It’s surprising, perhaps, for a programmer creating code-driven, digital experiences, that technology is not the focus of Daniel Iregui’s practice. Instead he sees it as a preferably invisible means to a mesmerising end, an algorithmic enabler of chance encounters. His work is actually all about surprises, using interactive public installations to stop passersby and daily routine in their tracks.
Together with interaction developer Fran√ßois Loubert-Hudon and web developer David Surprenant, Bogota-born Iregui becomes Iregular, a Montreal-based studio¬†creating captivating interactive installations at the meeting point of art and technology.
Iregular’s projects put technology to work to inspire us to stop and smell the roses, or in his case to throw giants balls into the air to trigger animations on an inflated orb, to stop and dance with strangers prompting an audiovisual experience that will never exist in the same way again, or to temporarily posses the superpowers of Thor.
What’s the driving force behind the work you do?
I think the centre of everything is that I really want to create things that are constantly evolving and are never the same. I think this is because I‚Äôm a programmer, and with everything I program, when I add the randomness of the interaction of people then it becomes something that I cannot control at all. So my driving force is to create pieces that connect to people but are always changing and this means that visually they‚Äôre always going to be different and the experience that people have is very unique to the person who has it.
What do people respond to? Have you delved into the psychology behind your work?
It depends on the context. When I put something in a museum or in a gallery or a festival, people are really open to this type of thing so they just go and interact, they‚Äôre not shy. But when I put something in public spaces it‚Äôs very interesting to see how there‚Äôs like a moment, there‚Äôre waves: basically at first nobody interacts with it, people are shy, they don‚Äôt want to go and touch it and be seen as a fool. And then somebody goes and interacts and then ‘boom!’, people stay there for 2 hours.
I‚Äôve been exploring this for many years trying different things and I’ve found that the more expressive the interaction is, and the more dynamics and different possibilities there are to the way it reacts, the more people are going to explore. They’ll try new things and experiment and bring a friend and then they do things together. I find this is much more effective than a more reactive work where it‚Äôs just your presence or voice that creates an effect. People don’t get so involved, they leave quickly.
When I put a piece up I need to understand the place, the flow, the type of people that pass by, where they‚Äôre going. So I think a lot about behaviour, because for me what I want is for people to stop what they‚Äôre doing and interact with my piece. The more I can manage to do something that relates to what they‚Äôre doing in the moment, the better the reaction is going to be.
I spend a lot of time looking at people interact, this is the way I can see if things work. I make a lot of videos to document this so I can see the reactions. I can see what connects with people, what doesn‚Äôt.
“…and just when we were about to feel that it was done, the iPad came out.”
What about these connections is important to you?
For me the pieces are not complete unless there‚Äôs an interaction. So when this happens and when I‚Äôm able to attract people and keep them there and interested, that‚Äôs what it‚Äôs all about for me.
That‚Äôs one part. Another part to my work is to create connections between people who are not related to each other. They connect through the piece. For example, I‚Äôm interacting, you arrive there, we don‚Äôt know each other at all but because somehow what you‚Äôre doing affects my experience then there‚Äôs this connection. And even if people don‚Äôt talk to each other – because that‚Äôs not usually what people want to do ‚Äì through the work there‚Äôs this connection. So I think there’s this layer of interaction between people through the pieces, especially in public spaces, that‚Äôs very interesting. I feel people are more open to have these connections and to, let‚Äôs say, engage in a relationship very quickly with a person they don‚Äôt know. They would never talk to this person in a regular context, they would just, you know, ignore or pass by quickly.
CONTROL NO CONTROL is an interactive LED sculpture that invites the audience to use their hands and body to act on its sound and graphics.
What’s the importance of play and experimentation in your work?
Experimentation is very important. There‚Äôre two ways I experiment: one is with the code itself. I work a lot with math and numbers and logic, so once I have a main frame of code working, its functionality working,¬†I start to play a lot with these numbers. So everything works but what if instead of 2 I‚Äôll make this number 200 and see what happens. There are things that I can do very quickly to experiment and most of the time bring crazy-different results. Because the visuals generate in real time, I can do these changes quickly and see the results in real time as well. Sometimes that also happens by error. There are some very fortunate errors that have ended up becoming the piece at the end.
