Humanity at its heart: Resonate Festival, Belgrade
Over three packed days in the Serbian capital, renowned media artists such as Kyle McDonald, Karsten Schmidt, Google Data Arts Team’s Aaron Koblin, Atelier Hypermedia’s Douglas Edric Stanley and Art+Com’s Jussi Ängeslavä joined artists, creatives, hackers and technologists from the worlds of architecture, design, physical computing, media and digital art and beyond for art and technology festival Resonate.
Echoing the hacker-meets-artist ethos, the spirit of Resonate (now in its third year) was open, collaborative and sharing - projects, jokes, tips, data, code and insights flowed free. But amid the provocative ideas and bleeding edge innovations – ethical algorithms, bodyhacking, disposable 3D printed machines – Contagious was struck how much Resonate is a festival about humanity, and specifically how technology mediates our lives in a huge variety of ways. In that sense, it's thought-provoking for planners and creatives alike.
Preceding the provocative thinking though, Resonate attendees were schooled in the eminently practical: one- and three-day long workshops on generative design, coding for Oculus Rift (below) and open-source musical instrument Ototo, Kinect facial tracking, and ‘programming matter for non-digital realities’, among others.
Above: Hands on with Oculus Rift, one of the workshops at Resonate
Human After All /
Attendees were treated to a peek into the future, or, as Ängeslavä said: ‘how computers affect us, and what are the key themes that will become prevalent in the mainstream over the next few years.’ Ängeslavä’s students at Berlin art school Universität der Künste, he noted, delved into wearables and implantable devices as far back as 2007, the beauty of data in 2008, and entrepreneurialism in design (long before Kickstarter) in 2009.
But technology, he argued, quickly becomes outdated: what stood the test of time was the human dimension – social status, emotion, playfulness. Michael Burk’s pre-natal diagnostic concept Therefore I Am (based on genetic screening technology like 23 and Me) asked what it would mean to know how long you’d live, what job you’d have, your sexuality, and when you’d die.
Riffing on social media as a tool for surveillance and suppression, fellow student Ann-Katrin Krenz meanwhile created the Justification robot installation, which automatically analysed emotional sentiment in tweets and balanced them out with tweets of the opposite emotion to create ‘peace’.
Social Hacking /
Exploring the emerging etiquette around how we relate to technology, and how that impacts design and programming, McDonald shared learnings and projects from his course as part of NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program on Social Hacking.
One student project – a Twitter bot - copied any newly-updated Twitter avatar and used it as their own. Another – us+ – automatically annotated and altered Google Hangout conversations to make for a better conversation. Hye Joo Jun’s Association Machine project meanwhile crowdsourced descriptions for colours, to make them more personal, then created a handheld printer to mark the real world with them.
'Technology fits uneasily into our lives' /
Microsoft Research’s Richard Banks picked up this theme of human-centred technology in his presentation on how ethnography plays a huge part of his work, which has led to innovations like Microsoft’s Kinect skeletal detection system. A dedicated team of social science academics bring pragmatism and a deep empathy for people’s complicated lives, he said, a necessary check against traditional tech company visions of effortlessly connected homes and breezy cross-platform functionality.
‘Technology fits uneasily into our lives,’ said Richard Banks, ‘we have to grab for it.’ Banks argued that digital technology has altered our relationship with photography, for example. He showed a concept of Back Up Box, a simple wooden box housing ‘slides’ storing a household’s social media repository of photos, bringing back the physicality and importance of these memories to our everyday.
People powered /
At Contagious we've always talked about the importance of understanding people - their motivations, desires, needs - and putting that at the heart of marketing, and using technology in the service of that, never the other way round. Leaving Resonate, I couldn't help feeling buoyed by the extraordinary potential that the combined forces technology, creativity and empathy have to expand the creative tool box of how to speak to people.
See you there next year?
The above is only a tiny selection of the projects shown at Resonate: check out the festival's website here for many, many more.