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Karen Is My Life Coach (By Anna Gerber)

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This is Anna Gerber’s third and final guest blog for us. She’s been writing about delightful new storytelling projects that have caught her eye. Anna is a Special Projects Creative Director who knows a thing or two about making stories, be they digital, on paper or brickwork as co-Founder of Visual Editions and Creative Director of just launched Editions At Play.

Here’s the thing. You’re really never sure if Karen is on your side or not. Or if she’s nice. Or if you even like her. Her eyes sparkle, her smile is warm, in one trailer you even see her sitting in front of a polite mantle piece. But she can also seem a little cult-leader-like: her stare can feel intrusive, her polite mantle piece probably too polite and her questions a bit much. Her creators capture this unease with their strapline: “She’s friendly. Too friendly.”

So what or who is Karen? Karen is My Life Coach is an app. It’s an app dreamed up by Blast Theory (based in Brighton, England). Karen is a fictionalised character, she is a made up life coach that asks you (the client? patient? user?) an awful lot of questions in a series of eerily realistic life coach session environments. The app is smart. Karen is smart as she amasses data about you and your behaviour in order to know how to respond. She’s like an interactive version of a cross between the Spike Jonze film Her and the UK Channel Four TV series Humans.

The thing is Karen is not a very helpful app. She is not a tool. Karen is unlikely to support you and guide you in a way that you feel you might want or need. But here’s what Karen will do: she will get you to question how freely you are prepared to be open and honest and intimate with your phone. She might even make you think twice about big data and how companies and governments collect information about you unknowingly all the time.

Powered by the rather thrilling intersection of theatre, art and technology Karen is smart, here is an app that makes a gentle and poignant cultural interrogation and it’s even funny if you want it to be. In an unnerving way. One things for sure: if you’re like me, it might make you feel wary of my phone. At least for a couple days. And that’s probably a good thing.

wonder.land (By Anna Gerber)

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Are you one of those people who hears the words “adapted from”, “inspired by”, “based on” or even “re-imagined” and your critical tentacles tense up? Do you find yourself thinking things like “I wonder how faithful this film is to the original novel?” or “What would the author think if she saw this dance adaptation?”. I know I certainly am, with my hand held high up in admission, head bowed down.

So when I walked into The National Theatre to watch wonder.land, the wild trippy musical “loosely based” on Alice in Wonderland (there it is, you see) I was full of that critical, snooty, cultural judgement. But just as easily, I transcended those misgivings and can tell you that, over two hours later, I left feeling surprised. More than surprised: inspired. I loved it.

Created by the almighty Damon Albarn, Moira Buffini and Rufus Norris, wonder.land highlights include the coolest, most glitchy, ravey, Gorillaz inspired rabbit you’ve ever seen; a broken-home Alice whose avatar is everything she isn’t (complete with sky high Alexander McQueen-esque platforms); the Cheshire Cat blown up so big on screen you just want to climb into that Bowie grin; a headmistress turned Queen of Spades that made me think of a hipsterfied Matilda’s Miss Trunchbull; and a Mad Hatter (Alice’s debt ridden father) who could be a cross between Albarn himself and Johnny Depp. What’s there not to love? There’s even a virtual reality music video-as-app which is like watching a whole sprawling mini-universe squeezed into the teeny screen of your mobile phone. And in all of this, there’s a mash up of familiar, clever cultural counter points. A constellation full of the world around us — it’s loud, it’s claustrophobic, it’s visually saturated. And utterly familiar.

Of course Albarn and team aren’t the first to tackle Alice in Wonderland: before wonder.land came Disney’s animated Alice in Wonderland and then there was Tim Burton’s wild ride of a film (cue: Johnny Depp) and there was Penguin’s polka dotted Yayoi Kusama beauty of a book and then there was Alice for the iPad that blew our digital minds open so wide we thought we’d never come out.

So maybe the real testimony here is the story itself: a story so good it calls out to be revisited and made familiar again and again and again. And maybe it’s okay if this Alice is more about gaming and social media than it is the traditional Lewis Carroll narrative. One thing’s for sure, Alice 2.0 makes for a fabulously wild ride.

(Anna is guest blogging for us this month covering delightful new storytelling projects that have caught her eye. Anna is a Special Projects Creative Director who knows a thing or two about making stories, be they digital, on paper or brickwork as Founder of Visual Editions and Creative Director of Editions At Play.)

