Microworld Kristiansand

Making Microworld covid-secure.

In 2020 we were commissioned to create Microworld : Kristiansand – a 5-month-long immersive art show for Sørlandets Kunstmuseum (SKMU) Norway, to engage the public with playful interactive art. The show had to be covid-secure and touch-free which meant adapting several touch-screen interactions and designing new Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) systems. Our research and development was generously supported by the Arts Council of England. The show consisted of 8 projectors, 8 PCs and 8 sensors in a 200 sqm space which, due to lockdown, had to be installed without us being there. Much careful planning was done with the SKMU staff and also our producers Lumen Arts Projects. We designed new install guides and software tests. We used RemotePC on all machines to allow us to check things were installed correctly and running smoothly. This also allowed for an easy way to turn the pieces on and off without climbing ladders or reaching into cupboards. During the installation we used phone, video conferencing and chat apps with the technicians.

We adapted the artworks to include more homeostatic behaviour: they could adjust themselves to the level of light in the space, thus balancing the sensitivity of the interactions. New works were designed to enable visitors to use their mobile phones or tablets to add content to the artworks. These needed to be super intuitive to use, as well as stable and reasonably secure (ie. not easily hackable). We decided on QR codes with a randomised key projected onto the artworks. Visitors could scan the artwork and be directed straight to a website app with anonymous authorization behind the scenes. People have become more comfortable using QR codes and this process made it simple for them to design their creature and send it into the space via Wifi and a backend Firebase database.

Microworld artworks present ‘living’ creatures in a digital ecosystem. They interact with each other; with the space and with the audience – positioned in the middle of all the action. Cascades of activity flow through the Gallery. Our fantastical creatures display different ideas from Artificial Life and Biological Simulation. The audience can choose to engage directly with the creatures; exploring what they do, or they can stand back and watch the space evolve. The interaction of some creatures is tightly coupled, while others may respond in more subtle ways over longer time spans, mutating, evolving, reproducing. We use motion, colour, and sound sensors.

Microworld : Kristiansand was our second largest show and the first involving BYOD technology. It is the first large-scale show we have done in Europe. It was a big success and considered a ‘crowd favourite’ at the museum. Our entire practice is built around engaging people in digital art through interaction. Giving the audience the ability to add their own creatures and change artworks completely using a few presses on their smartphone is an exciting new direction for us. We want people not just to engage with digital art but to actually become digital art. We want to inspire the next generations of digital makers.

Microworld at Sørlandets Kunstmuseum (SKMU) Norway www.skmu.no/microworld-kristiansand

Making Microworld covid secure