drawings, such as those of the following 2 examples, are of particular interest to me.
Example 1: When I asked this young boy about the area of overlap/ intersection in his drawing he said there was a new leaf there! I then had him explore and work up that new leaf. His added detail includes insect trails eating the leaf as well as veins in the leaf.
Example 2: Another child and I discussed the form of her “new” emergent leaf created from the overlapping areas. She wasn’t interested in drawing and detailing it further, but today I collected a leaf that corresponds in shape and size to her new creation. We discussed it together and matched it to her drawing today. For me, It was fascinating to see these how new forms emerged and this active process of interpretation.
Today I introduced myself to the kids. Even had them laughing at one point. What a lovely bunch.
Introduction: As a way of introducing myself and explaining what interactive art is, I brought in some of my work-in-progress, introducing them to the concept of sensors (photo resistive, aka movement sensors) and how these ‘sense changes in the environment’ which, in turn, changes the art work. I showed them one of my mirror/light boxes: the mirror box becomes a lighted vignette when the sensor senses movement.
This work enabled me to discuss how perception is a constructive process. It set the tone for the following day’s excursion.
Symmetry: We also looked at some Quandong and Bohenia (“Camel’s foot”) leaves, discussing native and exotic flora as well as symmetry in their forms. This was followed by a drawing exercise where they were asked to complete some line drawings. In these drawings only one side of a leaf or seed was drawn. They were asked to complete each image, i.e. to draw the mirror image of the form that is there, its reflection around its axis of symmetry. The results were lovely. Very rich. I encouraged them to develop these symmetry line drawings further by looking at the real leaves and seeds I’d brought in; to find what was not symmetrical, to add details like sun burnt spots or insect trails…This exercise teaches them to pay attention to what they actually see and not simply what they think they see… A random selection of their drawings are shown below.