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FoAM/sponge: "Tgarden," 2000

"TGarden is, first and foremost, a built space that the visitors can inhabit. Second, it is a growing environment in which the visitors can comfortably linger, surrounded by responsive media, and third, an instrument that allows the visitors to (collaboratively) shape and modify the environment's processes of growth, decay and transformation. "

Areas: touch & tangibility, hearing

TGarden is a large scale multiuser, responsive environment created by a number of institutions, researchers and practicioners from different disciplines. Find a list of credits here.

Image: FoAM/sponge

TGarden is a interactive performance space (10 x 12m) consisting of an animated floor projection and a complex sound environment. Up to twelve individuals can act and interact with each other via dedicated props and special costumes, some on the ground others strapped in harnesses above the ground. Their interactions create realtime changes of the projected visuals and the sounds generated. Sensors within the special clothing measure acceleration, tilt and gravity. All these movements and the proximity to other participants effect the sound and visuals in complex, dynamic and unpredictable ways. Partly these changes are controlled with the computer applications Max MSP and Jitter.

TGarden primarily is seen as a research project trying to understand "methods of artistic expression and social interaction in mixed reality." It is a "responsive Play Space whose visitors shape the media environment around them through their movement, gesture and social interaction." TGarden is not navigated in a conventional manner and there are no task to be fulfilled, instead participants are encouraged to explore the environment and discover the rules and affordances it provides by their movements and gestures.
To a large extend the environment is explorative. It appears that the aim of the interaction is driven by curiosity of participants exploring how the environment reacts and discovering its rules. Playing the game is identical with exploring it; learning and understanding its rules and behaviours and the dynamics it provides. As the behaviours are adaptive and dynamic this is not an easy task. Actions do not create identical reactions of the system. Some users experience not being able to repeat some actions as frustrating whereas others endorsed its unpredictability. Some even do not see any relationship between their actions and sound and visuals at all. Yet participants overall feedback is positive, they enjoy TGarden.

TGarden is breaking rules of human-computer interaction and usability design by creating an unpredictable, ambiguous and erratically behaving interface that reacts different from moment to moment. This "unreliable" behaviour which would be experienced as faulty, aggravating or disconcerting in other computer related circumstances e.g. any task oriented desktop application, is enjoyed by most participants. People get used to this unpredictability very fast and focus on exploring the system - intending to fathom its features and learn how to use it.

They explore the affordances it provides them with. How does the system react to which physical movements? While Participants try to understand they develop expectations and a mental model over time. Could it be that its appeal lies upon its novelty character, that the environment is regarded as interesting only as long as it is not fully understood?

As we compare this with other complex and playful manual activities that have to be acquired, for example the skill necessary to play a guitar this impression is confirmed. Learning how to play the guitar is a systematic tangible exploration of engraining a physical skill via biofeedback loops. With the goal of one day being able to satisfyingly play the guitar. The interest does not vanish once the skill is mastered and engrained. More the opposite the pleasure increases.
How would the mastery of the TGarden environment would be perceived?

The same can be said of David Rokeby's "Very Nervous System." VNS is an interactive application that transforms physical motion of the body into an audible experience - a musical biofeedback loop. No special skills are necessary to achieve this, as opposed to learning to play the guitar. Anybody can achieve a gratifying experience almost instantaneously without a necessarily steep learning curve. Though familiarity with the system increases the experience.
The system is complex yet its behaviours are explicit, unambiguous and predictable. Exploring it over an extended period of time leads to an increased mastery and understanding of its performance and to interesting changes of individual perception of the own body in connection with the surrounding environment. The experience becomes more rewarding with an increased familiarity of the systems behaviours and own bodily comportments. The same may be said of playing the guitar - yet it remains questionable how the scenarios of ubiquitous computing, social computing and the notion of interfaces for rich media environments that inform TGarden will be able to facilitate experiences of such intensity, pleasure and intuitive clarity.


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last update: 1/7/02008 0:53

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