by Manu SharmaOct 10, 2022
The beauty of flowers and patterns of floral aesthetics have occupied the creative minds in the visual culture since time immemorial. A spectrum of art practitioners has visually translated the abundance of nature onto the medium of expression at different periods of art history. The current-day artists working with new-media technology perpetuate the preoccupation of the traditional art genres with floral motifs. One such work is the interactive wall art installation Bionic Bloom - a project conceived, conceptualised and executed by architect and digital artist, Dennis Peter, at the invitation of the Crescent School of Architecture, Chennai, India. The faculty members Uttam Solanki and Kalai Vanan who teach upcoming technologies and software at the same university gave crucial inputs to the processes involving the design and fabrication of this installation.
In an interview with STIR, Peter talks about his interest in the built environment, how he developed an interest in computational design, emerging technologies and DIY electronics, and what prompted him to dig deep into the makings of the generative arts, “While I have practised as an architect for most of my career, I have had various interests over the years. My journey into generative art started with music (and sheer curiosity). I had been making music for many years prior, and then I came across a friend who introduced me to the process of generating visuals for my music using data and code. From that day on, I was convinced that this was the way forward for my art practice - even though I had no background in computer science at the time. A year later, I picked up a 3D printer and learned to design electronic circuits, with this knowledge I was able to bring my work outside the digital world and into the physical - coming full circle, back into the realm of space (architecture).”
In 2020, Peter surveyed the temporal ideas manifested in the discipline of interactive art, music, visuals and spatial design with his work as non-linear. It was with the sonic representation of the Mumbai This City Swells on Skip-A-Beat that Non-Linear made its debut. Using the maps and GIS models of the city, available openly, Peter made the visuals of the sonic representation. The project was initiated at the time of the Selector Pro: Visual Music Residency that was prepared by The British Council, Future Fiction and Skip-A-Beat.
The 90 mechanical blooms, parts of the installation Bionic Bloom, are individually controlled by the hand gestures of the viewers. The four-week brainstorming session on the design and development of the installation saw the designer-artist engage with a variety of techniques including 3D printing, computer vision, computational fabrication optimisation and interfacing with electronics-microcontrollers. Giving a walkthrough of the making of the installation, after receiving the invitation from the university, Peter informs, “The brief was to design an interactive installation that would involve the students of the university and expose the students to technologies and fabrication processes outside the immediate realm of architecture (yet closely linked to design and architecture) that would open up more scopes/possibilities for them. We worked mostly within the limitations of the hardware and tech that was available at the university. Developing the mechanism of the bloom was an iterative process where we explored the best possible dynamics we could achieve while keeping in mind the limitations of the motors that were available to us.”
The interactive art produced by Peter requires an art space that could smoothly and successfully facilitate the interactive rendezvous with the audience. In contrast to the galleries in the Global North, which are equipped with the machinery and devices to accommodate the tech-based artists, in India such a scenario is still at a nascent stage. “Many interactive projects have extremely specific hardware/requirements that most traditional art galleries do not have in India,” mentions Peter. Yet it does not restrict his practice, “I do not think any interactive artist should be bogged down by the technological limitations that are available to them - if you as a person is only as good as the technology that is immediately available to them, then they probably are not a very good artist. Working within constraints and limitations can bring out the true fidelity you have as a technical artist.”
Contemplation and sensorial experience are two key responses to any of the art forms, not in this particular order though. Any shift in the perspective via such responses amounts to the success of the art. In the times punctuated with ‘–ism’, Bionic Bloom is “not a very demanding piece from the perspective of a viewer. It does not require deeper thought.” More often than not, if the viewer does not stand in front of the artwork for a considerable period of time to draw meaning, the art could be dubbed to falter its purpose. The sensorial participation required from the end of the audience, “requires observation”, mentions Peter. The simplicity and sensorial appeal of the work gain the attention of a wider audience. “Even though the process behind the design was complex, we feel that its beauty lies in how simple it is for the user to interact with,” concludes Peter.