Mark Cypher and Bruce Shapiro
The Natural World and Our Footprint
Throughout my research of digital media artists I came across two differing artists that grabbed my attention through various mediums of interaction, illumination and digital processes. Mark Cypher, an interactive artist creates surreal pictures through digital means while Bruce Shapiro uses scrapped mechanical components to create motion. Each artist is unique in their own right but each offers an different view of life through various digital means.
Mark Cypher is a working artist, educator, sculptor and designer who received his masters of visual arts in sculpture in 1995. Currently the senior lecturer and program chair for Interactive Digital Design and Games Art and Design at Murdoch University in Western Australia. Cyphers work studies the affect of participation on digital means of art.
Inspired by nature during his earlier sculpting works, Cyphers work focuses on the relationship between humans and our environment. Much of his earlier works are sculpture of natural shapes such as insects and plant-life. He moved into a more critical view of human nature in his series Objects Are Us,where he began to study the relationship between the various “non-functioning” decorations we buy and ourselves. This study and his interest in digital projection and process brought him into one of his more interacting projects call “Gardenus”.
“Gardenus” is more simply broken down into garden-us. In this project Cypher takes the following quote by Charles Darwin in 1859 and breaks it apart to allow the viewer to interact. It reads, “In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment.” Cypher uses a program that allows the viewer to change a particular organism by changing three particular words in the Darwin quote. Survival, adapting and abilities.
Once you click on this link http://www.markcypher.com/gardenus/gardenus_enter.html you enter the gardenus. Cypher explains that there are numerous convincing arguments for and against Charles Darwin's theories and that while there are many arguments, the true narrative depends on who is discussing or telling the particular Darwin idea. Cypher discusses that evolution is dependent on the person viewing and telling the story of evolution. Cypher says, “The practice and making of artificial life is a metaphor for Neo-Darwinist ideas about nature and the evolution of organisms.”
By clicking on the Gardenus link and plugging in three different words, the viewer has the power to change the particular organism. Direct control is not evident but general control of the outcome is dependent upon what words are plugged in. Cypher named this particular project Gardenus because it plays with the fact that we, as humans, try to have total control over our environment, including gardens.
Humans struggle to control everything and have a clear knowledge about everything in our universe. We want a complete control over our lives and where life leads us. So, to Cypher, the idea of the garden and allowing a change to the digital garden gives the user a feeling of a godlike power. In digital currents, Margot Lovejoy says, “The computer reads electronically scanned aspects of reality as information about light structures, storing this numerical information in its database, which can eventually be programmed to appear as visual imagery.” (p. 152) Lovejoy basically describes work on a computer as scanned reality. Through Cyphers work, he is able to concentrate on the role we play in our environment and how we can digitally simulate that role.
Bruce Shapiro is a California based artist who started out in the medical field as a general practitioner. He moved into the science field and began studying the art of motion and the control of that motion. After contacting Shapiro, he explained to me that his fascination with motion and the motion in the natural world pushed him to create beautiful pieces of artwork.
Digital Currents (p. 47) says, “curiosity about natural phenomena, scientific and mathematical puzzles and their relationship to aesthetic problems led many visual artists to experiment with machine parts and materials, to probe new phenomenological mysteries for their aesthetic potential.” Shapiro definitely uses his science and medical background to create machines that produce a beautiful array of artwork. Shapiro has a series of his first digital works called eggbot. Eggbot is a machine that holds onto an egg and draws a pattern on the egg. Shapiro can control various output modes to create a new pattern on the egg. He teaches children the art of motion control by helping them create their own simpler versions of eggbot.
Following Eggbot, Shapiro worked on various projects using machines to move through sand, using machines with wind and using machines with water to create usually pleasing and scientifically based works of art. Shapiro states that motion control is an “industry term used to describe a variety of techniques for orchestrating the movement of machinery and objects, “robotics”, “CNC” and “automation” are all forms of motion control”. He desires to show that motion control is an emerging medium for artistic expression
Shapiro did a series called Pipedream in which he uses multiple hollow clear plastic tubes connected to a machine, The machine is then programmed to control the output of water. In Pipedream I, Shapiro needed to create a piece for the Science Museum of Minnesota. The only requirements for this piece was that it had to be hanging and be kinetic and interactive. He hung 16 tubes from the ceiling and filled them with a specific amount of water and air. He then put a foot control keyboard on the ground in which museum visitors could walk across and control the output of water and air. This first rendition of Pipedream proved to have many problems including the keyboard.
So, in Pipedream II, Shapiro began to play with color in the water so as to create a different visual aesthetic. He also moved the output sensors out from under the publics feet and used an optical sensor to continue to allow for audience interactivity. The viewers can walk by and depending on the positioning of their body can control the output of water.
In Pipedream III Shapiro was able to work out all of the kinks and issues that he had in the previous two models. Shapiro more than tripled the amount of clear plastic tubes to ninety-six and worked with the tuning to make sure that the bubbles within the tubes reached the top of the structure at the same time. He then programmed a machine that hooked up to each of the tubes which pushed out a specific amount of air at a particular time. As the bubbles moved up the plastic tubing a recognizable face would appear, such as Marilyn Monroe, Elvis and Winston Churchill. He began to work with the program so that a person in the gallery could be photographed on a web-cam and be put into the program and become a picture within the water and bubbles.
To view the pipedream series, simply click the following link.
“The machine “represented an intrusion, a menace.” (p. 48) While many people over the past century and even further back have believed that technology has brought about the destruction of our society, Shapiro and Cypher have used it to express their views of the world and to use our natural environment to create their artwork. While Cyphers work is more of an interactive application to bring about the idea of controlling and shaping our environment, Shapiro’s work is more of a way to use our natural environment to create and form art.
Cypher uses Gardenus to allow the user to alter a given digital organism and plays with how people change Darwin's views by altering his story or changing a word. This interactive process allows for the viewer to feel some sort of a control over the natural process of growth to feel an almost god-like power. Cyphers work focuses on how society wants to control the natural world and create in their own right what they believe that world needs to be.
Shapiro’s work focuses on the relationship that we share with our environment and how we can use science and the natural world to create new forms of art. His views of the natural world are that we can use all natural things such as water, sand, dirt, plant-life, etc. alongside machinery and technology to create various artworks. His work causes the viewer to think about the natural world and the idea that there is a greater power behind the natural process causing these natural things to move and change.Both of these digital media artists have been able to use their digital means to create a new aesthetic surrounding the natural world and how we as humans affect that world. While they come at the issue of our effect on environment differently, they have both come across a unique style of interactive digital process to cause the viewer to think about our human footprint.