INST-INT Tips: Safety Nets for Interactive Installation

INST-INT is a new conference highlighting the field of interactive art installations. These experiences whether presented as art in a gallery, or as a corporate brand experience, push the envelope with innovative physical presences and digital software techniques.

Working in new territory, these creative coders need to account for risk and for future maintenance. Here’s a round-up of some of the clever and innovative ways that these artists made sure their work would continue to look its best.

827dc53d670c3bdd7bd9731edbb276cc17d0b280 Aurora Organ – photos by Dan Marshall Photo

Aurora Organ, by Camille Utterback, aimed to generate a feeling of community around this stairwell inside the Shops at West End in St. Paul. Camille created a design in which visitors to the mall gather around the railing, placing their hands upon lighted touch-sensitive segments to change the color of the large chandelier in the center of the space. Camille planned ahead and while the railing was being manufactured she had plain wooden sections milled to match the rest of the railing. If ever one of the touch pads is out of commission the mall can simply pop it out, put in the wooden section and send the mechanism to Camille for repair. In the meantime, visitors will be none the wiser.

Camille also recounted testing new software features– while projecting onto San Jose City Hall during an important event. Camille ran her program simultaneously on two computers, and if there was a problem with one she simply flipped a VGA switch to change to the other.

Mouna Andraos, of Daily Tous Les Jours, presented her work on the 21 Balançoires project, including an advanced monitoring scheme to make sure the project has good up-time. This project is a set of 21 music-enhanced swings which play new notes as users swing higher and lower. Each swing corresponds to a specific instrument, and as the many swings are swung together a cooperative symphony begins to form. An extremely popular installation, this piece has gathered upwards of 400,000 cycles on each of its swings. With that much wear and tear, Mouna created an advanced monitoring system where she and her team can check on the swings remotely and see what their status is at any time.

The Google Web Lab project gave people around the world the opportunity to interact with a physical installation at London’s Science Museum via its website. Matt Cottam, from TellArttold us how they dealt with the demands of millions of interactions. One key decision was to minimize consumable materials. Instead of having the remotely-controlled robots draw users’ portraits onto paper, they drew them into sand, which was 100% erasable and reusable. Also, instead of having the dry-erase robot use individual markers (which would have run out many times a day) they built the machine to use one large jug of dry erase liquid instead.

Stuart Wood, from rAndom International, described how their popular Rain Room installation included a panic button when it was installed at MoMa. At the first sign of trouble, the water could be turned off and the experience completely shut down. (Fortunately, they did not need to use the feature.)
Whether short-term or long-term, dealing with problems as they come along can be a challenge. As these artists show, one of the best times to decide how to fix a problem can be long before the problem ever occurs.