Mechanical Mirrors

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Artist Daniel Rozin creates fascinating interactive installations using sensors and motors that re-adjust a series of objects to reflect whatever is standing in front of them. The mirrors are different shapes, sizes, and colors assembled with a variety of materials including wooden pegs, plastic spokes, and pieces of trash to create unique patterns: one resembles a lovely basket weave, another made of wood cylinders appears reflective like an amalgam of shiny pennies. The secret to the mechanics is the hidden camera behind each composition that feeds what it sees in real-time to a computer, which translates the image into a video signal. Rozin’s custom designed software then instructs each motor to move the panel it controls accordingly, resulting in a mirror-image of the subject. This summer art lovers will have a chance to interact with the installations in person as part of the Digital Revolution exhibition at London’s Barbican.

Museums After Dark

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The “After Hours” program is the first recipient of the IK Prize, an initiative that facilitates the enjoyment of art through the use of digital technology. The prize winners Tommaso Lanza, Ross Cairns, and David Di Duca, also known as “The Workers,” plan to bring art to night owls with the use of hi-tech robotics. Beginning this summer, anyone with a Wi-Fi connection will be able to sign up to for a late night self-guided through the Tate Britain thanks to camera wielding robots.

Image via Movie Mania

Watson travels to Africa

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IBM is bringing super computer Watson to Africa to assist researchers in tackling pressing needs in the healthcare, sanitation, education, human mobility, and infrastructure sectors. “Project Lucy,” named after our earliest known human descendant, is IBM’s ten-year and 100 million dollar initiative that gives scientists the time and resources to utilize Watson’s computing abilities to help solve Africa’s most crucial challenges. The compilation and analysis of big data will assist experts in comprehending the obstacles that contribute to Africa’s stagnate economy and pervasive poverty. Food prices, GDP, and the size of diseased populations are just a few of the categories the project will seek to better understand through data compilation and the identification of emerging patterns.

Image via Freestock.ca

Empowering Europe’s Digital Economy

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The European Digital Forum, a new think tank dedicated to empowering tech entrepreneurs, has been established to help grow Europe’s digital economy. The program was announced by Neelie Kroes, vice-president of the European Commission, at the World Economic Forum in Davos. The venture plans to host an annual Digital Forum that will bring together entrepreneurs, political leaders, and policymakers creating an outlet for cross-continental discourse on startups and technological innovation. The day-to-day operations of the forum will rest in the hands of the Lisbon Council and Nesta, two esteemed innovation think tanks, and will have additional support from a coalition of influential companies and tech leaders.

Image via Eric Fischer

Multisensory Experiences

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Pushing beyond our everyday notions of technology, more and more designers and researchers are working to design multisensory experiences that allow the user to not just see, but feel. One such example is ‘sensory fiction,’ a new wearable device and book cover MIT researchers have developed to customize the reading experience to the individual. The innovative apparatus has the ability to change the user’s heart rate causing temperature changes and other physical sensations. The book’s cover is outfitted with 150 programmable LEDs that create ambient light based on the plot’s mood and setting. In another wearable experiment, Sensoree created a sweater that projects your mood as a light show. Without a word from the wearer, the sweater can communicate a range of emotions – from tranquility (green) to excitement (purple).

Image via Designboom

Immaterial Blooms

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Flowers that don’t necessitate water or sunlight? Digital artist and interaction designer, Daniel Brown, grows flowers from bundles of code. His roses, orchids, and immaterial blooms are computer-crafted creations generated by the manipulation of digital plant genomes. These fantastical flowers grow on screen in real-time, documented by a camera run via matrix manipulation. Brown’s visionary designs have been commissioned by Art Fund’s RENEW program at the D’Arcy Thompson Zoology Museum and the BBC Climate Change website.

Olfactory Ingenuity

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The newest add-on for your smart phone, Japan’s Scentee, moves beyond the visual and taps into users’ olfactory sense. Plugging into a phone’s earphone jack, the orb-shaped device can be programmed to disperse different scents throughout the day. Replaceable cartridges allow the user to choose from a multitude of scents to suit their mood or environment:  coffee as you wake, lavender in a crowded subway, or mint as a mid-day refresher. The latest scent in the pipeline? Bacon. In other fragrance news, the Ophone, a small cylindrical gadget designed by Le Laboratoire receives encoded recipes through a server that determines what custom scent it emanates. The current prototype generates up to 320 different smells.

 

Incubating New Ideas

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Two New York City initiatives are creating spaces that foster collaboration and design discourse. The American Design Club was founded to support the work of emerging designers. By creating a platform for sharing ideas, resources, and inspiration, the club offers designers across the nation a virtual space for connection and cross-pollination. Meanwhile, The New Museum has announced their plans for a creative incubator that hopes to challenge traditional notions of the art museum and will house more than 60 start-up companies and entrepreneurs. To secure a place at 231 Bowery, prospective participants will have to be selected by committee. One of the first to announce their occupancy is Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation’s research lab Studio-X.

(Image via Art In America)

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