Interactive exhibit combines motion with music

“Art in Parallel” opened in the Kinetic Gallery on April 11, emphasizing the interactive as a computer-based exhibit. Upon meandering into the artistic center of college union, you might be scrolling through Instagram, adding to a ceaseless reply chain on Reddit or relishing in the beauty of a newly-created hashtag. When the tapping stops, however, you might look up and question the bare walls. Where is the artwork? Well, consider it an extension of the very device you clutch in your hands.

Senior Herb Susmann, who has been working on computer art with professor of computer science Homma Farian since fall 2013, will tell you that with this kind of exhibit, it’s “easy to get sucked in.”

Toward the center of the gallery, a box is outlined on the floor with lines running through it to create smaller squares. Each square marks a webcam directly above it, and a musical tone plays when motion is detected. When multiple people enter the squares, the system becomes a motion-activated musical machine – as if miniature people were frolicking on piano keys.

“I knew I wanted to do something interactive,” Susmann said.

Susmann is a math major and computer science minor who combined both disciplines to create “Art in Parallel” along with fellow seniors Wyatt Gorman and Lucas Groenendaal and junior Shawn Ward.

The human keyboard is indeed addicting; you form a mutual curiosity with strangers, never tiring of the endless symphonies waiting to be composed with movement.

Immediately to the right of the gallery entrance, a screen powered by multiple computers generates merging fractals. Although this part of the exhibit, entitled “Smooth Life,” is not interactive, it still confounds and entices the eye with constantly changing patterns.

Akin to the Mandelbrot set, which produces images and colors by using numbers as pointers and coordinates, “Smooth Life” employs deterministic rules to create fractal art. It was inspired by “The Game of Life,” developed in the ‘70s by mathematician John Conway. Its goal is to simulate life with pixels that display ranges of mood and vitality.

Each pixel is a number, and the numbers are then tested to yield specific images. When various numbers are sequenced together, they produce patterns and an aesthetically pleasing image forms; it shows “what life might be like at higher-level behavior,” according to Susmann.

While “Smooth Life” may sound complicated, pixel behavior is simple yet entrancing; it seems unbelievable that mathematical patterns are behind it all.

“Fractals are unique because you can zoom into them infinitely,” Susmann said.

At first, commingling the art world with math may seem strange. Certainly, empty white walls are off-putting in a gallery. It only takes an easy gravitation towards the human keyboard or fascinating fractals to understand what we tend to take for granted in our technological world. “Art in Parallel” shows that not only can art be simple, but it’s buried in our pockets and at our fingertips every day.

The exhibit will run through Sunday April 20.