In 2016, Cyril Martin, Marvin Morisse Maclean and Victor Meunier started Uncanny Valley Studio as a place to combine not only their skills but their love of electronic music, visual arts and creative usages of new technologies. Exploring the relatively new practices of interactive art and interaction design, the trio began working with a medium where the “grammar” and possibilities were (and still are) unstable and yet to be ascertained. “The appeal is twofold,” the trio tells It’s Nice That, “the field calls for experimentation and dialogue and some of the questions are still a little open-ended.”
Cyril and Marvin – an engineer and graphic designer respectively – had been collaborating on projects since 2014 under the framework of music and digital art collective, quinzequinze. “The idea was to produce one song every fifteen days (quinzequinze means fifteenfifteen in French) and then to post it online accompanied by a music video or an interactive experiment,” explain Cyril and Marvin.
Their interests in digital art developed rapidly and the pair began to create playful interactive devices which altered the experience of listening to music. In 2016, Victor, a graphic designer, joined the team to work on an installation, forming a collaborative relationship which shaped what Uncanny Valley Studio is today. “The project required us to find an indoor positioning system that was precise and stable. The technology wasn’t easy to find and only a small lab in Sweden seemed to have what we were looking for,” they recall. After exchanging emails, the trio flew to Stockholm, resulting in a meeting which eventually led to Uncanny Valley’s first official project, Textile Playground.
Developed for flat-pack furniture giants, Ikea, Textile Playground is an exhibition which started in June 2017 and that will run until April 2018 at the Ikea Museum in Älmhult, Sweden. A literal playground, the installation allows visitors to explore different aspects of the textile design process through three interactive mapping devices: Mönster Boll, Mönster Machine and Mönsterarkiv.
Designed for younger visitors, Mönster Boll enables children to draw by rolling coloured balls around. The size and the colour of the balls induce the colour and thickness of the lines drawn. Mönster Machine, on the other hand, uses a drawing application that allows visitors to create patterns. Lastly, Mönsterarkiv employs a touch screen that gives visitors access to Ikea’s back catalogue of patterns from the 1960s to 2017. The results of all three installations are then projection mapped, real-time, onto Ikea furniture within the exhibition. “One satisfying aspect we overlooked, in the beginning, was the more than 50,000 patterns created during the (ongoing) exhibition,” the Paris-based studio remarks. “This mass of digital matter goes on to tell a story of its own about trends, collective imagination and the visitors themselves.”
As a studio that came together because of music, it seems natural that this often ends up being the focus of its projects. For example, in L’Oulipiste Uncanny Valley created a collaborative musical instrument. Comprising of an interactive board placed on the floor, visitors can use their body to make music with no musical education required. “The interaction is really aimed towards a group of people and makes for a collective experience,” Cyril, Marvin and Victor explain.
With a focus on the relationships between individuals, groups or places and their technological environments, Uncanny Valley’s projects nuture experiences that give authorship to participants. By progressing from graphic design to interaction design Victor and Marvin, witht he help of Cyril, moved from a discipline where the outputs are often very defined – posters and books, for example – to a field that has a little more freedom in defining its conclusions, resulting in playful and unexpected results.
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