The second way I experiment is with the physicality of the installation objects. I start with an idea in my head but the result is going to be very different depending on the angle of the line or the power of the projector. I spend some time just playing with materials and the reflection of them and the shadows they make and the refraction of light through the material.
“I‚Äôm not interested in augmented reality, I‚Äôm interested in reality completely. “
How has your work changed with the development of new technologies that didn’t exist before?
When I started doing interactive installations the iPad did not exist. So my first work outside of a computer screen was to create a touch table. We spent so much time and so much work and money and just when we were about to feel that it was done, the iPad came out. It was so reactive, so precise. It made our table look from the past very fast. And what happens is the expectations of people in terms of reaction time move as fast as the technology, and sometimes even faster. So our table was working fine, everybody was happy, I was happy with it but then the iPad came and suddenly everybody has an iPad and really expects this precision on the touch and movement. So these types of things can really change things fast.
There were some installations we did in the past in the time that not everybody had a smart phone. Only a few had a 3G data plan, so we had to add wifi networks around the installations which were really not made for this. It was really difficult to work with this technology. These days everybody has a 3G phone in their pocket so connecting to a piece is much easier.
DIAGONALS is a three-metre-high steel monolith that detects scratching on its surface and reacts with an audiovisual interpretation of three Norman McLaren films, Horizontal Lines, Vertical Lines and Synchromy. McLaren (1914 ‚Äì 1987) scratched magnetic tape to create and synchronize sounds to images on film. This piece is inspired by his work and technique.
Both Diagonals (above) and Period quite significantly change the appearance of the buildings they’re installed on. How do you imagine our future cities looking? Will buildings become increasingly interactive and reactive?
I don‚Äôt see the future as everything being projected on and everything being interactive. If that was to happen then I would probably not do interactive anymore. Because what I like to do, and I think the reason that I can connect with people is because it‚Äôs something different from their everyday. I don‚Äôt want to impose on and bombard people with this type of work.
I really hope our future cities are much more green, less saturated with images or advertising or messages or alerts or traffic signs. That going into a digital experience is an optional thing. That you‚Äôre stepping out of your regular life because you want to go into something new. Personally, I like physical objects that have no digital at all. I like architecture very much, the object itself and how it changes the landscape, how it reacts to sunlight, the reflections of the windows.¬†So I see future cities being much more quiet and offering this less intense experience for the senses.
“I think it‚Äôs all about this magical element of something happening without you knowing how it works.”
What are your thoughts on virtual reality?
I‚Äôm not interested in augmented reality, I‚Äôm interested in reality completely. I’m interested in having connections with real people in the real world. I‚Äôm interested in this digital aesthetic but somebody sitting on a couch and feeling that they‚Äôre in the ocean, I‚Äôm not into that at all. I think that I’m completely the opposite of that.
It definitely has a future, we‚Äôre going to be seeing more of it. And some uses are interesting but I really hope that it‚Äôs something that is optional. If you want to feel that you are outside, go outside. The technology‚Äôs moving very fast but for now I feel it‚Äôs still not there. Everything you need to do to get into these experiences still takes too many steps.
SURFACE & BOTTOM is an immersive space in between two interactive installations. The exploration of this space is a metaphor to the thought process of searching for meaning and depth.
How do you balance technology with human experience?
I think it‚Äôs all about this magical element of something happening without you knowing how it works, and giving you something different from real life. I think what technology can do is change your usual experience of the world by switching it completely or making it unreal. But, for me, putting too much focus on the technology is not the right thing to do. Actually removing the technology so that it‚Äôs invisible means the experience is highlighted. That’s more the type of work I want to do. Of course people are curious and ask questions and want to know how things happened, but for me I hide the tech as much as possible and try not to talk about it so much. So in the end if I’m using a video camera, a sensor, or if it is sound reactive is irrelevant to the people in front of it. What’s important for them is what they can do with it.
THE COLOR OF THINGS is a two part interactive piece of a website and installation. Both parts explore the concept of perception and point of view and allow participants to find meaning with their interactions and the interaction of others.
The installation is an immersive room with a structure made of back-projected elastic tubes. When the tubes are touched they leave a color and sound trace, and when put in movement words emerge.