A Sanguine Neurastheniac

Entries tagged as ‘art’

Be Your Own Puppet: Miwa Matreyek’s stunning video shadow puppetry

April 27, 2012 · Leave a Comment

In mid-March I went to Baltimore’s Quest Fest to see a performance by Miwa Matreyek, an animator who I hadn’t heard of even a couple of months ago. I stumbled across her work on some internet afternoon stroll and was captivated by the clips that I saw.  Lucky for me, other people from the Pricess Grace Foundation to TED had heard of her.

Her work is heavily inspired by shadow puppetry, and in fact when I first looked at her work my mind immediately went to this exquisite video for the Little Dragon song “Twice” by Johannes Nyholm.

But in her work, she is the puppet. She performed two pieces at Quest Fest, “Dreaming of Lucid Living”, and “Myth and Infrastructure”. In each, she projects an original animation on a screen, but uses a second projector in back of the screen to throw the shadow of her figure into the animation.

The result is whimsical and stunning. She has perfected the timing of each piece such that as she moves her body, it is perfectly in sync with animations happening on the screen. In Myth and Infrastructure, for example, there is an extended section where the main shadow character is moving her arms while the animation from the front projects fanciful images into the hands of the shadow. Being just a little bit off would break the magic.

The interaction was so precise that for quite a while I assumed that she was using some gesture sensing and image creation setup. In a recent project that The Hacktory and Hive76 did with the PA Academy of the Fine Arts, the team used a Kinect to sense people’s motions and sent the output to a program written with Processing running on a laptop.  The program manipulated the movement and created a silhouette out of it. We projected the output onto a screen that we made from photographic background paper.

But Matreyek doesn’t do that. There’s just enough subtle imperfection in the performance to both reference traditional puppetry, and to ensure the viewer that what she’s doing is made of mastery, not software. During the Q&A I asked if she’d ever used motion sensing tech in her animations. She said that the group she collaborates with, Cloud Eye Control, has used it but her preference is to have total control over the animation.

For me, the choice of virtuosity over technology in her work is really attractive. Knowing how much preparation goes into making a precise performance look like whimsy just makes me like it more.  Check out a performance if she comes to a town near you.

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Saving E-Textiles from an E-waste Fate

December 11, 2011 · Leave a Comment

Ji Sun Lee's moonlit flower project

Dec 14: Also posted at The Hacktory.

E-waste sucks. In the US we trash about 400 million electronic devices every year. A study published this summer says that soft circuits and e-textiles are on track to become an even more intractable waste problem, unless early adopters turn it into a green technology.

An article in the Journal of Industrial Ecology from August discusses how the very thing that makes e-textiles interesting–the unobtrusive integration of electronics and fabric–could make them an e-waste nightmare.

What makes traditional e-waste so difficult is that it contains valuable stuff like precious metals and rare earths, but in small quantities that are hard to recycle and laced with toxins.

Enter e-textiles. Who isn’t charmed by the idea of a biking sweatshirt with built-in turn signals or accessories that could let your doctor know if your heart rate goes wacky? Not only that, but soft circuits have driven the use of electronics and microcontrollers by women and beginners through the roof.

The problem is that soft circuits contain valuable substances in even smaller concentrations than traditional electronics. Even in Europe where e-waste laws are the strongest, it’s a battle to recycle old gadgets. E-textiles as they are currently designed make it harder to classify them as either clothing or electronics, and make it harder to reclaim valuable materials like silver in conductive thread.

But the authors urge technology and fashion developers to think ahead before the problem hits the mass market. Can we use design thinking to make e-textiles out of non-toxic or biodegradable materials? Can we simplify the separation of electronic ingredients from fabric? Most importantly, how can we prevent pollution while products are still on the drawing board?

At the moment, the people who are experimenting with soft circuits and e-textiles generally aren’t thinking about the waste implications, but they should be. How can creative thinkers, designers, makers and hackers help this emerging technology become a green investment opportunity? What tools do designers need to help them design for a product’s entire lifecycle, all the way through recycling to its rebirth as a new object?

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