Philips the electronics giant commissioned Edward Ihnatowicz to create a sculpture for its new technology center Evoluon in Eindhoven. This commissioning came about as a result of a previous work he produced, a cybernetic sculpture called SAM. SAM is an acronym for Sound Activated Mobile.
SAM was a flower like object with 4 fibreglass petals on which 4 microphones where attached. This was mounted to a spine made of cast aluminum components. The microphones detected the direction sound was coming from and reacted to the sound through movement which was powered by hydraulic actuators.
This gave a truly unique experience from a device that looked in form to be recognizable as a flower responding to an individuals sound input. It seems strange that he chose this as a form factor given that flowers don’t normally react to sound! It may have been the requirements of focusing sound in the direction of the microphones meant that this particular form factor was needed and even then the movement could be unpredictable which adds to the charm of the object.
The Senster was a cybernetic sculpture on another scale, much larger and with more moving components than the SAM it took the form of an abstract lobster claw. It acted under sound input also and had more dexterous movements coming closer to an animal in how it behaved.
What I thought was fascinating about this piece was for me not just the physical device and interactions that came from from individuals experiencing it, but its connection to the commercial technology industry as a centre piece of a technology center for one of the biggest electronic companies in the world. Was it a sign of the future? That we will interact with pieces of art and be entertained by them? That companies would one day take the lessons learned from observing how these interactions occurred and then implement features that fit these interactions into products that we use every day?
Many companies today actively engage in creating experiences which involve developing new technologies as a result of understanding how people react to new experiences. These experiences come in the form of art or installations. Nokia Bell Labs in recent years have reinvigorated their program for E.A.T and make the connections between engineering and art as a result. Lego have installations at Lego House in Billund, Denmark which are designed to encourage children and adults alike to create objects from random Lego pieces and build stories around them. Recently Lego launched an app that allows you to scan your pieces and makes suggestions of what you can build from them. Could this new app have been developed as a result of thousands of hours of people playing and interacting with the installations at Lego house?
Today we are surrounded by technologies that react to our inputs in different ways, many of them we probably don’t even notice anymore and take for granted. The onward march of technology enables us to interact with objects in ways we never could before. It helps us to interact with new products we may not understand if it was not there as an enabler. It in many circumstances the technology could have been informed by interactions with interactive art.
To me there is a significant connection to be made. Senster commissioned as a piece of interactive art by Philips could have been one of the seminal moments in time that brought us on the course of developing our emotional relationships with technologies in the products we use in our homes today!