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From the outset, dataflower is meant to be a practice based research project. My main motivation for it came from the experience of many years developing digital art installations with diverse teams, noticing many recurring technical and soacial patterns and thinking "there has to be a better way to approach these problems". Most of my research on this project so far has involved creative practice, but mostly in a non-participatory way, through observation, interviews and questionnaires. To actually get involved in creative projects and use practice as a way to shape the development of dataflower, I first need to have a minimal working version which actually does something interesting and useful.
I now have such a prototype of the whole system which I can use as a foundation for more active practice-based research, but I still need people to experiment and to try building projects with it and give me feedback, so I need to start meeting and working together with them more regularly, so i came up with the idea of organizing data gardens.
A data garden is an open collaborative development event for all those interested in learning, working with and improving the dataflower tools and on reflecting about the issues related with parallel, heterogeneous and distributed computing in digital art practice. The focus of each event will depend on the participants interests, but my plan is to have a specific topic to discuss or a new feature to test for each session, which should happen at least once a month.
Last saturday, July 19, I got together with a group of digital artists and researchers at Audiência Zero in Matosinhos, Portugal, to perform a pilot test for these sessions. Since this was a first and the tools are still a bit rough around the edges, I started with a small presentation to present the project and its motivation and to elicit feedback from the participants. I then presented a brief tutorial of FBP concepts using microflow and gave a brief overview of the upcoming libflow library. Next I presented a prototype of the dataflower environment and we had a brainstorming session on mental models for complex systems and collaboration tools.
Many thanks to Audiência Zero for hosting the meeting and to all who participated for their interest and wonderful feedback. The next data garden session is scheduled to take place in Coruña, Spain, from 17 to 21 of September as a work node part of the Artropocode residency, and you are most welcome to join us.
If you want to host or participate in a future data garden event, get in touch.
The "Collaborative Practices in Creative Computing" study is now over, and the number of responses has far exceeded my expectations. I'd like to send a big heartfelt Thank You to all who have participated, your input will definitely help me develop new tools which will hopefully help your creative practices.
It will still take some time to fully explore the data from the study and draw some meaningful conclusions, so in the meantime my focus will be on building the code scaffold for dataflower, a minimum base platform that can be publicly released and used to develop creative projects.
As we enter the development stage, I'm also going to try and make better use of this blog as a communication and research platform. So expect more frequent updates beyond the odd announcement here and there.
As the first stage after the approval of my research proposal I have been conducting since the summer a set of qualitative and quantitative user studies in order to better understand the work processes and practices surrounding creative applications of technology in New Media Art.
I am especially interested in which technologies and tools are more prevalent, and how these are used to support the creative process and emergent collaborative practices. The process started with informal ethnographic observation performed at artist residencies, from which I gleaned a set of observations that allowed me to do a set of semi-structured interviews with artists and creatives who use creative computing technologies in their work. These interviews resulted in deep, rich insights into the needs and practices of New Media artists in creative environments.
The last step in this set of studies is a broad online questionnaire that aims to quantify with a larger sample some of the salient aspects of the previous studies. If you are an artist or creative using digital technologies to develop your work (especially if involves applications of interactive systems like art installations or live performances), Id like to invite you to take part in this study. and help us improve our understanding of your practice so that we can develop better tools.
At the end of August I participated in this year's Artropocode meeting, a gathering of digital artists that alternates every year between Galicia and Portugal. Although usually a weekend long meeting, this year the event took on the form of a ten day residency at the Baleiro lab, right in the middle of the Santiago de Compostela University campus.
The longer format of the event allowed me the time to better observe the collaborative workflow between the participants and to set up a few interviews with them, learning about their creative relationship with technology and their needs regarding the tools they use.
Artropocode2013 was a fantastic experience, I hope to meet everyone again in Portugal next year and show them what I'm building from their insights.
LGM 2013 was held in Madrid at the brand new Medialab Prado building, a fantastic venue which besides a large auditorium provided lots of work space for the developers present. The program was divided into workshops and work sessions in the morning, conferences during the afternoon and social events in the evening. Many of the participants there were also going to stay for the following week for the Interactivos production workshop.
With so many activities and so many interesting people there, it was not possible to attend every session, but here are my notes on some that caught my attention:
Camille Bissuel presented Mikado, a graph-based image editor which has a structure similar to the one I'm proposing for dataflower. It is based on a C++ dataflow library called Tempi and has a web-based UI. I had a chance to briefly talk to the presenter and there are many good possibilities for future collaboration. Tempi looks like a very mature and well designed library and when the time comes I'd like to contribute to it and support it as a backend in dataflower.
Tom Lechner presented his Laidout tool which he's been developing for some time now to do the layout of his own publications. The tool implements many really interesting ideas, eschewing most of the traditional idea of tools in favor of direct manipulation of objects in the canvas. On another related talk, Tom also presented some thought-provoking ideas on how we could share tools between Free Software graphics applications.
Dave Crossland and Ben Martin talked about the current state of Fontforge and demoed an impressive real-time collaboration feature that they would be working on during the conference and the Interactivos workshop.
Ale Rimoldi, inspired by how UNIX shell pipelines work, presented his thoughts on how we should be able to connect graphics applications to build complex workflows, similar to what we can already do with audio applications via JACK.
Danji Vasiliev presented his Hotglue project, a web framework that allows users to direcly edit their web pages in the browser through direct manipulation. He also presented his plans to create Superglue, a distributed platform web publishing platform based on Hotglue.
You can find all the talk videos in the Medialab-Prado multimedia archive.
As for my talk, I'm pretty happy with how it turned out and got really good feedback from the people attending, but I'll let you be the judge of that. Here is the video and the slides of my presentation:
LGM 2013 was an incredible experience for me, as I've had the chance to meet some good friends and some of the people that develop many of the tools I use and love. I also got the chance to take the pulse on what the Free Software community is doing to support creativity, and regarding the future of these tools I can tell you, the future is Free (as in Freedom).
Digital artists have always explored the state of the art capabilities of available computer hardware. Modern tools like Processing and OpenFrameworks, together with good online documentation and supportive communities, have made programming an approachable skill for every artist.
However, computer hardware is undergoing a paradigm shift. Pushed by increasing demands for performance and limited by costs in power usage and data transfer speeds, hardware manufacturers are gradually shifting towards designs that combine many different and highly specialised processors. Taking full advantage of this power comes with the cost of abandoning the cognitive model of the single sequential processor. For software artists, this means that their tools need to evolve.
dataflower is a novel collaborative visual development environment that makes high performance heterogeneous parallel hardware accessible for creative applications. We propose to exploit the potential of the visual dataflow programming paradigm to allow digital artists to intuitively design high performance applications, while abstracting the challenges posed by parallel heterogeneous computing systems.
Our ultimate goal is fostering real-time experimentation, bridging the gap between beginners and experts, and improving communication and collaboration in multidisciplinary teams working in creative programming projects.