SFPC in Yamaguchi Day 3

Sep 13 · 7 min read

by Brian Solon, Artist, Engineer and SFPC Steering Committee member

This post is about the third day of the School for Poetic Computation’s SFPC Summer 2019 in Yamaguchi at YCAM. You can also read Taeyoon’s introduction, and recaps from Day 1 and Day 2.

For students, the morning began with the second in a series of four body movement workshops by Richi Owaki (YCAM InterLab) and Natsumi Wada, that borrow techniques from contemporary dance and sign language to explore the relationship between gestures and words.

Each participant was asked to act as an imaginary beast, and then make a pose. This pose was then relayed to another person, who copied the pose as a different beast, and so on.

Richi and Natsumi leading the class in a “Gestures inspired by hand sign” workshop.

This activity of striking a pose, and having it mirrored by someone else was an element in one of the games that Jane Friedhoff spoke about in her class. It was interesting to notice this and other themes connecting the workshops and classes. In Melanie Hoff’s Peer to Peer Folder Poetry, a filesystem is presented as a garden of forking paths, inviting exploration. Robby Kraft’s Garden Mathematics class takes students on a path through mathematics, computation, origami, including how origami designs are based on a series of axioms, or rules. Rules are also central to Jane’s class Playing the World, which was the second activity of the day.

Jane Friedhoff teaching.

Playing the World

The class began with Jane describing her background as a game designer and creative coder, her experience as a student at SFPC and her involvement in the Wonderville indie arcade gallery and bar in NYC. She showed a varied selection of work, spanning creative technology and R&D to experimental and weird arcade games; including the aforementioned browser-based body movement game that matches the player’s pose with someone else’s pose from a database of images, a way to use morse code for more accessible communication on a mobile phone, a 2-player collaborative game controlled by running around and screaming, and a single player riot grrrl driving game about the gender pay gap in the United States. The common thread is the use of play to bring people together.

For the purposes of the class, Jane defined play as voluntary engagement in and experimentation with a ruleset, thereby connecting it to computation. Inviting the students to share their favourite and least favourite multiplayer experiences led to a discussion on the characteristics that can make a play experience positive or negative.

She introduced the concept of co-liberation, which describes how people tend to feel after “good” play. Two drawing exercises were employed to illustrate these concepts.

Students engaged in the Four Long Lines conditional drawing exercise.

The first of these exercises, Four Long Lines, was taken from The Conditional Design Workbook. Students broke into groups, with one piece of paper per group and one pen per student. The rules are simple: each person draws a line for fifteen minutes, without crossing any lines, lifting the pen from the page, or stopping.

This was followed by a round of Exquisite Corpse, the collaborative, turn-based drawing game popularised by Surrealist artists in the 1920s.

SFPC student Chara Wang shares the exquisite corpse drawing made by her group.

A discussion on how an artwork can consist of a set of instructions — analogous to a musical score — was illustrated with some well-known works of conceptual art. The act of executing instructions, as in Yoko Ono’s event scores from her book Grapefruit, or their result, as in Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings, can also be considered art. Jane also mentioned how Yoko Ono’s work has been viewed through the lens of game design, which shows how the worlds of conceptual art and games have more in common than one might imagine.

Through the examples of boxing, karaoke, and Twister, the idea of the magic circle was introduced — in which game rules give people license to do things they would not normally be able, or feel comfortable, or safe, to do.

The final exercise of the class explored the magic circle by asking students to consider what things they wished they had more excuses to do in real life, as well as things they aren’t allowed to do in daily life that they wished they could do — and then to design game rules that encourage these behaviours in a safe and consensual way.

The class finished with a discussion on real-world games, involving the dérive, Situationist theory, relational aesthetics, and a critique of Pokémon Go.

Garden mathematics

Robby Kraft opened his class by speaking about his experience with origami, his experience at SFPC and an overview of some of his prior work. He had been folding origami since an early age, and felt like his ability had reached a plateau. He explained how in the 9 months before he attended the Fall 2015 class at SFPC, he started folding one origami design per day, which helped him bring his skills to a level where he started creating his own designs. This led to the creation of Rabbit Ear — his creative coding tool for origami design.

Robby led the class through two origami puzzles: beginning with the instruction to make an equilateral triangle, followed by a closed 3D shape with the largest volume — in each case, using the object itself to measure the fold, without the use of a ruler.

He explained how an origami fold is either precise and foundational, or arbitrary and decorative. The precise folds are more common, and form the base for many origami models. When decorative folds are employed, they are typically made at the end — like choosing the position and angle of the head on a crane.

Robby Kraft explaining folding origami axioms.

Origami has seven axioms, or rules for constructing precise folds — for example, fold a point to a point. Robby took the class through an exercise of folding each axiom with the aid of interactive visualisations in his RabbitEar software. He showed how to construct the Maekawa-gami grid: a versatile starting point for exploratory folding.

The Maekawa-gami grid.

The class continued with a history of counting, a discussion of alternate number bases, and an introduction to functions that was demonstrated through a number line game involving body movement, before finishing with a coding exercise in p5.js that brought many of the concepts together.

Understanding mathematical functions via a number line game.

Checking in

In the afternoon, Lauren led a session with the students in which they broke into groups and brainstormed ways to stay in touch with each other, and how to keep learning and building a community together after the session is done. Inspired by her time at the Recurse Center in NYC, Kiwako suggested an idea of a voluntary daily coffee chat to get to know each other. Everyone who signs up gets randomly matched up with someone else each day, to chat about anything over coffee, lunch, or just a walk. The suggestion was popular with the class, and sparked a collaboration between Kiwako and fellow students Bohyun and Jim, who later built a web-based tool to automate the matching process.

Food, libation, co-liberation

In the evening, the students, teachers and TAs joined YCAM staff at a local restaurant for a group dinner. One of the students, Natsumi Wada, brought along some games that she had made that connect body language and technology, that kept everyone at the table engaged until it was time to leave.

Natsumi Wada playing her game ‘Linkage’ with fellow SFPC students.
Students making hand signs for Yamaguchi.

As we headed home to rest and prepare for the next day, a quote shared by Jane in her class came to mind.

“We return changed, not the same person we were — our understanding of who and what we can become, our very selves, our relationships — redefined.”
— Bernie DeKoven, The Well Played Game

This posting was published by Taeyoon Choi.

Photo: Naoki Takehisa
Courtesy of Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media [YCAM]


School for poetic computation


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School for Poetic Computation—since Fall 2013.



School for poetic computation

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