Mobile Art: iPhone Art Apps
From Étienne-Jules Marey and Eadweard Muybridge’s early experimentations with moving images to contemporary artists like Jim Campbell and Rafael Lozano-Hemmer who invent new media in the process of their art production, there is a significant history of artists exploiting the latest developments in technology to challenge our expectations of what art can be. With the advent, and proliferation of, mobile technology, it seems only natural that the latest platforms for experimentation and innovation are on smartphones and tablets. Using these devices, artists are crafting immersive, participatory user experiences that transform how we engage with and consume visual art. This art as app proposition also dramatically alters the conventional distribution channel, as the art object is best viewed and experienced individually on a hand-held device rather than in an exhibition space. Mobile platforms have proved particularly appealing to new media artists affording them a reasonably simple way to introduce interactivity into their work, and the iPhone and iPad have emerged as compelling new contexts for viewing screen-based art. These apps, which take the form of interactive performance spaces, blur the line between creator and observer as the artwork is placed directly in the hands of the viewer whose participation is an integral element of the piece itself. Here are a few of our favourites that are well worth a download.
Jörg Piringer, abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz, 2010
An early entry in the app art world, Austrian artist Jörg Piringer’s abcedf… still holds up today as an inventive and unusual experience. Users of the app control letters, which Pringer refers to as “sound creatures,” that respond to gravitational pull and motion forces, and collectively create a variety of sounds. The app, which draws equally from the worlds of physics and music, is a sound and performance tool that allows users to invent their own musical compositions. Abcedf… combines sound and typography in unexpected ways with quite primitive, deliberately low-tech aesthetics. If you become overwhelmed by the cacophony of sounds, you can activate a missile or bomb function that will remove letters from the mix and erase their corresponding sounds. With abced… Piringer has created an enchanting user experience out of quite intricate and complex technology.
Jody Zellen, Urban Rhythms, 2012
Urban Rhythms is a new app by interdisciplinary artist Jody Zellen that reflects her longstanding interest in exploring the urban environment. Using the generic, yet charming stick-figure to represent city dwellers, Urban Rhythms presents a number of models of how we transgress urban public space. The app is divided into eight scenarios that require the viewer to use one of the iPhone’s native functions – tap, swipe, tilt – to animate the stick-figures and guide their movement on screen. Urban Rhythms is at once a game – there is a novelty in directing the figures’ movements and witnessing how your actions affect their mobility – a drawing tool – the app’s innate photo function allows you to easily capture your animations – and a data visualization – one section of the app makes use of Zellen’s earlier data project, The Unemployed, which animates the jobless rate in a number of different countries. Urban Rhythms’ aesthetic, the perfect marriage of hand-drawn and computer generated graphics, is extremely simple and low-fi but the power and complexity of the app is decidedly high-tech.
Scott Snibbe, Tripolar, 2012
Scott Snibbe is one of the most well-known and prolific new media and software artists working today and has been an innovator in the field for decades. He has released a number of apps that reconceive and reconfigure his previous computer and web-based projects for use on mobile touch screen devices. His latest, Tripolar, was originally commissioned by the Whitney in 2002 as part of the online CODeDOC exhibition, and the museum has supported its redevelopment as an app. Tripolar, which responds to the viewers’ touch, is beautiful in its simplicity and quite engrossing in its functionality. In furious, rapid animation, the app illustrates the effect of a pendulum swinging over the base of three magnets, which are placed and controlled by the viewer. The drawing undergoes dramatic changes when the position of the magnets is even subtlety altered, demonstrating the chaotic nature of the phenomenon. Snibbe’s original work only contained three magnets, but the app allows the user to add an infinite number into the mix, increasing the complexity of the animation. Further obscuring the line between artist and viewer, when the user inserts additional magnets the title of the piece changes from Tripolar, 2002 by Scott Snibbe to Untitled, 2012 “by you.”
JODI, ZYX, 2012
Working collaboratively as JODI since the 1990s, artists Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans were early innovators in the field of net.art, software art and artistic computer game modification. JODI has recently been experimenting with the more public aspects of technology and have released a number of apps including ZYX, a program that utilizes the iPhone’s sensors and camera function to choreograph the viewers’ movements. By requiring the user to enact a series of gestures, such as turning the phone ten times to the right and searching for reception with an outstretched arm, ZYX combines elements of the virtual and the physical to create a new form of public performance. More than merely a game, with ZYX JODI is commenting on the often jarring dissonance between our physical, real environments and our activities that increasingly occur in the digital realm. Like much of their previous work, this app is a meditation on the effect of technology in our daily lives.