Production of Space

Between October and December 2003 I worked on a site-specific project as part of the module “MEDA324 Production of Space”. As a group students were introduced to a site from which we were expected to develop and individual project.

My research this year has been around social navigation. Social navigation, simply put, is about taking clues from other users of the environment and, using these clues, whether they be gestures, exclamations or the routes they take users navigate thier own way through a space. [Munro et al. 1999: 2]

I approached the site project with social navigation of space in mind. I decided that I would ask my colleagues to record when and where they spoke to other people about the project/visit. I created and distributed a simple form.

Social navigation data form

I realised, fairly quickly, during the site visit that the amount of inaccuracy in the recording made by the group would result in such disparities that the data set would be relatively meaningless.

Data recording failure


I recorded video whilst at the site and reviewed this afterwards. A striking interaction between two people sparked an idea whilst reviewing the video footage.

Nathan Shedroff has formulated and written extensively on a data-wisdom “understanding continuum”. He classes data as untranslated and relatively meaningless, information has a context but still needs to be referenced,knoweldge is information that you understand, can apply and articulate without reference and wisdom is second nature, knowledge that you have become expert in.

Nathan Shedroff's understanding continuum

I realised that I didn’t want to operate on the level of data with this project, I wanted to operate at the level of social navigation, at the knowledgelevel.

Nathan Shedroff's understanding continuum - Knowledge

I reviewed the video footage I had recorded at the site and was fascinated by the interactions I observed. Such intimate recording of everyday life put me in mind of the work of the video artist Bill Viola and the photographer Jeff Wall. Both artists, Viola particularly, have been influenced by religious imagery.

Bill Viola's Going Forth by DayJeff Wall

Religious imagery is full of rules, its based on rules that are designed to enable the depict the divine, to bring the most holy and significant moments before a congregation. The meticulous staging of the most important religious events became the accepted view of how these events actually happened. The perfectly formed highly designed versions of the last supper and the crucifixion re-wrote our, western Christian, epistemologies. The rules in these paintings have given us a concept of sacred geometry, the idea that certain proportions reveal the divine.

A famous and well-studied example is Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper”. You can see the various interactions happening across the painting within a wider context as the lines of sight and speech form shapes on which the painting is based.

Da Vinci's Last Supper


In approaching the documentation I took of the site I am asking whether we can apply such geometries to innocuous ‘found’ spaces. Viola and Wall have both made reference to religious imagery having its basis in everyday life. Perhaps we should be able to apply these rules to our everyday lives.

I am interested, in this case, in mapping what I see as knowledge transfer, which to a degree we take part in everyday by discussing information we have sorted and sifted from our environment to expand our personal knowledge base. Conversation is an important part of our accumulation and processing of knowledge. Speech intelligibility research suggests that the average length of a word in spontaneously produced speech patterns – conversation – is around six phonemes, which take just over a second to form. I have taken one word to represent a minimum indicative unit of knowledge transfer.

In the final piece I have slowed down time by a third to enhance the ability to discern the delicacies of interaction taking place. I also have appreciated the detail this has brought to Bill Viola’s work.

The two screens of the finished piece serve to show a comparison and contrast between life and its ‘sacred’ measurements. By studying the piece the viewer comes to understand that the strict rules of the, highly staged, imagery of the divine break down in the reality of our environment. I hope this gives the viewer cause to re-evaluate their own ideas of their relationships in space.

The final pieceThe final piece

The two screens would be projected on to a wall in a darkened gallery space facing the entrance/exit. Stereo speakers in the corners of the projection wall would play the sound.

Posted by Sam at January 16, 2004 04:09 PM

Migration Messenger

Following on from the Prototype collaboration piece I continued with my interest in social interaction and navigation with a purely digital project “Migration Messenger”.

I am really pleased that I seemed to spot an emerging, now prolific, market: Social Software. I feel that Migration Messenger would possibly overcome some of the problems with Social Software through its unique distribution method.

Migration messenger was a continuation of my investigation in to social interaction, which started with the ‘Prototype’ project. “This project requires you to set a problem as well as provide a solution. Projects are to be negotiated with your tutor through an initial proposal. It is essential that the production of work is informed by a critical debate that you have identified.”

I identified two parts to my critical debate: The ‘Macro’ and ‘Micro’ aspects of social navigation. Prototype was informed by the conversation that took place between the ‘actual’ and the ‘virtual’ user, thus exploring the advantages and limitations of the implementation of augmented reality and its effect on the sensory aspect of social navigation. The very personal, in fact one-on-one, relationship between users demonstrates the ‘Micro’ level of human social interaction. Our lives are full of these intimate moments of interaction.

