Systems Art & Interactivity

ART 511.2

Conceptual & Information Arts, Department of Art, San Francisco State University – Fall 2012

M/W: 1:10-3:55pm, ROOM: FA538

Instructor: Carlos Castellanos Office: FA539

E-mail:carlos@ccastellanos.com Office hrs: M/W 4-5pm and by appointment

Download a PDF version of the course description/syllabus.

Overview

Description
This course explores cybernetic and systems-based approaches to art-making and contextualization of information systems as art. Methods and techniques for use of information and natural processes in the construction of interactive systems will be presented. Concepts such as complexity, emergence and self-organization will be introduced and their meaning and relevancy within an arts context explored.

Content & Organization
Subjects addressed in the course include: systems theory, cybernetics, complexity, emergence, self-organization, natural systems as sources of artistic material, information mapping, artificial intelligence and artificial life. This is a lecture-lab and includes regular readings, discussions, exercises and projects. Topics are presented by the instructor, examples are shown and explained and exercises are assigned that coincide with the theme(s) covered. These are to be completed by students both during lab periods and outside of class. The first half of the course will focus on introducing the concepts mentioned above, and will include exercises and a small project. The second half will focus on developing a collaborative final project.

Objectives
This course addresses conceptualization, design and production of interactive art with respect to systems and information. In addition to learning basic technical skills required to construct interactive systems, the course has the following objectives:

  • Demonstrate a working knowledge of systems theory, cybernetics, complexity and emergence
  • Learn to create your own systems and processes to incorporate into your art practice.
  • Learn to play with systems to figure them out.
  • Learn about the role and function of systems in society and culture.
  • Demonstrate awareness of systems concepts employed by artists

Required Materials & Text
Course Website: You’re looking at it: http://www.ccastellanos.com/teaching/sfsu/art511-2_fall2012/

The course website is the most important resource of information for this course. In addition to this course description and the class schedule/syllabus, the website will have links to articles code tutorials and all kinds of resources related to the class. All assigned readings will be available online.

Required Text: none, readings will be assigned (TBA)
Optional: The Cybernetic Brain: Sketches of Another Future (Andrew Pickering, University of Chicago Press, 2010)
Beyond Modern Sculpture: The Effects of Science and Technology on the Sculpture of This Century (Jack Burnham, George Braziller, 1968)

Policy
Students are responsible for all of the material presented in class. All assignments must be presented on the due date. Late assignments will be excepted no more than 1 week after the due date, but with a 50% grade reduction. Students are expected to meet with the instructor to review progress and discuss individual approaches. Students are expected to perform the necessary background research on topics and techniques appropriate to completion of the assignments and projects.

Assignment Grading

Exercises 15%
Research Presentation 10%
Small Project 20%
Final Project Proposal 5%
Final Project 30%
Journal/Documentation 15%
General Participation (critiques/readings, etc). 5%

Project Grading Criteria
A. Research, Documentation, Presentation, etc.
B. Formal and Technical Achievement
C. Innovative Response and Conceptual Approach
D. General effectiveness of project

Exercises, Research Assignment & Projects
There will be three small exercises, one research presentation, one small project and one large final project this semester. The exercises are designed to feed into the projects. The projects can be done independently but small groups of two or three are recommended for the final project.

Collaboration
Collaboration is an important part of this course. Students must plan out and document what their roles and accomplishments are in the final project so as to be graded individually in terms of both their technical and conceptual skills. All collaborations must be approved by the instructor.

Participation
Attendance and involvement in the discussions, critiques, readings, class collaborations, field trips and presentations are critical for each student’s success and for the success of the course as a whole. Class time will be devoted to this and it will make up a significant part of your participation grade.

Research Presentation
This will entail an in-depth presentation on your ideas and current research. You will be disseminating information to the class in a manor that facilitates learning and comprehension of the topic. This research should lead directly to one or both of your projects. The research can be done independently or in small groups of two or three. Visuals are required and working hardware/software example demos are strongly recommended. Think of this as a template or prototype for your projects.

Journal & Documentation
You will be expected to keep an online journal/blog of your work in this class. Document your work. Include sketches, experiments, ideas, etc. Pictures, videos, etc are all fine. Think of it as a way to help yourself with your projects and a way to help others who take this class (now and in the future). The tricks you found that work, the pitfalls you hit, ways around them, sources for materials, reference material, etc.

You should also keep notes on the readings in your journal. The various readings include some theory, some practical applications, some experiments, etc. Write up what impresses you, what confuses you, what you agree or disagree with, and what project ideas come to you while you’re reading. By about the middle of the semester, you should have a number of possible final project ideas online.

