Digital design

‘Decode’ has wowed the crowds and now features several Israeli artists and designers.

Decode 311 (photo credit: Courtesy of the Design Museum Holon)
Decode 311
(photo credit: Courtesy of the Design Museum Holon)
It had to happen sooner or later. At some point, somewhere in the world, there had to be a design exhibition that would appeal not only to designers and artists but to everyone, even to people with no previous interest in design. Someday, somewhere, there had to be an exhibition by design professionals that the whole family could enjoy, one that even your kids would think was cool.
Well, that time has come, and the place is right here in Israel at the always-surprising Design Museum in Holon. At this very moment, the museum is hosting “Decode: Digital Design Sensations,” an exhibition dedicated to showing what can happen when art gets married to technology. “Decode” comes to Holon from London, where it wowed the crowds at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and now includes the work of several Israeli artists and designers.
If using your own hands to throw virtual paint all over a virtual wall, or using a hairdryer to blow virtual dandelion seeds all over the place sounds like it might be fun, then this is the design exhibition for you.
Intended to showcase the latest developments in digital and interactive design – from small screen-based graphics to mammoth-sized installations – “Decode” is divided into three themes.
Quite often, the criteria that an exhibition curator uses to divide an exhibition into themes are more apparent to the curator than to the viewer, but this time the divisions seem to work.
The first theme is called “Code,” and it shows the works of designers who have used digital computer codes to create new designs in the same way a sculptor uses a chisel or a painter uses a paintbrush.
But unlike statues or paintings, these computer-generated works are alive, fluid and constantly changing.
The second theme, “Interactivity,” features works of art and design that are directly shaped by the viewer. These works are not only to be seen but to be played with and, in some cases, to be created by the viewer as well.
The third theme, called “Network,” explores the digital traces of our everyday communications – from blogs and postings on social media sites to mobile communications and even satellite-tracked GPS systems. Here we see how artists and designers create striking visualizations from the flotsam and jetsam of our digital communications.
An interesting example of the Code theme is Flight Patterns by American designer Aaron Koblin, who specializes in making often beautiful visualizations from often unreadable computational data. Here, Koblin has sourced raw data from the Federal Aviation Administration to create an artistic record of 205,000 airplane flights across the United States during a 24-hour period on August 12, 2008. Each of the minute colorful threads streaming across the wall represents a flight of hundreds of people as they travel across US airspace in the course of one typical day.
An amusing visualization is provided by German designer Julius Popp. In bit.code, we see a visualization of raw information extracted from the Internet, in which spinning chains represent the rapid movement of data as they flow through Internet networks. The black-and- white chains, with their monochrome patterns, seem to move independently of each other, but at certain points they align. The monochrome patterns can then be deciphered as words collected from various Internet sources, RSS feeds and news sites.
Among the works represented within the Network Theme is We Feel Fine, a clever data mining project by American designer Jonathan Harris and software engineer Sep Kamvar. Using specially designed data mining software, this project has been searching blogs all over the world since 2005 for the words “feel” and “feeling.” Sentences in which the words appear – comments by bloggers about how they are feeling – are extracted and added to an ever-growing database of “feelings.” Viewers of this work can filter and manipulate the information by selecting an emotion, as well as bloggers’ gender, age, city and even weather conditions where the blogger is based to reveal anonymous and sometimes intensely personal observations about modern life.
An even wittier Network display is Good Listeners by Israeli designer Mushon Zer Aviv. This is a browser plug-in that shows how our Web browsing habits are mined and shared by third-party Web services such as Google Analytics and Facebook “Like” without our knowledge or consent. Every time a website like Facebook exposes visitor data to a third-party service, Good Listeners opens a “confessional booth” sidebar window.
The “priest” in the window encourages the visitor to share more information by saying things like “Tell me more,” “Let it all out” and “You can trust me.” Each third-party service opens its own confession window. These windows vary in size, depending on the amount and scope of data each third-party site aggressively and secretly accumulates.
Not only visible at the museum exhibition, this Good Listeners plug-in can be downloaded from the designer’s website,
Generating the most excitement in the exhibition, perhaps not surprisingly, are the works categorized as Interactivity. A particular crowd pleaser is Body Paint by Turkish visual artist Mehmet Akten. This large interactive installation allows the viewer to paint on a virtual canvas with his own body. Akten has created software that converts gestures and movements into colorful splashes of virtual paint.
