Duffield/Hopkins’ Hive: Real Art

This isn’t about video games. But it IS about art. And it’s interesting.

One of the Junicorn designers I wrote about last week, Daniele Hopkins, is also an artist, who works works with her partner, Kyle Duffield, on a variety of technology-related projects. Some are related to gaming—like their cheeky, hilarious, yet surprisingly seductive Itagaki Interface. Most are not. Most focus, instead, on the connection between nature and technology. A while ago they did a video project called Drone, which showed the blurred lines between the insectoid and technological versions of that term. On Friday, at the Noise Project interactive art show in Toronto, they premiered Hive, which addressed similar themes.

Hive isn’t a game or a video. It’s a real device: a lashed-together-looking nest of wiring and speakers that hangs from the ceiling of a small room, emitting seven different synthesized droning sounds that mix and clash and cancel each other out as they (and you) move around the room. Built out of a hexagonal chicken-wire-like grid and fully exposed speakers, it has the look of a wasp’s nest that you’ve carelessly ripped open; on first apprehension, that chaotic droning triggers the deep fear of watching in horror as the nest’s inhabitants bear down on its hapless interlopers.

Except that they’re robots. Angry, tiny, relentless robots.

Conversation with Duffield and Hopkins turned it around, though, and brought out a different feeling entirely. Duffield and Hopkins are enormous insectophiles. Both refuse to squish or harm insects in their homes, making a point of carefully collecting them and depositing them outside. They find insects fascinating and beautiful; and talking with Kyle and Daniele about their work building Hive showed how much much affection they have towards technology as well.

After talking with them, a funny thing happened: I ended up finding Hive oddly…soothing. After wandering around the Noise Project, I’d find myself returning to the Hive room again and again. Part of that was because Kyle and Daniele were genuinely interesting and entertaining company. Even when they weren’t there, though, I’d still come back and find myself relaxing in the company of Hive itself. It wasn’t angry. It was complex, it was fascinating, and it was welcoming.

Kyle and Daniele are both moving on to gaming-related projects. Daniele has said that she’s going to keep on working on her Unity game about Internet surveillance. Kyle is working on a really neat title involving the Kinect and asynchronous gameplay that sounds fascinating, but I can’t really get into yet.

What really riveted me, though, was the news that they’re also looking into Oculus Rift development. They’d said that they were going to see about pulling the money together themselves. That’s great, and I support them in that…

…but after seeing HiveDroneItagaki Interface and the rest of their work, I’m confident that if anybody’s willing to pony up and play the patron,  you’ll get something amazing out of it. Think about it.

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