The beauty of flowers and patterns of floral aesthetics have always occupied the creative minds of visual culture. A spectrum of artists has visually transferred the fullness of nature to the medium of expression in different epochs of art history. The current artists who work with new media technologies continue the occupation of traditional art genres with floral motifs. One such work is the interactive wall art installation Bionic bloom – a project conceived, conceived and executed by architect and digital artist Dennis Peter at the invitation of Crescent School of Architecture, Chennai, India. Faculty members Uttam Solanki and Kalai Vanan, who teach emerging technologies and software at the same university, made key contributions to the processes involved in the design and fabrication of this installation.
In an interview with STIR, Peter talks about his interest in the built environment, how he developed an interest in computer-aided design, new technologies and DIY electronics, and what led him to delve deep into the fundamentals of generative art: “While I have though Having practiced architecture for most of my career, I have had various interests over the years. My journey into generative art started with music (and sheer curiosity). I had been making music for many years before, and then I met a friend who introduced me to the process of generating visuals for my music using data and code. From that day on I was convinced that this was the way forward for my artistic practice – although I didn’t have a computer science background at the time. A year later I picked up a 3D printer and learned to design electronic circuits. With this knowledge I was able to bring my work from the digital world into the physical world – the circle closes, back into space (architecture). ”
In 2020, Peter explored the temporal ideas that manifest themselves in the discipline of interactive art, music, visuals and spatial design with his work as non-linear. It was with the sonic representation of the Mumbai This city is swelling on Skip-A-Beat that Not linear debuted. Using the city’s maps and GIS models that were openly available, Peter created the visual representation of the acoustic representation. The project was initiated at the time of the Selector Pro: Visual Music residency being prepared by The British Council, Future Fiction and Skip-A-Beat.
The 90 mechanical flowers, parts of the installation Bionic bloom, are individually controlled by the viewer’s hand gestures. In the four-week brainstorming session to design and develop the installation, the designer-artist explored a variety of techniques including 3D printing, computer vision, computational manufacturing optimization, and interfacing with electronic microcontrollers. After receiving the invitation from the university, Peter gave a tour of the creation of the installation and informed: “The brief was to design an interactive installation that would involve the students of the university and the students with technologies and manufacturing processes outside of the immediate makes them familiar with an area of architecture (but closely related to design and architecture) that would open up more scope/possibilities for them. We mainly worked within the limitations of the hardware and technology available at the university. Developing the Bloom Mechanism was an iterative process, exploring the best possible dynamics we could achieve, while respecting the limitations of the engines at our disposal.”
The interactive art produced by Peter requires an art space that can smoothly and successfully facilitate the interactive rendezvous with the audience. Unlike the galleries in the Global North, which are equipped with the machines and devices to accommodate the tech-based artists, such a scenario is still in its infancy in India. “Many interactive projects have extremely specific hardware/requirements that most traditional art galleries in India don’t have,” notes Peter. Still, it doesn’t limit his practice: “I don’t think any interactive artist should get bogged down by the technological limitations at their disposal — if a person is only as good as the technology immediately available to them, then they probably aren’t very good artist. Working within constraints and limitations can reveal the true fidelity of a technical artist.”
Contemplation and sensory experience are two key responses to each of the art forms, though not in that particular order. Any shift in perspective through such responses amounts to the success of the art. In the tenses punctuated with ‘–ism’, Bionic bloom is “not a very demanding piece from the perspective of the viewer. It doesn’t require any deeper thought.” In most cases, if the viewer doesn’t stand in front of the artwork to draw meaning for an extended period of time, the art could be said to falter. The sensory participation demanded by the audience end “requires observation,” notes Peter. The simplicity and sensual appeal of the work catches the attention of a wider audience. “Although the process behind the design was complex, we believe its beauty lies in how easy it is for the user to interact with it,” concludes Peter.