This was Stimulant's third year attending the Eyeo Festival and once again it didn't disappoint. The event took place over a full week this year and was jam-packed with tasty goodness. The days were filled with workshops led by design visionaries and sought-after creative coders, keynotes from some of the most inspirational big thinkers, and daily talks by coders, artists, and data designers. This year, the festival felt more data-focused than in the past, and although that's not Stimulant's core focus, there was still a lot to learn and a plenty to inspire.
The festival began with a screening of a short documentary about Lillian Schwartz, one of the pioneers of abstract computer graphics who worked at Bell laboratories in the 1960s. The audience was given chromadepth glasses which make different colors appear at different depths, creating a 3D effect. Next was a talk by another artist who was an early adopter of computers named Frieder Nake. At the end of the talk he gave a demo of an interactive processing version of one of his works done by students.
Marius Watz gave a very personal talk about his experiences as a working digital artist over the last decade. He talked about a few interesting art exhibitions such as the "Abstrakt Abstrakt" show he curated at Node 10. While talking about business models for digital art he referenced a digital art gallery called Sedition and the digital art auction Paddles ON!
Giorgia Lupi from Accurat then showed a beautiful hand drawn presentation about her process developing data visualizations using pencil and paper and the role of decoration in data visualization. Her talk challenged everyone not to be afraid of pen and paper.
The Microsoft Kinect team hosted a lunch session during which they talked about some of the work they have been doing to include the creative coding community. They spoke about their Ambient Creativity HackFest events and their work to integrate OpenFrameworks and Cinder into Windows Store apps which was then followed by a quick demo and discussion about the new Kinect in detail. You can read more about the new Kinect in a future Stimulant blog post. Everyone in the session was given a new Kinect which is a sure way to kickstart some creative uses of the new hardware.
With the last few remaining brain cells, we attended the evening keynotes which both dealt with the ramifications of big data. Cesar Hidalgo discussed his work at MIT and presented a formal method to quantize the world into discrete information units that can then be studied with traditional visualization techniques. He presented three laws of information quantization:
Cesar was followed by Kate Crawford, a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research. Kate spoke about hidden biases in big data and how our culture is adapting to our personal data being constantly collected by both state and enterprise. Fascinating stuff.
Kim Rees started the day with a talk about the future of user interfaces in a world of smart connected machines. She spoke about the rise of digital natives, young people growing up in a world of smart devices. She argued for the end of user-centered design in exchange for userless interfaces. These interfaces would inform our world intelligently rather than do our bidding. In this scenario the user should never see your product and should keep her eyes on the world rather than the device. She used the analogy of babysitting the user to describe our current user-centered design world and suggested that the age of data autonomy is approaching. Kim mentioned the concept of executable data that will help reduce data redundancy through self organized agent systems. She also put forward a semi-controversial argument that data privacy inhibits social progress and referenced projects such as Datacoup which is a marketplace for auctioning off your personal data. She presented an offsetting future of latent cycles being used to create a giant mesh of cameras watching everywhere.
Paola Antonelli gave a talk in the late morning about her role as a senior curator in the Department of Architecture and Design at The Museum of Modern Art and the obstacles that she faces in introducing the traditional art world to new forms of digital and data driven art. She referenced several exhibitions and pieces such as Million Dollar Blocks which was a piece using GIS spatial information data as a medium, the Machine Art exhibition of 1934 which was the first to present everyday design objects as artworks, and her work acquiring video games for the museum's collection. She discussed the importance of source code as a means of preserving art.
After the lunch break, Dr. Scott Davidoff and Jesse Kriss from the Jet Propulsion Labs discussed a project they worked on to help rocket operators visualize the status of satellites. Previously the engineers would watch a stream of log messages and so they developed an interface reminiscent of a periodic table with clear indicators. They also discussed a project that visualized the discrepancies in perception between interacting with a panoramic view of the Mars rover data versus an immersive Oculus Rift perspective. They found that when asking people to point at objects the difference between the real position and perceived one was much larger within a panoramic experience than an immersive one.
In the late afternoon, James George and Jonathan Minard demonstrated CLOUDS, their new interactive documentary about the creative coding community. Using a Kinect, they captured several interviews with artist friends and collaborators, many of them shot at the Eyeo conference. They then coded an interactive story engine to allow non-linear explorations of the interviews. The interviews were cut up into snippets and each snippet's meta data was associated with other snippets allowing the user to navigate through a meta data graph via Kinect or Oculus Rift. The source code for the engine has been posted to GitHub here.
Tahir Hemphill started the day discussing his work in the Rap Research Lab creating a massive database of hip-hop lyric metadata. He’s used this data in a variety of ways including enlisting robots from the Carnegie Mellon labs to create light drawings that were not only beautiful but also showed the artist’s lyrical worldliness.
Eric Rodenbeck gave a very personal talk about running a data viz design studio for the last decade in San Francisco. His insights about decision making, hiring and firing, and the sacrifices that you have to make to run a company hit very close to home.
In the afternoon Mimi Son and Elliot Woods from Kimchi and Chips presented the concept of digital emulsion and explained it's relevance to their recent work. Elliot explained digital emulsion as the intersection point between projection mapping and 3d scanning when the projector is used as both a scanner and an augmenter and projected pixels become active sensors. He described these as "sensor pixels" or "sexels" and explained that in digital emulsion they become the fundamental particles of new digital materials. Digital emulsion could be explained as capturing a digital version of an object and then re projecting that model back onto the real world object, making visible the artifacts created during the process. You can see their latest work involving the Kinect and wind here.
Eyeo 2014 was a blast! The quality of speakers was truly amazing, the variety of attendees was a huge pleasant surprise, and Minneapolis is such a fun, yet underrated city. It seems as though data is going mainstream, and in the next 10 years Eyeo could grow to be the size of SxSW, which could change the intimacy of the event. Eyeo has so much to offer for designers, developers, and artists alike. One big surprise though, was that there wasn’t much work around the city created by Eyeo designers and artists. In the future, we’d love to see that change, but that said we can’t wait for next year!