Shapes of Curiosity Faculty Exhibition

There is no doubt that technology is becoming an integral part to the museum experience. With tools like iPads and touch screens, technology provides museumgoers with detailed information as well as a customized viewing experience. An article in the NY Times said that many museums rely on technology to increase their attendance from millennials. Southern Oregon University’s Schneider Museum of Art is no different. SOU’s own museum takes advantage of interactive technology in their exhibits.

Thornton’s Fog of War

In the Shapes of Curiosity, the SOU Creative Arts Faculty Exhibition, there are interactive, creative artworks displayed on iPads: Atman’s Mirror, Thornton’s Fog of War, and Atman Collides. Miles Inada, Co-Chair of the Creative Arts program and Professor of Art and Emerging Media who teaches courses in animation, comic books, and game design, created these three pieces. These artworks were a collaboration with Adam Callaway, a fellow professor in the EMDA (Emerging Media & Digital Arts) program and a programmer for Shata Networks, presenting their individual talents together.

“Adam is the programmer and I’m more of the animator and designer, though we both cross over and we have abilities in the other areas as well,” said Inada. “We are also both big game nerds and game nuts so we wanted to start putting our heads together and seeing what came out of that process.” Inada went onto mention that their collaborative projects began in their EMDA 203 course, which focuses on interactivity.

The first piece, Atman’s Mirror, which was inspired by Danny Rozen, included a programming structure in which the camera from one of the iPads was used to translate the images, of the viewer, into a lower resolution pixel grid. Inada and Callaway then translated that gray scale information into an animated character, Atman, that would walk closer and farther away depending on the pixel information from the viewer’s movement. The character, Atman, who is seen in this piece and in Atman Collides originated from one of Inada’s comics, Arms and Ether. “He was one of my main characters in my comics and so it was fun to start to animate him and give him life in the context of a game.”

The second artwork, Thornton’s Fog of War, included a touch screen in which the viewer would tap a part of the map and Thornton would move to the tapped destination. “It’s a video game tradition and technique known as the ‘Fog of War’ in which areas of the map that you’re navigating around are kept in shadows so you’re not able to see everything,” said Inada. As you move the character around, by placing your finger where you want him to go, you’re revealing areas of the map. Callaway and Inada also generated random terrain and random objects within the terrain on the map, letting the animated character walk across. “It creates a sense of exploration for the viewer,” said Inada. “It was an example of what we would call a mechanic in video game design in which we would isolate certain technological things that have to happen in the course of the game. Once you have that mechanic established, it gives you a lot of possibilities for designing and developing the game.”

Atman Collides, the third piece, was another interactive touch screen which consisted of two characters and the viewer was able to select one and make it collide with the other. “This piece was another example of developing a mechanic,” said Inada. “The basic idea was, ‘What happens if you have two characters on the screen and they run into each other? How do we resolve that collision so that the character can move to a legal target (a playable boundaries within the game) and not intersect with the other character in the game creating that illusion of collision?” In this piece, the original calculation sketches are visible when making the characters collide. “Callaway and I left on the troubleshooting tools that were built into the program including the vectors, angles, and the movement paths so the viewers could see how the collision problems were resolved.”

Scott Malbaurn, Schneider Museum of Art Director, said that it is very significant that artwork can now be displayed in museums as apps. “Today’s technology is creeping into the museums because it is entering artists practices. Not just smart phone and tablet apps but also Virtual Reality and other forms of technology. VR, apps, and other new technologies are all tools added to a long list of available media to artists.”

The whole purpose of this exhibition was to showcase faculty artwork to curator, Kelly Worman, who Malbaurn brought in. Worman, who helped develop this unique exhibit, is an artist and curator based out of New York and London. Malbaurn said that bringing in artists and curators to talk about and expose the talented artists in Oregon improves SOU’s arts ecology.

By selecting Worman specifically, the faculty of SOU get the chance to share their ideas visually and verbally to a curator who may potentially want to collaborate with them in the future. “Our faculty in the exhibition who had to meet with Kelly Woman also got an opportunity to talk about their work with this great young emerging curator from New York City, said Malbaurn. “This brings more opportunity and better chances for them to show their work with her again in the future. If she is in need of a kind of artwork that they make, she will contact them.”

The Schneider Museum of Art hosts four exhibitions a year, working with curators throughout. According to Malbaurn, bringing in curators to the museum is very common. “When funding permits, depending on the type of exhibition and availability of a curator, we will hire one. It is a great way to keep things fresh and bring in new perspectives”, said Malbaurn. He also mentioned that curators, like Worman, also offer additional educational opportunities. “Our Shapes of Curiosity curator, Kelly Worman, made herself available to the Creative Arts students for studio visits and private discussions on their own artwork while she was in town.”

According to Malbaurn, it is special for a small school like SOU to get involved in this kind of technological innovation. “SOU produces very smart students. Their own curiosity pushes them towards new frontiers. Not just with new technology but also with traditional media. Creative thinkers find new ways to use media. Once someone exclaims that a particular medium is dead, a young creative reinvents it. We will see this for many years to come with our new technologies.”

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