Unintended Landscapes

Unintended Landscapes is an interactive animation about the choice to control natural processes through technology and the unintentional consequences of doing so.

In this piece the viewer is invited to manipulate visual and audio components of an animated scene using a wooden cube. Rotating the cube changes the animation. Each side of the cube is laser-etched with an image that hints at what aspect of the scene it controls. The viewer is able to influence three aspects of the animation: the season, the weather, and whether it is day or night.

Each rotation of the cube also has the chance to cause an unintended effect by increasing the blur and posterization of the image and by increasing the volume of city noises. The more the animation is manipulated, the more distorted it becomes.

Installation

Demo

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Concept
I grew up in rural Maryland. I was inspired to make this piece because, since coming to New York, I have felt cut off from the natural rhythms of the seasons that I am used to. For me, the year is marked by changes in the landscape and soundscape, such as peepers in the spring, and crickets and cicadas in the late summer and fall. Here, while I still notice changes, they are usually overshadowed by the intensity and monotony of the city.

With this piece I was thinking about how we use technology to free ourselves from restrictive patterns of nature, such as by using artificial light to escape the burden of as day and night. This control is to our benefit in many ways, however, it has also become apparent that industrialization and urbanization come at a great cost. It has caused pollution in our environment, but also a less definable disconnect within ourselves.

I created this piece for my Major Studio 2 class at Parsons. It evolved out of two earlier projects I did for the same class, Playtop and Prospective Landscape. Playtop is a mixed reality toy. Figurines are placed on a play surface and this triggers videos to play on the screen. The biggest drawback I saw to this piece was that the animations did not change dynamically as the player manipulated the toys. With Unintended Landscapes, part of my goal was to create a responsive animation.

Prospective Landscape also has to do with changing landscapes. In this sculptural collage I examine various natural disasters that I have witnessed over the past few years and their likely, but inconclusive, connection to global climate change.

How it works
The cube contains an Arduino and an accelerometer that communicate with the computer via bluetooth. The animation is done in Processing. In the installation the animation is triggered and reset using brass contact points on the bottom of the cube.

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