An Interactive Art Experience

Faculty Guest Blogger: Kathryn Bondi

Kathryn Bondi: As a working professional in the design world, my fellow design colleagues can attest to the fact that we rarely take time outside of client projects for “personal creative endeavors.” We know we want to, we know it’s “healthy” for our creative souls, we even have fully formed ideas on concepts we’d like to pursue – and yet, these solo projects never materialize. C’est la vie, right?

Our unique creative community in Scranton, however, has afforded us the unique opportunity to push ourselves to bring these ideas to life for the local public via the concept of First Friday Scranton. Every month, a new First Friday begs the opportunity for new artists to come out of the woodwork and participate in the downtown arts and music scene.

It is this First Friday community that I have found will consistently be the catalyst for my own personal endeavors to come to life and be seen by the public. Whether it was letterpress printing, branch inspired art with lights, some sort of cat art for a themed show, or even a local art auction fundraiser for AAF,  First Friday venue curators have personally inspired me to join in on the community and truly pursue a personal creative project for the sake of art. Much like a design student the night before senior portfolio reviews, I’m sometimes sweating it out to make the deadline for hanging the show alongside all my other commitments. But in the end, I’m always happy I pushed myself to make time for this and be a part of this great community event in the process.

In addition to teaching design at Marywood, I work for an agency downtown called Posture Interactive. Our main focus is innovative website design and development, but we also run the gamut of other agency services: package design, brand development, pre-press print work, marketing strategy, media buying, social media creative, internet marketing and analytics, event planning, doggy daycare, bartending, helping businesses get out of toxic relationships, providing moral support, live background music at events, last-minute wedding dates. You get the idea – we wear a lot of hats here.

So of course when our building buddies at Alexander’s Salon approached us to host a First Friday event this past October, we were pretty stoked. One problem – we needed to schedule around client work to work on a “personal” agency project – how would we find the time!? Turns out, when you have a group of creative people that really want to bring a concept to life, you can help hold each other accountable for making progress and you’ll make the time.

As an agency that focuses heavily on interactive web design, our main concept was to create some sort of interactive art experience where attendees can be a part of the exhibit. One of our developers has extensive experience with Makey Makey technology and has taught kids in afterschool programs to code their own projects on these devices. He showed us how to program these microcontrollers for a multitude of tasks, as they are essentially small circuit boards with a set of alligator clips and basic controls. You can connect the clips to any conductive element and use your body as a conductor to physically affect the controls and make things happen in your program. There are a lot of cool concepts out there that people have coded based on this simple device, and we wanted to put our own spin on it.

We set up our 2 Makey Makeys to work with 2 different conductor setups: one utilized an oversized Playstation controller we built with conductive copper buttons, the other was hooked up to various types of fruit. We then synced the Makey Makeys with generative art programs for the user to interact with on their “controllers”. Generative art utilizes computer algorithms and user input to build textured patterns of image and design in static and dynamic forms. Our particular art was produced using software which was programmed to start minimal and grow while exploring the complexities of computer calculations in stunning and captivating visual patterns.

TL;DR: We set certain rules in the program and then let it go wild – along with user interaction, this made some sweet looking art!

We also have some pretty intense audio nerds in the office, so we decided to integrate some interactive pocket beat machines hooked up to speakers. Upon first entering the show, attendees could make their own beats and synth loops on the machines and click, push, and play away.

We were definitely nervous for the public unveiling of our interactive art programs at First Friday – we weren’t sure what kind of audience a show like this would draw in. As we learned, it draws in all ages and tech skill levels. We had so much fun introducing each new attendee to the projects and how to interact with them, the night just flew by.

The idea of being a participant in the art show really seemed to resonate with people who ventured downtown to explore the art scene. And of course, the addition of food, sangria, and live music definitely helped our cause. Live music was provided by yours truly along with the other “musically inclined” members of the Posture family. I know what you’re thinking – and yes, our world tour will kick off next Spring.

Overall, I feel as a designer that this was a huge learning process in creating a fully immersive experience and bringing it to life for the benefit of ourselves and our community. No clients, no exchange of money, no rules. Just creative ideas and an openness to bringing a new experience into the art scene downtown.

Was planning an interactive art event like this for the first time stressful? Of course! But 10/10 would do it all over again.

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