This post is the first in a series on ‘Legends’ – individuals and collectives that inspire me in the field of interactive arts and related disciplines.
I’ve kept this list for a while as I’ve tried to maintain perspective on what I do. I thought I may as well publish it to give a shout out to those who inspire me.
Each of these entries is quite short covering why I think their work is important. Sometimes it’s about the art, other times it’s about the ‘business’, eg the way they’ve positioned or framed themselves as artists. Often it’s about both.
For those interested feel free to follow the links and explore further. Some of these companies I know better than others and some of my impressions may be totally wrong so if I’ve said anything that you think needs correcting please get in touch.
Out of respect I generally haven’t posted images of other artists work on my site unless I collaborated on the project.
The entries are in no particular order, simply the order I have notes scribbled down. Lastly this list will never be complete, and I hope to be making more contributions in future.
Milan based studio. In terms of physical space it’s one of my favourite in the world. They have ample natural light, a small factory full of printing, CNC and other making machines, ample in-house knowledge and best of all a commercial kitchen.
The kitchen is the heart of what they do. The team is extremely social and it’s very common to find them all sharing a communal meal.
I first went there for an internship kindly offered by Alessandro Masserdotti after I found myself in Italy for the first time in 2013 at a loose end. Other plans had fallen apart after arrival but I met Alessandro at the Toolkit festival in Venice and he generously offered to let me spend a week and a half in the studio and also helped me find accommodation. Top bloke.
(That trip was incidentally when I came off my last tour as production manager and became a full-time artist.)
Like many other interactive studios they have a firm feet planted in design, motion graphics and architecture. Their flagship work is museums, exhibitions and pavillions. Their output has always been extremely high quality in both concept and hands-on spheres. They have a cadre of interns and students whom have full access to their ‘opendot’ maker space and experienced brains behind it, hence creating more brains. They have become a maker education hub in Milan providing hands on experience for students at various local and international institutions.
In 2017 we collaborated on a project for Italian chocolate brand Venchi that used facial recognition to read peoples emotions as they ate chocolate. Read about it here.
Domestic Data Streamers
I met this Barcelona based design firm when they ran a workshop on data visualisation at the 2017 Sensorium Festival in Bratislava.
I was deeply impressed by the art gallery quality of their work and the emotive quality of their documentation videos.
I thought it was very interesting that they had a ‘data centric’ view of design. In the workshop they taught they showed how data visualisation was about creating a human connection to data.
Refik Anadol Studio
Headed up by Refik Anadol, a Turkish artist now based in California. I find their work notable for extremely high quality motion graphics, often making use of perspective and contextualised as ‘data sculpture’ ( eg as opposed to screen based ‘video art’).
Their documentation is always very impressive. Including concept notes, process documentation and videos. I’ve noticed their videos often have a well dressed woman watching in silhouette, this gives perspective of several kinds.
They have some extremely high profile clients in the architecture and they seem to do well in the galley sector. I think this is naturally attributable to the quality of their work. I also note their uncompromisingly prestigious branding. They look cool and they are cool. Eg they talk the talk but also walk the walk.
A Berlin based studio for digital art and design, and really some very lovely people. They use a range of different approaches including vvvv and 3ds Max for top shelf motion graphics. They also create tangible projects and get away entirely from screens.
In particular they appear (to me at least) to have a very good mix of corporate comissions and pure art projects.
Onformative have won several awards. Across not just interactive awards but also video music awards. For my own reference this highlights the importance of entering awards shows, particularly ones outside your normal scope.
vvvv is my interactive tool of choice. This is the first entry on the legends list that isn’t an interactive artist, although they have been responsible for a lot of interactive art.
If I was to ever release a product/tool for interactive artists I’d take some leaves from their book. Notably
-Free for non commercial use, and they include teaching in that use, so it’s great for students and artists starting out.
-Simple fixed fee pricing for commercial use, or rental option for one off gigs.
-Extremely active forum with many helpful users. The developers themselves are very active on the forum and often directly answer questions and sometimes have a bug fix out within hours.
-Tools for posting screenshots directly to the vvvv website to show off what your doing. Several chat methods for communicating in real time with other users. Also for capturing animated gifs easily.
-Generous community putting forward many totally free contributions that provide functionality you could never ask for in another tool.
-In development constantly for over 10 years and no signs of stopping. New stuff is added all the time.
-Great mix of low and high level logic allows it to be fast but also very powerful.
-It works the way I think. For the same reason It’s not for everyone but for me vvvv nails it, I only wish more of the world could be programmed using the same interface.
Melbourne based lighting and video design firm. Founded by Bruce Ramus who previously lit some very high profile concert musicians around the world. I’ve collaborated with them on a range of projects over the last four years. Bruce and Tina and Ben have been something like mentors to me at times over that period.
Ramus Illumination is responsible for Australias biggest creative lighting installations, from Bruces involvement in lighting the opera house sails for the first Vivid festival to stadiums, high rises and whole precincts.
From my point of view the cornerstone of their success is simply Bruces great designs and great content that runs on them. Nobody knows how to put together a bunch of pixels and make content look good on them better than Bruce.
On a business level they are inspiring because they
-develop ongoing relationships with clients where they will continue developing content to extend the life of an artwork.
– For hardware they collaborate with high end vendors and always hold out for high quality, high performing products.
-They have invested a lot in very advanced render capability, and have a strong cinematic aesthetic as well. Their preview renders are always very strong, modelling not just fixture position but also illumination characteristics and content. On one project in particular I honestly couldn’t believe how much it looked like the render once the lights came on.
Waltz Binaire / Christian Mio Loclair
I met Mio at the 2017 Amsterdam Choreographic Coding Lab. I knew he was talented, everyone there was of course. But when we went out drinking that’s when I realised, Mio isn’t just any old coding and design genius. Mio is also PrinceMio , legendary dancer and choreographer. So when he makes a dancetech artwork he really makes it from inside the form.
Like many of the interactive studios here his output often consists of high resolution, high quality motion graphics. Except that almost all of Mios stuff runs in real-time.
In his studio he also collaborates with Marta Soto Morrás who developed this incredible optical flow plugin for vvvv. In my humble opinion it’s the best optical flow implementation available for any realtime tool at the moment.
Wekinator / Rebecca Fiebrink
Wekinator allows you to create neural networks for art projects. It’s a deceptively simple program but incredibly powerful and totally free.
It’s all well and good for google to make APIs for machine learning available but if there’s one thing I’ve learnt it’s that compilation really holds back a real-time collaborative art process. By making a neural network simply available over OSC protocol it makes machine learning a lot more accessible to a much larger variety of artists. Even though wekinator was released in 2009 I think we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg of applications for it. Artists are increasingly becoming aware of machine learning and Wekinator is ready for them.
I collaborated with FFV providing interactive tracking for the Volvo Art Session 2017. They seem to be a design based company but they have an extensive catalogue of live stage work, including awards shows. They have an impressive roster of corporate clients and an ability to create beautiful publications. They have also been very successful at a wide variety of awards. One of their cornerstones appears to be high quality motion graphics, even for projects that are not purely on screens this seems to be an avenue of attack.
MESO Digital Interiors
MESO in Frankfurt was where vvvv was first developed. I’ve only interacted with them directly at NODE17 but I was deeply impressed by how many of their works on display had a tangible component. It seemed like they were getting away from screens, and from my investigation so far it they would be one of the only high profile design companies to do so. Retro technologies like flip displays and repurposed fruit machines had a home in their office. They’ve also been
They are particularly laudable for their commitment to community enterprises like the NODE festival itself. And to fostering talent, it seems almost every other professional interactive artists or designer I meet has had something to do with them.