Andrew Richardson's Pixel Ware is a fully interactive table-based work, designed and built for the Oriental Museum in Durham.
The project started by chance through a conversation with the Oriental Museum's curator alongside an officer from the city's arts agency. The timing could not have been better; the Museum's Chinese Gallery was in the process of being renovated, so a specific area was to be created which housed Pixel Ware in the centre of the exhibition space. As Richardson says, "... the chance to work with such a prestigious collection of oriental decorative objects was an opportunity too good to miss... situating Pixel Ware amongst the ceramic collection created an important environment in which the digital interactive work could been seen as a reflection of the traditional objects within the museum's collection."
Development of Pixel Ware took place through Processing for the interactive graphics and ReacTIVision, used to develop table-top interaction alongside the tracking of objects on the table's surface. Being Richardson's first interactive table, time to experiment with lighting, projection, and surface was necessary in order to get the work and its environment exactly right. Overall, the spirit of Richardson's intentions are honourable – as honourable as the pieces which surround Pixel Ware: "The demonstration of amazing understanding and mastery of material is what I find inspirational in the Chinese ceramic collection, it is this mastery of material which I hope to replicate in my own use of code when making pieces of work. "
Richardson agrees that the challenge was not to replicate, but to re-interpret aesthetics and patterns in a computational manner which reflects and builds on the original work. Because of its setting, visitors have been encouraged to make connections between the old and the new, and for the space to contribute a context which would have otherwise not have been present within a standard white cube. The ideas within the work are complex, and they subscribe to Richardson's unrelenting aims to produce work which is both aesthetic and technological. Specific to Pixel Ware is Richardson's desire for viewers to reflect on the aesthetic possibilities of code, and the possibilities that programming and projection can deliver onto physical artefacts.
The challenge for technologically-enhanced physical work is how its audience will interact with it. This work invites curioristy, and Richardson notes that interaction was perhaps more confident and more inquisitive than he had initially thought. The audience seemed to be keen to play around with the work and to test the cause-and-effect of trying out ways of interaction. The large table invites group interaction, which led to many objects concurrently being interacted with, and, at times, groups trying to get as many plates onto the table at once to see what would happen to the work and to the projections. Childrens' interactions were especially surprising to Richardson; they would stack plates on top of each other to see what happened, which was an unexpected surprise for all concerned.
As media literacy through consumer technologies such as Kinect and iOS has increased, the barriers between audience and work have reduced. Audiences feel invited to play, rather than to stand back and watch more confident, more knowledgeable members come forward. Using something as ordinary as a plate helped; it was a metaphor for a context of interaction which the audience could understand. "Although familiar with interacting with touch screen environments, the addition of the traditional physical object created an interesting sense of intrigue to the experience, and re-enforced the idea of the magic or 'aura' of the object reflected by the museum's collection."
Richardson has remained in the county for his next work, which will coincide with the Lindisfarne Gospels arriving in Durham. Bringing the historic, the exquisite, the beautiful back into the hands of many through advanced media developments is something of a focus for Richardson; crafted, celebrated code reflecting and highlighting the value and power of crafted, sacred objects.
Andrew Richardson is Senior Lecturer, Design: Multimedia and Graphics at the University of Sunderland at the University of Sunderland. Further information is available on his website.
Pixel Ware remains on display at the Oriental Museum, Durham. Andrew is presenting an overview of Pixel Ware at EVA London, 10/07/12 – 12/07/12. For further information and to book, visit the EVA London website.