Where else could you haphazardly throw paint all over someone else’s wall without being arrested for vandalism?
Equally popular with visitors to the exhibition is Videogrid by British designer Ross Phillips. Videogrid invites you to stand in front of a video camera to make a moving portrait in the form of a small square that records your image for one second. Your moving portrait then contributes to a collective grid of other viewers’ moving portraits, making an ever-changing collage of moving images.
Standing off to the side and watching the things people are willing do in front of a camera is almost as much fun as interacting with the Videogrid itself.
Dandelions, by London-based creative studio Sennep and Danish interaction designer group Yoke, enables you to point what appears to be a common hairdryer at a huge virtual dandelion and blow its seeds away. An infra-red device in the hairdryer allows you to blow away the seeds you are pointing at and send them flying more or less where you want them to go.
An attention-grabbing addition to the exhibition is Cubes by a group of designers from the Interaction Lab at Holon Institute of Technology (HIT). This installation presents some 20 transparent plastic cubes placed on a long table.
Each of these cubes reacts in a different way to a variety of stimuli, ranging from sound, touch, movement and light to cell-phone signals. One, called “Homesick Cube,” has a compass that, no matter how much you rotate it, always points the cube back to the Interaction Lab at HIT. While we are unable to see how digital computer software generates the art in any of the other design displays, the idea behind Cubes is for us to be able to peer into the works and see how the art happens. And what happens is often quite amusing. A “Knock Cube” bumps the cube next to it, while a “Dizzy Cube” staggers around, apparently drunk, after being picked up and shaken. A “Chameleon Cube” changes color, and a “Vibrating Cube” … well, vibrates.
Says Shachar Geiger, one of the Cubes designers, “The project here involves several cubes that interact with people and with each other. The idea is exposure.
That’s why everything is transparent. It’s about the exposure of basic interaction elements of input and output. Each cube has an input and output that are basically simple. We took simple inputs and outputs and connected them sometimes in simple ways and sometimes in more sophisticated ways. We want people to play with the cubes, and in addition we want people to find new ways to play with them.”
Dutch designer Daan Roosegaarde, graces the exhibition with Dune, a small forest of bamboo shoots with lights at one end that react to sounds and movements from people walking by. He says, “I became fascinated with the idea of using technology to create art or design that is never finished, that is somehow open to the influence of people. In that way, technology is a wonderful tool for creating art that is alive and that is somehow connected to us. I have also been fascinated with the idea of merging nature and technology, and Dune is about that. It’s about how to make landscapes that react to the sounds and emotions of people, and also to play with the tactile side of technology. You can interact with this technology, you can play with it.”
Roosegaarde expresses what are probably the sentiments of almost every designer in this exhibition as he declares, “In the end, we want to create techno-poetry.
Like the painters tell stories with paint, we want to tell stories as well, using different new media.”
Is this “techno-poetry” the future of art and design? We pose this question to Daniel Rozin, internationally acclaimed Israeli designer whose interactive installations and sculptures have the ability to change in response to the presence of a viewer. His work for this exhibition, Snow Mirror, is a portrait in snow that slowly “repaints” itself to resemble its viewer.
He tells us, “All of my work as an artist for the past 17 years has been centered around the idea of reflection and mirroring.
You stand in front of the piece and you are reflected. So of all my pieces, with various media, a lot are centered around technology – digital technology or other technology. But I don’t think you should single out technology as the future of anything. I think that technology and digital technology will definitely become part of the tool chest of the artist. I’m hoping that in 50 years – and I think that’s about how long it will take – we won’t have exhibitions that say ‘digital art.’ There will be exhibitions about art, and some of the artists will choose to use technology, and others will use paintbrushes and chisels. And I hope we’ll lose our infatuation/fear of technology. It’s a tool, a very efficient tool.”
“Decode: Digital Design Sensations” is on at the Design Museum Holon until March 10. Visit the museum’s website at for details.
Accompanying the exhibition is, a web site by the Design Museum’s graphic artist Guy Saggee. Decode-me will grab your Facebook profile picture and incorporate it into a “Decode timeline.” A “Decoder of the Day” is announced every day at midnight, and the person whose profile picture appears for the longest time on the timeline will win a free entry ticket to the Design Museum. The winner will be informed by e-mail.