Culture: Art: Automated
Board of Prey   (+11, -2)  [vote for, against]
An artwork of emotional motion

In the centre of the gallery you see a stage, approximately 18 feet square. The smooth, light blue surface on top of the stage has raised edges, rather like a pocketless billiards table (though not quite as high).

Resting on top are twenty-one blobs, each about four inches in diameter (though you notice that there is one larger one, about six inches wide). The small blobs are a vibrant blue colour, while the large one is deep black.

Resting flat on the table, they're smoothly curved on top, and Teflon-coated (the idea being that they're easy to knock around, but hard to pick up).

As the door closes behind you, you see the blue blobs start to dance across the table top, each powered by a small motor beneath it, and all controlled by a computer inside the table. The movements go through several stages:

Playing: The black blob stays still, while all the blue blobs move joyfully, swirling and circling over the surface.

Hiding: The blue blobs suddenly freeze, quivering softly, trying not to be noticed as the black blob stirs, turning and beginning to move in slow circles.

Hunting: The black blob pauses as it locates a target. It starts to move menacingly towards the blue blob it's chosen, which breaks its cover and flees around the table in terror. The other blue blobs stay frozen still, not daring to move in support of their friend.

Capturing: The black blob is slightly swifter than the blue blob, and catches it after a shortish chase. When the blue blob gets touched, it stops dead in its tracks. (Ideally, the blue blob would turn from blue to red at the same moment - maybe heat-sensitive paint could achieve that effect.)

Killing: Once a blob has been captured, it starts moving again, but at a much-reduced speed. The black blob stops moving after it makes the kill.

Emerging: After the black blob has been still for a few moments, the blue blobs are brave enough to start moving, and are soon dancing happily around again, having forgotten their fear.

The cycle begins again...

When more blobs are captured, all the captured blobs creep in the same direction as each other, in spooky synchronicity. If one reaches a table edge, they all change direction, space-invaders-like. For they are all under the spell of the black blob...

You might become uneasy as you watch this spectacle, maybe even to the point that you want to stop the black blob getting its prey, or to rescue a captured blob. (I'm toying with the idea of playing infra-sound during the 'Hunting' and 'Capturing' stages to encourage and enhance this sense of discomfort and fear in the observers. Is art allowed to manipulate its audience to provoke the emotional response it seeks to create?)

If you do reach out to push one of the blobs (as mentioned above, it will be almost impossible to pick a blob up completely, but easy to block or push them), this is what happens:

Red, captured blob - touching a red blob 'kills' it: it stops moving completely (and turns grey).

Blue blob - the blob moves a little more slowly for each time it's been touched.

Black blob - gives you a harmless, but slightly painful electric shock, to deter you from blocking it.

Thus, while you can protect a blue blob from being captured for a little while, the black blob will win in the end, and you may become discouraged by the futility of your efforts, and perhaps angry that the 'bad guy' will inevitably win.

Denoument: When all the living blue blobs are either captured or dead, all the captured blobs begin to slowly move towards the centre of the table. Meanwhile, the black blob moves over to the dead blobs, one by one, nudging each into its correct position into the pattern that's being formed: an outline of a cartoon heart. When the pattern is completed, a pure, deeply beautiful melodic chime rings out.

However, this stage has a time limit. If there are too many grey, dead blobs and the black blob can't complete the pattern in time, the chime rings out but mangles, distorts and ends, as the black blob stops moving. You're left gazing at the half-completed outline of a broken heart.

It's possible this artwork will evoke an initial emotional and interpretive response in its audience during its early and middle stages, assumptions that then get shaken by the denoument, leaving them mulling over questions about the extent to which we can understand someone else's motives, the nature of creativity, the ethics of utilitarianism, the relationship between man and nature, and other such stuff.

It's also possible it won't, but hey, even so, it's still fun to slide the blobs around.

[Edited to remove the sound effects to leave more to the audience's imagination.]
-- imaginality, Oct 16 2006

Infrasound info
[imaginality, Oct 16 2006]

Can I play with the underlying machinery when you've finished with it, [imaginality]? [+]
-- pertinax, Oct 16 2006

Interesting, so + but too complex and too many facets to convey its messsage.
-- xenzag, Oct 16 2006

Weird. Deeply, deeply weird [+].
-- augusta, Oct 17 2006

Sure, [pertinax], which part of the machinery grabs your fancy?

Thanks for the feedback, [xenzag]; I agree this is probably an over-complex description. On the plus side, people's responses so far suggest the idea is coming across as I hoped it would.
-- imaginality, Oct 18 2006

I'd like to try making recognizable animations with the minimum number of blobs.

Sorry, this needs some back-story:

<back story>

There was a psych experiment once in which subjects observed people and animals in the dark, and had to recognize what they were looking at as quickly as possible. This was made more interesting by the fact that lights were attached at various points on the bodies of the people and animals, shining towards the observers so that, mostly, what they saw was a pattern of lights, with some vague, shadowy shapes behind.

The interesting part was that, when the subjects looked at still images of these patterns of lights, it took them a long time to puzzle them out. However, when the subjects were shown moving images of the same patterns of lights, they knew very quickly whether they were looking at a cat or a dog, for example.

I've come across a similar phenomenon on a night-time army training exercise, (where the moral of the story was about the importance of not smoking at night). At the far end of a ploughed field, in the middle of the night, we could see precisely nothing. Then someone lit a cigarette and put it to their lips. Strictly speaking, all we could see was one tiny point of orange light, but, without being told what was happening, we could immediately infer not just that it was a cigarette, but exactly where the chest, arm and head of the smoker were. This inference was just from the movement of the cigarette, not from any light that it cast. (Now imagine a sniper).


Anyway, if the controlling computer can be fed with various recognisable movement patterns, then maybe it would be possible to tell a story in which each character was represented by only two or three moving blobs, but was recognisable, through the *movements* of those blobs as being, as it might be, a boy, a girl or a silvery moon.

Or maybe not. But anyway, that was what I wanted to try.
-- pertinax, Oct 19 2006

Maybe you could cut costs by doing it in java or flash?
-- GutPunchLullabies, Oct 19 2006

Cut costs? That's not very half-bakery of you! ;)
-- pertinax, Oct 20 2006

Board of Prey
Board of Prey
drawing nigh
drawing nigh
kiss me when you vie

(apologies to JDM)
-- Zimmy, Oct 24 2006

random, halfbakery