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Brown CS Students Create A Futuristic Art Exhibition

Every week in January, we're taking an article from our just-released issue of Conduit, the annual Brown CS magazine, and releasing it on the web for the first time. Here's this week's story.

Click the link that follows for more news about recent accomplishments by our students.

by Zev Izenberg

STEAMRAVE, an immersive, interactive video art exhibition, was fundamentally chaotic. It was a box full of noise and destructive and constructive signals. It elicited a confounding tension between joyful play and novel/weird interaction. It obliterated and penetrated bodies with light (projection), quanta of information, to visceralize the reality of today’s hyper-saturated information environment. The event brought to the foreground questions of editability, distortion, and control of identity. It examined how we might create signals that cancel the manipulated/corrupt signals of our greater technological environment. When our lives moved online during COVID, the issues of digital identity and community confronted in STEAMRAVE became even more pressing. We must all remember that we don't just experience the online world: we create it.

At Brown CS, we often speak of the power of interdisciplinary collaboration. Zev, a 2020 CS graduate, directed the team of Brown-RISD STEAM members including concentrators in Computer Science, Neuroscience, Visual Art, Human-Computer Interaction, Architecture, Industrial Design, and Graphic Design.

Over 500 visitors experienced STEAMRAVE in just nine hours. The numbers grew each of the three evenings from word-of-mouth recommendations, starting with around 75 visitors the first evening, until an expectant queue formed outside Production Workshop's 40-person-capacity black box theatre on the third night. Visitors experienced the video art, personal narratives, and visual experiments designed by thirteen students artists from Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). Visitors became part of the art as they interacted with sensors throughout the space. 

We chose to use Max/MSP as our main software for creating live visuals, both playback and generative animation, based on the video art and music the artists submitted. In Max,  we created multiple different “patches” which used inputs from sensors in the space to modulate variables which controlled certain aspects of the video that was playing at any given time. This meant that a user down in the space could turn a knob and adjust some aspect of the video which we controlled, such as saturation, crossfading between video sources, or more complex visual effects which we had built in Max. 

In order to control parameters in Max in real time, the AV lead (Daniel) created a network of Arduino microcontrollers, which read sensor data from interfaces in the space, and then wirelessly transmitted that data over a 2.4 GHz radio frequency to a master Arduino in the tech booth. There, the incoming data converted into MIDI control messages which communicated with the Max software patches.

We started STEAMRAVE in October 2019 and brought it all the way to launch in just five months. We hope to inspire future CS students to think outside the box, work together, and dream big.

The TEAM  

Codirector: Zev Izenberg '20, Computer Science and Visual Art
Codirector: Mariel Rosic '20.5, Neuroscience
AV Lead: Daniel Tompkins '20, Human Centered Design
Design Lead: Elyson Park '21, Graphic Design
Build Lead: Avantika Velho RISD '22, Industrial Design
AV: Melissa Wang '22, Computer Science
Design: Dave Song '23, Undecided
Installation: Mara Jovanovic '22, Architecture

Featured Artists

Alexander Dupuis: Loup-Garou, G'd(w)^n's Castle 
Ambika Miglani: Peggy Visuals
Arayla Bakhetbek: Superimpose, Night
Cece Jane: Questions, Eyes
Colin Kent-Daggett: Splish Splash
Jacob Zimmerman: Moirai, weary_baby_with_tongue_hanging_out.png
Justin Ortiz: Time, Sun Kissd
Kaanchi Chopra: Starlight
Katia Rozenberg: Eyeball
Machu Muci: Protestas
Muskaan Garg: Echoes and Adornment
Natalya Ho: Morpheus
Nina Yuchi: How to Tie a Slipknot​

Special thanks to William Buerger, Maaike Laanstra-Corn, Finch Collins, and all of Production Workshop, Nick Dentamaro who photographed the project, Bill Faber, and Lindsay Caplan for inspiring all of us to shoot for the moon.

For more information, click the link that follows to contact Brown CS Communication Outreach Specialist Jesse C. Polhemus.