Background to Leonardo-Net
The network is concerned with the interface between the arts, technology and interaction design. By bringing together research practitioners representing both humanities and technology, the network will encourage exploration of the bi-directional benefits of such collaboration.
Advances in interactive computing technology have blurred the line between art and science. Individuals working in multi-media fields must increasingly have an understanding of both domains. This is reflected in company names like Lucasfilm's "Industrial Light and Magic" and the Disney subfield of "Imagineering". Leonardo-Net is one of few initiatives to blur this line in terms of assessing the impact on people and to treat interaction design research as radically interdisciplinary.
As a background to the project come advances in computing technology that offer broadening access to art and new means of appreciating older forms. The digitisation of an art collection, for example, not only means that access can be widened if it is presented online but also that the pictures can be viewed in totally new ways. A visitor to an online picture collection can focus on particular parts of a painting to create new images in each partial or magnified view. The critic Walter Benjamin explored the radical changes to our perceptions of art in the age of mechanical reproduction. In the twenty-first century, computer technology is making equally radical changes, not only to how we perceive art, but also to how we produce it, and it offers new radical new possibilities for culture and creativity. Our appreciation of certain works can be deepened with the application of interactive technologies. For example, TextArc presents an entire literary text on screen in two swirling circles made up of tiny words, which are magnified when the user moves the cursor over them. When a word is selected, TextArc illuminates connecting lines in the spirals to show the number of times a highlighted word is repeated in the text. This is an aesthetic as well as an intellectual and analytical interaction.
Of interest are both theoretical and practical issues. Recent work from the humanities and arts has constructively critiqued traditional interaction design theory and practice (Bolter and Gramola 2003; Coyne 1999) while developments in HCI and cognitive science also promise to provide languages and frameworks for exploring the potential of interactivity in contemporary arts and performance, as well as providing new tools for creativity. This radicalism operates both at the individual level of the researcher with diverse training and interests, and at institutional level, either through collaboration between departments or through the establishment of interdisciplinary schools and research centres.
Obvious manifestations of this new radical interdisciplinarity include concern with experience-centred design, and increasing awareness of the need to understand the relationships between the aesthetics and functionality of digital devices (Norman 2004; Jordan 2002; McCarthy and Wright 2004). Theories and methods from the humanities enrich our understanding of interactive systems design with concepts such as audience reception and experience. In addition, there is a growing awareness of the digital art movement and analysis of interactive systems as digital media, which opens up a space for new ideas about how to frame interaction design and the possible applications of interactive technologies. Digital art is by nature a dynamic form, but can be more or less functional in its purpose: ranging from stimulating or reflective exhibits to more applied kinds of artefact, such as furniture (bringing it closer to design) and this opens a whole new design and evaluation challenge.
Leonardo-Net will support collaboration between the arts and technology disciplines in finding mechanisms to help us understand culture, self and subjectivity, the role technology plays in this, and how this understanding can impact on practice in the 'inter-discipline'.