I Just Can't Help Myself is about the sometimes inexplicable impulse to draw outside the lines, or in this case: shake antique vases
and touch paintings in a classic art museum. The observer is invited to embrace the urge and become the artist, revealing their own version
of an existing painting as their exploration of the environment deepens, toying with the notion that misbehaving is a creative act of self discovery.
Created as a capstone project for Gray Area's Art Studio Computer Science Immersive fall 2020.
The concept for I Just Can’t Help Myself came about as the marriage of many interests - I have a fine arts background, but I work professionally as a Data Scientist with a particular personal
interest in behavioral science. All of my initial ideas for the capstone project were very of-the-moment: playable sculptures representing endangered species, chaos and misinformation, etc. But each time
I sat down to ideate on these concepts the doom set in and I eventually realized that joy and play, missing from so many of our lives this year, were really the feelings I wanted to evoke.
I have always loved thinking about why it is we sometimes want to do things only because we’re told not to - “getting away with something.” When I was a kid and I was told not to do something,
I’d find myself fantasizing about the outcome of doing it anyway. So I felt that an interactive exhibit where your misbehaving actions literally have an effect on the environment around you suited the concept
At its core, this piece is about letting yourself imagine something silly and absurd and embracing the idea that every time you push boundaries you find out a little more about yourself and the world in the process. Not all rules are made to be broken, but sometimes breaking rules or observing others breaking rules reveals a whole new perspective to learn from. In I Just Can’t Help Myself, that perspective is embodied by the manipulation of a Baroque painting.
I experimented with projecting manipulations of the painting with various p5.js sketches, but found that the most interesting effect was created in deepening the OSC control capabilities in MadMapper.
Some of the most interesting effects Matt and I created in the video were from programming accidents, such as having one touch response control multiple elements,
that I opted to keep.
In wanted to reinvent the concept of a controller. For this piece to be effective, I felt there needed to be a surprise element, where part of the magic as a viewer would be discovering that touching one of the objects controlled another object, and that none of the objects had any visible wires or cables. I will do a more thorough write up of technologies used, but the technlogical magic that makes the objects talk to each other involves an accelerometer and several ESP32 Feather boards.
I followed my intuition to discover the concept as I created things that felt right to create - I only knew I wanted my painting to be unassuming and mildly boring, but the idea for the vases came to me spontaneously after finding a stash of old clear flower vases that I found myself spray painting late one night. All objects involved needed to be finished with conductive materials, which I intentionally disguised as ornate features. So by accident, the making of the piece describes its finished product: partially planned, partially improvised and bending the all rules involved.
The most exciting moment creating this piece was realizing that it had things to show me once everything was connected at once. I wasn’t expecting to have another participant who had no prior knowledge for how the objects were programmed for filming that day, but Matt Chacon from Gray Area was around and ended up being a priceless addition. Our spontaneous collaboration added a whole new surprise dimension and actually made the piece more fun for each of us, an aspect of which I’ve been thinking about ever since.
I’d love to install I Just Can’t Help Myself in a physical gallery space when we’re all comfortable with collaborative tactile exhibits again. It occurred to me as I shook the vase that glass is probably not the most practical material to encourage the general public to man handle - so I’m considering other materials.
I also plan to continue developing the concept. I’ve since realized after initial conception that in a way I Just Can’t Help Myself is a commentary on the role of the observer in art - each viewer brings their unique perspective and how they perceive the world. Matt handled the exhibit in different ways than I thought to, which brought out different visuals in the projection, which feels like a physical manifestation of that concept.
And as a parting word from this piece's creator - you really want to shake that vase, don't you?