Digital Arts and New Media: MFA: Collaboration, Innovation, Social Impact

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monuments and entropy (winter - fall 2017)

Elliot Anderson & Jim Bierman & Danny Scheie

This year, the Mechatronics Group partners with the Performative Technologies Group to create a collaborative research cohort that will develop interactive art and design projects as part of the “Monuments and Entropy” project.

The work will begin with Robert Smithson’s A Tour of the Monuments of Passaic, New Jersey as a way of understanding movement, time, place, the monument and entropic conditions. Smithson operates as both camera and guide, where the reader/viewer is led through a landscape of impressions and reflections. The work is both textual and visual, which is the reason we are brought along on a tour. Given the structure and ways of seeing and understanding landscape the text provides a rich foundation for dramaturgy and the creation of visual imagery. Our proposal is that students create a performative “non-trip to a site from a Non-site.”

Students will be encouraged to explore opportunities to address larger socio-political issues like climate change, destruction of landscapes and environments within this framework. They will be asked to reflect on their experience of the “monumental” in their daily lives. This conception of the monumental would include institutions and political conditions and conflicts.

This group applies a systems based approach for fabricating functional experimental art devices that combine principles of sculpture, kinetics, electronics, motion control, sensors, actuators, motors, and other control devices with Arduino Boards using Max/MSP/Jitter and Processing as the primary programming languages. The fabrication methods include, woodwork, metalwork, moldmaking, and rapid prototyping to build and advance iterations of the mechatronic platform. The conceptual framework of the projects created by the Mechatronic’s group will be developed in response to the art and science research topics chosen by the cohort.

The project group will meet weekly to focus on the design and prototyping of tangible user interfaces to create meaningful correlations with user gestures, controller interface, and the output of that controller as it relates to the project theme. Interaction design concepts include perceived affordances, translation of physical action into digital information, and user observation. Prospective students applying to the project group should have skill in 3D modeling and animation, art, music, gaming, programming, video, engineering, robotics, and design.


The outcome of this project group will be an interactive performative work incorporating sound, animation and live action. The work could be a traditional theatrical production, or site-specific smaller works that would constitute at theater as tour. There are a number of opportunities for local sites to explore both as content for the work and also as a place to perform/enact the work. Entropic sites such as the decommissioned cement plant in Davenport, the fabled “Santa’s Village” in Scotts Valley, or and the abandoned settlement on Año Nuevo Island have rich histories and complex landscapes, but also are environmentally complex. These sites provide an opportunity for students to work with historians and scientists - Año Nuevo Island is a marine sanctuary and the cement plant requires environmental remediation.