After the success of the collaboration on ‘Prototype’ I decided to further investigate what social interaction on a broader scale means to users across the largest scale of digital communications we currently have: the Internet.

I observed that most communication occurs as a point-to-point process. I know who I am sending a message to, they know who they are receiving a message from and neither of us are aware of the gulf that lies between us. This gave me the idea of creating a medium of communication that integrates the ‘journey’ of the message in to the communication process. The most popular systems of messaging at the moment online are ‘instant messengers’ such as MSN messenger or Yahoo messenger etc. So I decided to borrow the users’ semantic knowledge of these applications to coax them in to a different way of sharing ideas and information. Strongly influenced by the A-Life work of Karl Sims and Craig Reynolds, Migration Messenger uses the analogy of carrier pigeons in the digital realm. The user creates a message, which is represented by a ‘bird’ that is launched in to their personal aviary. These birds then ‘flock’ in the user’s aviary until specific criteria are met which allows them to migrate to one of the nearest neighbours on the network, taking the message and details about themselves and their author with them.

This process requires the user to download the Migration Messenger Client software, in to which they enter their details, which are carried by every messenger that the user creates. The software connections run through Shockwave Multiuser Server enabling rapid transmission from node to node across the network as the messengers migrate.

Due to time constraints and the need for a steep learning curve I was only able to develop a prototype of the Migration Messenger software. I hope to be able to return to this project when I have a firmer grasp on the technology needed, so that I can test out this new medium of mass communication.

Screenshot of Migration Messenger Screenshot of Migration MessengerScreenshot of Migration Messenger Screenshot of Migration Messenger

Posted by Sam at January 16, 2004 02:34 PM


Prototype was a collaborative project I engaged in during 2002. I was responsible for writing a 3D spatialised sound engine and navigation system in Macromedia Director/Shockwave 3D.

Post-rationally I see this project as the beginning of my research interest in Social Navigation. This first experiment in the overlapping of the actual and the virtual, or atoms and bits, ties in very neatly with my current research in to our changing models of space. Prototype is an installation piece that is a very succinct example of theories such as Peter Anders’ Cybrid, Lev Manovich’s Augmented Space and a first step into how the overlapping of the digital and the actual could change our strategies for, and possibly aid, social navigation.

May 2002

Prototype arose through the ‘mixreal’ collaborative project between MediaLab Arts students and Dartington College of Arts students. I worked with three other MLA students: Neil Pymer, Kim Hughes and Lee Richards.

Presented with the theme of interactive spaces, by the tutors, our initial ideas developed from discussions on presence and surveillance, which drew strongly upon video artists such as Nam June Paik, Bill Viola and particularly Bruce
Naumann. Much of Naumann’s work is concerned with the body in relation to space or a specification. These installations were “based on the field of tension between private and public spheres of experience.” Take for example ‘Public Room, Private Room’ in which the viewer’s encounter with their body in relation to the art object is a physical and perceptual experience. The parallel with Prototype is clear in that as digital presence is extended into physical space the translation between the corporeal and the digital forces the user to mentally construct the space around them, which is essentially an artefact of cognition. Much of the initial impetus also came from the analogy of placing a hand on a sheet of glass. Once the hand is removed an impression is left, which gradually fades away. The symbiotic relationship between a virtual space or environment and the realisation of that environment in real space raises interesting questions of social navigation within virtual environments. The Prototype experience involves mapping a virtual environment on to an actual space, but the interconnectedness of the two spaces draw attention to the physical
limitations of the actual compared to the greater (and potentially unlimited) freedom of movement within the virtual.

The presence of both the actual and the virtual user will be experienced through sound in both spaces. Thus the panning and volume adjustments will ‘spacialise’ the parallel users locations, creating an immersive sonic environment in which to navigate and explore. We aimed to explore the representation of user presence through physical and non-physical zones and to draw attention to how we differentiate simulation from actual spaces.
Initially the Prototype model involved the use of a laser grid positioning system to detect the location of the user in the actual space. The user’s location would have then been relayed to a shockwave 3D space to enable the spacialising of
the sound in that space. Time limitations meant that we had to use contact microphones instead. These responded to a foot press, thus locating the user when they step on one. The MIDI interface we used limited us to 12 microphones, therefore we placed them in a grid of 4 x 3.

image for prototype image for prototype image for prototype image for prototype

Posted by Sam at January 16, 2004 02:10 PM