From July 2012

Always learning

I don’t have a current deadline for a creative project, which is a double edged sword. Deadlines are really great motivation, but they can also restrict freedom of exploration. There’s a freedom that comes with a lack of pressure or expectation of high performance when you’re doing something you’ve never done before.

So, my newest challenge is coding. On the advice of artist/programmer friends, I am spending my time free of project deadlines learning Processing. I’m interested to learn more about the relative strengths of Processing and Max/MSP (with which I’m more familiar.) They are used to run similar kinds of projects, and can, I think, also be used in tandem. It feels a bit odd- I am surrounded regularly by friends who have turned programming into successful careers- and artists creating the kinds of work I find the most interesting and inspiring tend to have computer science or engineering backgrounds. I hope to not let the excitement of learning new things diminish by comparison or otherwise feeling like I’m somehow behind. That stuff is nothing but counterproductive!

In the same turn, I am very much looking forward to getting past the basics, to the point I can make things in which I am more invested artistically and intellectually. (I believe this process never stops, which, really, is pretty exciting.)

Several wonderful projects that use the tools I’m learning are linked in an online gallery on the Processing site. This one is a current favorite, particularly the coffee grinder.

Next week I will leave for Toorcamp, where I’ll also be seeing things I’ve never seen before- including the northwest Washington coast. Looking forward to it.


Advice for the Villainess

For the past many years, I’ve been one of the people that make CONvergence happen.

I – with a varied group of friends, artists, geeks, and a lot of other fantastic volunteers- run a room called the Space Lounge. It’s a smoothie bar with music, comfy chairs and pillows, games, video, a lot of black lights and glowing stuff, and often has installations or interactive projects for con-goers to play with. The multi-channel audio project the sensorium debuted there, and over the years it’s also featured a photo booth, live experimental music and cabaret variety shows, a black light mini-golf course, 3D Twister, Space-Invader Connect Four (the pieces as big as frisbees and requiring a ladder to play), and inflatable pods to lounge in. It’s also served as a space for workshops on how to make circuit bent instruments, LED throwies, bristlebots, or anything else we think is fun. I feel lucky that we are given a lot of autonomy, it’s made the space and the event a really great experimental lab and relatively low-pressure venue for us to throw out ideas and see if they work. I believe strongly that those kinds of environments are necessary for creativity. They also tend to be really fun.

The theme of the convention this year was women in science fiction and fantasy. One of the nights we declared the lounge would be a haven for morally ambiguous or straight up villainous female characters- and set upon brainstorming projects and appropriate decor. Inspired by the Evil Queen of Snow White, we created our own interactive magic mirror to dispense villainess advice.

The final piece was a 2-way mirror mounted in front of a monitor, lit in front by a small spotlight. The light and the video clips were triggered by a motion sensor. When someone checked their reflection in the mirror, the light would switch off and a random video clip would play, revealing itself in the mirror in place of the person’s reflection. We managed to startle some people, which was a lot of fun.

A sample of the video:


This was my first project incorporating video, so it had a few new challenges for me. I wish I’d kept more documentation of the process- or the final product! It’s a surprisingly easy thing for me to forget when I’m working on something. I’ll update with photos if/when any of them surface. (If you have any, or if you have questions about what else went into making this, please drop me an email or a comment!)

I’d also like to thank everyone at CON and the Space Lounge crew, especially my primary collaborators on this project: Lauren DeSteno, Cali Mastny, and Matt Perkins.