Lecture Notes at Banff centre » 23.MAY.2003 » Maja Kuzmanovic + Nik Gaffney

introduction -

The first thread of our presentation represents some of our reflections on some of the questions that arose on the first day of the summit. We wil then move into txOom, a project researching the future of responsive public spaces, as a case study for examining different modes of collaboration and a particular aesthetic that emerged from it, Simultaneously we will show txOom's project overview, as a part of the documentation dvd. The third thread are the 60 cards that I will hand out, that will give you an insight into one small part of the project that we wont talk about. By exchanging the cards with each other and completing the jigsaw puzzle on their back, you might be able to reconstruct most of the activities of txOom.

we'd like to start by telling you a story….

“Crouched in front of her computer screen, the Shapeshifter, in her current role as the Head Exobiologist was shuffling through the sketches sent to her by a distant member of the crew, known as the Delightmaker. Her gaze moved from the formulas containing the predicted evolution of the playSpace, to the sparse lines of the Delightmaker's drawings. Other sketches arrived and unrolled into her lap. The voice of the red-haired Material Modeller guided her through their contents. 'I worked on some of the material you sent last week' she said, 'I should be ready in a few days”. The envelopes for the seeds were difficult to construct, but there were ongoing experiments with dozens of materials. The Exobiologist again attempted to compare the sketches and sighed - they were so different! It was an almost impossible task to come up with a coherent logic for this eco-system, grown by so many different people, in so many different places, each with their own ideas about what reality is, what play is, and what the goal of the whole endeavour should be. She looked at the map stuck to the wall, as if expecting it to fold itself into a more familiar shape.

She walked towards the recycling bin and absentmindedly threw away the empty cans of Energy Drink. She returned to the sketches and flipped through them. She looked at the evolution dynamics surface diagram. She looked at her collaborators, all absorbed in their ambitious tasks. Suddenly, she exclaimed: 'I think I've got it… ' they looked quite puzzled ' you know… the principle that can glue all the different components together into one coherent, playful whole!'. No one appeared particularly excited, but she ran back to her desk and started scribbling a layout of an evolutionary pattern. She took a red marker and wrote a bold title on the top of the page: 'txOom. Ecologies of the Irreal'

On the train, on the way to the chosen host system, she was demonstrating her hypothesis to the rest of the crew, gesturing in excitement.

'The Machinery Preceptor and I drew up a design and a technical specification of the playSpace evolution'. The whole principle was straight forward '…the ecology of the space is based on recycling the experience to form the eco-system and everything living in it.' she began 'The seeds that we need to spawn should have both symbiotic and parasitic properties, so that they can grow upon the host system, taking over some of its forms, but simultaneously feeding the host with recycled memories of itself, making it aware of its emerging capabilities. The blooming of the space will occur when enough playful behaviour is apparent in the host environment. The interesting movements and actions will grow into sprouts, whose life cycle and characteristics are based on the behaviour which inspired them to come out of the seed. Although the components that each of you has worked on are quite distinct from each other, the recycling principle should be able to blur their boundaries by letting the substances flow and become something else in the next part of their life-cycle. However, we have to move fast. The playSpace needs enough time to pass through several stages of its evolution attempts, and the first travellers seeking a pliable zone for their possible world, will be arriving in a few months. We are on our way to visit the host system, and the seeds must be ready to plant in two days, so we have a lot of work to do!'…………………………………………… “

(from the Hippodrome story)

This story describes our ideals for an aesthetics that is grounded in social structures of collaboration and shared experience. Sarah Diamond's question from the previous day of the summit: “what is it we are sharing in a collaboration?” is in this context a perfect connection point between the process of collaboration and the aestehtics that results from it.

Sharing in Collaboration

Firstly, I want to clarify what I mean by 'we'? WE includes both developers, users(players/participants), developers as users and vice versa.

Some examples:

  • textile designers as users of wearbale computers
  • media designers as users of the sensor systems
  • system designers as users of participants movements to steer the dynamics

Then, what some of the important things we are sharing?

  • desire to see the effects of our actions in something which takes on a life of its own, grows from our actions, but becomes autonomous through time
  • desire to be absorbed in something (a space, an experience) larger than oneself
  • intimacy
  • trust

(as well as overlapping contexts, desire to work together, etc+)

So, if collaboration is based on the above mentioned shared values, specifically on intimacy + trust, where the relationship between participants goes far beyond the detached sharing of skillsets, as is often the case with our collaborative projects, how does this compare to professional collaborations in a corporate environment, and could we benefit from a cross pollination of both approaches? No time to go into advatages and disadvantages, but maybe we could pick it up in the q&a.

Sharing the same need / desire makes the collaborators (dev + users) co-dependent, and in some ways vulnerable. The aesthetics which emerges becomes a kind of fragile boundary object (if i understood correctly what Nina Wakefield talked about on the first day of the summit) in which the group and the individuals can transfer a part of their identities, and refer to it whenever a conflict arises. The aesthetics becomes more of a fluid reference point, that can change through time and situations, dependant on the way the group works together, as it is on indivudal aesthetic judgemnts

Example: a hw engineer, a graphic designer, a biologist and a sync swimmer work together to achieve an experience of, say, living as extremophiles inside vulcanic magma underneath a place devastated by anti terrorist attacks. The aesthetic remains the same, but the tools, materials and methodologies differ greatly. Each of them will recognise different patterns of interest in this aesthetic, but the overall anchor pattern will remain the life in a vulcano.

