New things have this strong gravitational pull on us. From the one side they open up our desires, but from the other side they wake up our fears.
I want to share my personal process – which has a little of both. Last May I was awarded a scholarship to develop a project that consisted of an interactive multiTouch table upon which to draw collective mandalas. My aim was to bridge cutting edge technology with therapeutic and educational contexts. But soon as I started developing this project fears began to grow. In all of the videos of interactive installations I had checked out the picture was the same: people oblivious to each other. People in silence, with their faces slack, as if watching television, completely seduced by the images, passive and alienated. I realized that if people were to be simple users and they weren´t truly creative. “Oh my God, ” I thought, “this is going to be hard.”
And hard it was. Eventually answers came from my experience working as psychologist. The problem I was facing with the project looked a lot like the differences between the clinical model and the person-centered model in health practices. The spatial settings and context are what nudge people’s perspectives towards a passive or an active attitude to their owns healing process. So a way out of my dilemma was possible: somehow the conditions had to be chosen carefully in order to keep the person as the center of action. In other words, to think on a “person centered” technology and not as a technological center of alienation.
That was easy to say, but hard to put in practice. In fact, on hind sight I now see that are more things to improve than to be proud of. I found it really useful to stop seeing the table in terms of an interactive installation and to start to think of it as a shared communal space. This allowed my experience as a therapist to be a guide in the developing of this project.
So the intention was to create the conditions of a shared space in order to let the inner force of life use it in its own way. But technology still has this strong presence that tends to place it on the center of the stage. So I took Paolo´s Knill “Less is MORE” suggestion to bring balance to this relationship of variables.
I will try to describe the final configuration as I want to share the little decisions behind Communitas multiTouch table. Some videos and photos of it can be found at www.patriciogonzalezvivo.com/communitas.html .
M: Materials and shapes to be used as tools
The table was chosen to be circular, in order to use this powerful symbol of community and gathering – to bring something of the agoras, theaters, of dinner table, tribe fire, drum circles, etc.
The material of the table was to be almost completely wood. The idea was that wood, an organic material, would bring warmth to the touch and eyes. It would also give an ordinary organic feeling to such a non-ordinary and non-organic experience like painting lines of light with our fingers.
O: Organizing a direction of discovery that motivates.
There where some software decisions of how the table would react. It was decided participants would use just one color given by his or her position around the table – a distinctive and unique quality for each participant. Also, the drawings would circulate upon the surface in a clockwise direction to the area in front of the next participant. This would allow participants a chance to complete or respond their fellow participants drawings. The more participants around the table, the more colors, the more differences and the richest the experience would be.
Time was another crucial variable. Drawings would move slowly to give the other participants the time to complete the drawings and to give the person who started the drawing the possibility to watch how others complete his or her work. In this way there would be time for people to track changes and to change their perspective between their individual contributions and the communal result.
R : Restriction of the frame and field of play.
The color was the main restriction that aimed to open the participant to the idea of accepting others’ differences.
Another restriction was durability: all drawings circulate round the table to gravitate towards its center and vanish there, when completed. In the manner of the sand mandalas created by Buddhist Tibetan monks, which are wiped as soon as finished, participants would at some time stop drawing watch their creations gravitate to the center of the table and disappear.
E : Sensitize toward the emerging shapes.
So all the drawings would eventually converge as a living magma of color towards the center of the table and disappear – but the table would keep a collective memory of all the interactions and drawings of all the participants of the table. Then, unexpectedly, the table would re-emerge this collective network of forms and color to allow them to continue evolving into new shapes and images.
After the experience of sharing this project, I see how each person used the table and the space in it´s own way – most of the time in ways I could not imagine when I conceived the project. I was happy to find that is very similar to what happens with space when I work with clients as a therapist. That I have to make this movement of the soul from a position of expectation of something to happen, to one the just know I only could bringing some conditions and trust in the process.
If I´m lucky life will bring more chances to look in to my fears and working on my desires.
Patricio Gonzalez Vivo