Your journal can be no-frills HTML, no need for complex sites. Blogs and wikis are fine. Please don’t use Flash or other formats that are not text-searchable (except for embedding video and other media). Ideally, the journal will give you a head start on documenting your projects for future portfolio reference, and those who come after you a place to look for reference material.

A journal entry is part of the assignment for each exercise/assignment/project you do, and each set of readings. Feel free to do more entries as you see fit. The entries for the readings don’t have to be long but they should convince me that you’ve read the material and engaged with it. Basically, you should have at least one or two journal/blog entries a week.

You should document your projects thoroughly. Plan in advance, perhaps as a group, to have what you need to document at least your mid-semester and final projects. Photos, video, drawings, schematics, and notes are all valuable forms of documentation.

Work on this as you go, do not put it off until the end.

Lab Fee Charge Notification
The lab fee for this course is $40. Lab fees are mandatory, as noted in the footnote described in the online course schedule – meaning you must pay the charge as condition of enrollment in this course. If you remain enrolled in this course past September 24th (the add deadline), a charge for the above amount will appear in your University Account. It is also footnoted in the class schedule that students who withdraw from Art department classes after <DATE IN FOOTNOTE FROM ONLINE CLASS SCHEDULE> will not have their instructional materials fees refunded. The Art Department Office will email a notification when your University Account has been charged. Lab fee payments can be made at One-Stop Student Services (SSB 103) or the Bursar’s Office (ADM 155) after the charged appears on your student account. To see if your account has been charged, check your financial statement on your MySFSU page. Unpaid balances in the student university account can affect registration, graduation or other campus services.

 

Schedule


Note: subject to change

Date Theme/Topic Monday Wednesday
Week 1

M – 08/27

W – 08/29

Introduction to course Introduction to course: content, schedule, projects, etc. 

Contemporary and historical examples of systems and cybernetic arts.

Readings (Due W, Week 2):

Homework:

  • join the course discussion forum on iLearn
  • join the course wiki (via e-mail invitation)
  • create your journal/blog and post link to the wiki

Video: What is Cybernetics?, Paul Pangaro

Video: Rachel Armstrong on self-generating/self-repairing architecture.

Slides (pdf)

Introduction to Systems and Cybernetic Concepts 

In-class exercise: system diagrams

Exercise #1: What is a System? Due W, Week 2 (more info on course web site)
Part I
Look for a good definition of what a System is and what it is not.

Bring in 5 example images/diagrams of systems on an 8.5 x 11 in. paper and brainstorm how these systems may be utilized in an arts context

— One must be considered living, organic or “natural”

— One must have more than 50 elements

— One must have no more than 5 parts

Part II
Create a web page or pdf that discusses several (at least 2 or 3) of the cybernetic and system concepts presented so far (see the Cybernetic & Systems Concepts page on the wiki). Discuss how one or more of your diagrams from Part I can be used as an example of one or more of these concepts and explain why. Use simple descriptions to illustrate how your diagrams/images might be an example of each term. Be sure include the images/diagrams in your presentation.

Links to artsits discussed in class:
SymbioticA/MEART
Marc Lombardi

Week 2

M – 09/03

W – 09/05

Systems Aesthetics No Class – Labor Day The experience of Art as an Information System

Selected examples of systems and generative art.

Exercise #1 Due. Upload to blog before class and be prepared to demo and explain it.

Exercise #2, Due W, Week 3.
Organic Analogues
Look for some organic or quasi-organic material or living system that can be used as a substrate for the transmission of information and thus as some sort of cybernetic control system or organic “computer”. Research the material’s properties and brainstorm ways that it can be stimulated or perturbed so that it grows, moves or otherwise changes state. Experiment with the material and diagram a possible cybernetic system that could be built with it. Examples include: ferrofluid, copper sulfate, ants, bacteria, nematodes, slime mold, and more!

