“Social Circuits” is an on going participatory artwork. Using conductive paint participants are asked to close a circuit by tagging a PCB canvas.Depending on the resistance of each tag, a digital representation in the form of a cellular automata pattern is generated. The patterns are triggered by the sense of touch.
The project is based on the simple idea that conductive paint let us draw and literally close circuits and challenge new emergent situations. Participants are asked to interact with the object and draw tags, signatures, messages and shapes by connecting specific points on the canvas which is a transparent Perspex where all the electronics are exposed so that it looks as a printed circuit board. The LEDs that are connected with the circuits of the tags guarantee the flow of the current and represent that our system is alive. Furthermore, this connection triggers the life of their neighbors, which into our circuit is translated as a pattern of blinking LEDs. The idea is inspired from the idea of the infinite evolution of a simple model to a complex pattern according to the theory of cellular automata. As a result the participants can touch the tags and see their unique pattern. Arduino micro-controllers are controlling circuits that manipulate the life of some LEDs.
The final version of this installation consists of five PCB like, custom made circuit boards that are hanged on a wall of a public space where people are asked to participate and generate this artwork. Each one can accommodate five “tags”. The tagging of the canvases follows a playful experience where participants are asked to touch their tags and generate through this sense a digital representation of their physical drawing. The patterns that are projected on the wall, are created according to a mathematical algorithm, that of cellular automata and are unique for each user. The complexity and form of each pattern depends on the resistance of the current that flows through the paint. The more complex the drawing the more the resistance and the more complex the pattern. This aims to create a challenge to the participants as for their drawings, to evoke a curiosity about the possible outcome and also to make them think very abstractly about the process of the generation of these patterns.
The experimentation of the participants with this installation doesn’t stop here. After at least two people has created their tags and generated the patterns which are already projected on the wall they have the opportunity to touch their tag again and trigger the “life of their neighbors”, which practically means that by touching their tag they can cause a blinking of the pattern of the people who tagged after them. The owner of this tag has to touch his/her pattern to see it steady again on the wall. Through these playful experience people are coming closer and enjoy the benefits of unique and unusual experiences. Before leaving they have to touch their tag twice to turn off their pattern. The system has recorded the order of the creation of the tags and when everyone is absent and as all the patterns-individual digital identities- have already turned off, the LEDs blink according to this order. When the participants are not there the system represents the life that the participants gave to it through this process that took place there.
So, I tend to recognise four different states of this “ecosystem”: Dead, SemiAlive, Alive, SemiDead. The system is “dead”, does not even exist until the moment that random people will generate it. No drawings, no LEDs, no patterns, no game! Just some empty pieces hanging on the wall. After the drawing process half of the artwork is made. The canvas is painted and the LEDs start to light gradually as the paint dries. It is semiAlive! More action brings more life as the touch of the tags generates the patterns, so the artwork is evolving. And then the game starts! The system is Alive! Finally, when everyone leaves the game the system represents the recorded generation of it. It is semiDead!
“A cellular automaton is a collection of “colored” cells on a grid of specified shape that evolves through a number of discrete time steps according to a set of rules based on the states of neighboring cells. The rules are then applied iteratively for as many time steps as desired. von Neumann was one of the first people to consider such a model, and incorporated a cellular model into his “universal constructor.” Cellular automata were studied in the early 1950s as a possible model for biological systems” (Wolfram 2002, p. 48).
This research of this mathematical theory was absolute inspiration for this project. In fact I try to translate some of the theory and the rules of cellular automata to the rules of relationships into my system, the game of real life. The CA patterns that are involving depending on on and off cells on a grid according to specific rules reminded me of the relationships between people. The “neighbors” could be our neighbors.. people who randomly walk and pass by in our everyday busy and stressful lives.
The term social refers to a characteristic of living organisms as applied to populations of humans and other animals. It always refers to the interaction of organisms with other organisms and to their collective co-existence.
The participation aspect of this project in connection with the theories mentioned above aims to underline the social reflection of it. The interaction of physical artifacts with digital representations in such a way showcases a critical approach to our lives and tends to find a balance between the physical and digital realm that surround us.
The whole installation and the way of the presentation and documentation of this project is inspired of cellular automata as well.