What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of meditation? A person with eyes closed deep
breathing in a quiet place?
The goal of this project was to push boundaries of traditional meditation.
Draw Motion is an interactive and collaborative experience that uses intuitive body movement. It engages the participant's aural, visual, and kinesthetic senses for a calming experience. This experience was displayed at the Cyber Arts Gallery, Boston as part of the Fresh Media exhibit - an interactive public exhibition. It was also featured in the Pozen Art Gallery at Massart, Boston.
My Role: Concept, Strategy, Design, Prototyping, Coding
Duration: 4 months
Heather Hansen is a performance artist who creates large-scale pieces in charcoal or pastels using her body as a drawing tool. I see Heather's work as a wonderful cross-media mix of drawing, dance and meditation.
Heather refers to a choreography workshop where they were asked to create a sequence of dance movements making up part of a choreographic pattern, and then restrict the phrase within the confines of an imaginary cube of space. She says:
I loved that exercise because just having that one restriction gave the improvisation a form to adhere to, and a dynamic tension which was so much more interesting to me than aimless improvisation.
While describing her dances, Hansen said: “Choreography tended to be more like following a meditative poem of images than which body part did exactly what, when or where.”
I created some basic rules for myself, including a certain pattern of body movements to follow. One important rule was to repeat a particular movement five times with my left leg or hand, and then do the same with my right leg or hand. The pace of my movements was guided by the pace and rhythm of the flute music. At the point where I filled the canvas around 90% and was satisfied with what I'd created, I began to revisit and reiterate all my earlier charcoal marks. If I were to describe this body drawing exploration, I would say it was fluid and peaceful.
Music played a very important role in my analog body drawing experiment. The rhythm of the flute music was the stimulus to my movements and the resulting marks on the paper. Deciding on the kind of instrument to use in this experience was vital, as it was going to affect the manner in which people reacted and moved, and would set the mood for the entire interaction. I was introduced to the hang drum or hand pan, which is a round shaped musical instrument made of steel drum containers. It was invented by Felix Rohner and Sabina Scharer in 2000. It belongs to a class of instruments in which a resonant solid material such as wood, stone or, in this case, metal vibrates to produce the initial sound. To me, the music resembled the sound of bells in Indian and Buddhist temples.
I conducted my first, analog, hour-long experiment in a Performance Art class setting. The only prompt for the participants was to use their bodies to draw, and respond to the music.
Some of the most important observations I saw during this sessions include: Collaboration, invasion and inspiration Participants invaded each other's spaces by adding or extending their fellow participants' existing art. It paved the way for collaborative creation.
During the question session afterwards, I had a chance to ask the other participants if they had made any rules before they started.
To my surprise, most of them had some rules related to the music or otherwise that they followed.
This input was very valuable to me, as one of my main goals has been pushing people to make their own rules along with existing restrictions or stimuli.
The analog experiences required space and material as well as a certain level of physical ability. I began to focus on finding a way to make this experience accessible and inclusive. I started with the visual aspect, and what is a meditative experience for me. Here's what inspired me:
I started with simple experiments in a software app called Processing. I created a small visual Cartesian grid wherein I mapped the movements of my mouse by updating the latest x and y position coordinates. By updating the latest x and y coordinates and keeping the old ones, I formed a movement trail. Inspired by my visual inspiration, I decided to use a circle as my cursor form, which served as my base visual form. This created a connection between the form and sound of the hang drum. In order to come close to replicating the experience the trickling rain droplets, I experimented with some fading and disappearing effects within the trail.
The most important factor in this project was the users' learning curve: how quickly they would understand how the system worked in order to be able to control it. Some parameters that I experimented with were:
I can't expect one to move their mouse and feel meditative, I wanted to get this experience in the physical realm. So I used the accelerometer in my phone to connect to my code using an app called ControlOSC.
You can see I put on a huge glove to not drop my phone. But phone is such a heavy object, and the movement tracking was not very accurate. I needed it to be seamless with sensitisized tracking.
I moved to a circuit board called Adafruit Flora, it has a built-in accelerometer and gives better tracking accuracy. It was much better than moving the bulky phone around! You can see that I mounted it on a little piece of cardboard.
But Flora needed to be connected to the computer with a wire in order to send coordinates continuously, and having a wired connection would restrict a user's movement. The only solution to this issue was to make it wireless.
Then I tried a wireless XBEE transmitter and receiver. I had to solder it on the little cardboard with the Flora, which made it slightly heavy. It took me countless tries to make the Flora work with XBEE to transmit the coordinates successfully.
I hand-stitched a small wearable wrist band with a pocket. The devices would go inside the pocket. I added some velcro for the band to be adjustable.
I had the setup that I envisioned for this project: a huge wall displaying the projection, and the wristband put on a pedestal for participants to try out. Due to other performances taking place in the same room, I could not use speakers for the music. Instead, I had Bluetooth headphones.
The positive feedback was that the experience was very peaceful and calming, and that the system gave immediate feedback. At the same time, it was somewhat difficult for people to understand which parameters they were changing with their movements. Changes in the music were not evident enough for the participants to perceive. Because the wearable wristband mapping the trail was not completely accurate, wrist movements were not distinct and sufficiently distinguishable to plot on the coordinate system.
The lack of relative accuracy of the Flora and XBEE devices led to some more technical research. That's when I found the MIDI Hot Hands. It is an adjustable ring, much smaller than Flora, more efficient. It could track the slightest movements. It made the learning experience efficient, smooth and easy.
The ring was too big for 2-year old Miles, but he enjoyed the exploration.
During my second analog prototype, I saw collaboration as one of the main themes. Participants were testing limits, invading each others' space, and creating art together. They were connecting with the person and engaging in the experience at the same time. Can the visuals aid this connection?
Think the red trail as one person moving, and the blue trail as another person. The areas where their motion trails intersect create a temporary marking before fading away. There is something vulnerable in allowing a person into your peaceful space.
One participant in the gallery kept his beer away (I felt so proud), took his phone out, opened Snapchat and started recording.
I felt a lot of mixed emotions. I wanted people to interact in the physical space, away from screens, and this guy was using his phone. But then I thought, he was recording it to share with his close ones. I couldn't neglect the fact that we are unable to be in the same physical space with our close ones all the time. I would so love to experience this with my mom, back in India.
I am fully aware that this was a bit of contradiction, but it pushed me out of the boundaries I created for myself. Could this be a screen based experience between two folks, thousands of miles apart? Why not?
Just Dance is a game where participants have to follow the dancing character on screen to get the maximum points. Participants' movements are tracked via xbox kinect or nintendo switch. The game has single and multi-player modes, and you can play with anyone who owns the hardware i.e. xbox/kinect, no matter the location. I imagined this setup with DrawMotion.