Discuss “What are Cybernetics and Systems Science?”, “Cybernetics”, “Systems Aesthetics” and “Cyborg Art”

Readings (Due W, Week 3):

  • “Cybernetics”, Katherine Hayles (PDF, available on iLearn)
  • “New Ontologies”, Andrew Pickering (PDF, available on iLearn)
  • “Don’t give up! Media art as an endless conversational process”, Lautenschlaeger & Pratschke (PDF, available on iLearn)
Week 3

M – 09/10

W – 09/12

Cybernetics Brief history of Cybernetics and its relationship to the arts 

In-class demo/exercise: electrochemical “computer”

More on cybernetics… 

In-class demo/exercise: electrochemical “computer” (continued…)

In-class exercises: Introduction to Max/MSP

Exercise #2 Due. Upload to blog before class and be prepared to demo and explain it

discuss “Cybernetics”, “New Ontologies” & “Don’t Give Up…”

Readings (Due W, Week 5):

  • Background info on:
  • “Emergence”, Mitchell Whitelaw (hard copy reserve, available in the Library)
  • “Complexity as Practice”, Tom Davis (PDF, available on iLearn)
  • “Aesthetics of Intelligent Systems”, Jack Burnham (PDF, available on iLearn)
  • “The Darwin Machine: Artificial Life and Interactive Art”, Simon Penny (PDF, available on iLearn)

Download Max demo patcher file showin class

Homework: Read Max Tutorials 1-6

Week 4

M – 09/17

W – 09/19

Complexity & Emergence Complexity, living systems & natural phenomena in the arts 

Exercise #3, The Making of a Complex System. Due M, Week 5: Organize into groups (2-3) and discuss the terms and ideas presented in the first three weeks. Try to understand what is needed to make complexity and emergence. As a group create 2-3 demonstrations of complex systems. Use yourselves as agents and/or think of creative ways to generate and document something that is a complex system. Post your process and approach as well as your experiment online on your blog.

In-class exercises: logic & data structures in Max/MSP

Homework: read Max/MSP tutorials: “Encapsulation”, “Abstractions”, “Remote Messaging”, “Data Structures and Probability” & “Data Collections”

NO CLASS (Instructor out of town for ISEA) 

Work on Exercise #3

Homework: read Max/MSP tutorials: “Timing”, “Controlling Data Flow”, & all the ones under the “Data” heading

Week 5

M – 09/24

W – 09/26

AI & A-life examples/discussion of AI & A-life in the arts 

Video: Origins of AI in cybernetics, Paul Pangaro

Exercise #3 Due. Upload to blog before class and be prepared to demo and explain it

Research Presentation: Present your research agenda for the rest of the course. Select an area of art/research related to cybernetics and/or systems concepts that you would like to investigate further. Think of this assignment as an example sketch or prototype for the work you intend to pursue the rest of the semester and present it to the class in that context. Make sure you document your working process and be prepared to give a brief presentation to the class describing your methodology. Be prepared to explain your diagrams, sketches, software, demos, etc. Due M, Week 7

ISEA 2012 report (by instructor)

In-class exercises: Audio & Video Basics in Max/MSP

Homework: Read MSP tutorials 13-17

examples/discussion of AI & A-life in the arts (continued…) 

Discuss readings (“Complexity as Practice”, “Emergence”, “Aesthetics…” and “The Darwin Machine…”)

Readings (Due W, Week 6):

  • “Abstract Machines”, Mitchell Whitelaw (hard copy reserve, available in the Library)
  • “Hardware”, Mitchell Whitelaw (hard copy reserve, available in the Library)

In-class exercises: More audio & video in Max

Homework: Read MSP tutorials 1-6 & Jitter tutorials 1-4, 8-10, 19 & 21

Download Max patcher files shown in class

Week 6

M – 10/01

W – 10/03

Abstract vs Concrete Rule-based and generative systems 

In-class exercises: generative structures, rule-based systems and complexity in Max/MSP

Introduction to Cellular Automata

Project 1 (Small Project): Prototype for a Cybernetic Art System. Research an individual, group, creative field an animal or a natural or social phenomenon and perform a cybernetic/systems analysis on it; examples include the body, the political system, a company, the theatre, ants, sculpture, the art world, etc. Almost anything. Visualize how they behave and how they develop their work (their process); Create diagrams/visualizations showing the relationships between different components and use it as a basis for building a prototype of some artwork. Try and build a model or prototype in Max/MSP or use whatever methods and materials you feel are appropriate. Due M, Week 9

Discuss “Abstract Machines” & “Hardware” 

In-class exercises: interfacing sensors and microcontrollers with Max/MSP and intro to Arduino

Arduino2Max patcher file shown in class.

Homework: Read Max tutorials: all three under the “Communications” heading

Readings (Due W, Week 7):

  • “A Comment, a Case History and a Plan”, Gordon Pask (PDF, available on iLearn)
  • “Interactivity and Agency in Real Time Systems”, Jo-Anne Green (PDF, available on iLearn)
Week 7

M – 10/08

W – 10/10

Interactivity Research Presentations Due. Upload to blog before class and be prepared to demo and explain it. 

critique/discussion of research presentations

What is interactivity?

