Author: Scott Kildall

Dinacon: A walking tour of Koh Lon Island

As I often do, when I get to a new place, I get lost. I follow the advice of Rebecca Solnit in A Field Guide to Getting Lost and just wander. Before establishing patterns, your perceptions are the most open and so the day after arriving at Dinacon, I wandered around the island and just looked at things.

Various boats at low tide.

Lots of garbage, unfortunately. I saw this as an opportunity. Perhaps to do some cleanup or more likely to use as scavenged materials for some sculptural-sound installations. This would harken back to my work several years ago as an artist-in-residence at Recology.

Patterns in architectures. Patterns in nature.

An active school.

Small trails everywhere. There are no cars here and so one thing I noticed was the soundscape is different. Sometimes you’ll hear the sounds of a motorcycle or scooter, but even then, only occasionally.

Some sort of nest on a tree.

Intersection markers with plastic bags and red paint.

This island is quite large and much of it is impassible.

Holes in the sand into which crabs scurry.

So many coconuts.

Various signs, hand painted and more.     

   

Abandoned architecture.

 

New paths freshly cut by locals.

And as I was warned, if I venture out at low tide, I might be returning at high tide. Fortunately the water is warm and I was wearing shorts, so could wade back home.

Some thoughts about the work I’m doing here and ways I can engage with the space:

— Nature: there are plenty of plants, some amount of critters such as ants. How can I collaborate with various critters and foliage? Some of the things that are easily scavenged are bamboo, coconuts, dead coral and shells.

— Trash: what could be scavenged or collected to make temporary sculptures. Would this expand my practice here or should I stick with my original plan of electronics that make sounds? Perhaps I could put speakers inside of things that amplify the sound, like discarded gas cans.

— Architecture: there are some beautiful abandoned buildings and structures that no one seems to care about. I could probably do a performance or something in these spaces.

 

And finally, jungle cats!

Sonaqua at Currents 2018

I jokingly referred to my Sonaqua artwork as “the most annoying piece at the festival”. The exhibition was Currents New Media 2018, which was an incredible event.

It was a hit with the public and invited multi-user interaction. Kids went crazy for it. Adults seemed to enjoy the square-waves of audio glitch all night.

So yes, perhaps a tad abrasive, but it was also widely popular.

A number of people were intrigued by the water samples and electronics with what looked like a tangly mess of wires. It was actually a solid wiring job and nothing broke!

After working at the Exploratorium for a couple of years, I adjusted my approach to public engagement so that anyone can get something from this artwork.

How does it work?

The electrodes take a reading of the electrical current flow in various water samples that I collected throughout New Mexico. If more current flows through the water, then this means there are more minerals and salts, which is usually an indicator of less clean water.

The technical measurement is electrical conductivity, which correlates to total dissolved solids, which is one measure of water quality that scientists frequently use.

The installation plays lower tones for water that is more conductive (less pure) and higher tones for water that has less pollutants in it.

The results are unpredictable and fun, with 12 different water quality samples.

The light table is custom-built with etchings of New Mexico rivers and waterways, indicating where the original water sample was taken.

 

 

 

 

 

Gun Control (revisited)

My writing (below) was originally printed as part of the Disobedient Electronics project by Garnet Hertz. It is a limited edition publishing project that highlights confrontational work from industrial designers, electronic artists, hackers and makers that disobey conventions. 

 

Gun Control (revisited)

In 2004, I created Gun Control — a set of four electromechanical sculptures, which used stepper motors, servos and cheap cameras that were controlled by AVR code. The distinguishing feature of each unit is a police-issue semi-automatic replica handgun. You can purchase these authentic-looking firearms for less than $100.

The make-believe weapons arrived in the mail a week after I ordered them. That night, I closed the blinds, drank too much whisky and danced around my apartment in my underwear waving my new guns around. The next morning, I packed them in a duffel bag and took the “L” in Chicago to my studio. During the 45-minute commute I felt like a criminal.

