Make it real

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Discussion with Surya Mattu

There were two big themes that stuck with me after our conversation with Surya last Friday. The first was the powerful, consistent strategy employed create impactful journalism. The second, was the power of asking questions when compared to providing answers, a power I believe I’ve been grossly underestimating. I’ll touch on both briefly.

In each of the projects Surya presented, there was consistent one-two punch employed that I believe made them particularly effective. The first was to make the story real for the audience; make it unique to them so they really feel the consequences of what is happening. Whether that’s providing them with their wi-fi history, allowing them to look up trackers on their most visited sites, or detailing harrowing stories of the victims effected vy machine bias. The second aspect was providing tools to take action, or document their own experience. These tactics permit the audience to feel wronged, and give an implicit call to action, sidestepping the "okay, but now what?" response some political journalism evokes.

The second piece of the discussion I’ve been thinking about since our conversation ended, was Surya’s demonstration of the power of simply asking questions. There’s tremendous value in simply raising public awareness around an issue and getting people to engage with it. There’s a lot of pressure on developers, designers, and entrepreneurs to create solutions and products. This often ends up in them inventing solutions as well. I’ve been occupying this limited problem space for a while; going forward I’d like focus on elevating consciousness and awareness in addition to solutions.

The concept of power in organization and its relation to technological solutions is directly correlated to the causal flow discussed in Ch. 5 of Twitter and Teargas. While technology certainly plays a role in enabling social change, it also forms a construct that establishes the rules for who can and cannot participate in that change. By focusing only on solutions and products, designers fall pray to the same technocratic fallacies as the reporters decrying "facebook uprisings." It’s important to think critically about the causal role of individuals and groups in social change, not just the technology that unites or amplifies them.

Bruce Nauman, Corridor

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In the first chapter of Aesthetics of Interaction in Digital Art by Katja Kwastek, the author gives a plethora of artists that illustrate the various practices that are employed in interactive media art.

Kwastek uses one of these iterations (Live - Taped Video Corridor,) to illustrate artists manipulating self-perception and self-observation. The piece uses a video camera (mounted at the entrance of the corridor) which feeds into screens at the end of the corridor. The aspect I found particularly appealing is that as the audience approaches the screens, they actually get further from the camera. This causes their forms to get smaller visually on the screen. It creates an interesting phenomena where as they move down the corridor, they are "denied the possibility of approaching" themselves.

Bruce Nauman, Live - Taped Video Corridor

This, almost maniacal, control over the audience’s experience is a notion I find particularly interesting when it comes to interactive media. Nauman iterated on this idea several times using a variety of distortions. Each variation ultimately relies on this notion of controlling the spectator’s experience as they interact with the piece.

Large green walls to the left and right create a long corridor

I would really enjoy recreating this experience, perhaps utilizing projectors and smaller cameras to disguise the mechanics of the piece. It may also be interesting to project the viewer’s form onto the walls. As they travel down the corridor, the form they approach would get smaller, but they would be unable to escape the forms projected onto the walls to their left and right.

Open Square

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Open Square is one of the current installations on display at The Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh, PA. It was created during the pandemic lockdown by artist duo Petra Bachmaier and Sean Gallero (AKA Luftwerk).

The installation itself is comprised of two interconnected rooms, their walls illuminated by color-changing light. The walls themselves consist of overlapping, vibrant square patterns that give the illusion of depth. This piece is particularly noteworthy because of the virtuosic use of color and perspective to engage the viewer and invite them to reconsider or reconstruct their perceived reality.

Studio with light projected onto walls in a different color scheme
Studio with light projected onto walls


This constant bending of the viewers’ perception is the essence of interactivity in Open Square. While moving through the space, the observer can control their position and field of view. The ever-shifting color palette combines with these two variables to create a unique experience for each spectator that is never quite the same moment to moment.


In this piece, the moldable medium is the observers’ own consciousness: their field of view, their attention, and their perception. The dynamic medium is the viewer’s position and orientation. These are all directly influenced by the ever-changing common medium shared by the spectators: the illusory and striking space surrounding them.


The spectator’s input (their position and orientation) is unknown and largely irrelevant to the piece’s function. The viewer can enter and exit as they please; they can gravitate towards the center of the room or the wall. This autonomy affords the viewer a powerful, unique opportunity to mold their experience and the way they interact with the Open Square.

Another view of the installation in a different color
Another view of the installation