In-class exercises: interfacing sensors and microcontrollers with Max/MSP and intro to Arduino

read Max/MSP tutorials

critique/discussion of research presentations 

Discuss “A comment…” & “Interactivity and Agency…”

read Max/MSP tutorials

open lab

Week 8

M – 10/15

W – 10/17

Cyborg/Body Interfaces Historical uses and methods of body interfaces and physical computing in the arts

In-class exercises: interfacing sensors and microcontrollers with Max/MSP and intro to Arduino – Body Interfaces

open lab

Guest Lecture(s): Kristin Neidlinger & Todd Anderson from Noisebridge Cyborg group (date subject to change)
Week 9

M – 10/22

W – 10/24

Project 1 critique/discussion Project 1 Due: Upload to blog before class 

in-class demos, critique, discussion of Project 1

Final Project: Proposal Due M, Week 11

Final Project: At this point, through our critiques and discussions, some kind of theme or themes should be developing that could lead to a final project. If you have not already done so, assemble into small groups and decide, based on your previous projects and research, what kind of project you’d like to do. Due M, Week 15

in-class demos, critique, discussion of Project 1 (continued) 

open lab

Week 10

M – 10/29

W – 10/31

Final Project In-class exercises: networking in Max

UDP send/receive example patch

individual meeting w/instructor / open lab

In-class exercises: TBD

individual meeting w/instructor / open lab

Week 11

M – 11/05

W – 11/07

Final Project Final Project Proposal Due 

critique/discussion of project proposals

critique/discussion of project proposals (continued) 

In-class exercises: TBD

technical assistance / open lab

Week 12

M – 11/12

W – 11/14

Final Project NO CLASS – Veteran’s Day technical assistance / open lab

In-class exercises: TBD

11/19 – 11/23 NO CLASS – FALL BREAK/THANKSGIVING NO CLASS – FALL BREAK/THANKSGIVING
Week 13

M – 11/26

W – 11/28

Final Project technical assistance / open lab

In-class exercises: TBD

technical assistance / open lab

In-class exercises: TBD

Week 14

M – 12/03

W – 12/05

Final Project technical assistance / open lab technical assistance / open lab
Week 15

M – 12/10

W – 12/12

Final Project Final Project presentations Final Exhibition
Week 16

M – 12/17

TBD Last day of class

 

Readings

Due W, Week 2 (09/05)

Due W, Week 3 (09/12)

  • “Cybernetics”, Katherine Hayles (PDF, available on iLearn
  • “New Ontologies”, Andrew Pickering (PDF, available on iLearn)
  • “Don’t give up! Media art as an endless conversational process”, Lautenschlaeger & Pratschke (PDF, available on iLearn)
Due W, Week 5 (09/26)

  • Background info on:
  • “Emergence”, Mitchell Whitelaw (hard copy reserve, available in the Library)
  • “Complexity as Practice”, Tom Davis (PDF, available on iLearn)
  • “Aesthetics of Intelligent Systems”, Jack Burnham (PDF, available on iLearn)
  • “The Darwin Machine: Artificial Life and Interactive Art”, Simon Penny (PDF, available on iLearn)
Due W, Week 6 (10/3):

  • “Abstract Machines”, Mitchell Whitelaw (hard copy reserve, available in the Library)
  • “Hardware”, Mitchell Whitelaw (hard copy reserve, available in the Library)
Due W, Week 7 (10/10):

  • “A Comment, a Case History and a Plan”, Gordon Pask (PDF, available on iLearn)
  • “Interactivity and Agency in Real Time Systems”, Jo-Anne Green (PDF, available on iLearn)

 

Exercises/Presentations

Exercise #1, Due W, Week 2 (09/05)
 
What is a System?
Part I
Look for a good definition of what a System is and what it is not.
Bring in 5 example images/diagrams of systems on paper and brainstorm how these systems may be utilized in an arts context

  • One must be considered living, organic or “natural”
  • One must have more than 50 elements
  • One must have no more than 5 parts

Tips:

  • look around your bedroom, neighborhood, city. Look for what might be a system by looking at elements and trying to discern relationships between them
  • don’t worry too much about figuring out how the system works in any great detail. Don’t worry about what the individual parts are doing, look at the system as a whole and think of ways you can use the output and/or ways inputs can affect it. Think of it as a black box

Links/resources (more on wiki):

Part II
Create a web page or pdf that discusses several (at least 2 or 3) of the cybernetic and system concepts presented so far (see the Cybernetic & Systems Concepts page on the wiki). Discuss how one or more of your diagrams from Part I can be used as an example of one or more of these concepts and explain why. Use simple descriptions to illustrate how your diagrams/images might be an example of each term. Be sure include the images/diagrams in your presentation.