Each gun is connected a stepper motor via a direct-drive shaft and flexible couplings. I used a lathe and a milling machine to make custom fittings. I hid unsightly electronics in a custom-sewn leather pouch, resembling some sort of body bag.

As people enter the Gun Control installation space, the cameras track their movement, and the guns follow their motion. Well, at least this is what I had hoped it would do. However, I had committed to using the first gen CMUCam and its blob-tracking software was spotty at best. I was under a deadline. It was too late to spec out new cameras. Plus, these were the right size for the artwork, which was using decentralized embedded hardware. I shifted my focus to building a chaotic system.

I re-coded the installation so the guns would point at different targets. They would  occasionally twirl about playfully and re-home themselves. I programmed the stepper motors to make the armatures shake and rattle when they got confusing target information. The software design embraced unpredictability, which made the whole artwork feel uncertain, embodying the primal emotion of fear.

Gun Control was my heavy-handed response to the post-911 landscape and the onset of the Iraq War. I exhibited it twice, then packed it up. It lacked subtlety and tension. At the time, there was not enough room for the viewer.

Just last month, I pulled the artwork out of deep storage. I brought the pieces to my studio and plugged in one of the units. It functioned perfectly. Upon revisiting this piece after 12 years, my combination of guns and surveillance seems eerily prescient.

Mass shootings have drastically increased in the last several years. Surveillance is everywhere, both with physical cameras and the invisible data-tracking from internet servers. Documentation of police shootings of unarmed African Americans is sadly, commonplace. I no longer recoil from the explicit violence of this old artwork.

I coded this using AVR microcontrollers, just before the Arduino was launched. It was tedious work just to get the various components working. I can no longer understand the lines of C code that I wrote many years ago. The younger me was technically smarter than the current me. My older self can put this historical piece into perspective. I plan to re-exhibit it in the coming years.

GitHub repo: https://github.com/scottkildall/GunControl

DIY Water Sensors Workshop

This write-up is a bit tardy, but that’s what happens when the holidays hit. In December, I hosted a DIY Water Sensors Workshop at Autodesk Pier 9 in collaboration with The Center for Investigative Reporting.

I’ve been fortunate enough to work at Autodesk, first as an artist-in-residence (2014) and for the last few years, running their Electronics Lab and more recently their Simulation Lab (VR/AR). For the workshop, we hosted a combination of journalists and members of the Autodesk community.

The idea for the workshop sprung out of my Sonaqua artwork. The project sonifies (makes sounds from) water quality by testing for electrical conductivity (EC), which is an correlates to pollution — the more heavy metals and minerals, the higher the EC. It’s one of a number of measurements that scientists make in the field, along with indicators such as pH and Dissolved Oxygen.

That’s a brief summary of the artwork and what I wanted to do was make basic module circuit available for anyone to use. We breadboarded the basic circuit and within a couple of hours, everyone was up and running, making sounds from water samples that they brought in.

Working with the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) was valuable — afterwards, we got into a long discussion about data journalism. I was impressed with their breadth of projects and related works which include:

Sonifying the Seismic Activity in Oklahoma – tracks earthquake activity increases due to fracking

Wet Prince of BelAir – uses satellite data to find water-wasters during the big drought.

Cicada Tracker – a project by WNYC & Radiolab using Arduinos to predict the cycle of 17-year cicadas

   

 

After a few hours, the breadboarded circuits were complete! I mailed circuit boards, designed in Autodesk EagleCAD to the workshop participants a few days later. There are always production delays, but they did get the boards in time for the holidays.

Photo credit, Blue Bergen, Autodesk

Photos from Longnow Talk

Last week, I gave a talk, detailing my interpretation of the term Art Thinking at the LongNow Interval Space. More on that later. I also discussed a 4-part model of time and several art projects that I’ve made over the last several years.

It was one of my best talks and I felt so honored to be part of this series.

Here are some photos from the event.