Media and Performance Lab II

Posted on 07/05/2012

I've rounded up another week of experimenting in the Media and Performance Lab II (see my post on the first Lab for more info on MAPLAB). I continued looking for answers to the question of 'How do you design spontaneous behavior '. This question holds a design dilemma; once a behavior is designed, or pre-conceived, it ceases to be spontaneous at once. In a reply to one of his post over at, I had a short e-mail conversation with Bernie DeKoven in which he emphasied this dilemma.
Designing for spontaneity. A good problem in deed. Just the kind of task that people who don't understand fun, or spontaneity, would assign. -Bernie DeKoven
Someone else, a family therapist, continued:
Although I don’t think we can design spontaneous behavior, I have observed that we can create a climate wherein its occurrence is highly likely. -Michael Bean
This brought me to approaching the question a tad differently: 'How can you design a rigid structure that facilitates spontaneous behavior' The first experiment was inspired on a work by Marie Sester. It's a white box piece where audiences are provoked to spontaneously interact by using motion tracking and a bright white spotlight. What interested me about this project is the simplicity of the installation and also it's rigid nature. The light does nothing other that track a single person. Eventhough participants probably know this, they still show playful behavior. I took this idea and took it into the Lab and experimented with different modifications. By adding more rules along the way, I was curious as to what rule-set would evoke the most spontaneous (physical) behavior. Another sub-question I've been jugglin' is 'Does more Ludus evoke more Paidia?' This is quite the playfulness scholar jargon so to translate: Does a more confined set of rules evoke more spontaneous behavior?' At first participants are released to 'roam free' in the test environment, then certain rules are added 'don't touch the red light' and 'catch the red light'. Let's take a look The most immediate conclusion is that adding certain rules to the environment does evoke more physical spontaneity. Participants are leaping around, hunting or fleeing, playing a schizofrenic game of cat-and-mouse. The immediate question that arises following this conclusion would be 'is this actually spontaneous behavior?' Since the behavior is clearly 'game play' as participants are conforming to an imposed rule-set. The question that remains is 'does it matter?'. On philosophical note: Playfulness is about being present, being totally in touch with your surrounding and (can't get enough of the Bernie quotes)
being open, responsive, yielding to the moment, catching hold and letting go.
To enter this 'playful state', as I like to call it, requires a certain willingness of a participant. It is in this respect that Jaako Stenros commented on my presentation of my findings of the Media Lab that there is a certain aspect of evoking playfulness that involves modding the player: Influencing the participant to such an extent that he or she  is more receptive to playful behavior. Anyone who's played Twister after a few beers will know what I mean. Speaking of Twister, as it's a good example of game-play that evokes physical spontaneity, it provided the inspiration for another experiment in this Media Lab. An important distinction in this experiment was that participants were not given any rules prior to participation, removing the inhibitions of any imposed behavior. The experiment started with an empty floor where the participants were asked to enter. Gradually colored hands and feet were projected onto the floor. After a while music started to play, and then suddenly stopped. When the music stopped the 'system' created a coloured plain on the surface a player was 'occupying'. This process was repeated until most of the floor was completely coloured. The first 'free-form' part was received with little spontaneity. The clear symbols of hands an feet implied a certain interaction, to stand on and touch the symbols with the shown limb. After a minute or two the participants started making up rules for themselves, 'only touch the red symbols', 'let's try to reach out to each other when the music stops'. It was this last 'spontaneous action' that sparked the cognitive leap of understanding the rules of the system. Immediately they sprung into action and started to cover as much ground with their bodies when the music stopped. This introduced a certain element of competition that might have subdued any undirected spontaneity, like in my limb-ball experiment. Still an important conclusion in this experiment was that the knowledge of a rule-set did evoke more physical spontaneity, albeit that the behavior in itself was implied by the game. Again, does it matter? The fun was there, the spontaneity was there, the players were playing. playas gonna play