Upload everything to your blog by the due date and be prepared to demo and explain it.

Exercise #2, Due W, Week 3 (09/12)
 
Organic Analogues
Look for some organic or quasi-organic material or living system that can be used as a substrate for the transmission of information and thus as some sort of cybernetic control system or organic “computer”. Research the material’s properties and brainstorm ways that it can be stimulated or perturbed so that it grows, moves or otherwise changes state. Experiment with the material and diagram a possible cybernetic system that could be built with it. Examples include: ferrofluid, copper sulfate, ants, bacteria, nematodes, slime mold, and more!

Document everything on your blog by the due date and be prepared to demo and explain it.

Exercise #3, Due M, Week 5 (09/24)
 
The Making of a Complex System
Organize into groups (2-3) and discuss the terms and ideas presented in the first three weeks. Try to understand what is needed to make complexity and emergence. As a group create 2-3 demonstrations of complex systems. Use yourselves as agents and/or think of creative ways to generate and document something that is a complex system. Post your process and approach as well as your experiment online on your blog.

Upload everything to your blog by the due date and be prepared to demo and explain it.

Research Presentation, Due M, Week 7 (10/08)
 
Present your research agenda for the rest of the course. Select an area of art/research related to cybernetics and/or systems concepts that you would like to investigate further. Think of this assignment as an example sketch or prototype for the work you intend to pursue the rest of the semester and present it to the class in that context. Make sure you document your working process and be prepared to give a brief presentation to the class describing your methodology. Be prepared to explain your diagrams, sketches, software, demos, etc.

Upload everything to your blog by the due date.

Projects

Small Project, Due M, Week 9 (10/22)
 
Prototype for a Cybernetic Art System
Research an individual, group, creative field an animal or a natural or social phenomenon and perform a cybernetic/systems analysis on it; examples include the body, the political system, a company, the theatre, ants, sculpture, the art world, etc. Almost anything. Visualize how they behave and how they develop their work (their process); Create diagrams/visualizations showing the relationships between different components and use it as a basis for building a prototype of some artwork. Try and build a prototype or model of it in Max/MSP or use whatever methods and materials you feel are appropriate.

Upload everything to your blog by the due date and be prepared to present it in class

Final Project, Proposal Due M, Week 11 (11/05), Project Due M, Week 15 (12/10)
 
Final Project
At this point, through our critiques and discussions, some kind of theme or themes should be developing that could lead to a final project. This project is really open-ended. The only real restriction is that it must be some working prototype for a cybernetic art system, possibly related to the one you did for the Small Project. If you have not already done so, assemble into small groups and decide, based on your previous projects and research, what kind of project you’d like to do.

Upload everything to your blog by the due date and be prepared to present it in class

Resources

We will be using SFSU’s iLearn system: http://ilearn.sfsu.edu for portions of the course. Let me know if you need help with it.

A wiki has been set-up for resources related to the course. Please add to it!

There is also a course discussion forum on iLearn. Make sure you join the list and check it often as some important announcements may be posted there.

{{ Safety Guidelines}}
All students are supposed to sign a Safety Guidelines Form.

Please read the content in the two links below and then sign the form that will be passed out in class

SFSU Ergonomic Safety Program
How to Sit at a Computer

Student Blogs

Student Name Blog URL
Concha Alejandra Martinez-Jebsen http://alexjebsenart511.wordpress.com
Marilyn Lagandaon http://fivesecondpause.blogspot.com/
Adrienne Jan http://adriennekjan.wordpress.com/
Chi Ton http://chi-cia-511.blogspot.com/
Sean Lueder http://luedersculptures.wordpress.com/
Rebecca Hava Lynn Miller http://havalynn.com/
Jeffrey Yip http://jeffyipster.wordpress.com/
Michael Nardo http://systemsart511sfsu.blogspot.com/
Camila Magrane http://camila-art511.wikispaces.com/
David Wilson http://davidw511.tumblr.com/
Robin David http://bigrobin.wordpress.com/
Amy Zhu http://az511.blogspot.com/
Jeannette Mccann http://systemsart.wordpress.com/
Alexander Morgan http://asmorgan511.wordpress.com/
Brent Duplessis http://brentfor511.tumblr.com/