Patterns of Collaboration

Each and every one of us is, as Christopher Alexander tells us - a collection of patterns, holding solutions to other patterns, but needing a larger pattern in which we can be subsumed to reach the shared collaborative experience. However, although all of us might have shared value, we all bring different problems, aproaches to problem solving, contexts, langauges, preferences, solutions. Because of these differences - individual problems/needs change priorities, codependencies shift, causing the large scale context/pattern to possibly fall apart into many smaller interconected patterns, rather than forming a consistent whole (the whole is then only the sum of its parts, some of them in hovering quite bad condition).

If we would use an architectural metaphor to descibe this collaborative process, we would end up with an uninhabitable ruin. However, if we compare it to the ecology of an edge habitat, (essentially a livable space made from boundary objects) this process could prove to be quite sustainable.

Edge habitats are:

  • based on non equilibrium dynamics that is guided by process of growth/decay or space-filling/space-clearing.
  • system that is locally unstable (sometimes extremly so), globaly stable, but in continuous flux.
  • by adapting to interactions from within, and constrains from without, these systems become increasingly immune to fatal catastophes.
  • remaining flexible, but robust (perfect collaboration politics!)
  • and importantly - they rely on emergent rather than sedentary behaviour. (pattern→noise→pattern)

Collaboration (as a form of temporary social structure) is such an emergent pattern, perpetuated in time, and influenced by people, places, events, etc+ - if robust enough, it will transform itself into a new pattern when the 'unexpected occurs', otherwise, the collaborators and the result of their collaboration might be snowed into undistinguishable noise.

If we view collaboraton as a whole, a pattern, we could describe it as a process of group orientation, a collective finding of direction, rather than starting from individual patterns (individuals and disciplines) constantly attempting to bridge a divide, fill gaps or simply cause conflict (ben and chris mentioned yesterday a problem of describing their collaboration in terms of individual contributions).

The core of such pattern inhabits the shared values, goals and desires, then growing outward to the more complex tasks of finding fragments of translation, methodologies, tools, frameworks etc+ Simultanously, the collaboration pattern must grow inwards, resolving the inner conflicts of the individual patterns making up the group, helping to maintain alive their subpatterns of skills, affections, motivations, knowledge + culture. (nurture your collaborators! if at all possible, i would suggest not adopt management structures based on hierarchy, power and control for collaborative endeavours,… maybe only sometimes…. when all else fails!)

Case study; txoom

expression, interaciton in responsive environemnts, where human behaviour influences the dynamics of the mixed reality spaces in which they are physically immersed with a group of co-players.

emerged from tgarden after learning from extensiove user + developer feedback, that crystalised the main acheivements advantages/disadvantages of this overly ambitious project.

one of the most significant acheivements of txoom was the improvement in the group dynamics and collaboration processes.

  • a larger and more diverse collective was brought together producing, in 10 months:
  • 3 public workshops focused on play and games, alive textiles and data ecologies,
  • 3 very differnet public experiments in Italy, UK and Slovenia, guided by onsite development sessions, with a strong emphasis on suplementing f2f with CSCW
  • pseudo-ethnographic evaluation, during process + presentation
  • all of which are documented online and in the already known dvd
  • All the modes of collaboration that Lynn mentioned on the first day of the summit were present with more or less sucess, and I'd be glad to talk to anyone interested further about our problems and solutions:
  • The development of playspaces for public experiments started with “f2f” workshops, paper, markers, whiteboards, food + wine on various locations in Europe.
  • The development protocols, materials and systems were established in “f2f with technology” sessions in Linz and Brussels.
  • After agreeing on basics, a “remote” mode was the dominant collab. method, with set f2f reality checks on crucial development points.

(brief overview of http://lib.fo.am)

Once the playspace was coming together as a whole (specifically in gt. yarmouth) professional artists from a range of disciplines were invited to test it, as were local groups of yound offenders (mainly testing robustness!), single teenage mothers and a group with intellectual disabilities. Feedback from these people was integrated to a certain extent in the site specific experiment, or will be taken into account in the future versions of the project. This is a collaboration model that Lyn didnt address yesterday (as it is less likely to occur in scientific collaborations) Maybe you could help us find a name for it, as “f2f with non/expert evaluator” that we thought of yesterday isnt quite satisfactory…

During the public experiment collaboration modes were oscillating from p2p (in 'help… remote collaborator in berlin, there is a bug in your software!), f2f (Sia's social space in the waiting room, dressing and harnessing participants), producer-consumer ( artists and scientists willing to use the system for their own purposes) , participant-system (during individual play sessions), particiant-system-participant (group play sessions), etc+

In order to facilitate specifically the last 2 collaborative modes, 2 parts of the system were utilised

  • sensor aquisiton system, recording
  • dynamics engine

(brief overview sensor system + dynamics)

At the end of this stage of txoom, we are stil looking at ways to make further interpretation of the participants + devlopers experiences that could guide us to improve our techniques for building social systems and public spaces alive with matter, gesture and meaning.

more information on txOom: http://fo.am/txoom/

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