The Kinect lesson

A fable about hacking, unplanned heritage, and new-media creation.

A recent Polygon piece titled The Kinect is dead, and despite all the excitement this technology provoked when it hit our minds as project Natal in 2009, some signs are leading us into this commercial direction.

But the Kinect means much more than shipping stats or a number of compatible games. Kinect has its own story, and either you love or hate the protagonists, the lesson is what matters.


A few years back, I used the Kinect example in a pretty harsh comparaison with Nike Fuelband to make a point about openness, unsolicited derivatives, and the importance of co-creation.
The idea was simple : “Life is too short not to be shared”
(Hardwarely speaking, I mean, i’m not your tutor).

> Is closed brand hardware meant to fail? (2013)

Where Nike Fuelband remains must lie in a forgotten lake somewhere,
Kinect can expect a marble memorial, flowers, reincarnation maybe

In this “Live together or die alone” philosophy, nobody promised that those who chose to live together would live eternally. They just both maximised their survival probability and drastically improve their chance to actually build something cool.

Unplanned heritage

All the Kinect-based creations, plugins, installations that followed the first hacks weren’t planned at all, of course, and that’s the damn point.
In some cult consistency issue, people still queue for days to get hands on every new Apple iteration but won’t ever learn to connect the dots backward. Let’s just stop for a bit a have a look back, shall we?

Giving birth to digital aesthetics

As pure wanderers, the first to explore the hidden face of the device shared their hypothesises and their breakthroughs, marking the path for others, often less skilled but at least as curious. from these few years of fascination, I noted three major visual genres that are directly linked to the Kinect being hacked, broken, enlightened.

Extrusion & Particules

Kinect works as a depth sensor whom renders is now easily identifiable

Hybrid capture

A combination of a DSLR camera and a Kinect Mixing real life sample with depth data

Point clouds post production

Shoot live through the prism then play with the material

A leap in kinetic arts

Hardware also benefitted a lot from these explorations. In 2013, Paris was hosting two acclaimed exhibitions in iconic art centers, “Soleil Froid” at Palais de Tokyo and “Dynamo” at Grand Palais, featuring light and kinetic artists, mesmerising 60's to 70's pieces from well-respected minds.

At the exact same time in random garages, dorm-rooms or smaller galeries, kinetic art was booming again, reaching pure science fiction, and yes, it was coming from a video game controller.

Realtime Body-based feedback

This can’t be unfelt

Of course, we’re not loosing any of that. It must have took a lighting strike to get the first flame on Earth, but people learned to master fire. if the most fetishists can trust eBay for a few more years to get their hands on the actual machine, the idea and the unique feeling it triggers has it all.

Now that the idea is out, now that this building block is in people’s mind, now that they now it’s doable, its influence will remain, and be challenged when the time comes.

Burying art mediation for good

This can be written on

The great thing about an idea getting mature is that, as it loses in “Woah” effect, creatives tend to consider it more as a single gear than a self-contained engine. Further exploration then means combination, and you’re good for another round.

If I had one piece to choose about the Kinect art movement, it would definitely be this one from Daniel Franke & Cedric Keifer, as it stands one layer deeper, questioning the very status-quo of a disruptive tech at the summit of its hype.

First seen as canvas itself, the Kinect has become another brush, to be used on much wider, crazier canvases.

For the record, Unnamed soundculpture is initially based on music, interpreted into a dance improvisation, captured by three Kinects (to escape the 2D extrusion limits and allow a full 3D representation) finally passed on post-production. The process is even more magical than the result.

> Unnamed Soundculpture Documentary (2012)

New-media creation

New-media artists and creative technologists obviously know they have no safety net. The double edged sword of hacking gives you freedom in exchange for stability, and that’s fine. We live in a joyful creative mayhem, where hybrid approaches turn state of the arts technology
into some sort of state of the the technology arts.

“Warranty voids if removed” they say,
but “original ideas void if not”.

As digital arts prove day after day that they’re here for good, a longer term thinking will become necessary, if we don’t want to relive our first “my hard drive crashed with all my teenage memories” effect, on a global, cultural level.

Elon Musk and all his ex-NASA friends started from the ground-up to re-think the way we shoot rockets to outer space. A necessary, sustainable thinking, a path to mark the difference between experimentation and maturity, between a flare gun and a lighthouse.

Surviving ages now means surviving standards,
and digital art presents the best transcendence potential yet

A recent Apple move introduced Bitcode, a middle state where your app code can automatically adapt to new hardware capabilities without human intervention. This example is pure tech, for now.

The future will bring new ways to distribute an consume time-proof interactive digital creation, that’s for sure. Until then, it remains hardly tied to hardware reality, and if we want our kids to know, see, understand where were our creative minds in the 2010's, we’d better learn the Kinect lesson.

Now let’s get hands on this new Hololens!
Oh wait.

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