[FIHSIHKAHLVRRCHUWAHL<>] (pronounced “physical-virtual” and abbreviated to FV) was an interactive media art installation that experimented with the integration a gestural computer interface with an architectural surface through the use of computer vision. It was exhibited within the Claremont public promenade, Western Australia (WA), as a part of the Public Platform urban prototyping competition, 2016. The project challenged the conventional use of surveillance technology as a means of controlling public behaviour by exposing its presence through playful interaction, facilitating a dialogue between participants and the authors about the use of locative technology in the design of cities.
The following is a short film that was made as an entry into the urban prototyping competition. The film communicates our exploration of the site through the mapping of its online presence in relation to the physical space. The data derived from this analysis was used to generate an agent system to find locations in the site where there might be a confluence of flows of people both online and in space. The agent system was also used to simulate a catenary network from which the form of the installation was derived. The concept for the design of the interactive system stemmed from the idea of a constantly shifting ‘virtual topography’ layered over the public domain. Sound was chosen as the primary output and interactions with the artefact were framed as a game of “hot and cold”. The synthesizer layered a set of modulated frequencies randomly drawn from a list of standard musical notes, the result of which was an undulating waveform that’s tempo and pitch was controlled by the distance of the user to the invisible object. The field of sound created by the synthesizer provided real-time feedback to the user, so that they could navigate around the object to find an invisible marker. Upon finding a point, a second system would activate, reading out the latest tweet about the event through text-to-speech software.
By combining an open-ended making process with performative aspects, the FV project enabled users to experience relationships between locative technology and public space in a heuristic and embodied fashion. While conducting the project in the context of a placemaking festival presented issues in relation to the scope of the design and its ability to achieve some of its outcomes, it also revealed complexities that are introduced to practice-based design research when conducted within urban renewal projects. Reflection on this project has allowed us to critically examine the role of practice-based design research in the context of placemaking, to identify the problems that quantitative analysis brings to the understanding of urban problems, and to show how these methodologies are being applied to urban prototyping initiatives to direct cultural production.