Installing Bcc: at Vivid Projects part 3

In this final part of this three-part series I’ll be going over installing Xuan Ye‘s work in the Bcc exhibition. This work posed a similar challenge to Scott Benesiinaabandan’s work. I needed to automatically load a web page except this time I needed to allow for user interaction via the mouse and keyboard.

The artwork isn’t online so I’ll again go over the basic premise. A web page is loaded that features a tiled graphic with faded captcha text on top of it. The user is asked to input the text and upon doing so is presented with a new tiled background image and new captcha. This process is repeated until the user decides to stop.

Bcc:

I could have installed this artwork on a Raspberry Pi but thankfully I had access to a spare Leneovo ThinkPad T420 laptop, which negated the need for me to buy a keyboard and screen (#win). The laptop is a refurbished model from 2011 and was running Windows 7 when I got it. It is possibly powerful enough to handle a full installation of Ubuntu but I didn’t want to risk it running slowly so instead I installed Lubuntu, which is basically a lightweight version of Ubuntu.

As I had installed Scott’s work I already knew how to automate the loading of a webpage and how to reopen it should it be closed. The main problem was how to restrict the user and keep the user from deviating from the artwork. Figuring this out became a cat and mouse game and was never 100% solved.

Whilst in kiosk mode in Chromium pretty much all of the keyboard shortcuts can be used. This means that a moderately tech-savvy user could press Ctrl + T to open a new tab, Ctrl + O to open a file, Ctrl + W close the browser tab, Alt + F4/Ctrl + Q to quit the browser or basically any other shortcut to deviate from the artwork. Not ideal!

Bcc:

My first thought was to try and disable these shortcuts within Chromimum. As far as I could tell at the time there wasn’t any option to change keyboard shortcuts. There must be usability or security reasons for this but in this situation it sucks. After a bit of searching I found the Shortkeys extension which allows for remapping of commands from a nice gui 🙂 Only one problem. I tried to remap/disable the Ctrl + T command and got this error.


More information here.

Drats! I tried its suggestion and it still didn’t work. Double drats! Eventually I realised that even if did disable some Chromium-specific shortcuts there were still system-wide ones which would still work. Depending on your operating system Ctrl + Q/W will always close a window or quit a program, as will Alt + F4, Super/Windows + D will show the desktop, and Super/Windows + E/Shift + E will open the Home folder. I needed to disable these system-wide.

LXQT has a gui for editing keyboard shortcuts. Whilst it doesn’t allow for completely removing a shortcut, it does allow a user to remap them.

As you can see from the screenshot above I “disabled” some common shortcuts by making them execute, well, nothing! Actually it runs “;”, but still that has the effect of disabling it. Huzzah! But what about the other keyboard shortcuts, I hear you ask. Well, this is where I rely on the ignorance of the users. Y’see, as much as it is used within Android phones and basically most web servers, Linux/Ubuntu is still used by a relatively small amount of people. Even smaller is the amount of people using Lubuntu or another LXQT-based Linux distribution. And even smaller is the amount that work in the arts, in Birmingham, and would be at Vivid Projects during three weeks in September, and knew how I installed the work, and… I think you get my point.

During the exhibition anyone could have pressed Ctrl + Shift + T to open a terminal, run killall bcc.sh to kill the script that reopens Chromium, undo the shortcut remappings and then played Minecraft. I was just counting on the fact that few would know how to and few would have a reason to. After all there was some really great art on the screens!

After the exhibition was installed Jessica Rose suggested that one simple solution would have been to disable the Ctrl key. It’s extreme but technically it would have worked at stopping users from getting up to mischief. It would have had the negative effect of preventing me, an administrator, from using the computer to, for example, fix any errors. The solution I implemented, whilst not bullet proof, worked.

That’s the end of December’s Development Updates. Installing Bcc was frustrating at times but did push me to think more about how people interact with technology in a gallery installation setting. It’s never just a case of buying expensive hardware and putting it in front of people. There needs to be processes – either hardware or software based – that protect the public and the artwork. It doesn’t help when lots of technology is built to be experienced/used by one user at a time (it’s called a PC (personal computer) for a reason y’all). Change is no doubt to make it more about groups and collaboration but, y’know, it’ll take time.

Installing Bcc: at Vivid Projects part 2

The next artwork that was challenging to install was Monuments: Psychic Landscapes by Scott Benesiinaabandan.

Bcc:

I won’t be showing the full artwork as all of the artworks were exclusive to Bcc: and it’s up to the artists whether they show it or not. On a visual level the basic premise of the artwork is that the viewer visits a web page which loads an artwork in the form of a Processing sketch. There is a statue in the centre which becomes obscured by lots of abstract shapes over time whilst an ambient soundtrack plays in the background. At whatever point the viewer chooses they can refresh the screen to clear all of the shapes, once again revealing the statue.

On a technical level the artwork isn’t actually that difficult to install. All that needs doing is opening the web page. The difficult part is controlling user interaction.

If you’ve ever been to an exhibition with digital screen-based artworks which allow user interaction via a mouse, keyboard or even touch screen then you’ve probably seen those same screens not functioning as intended. People always find a way to exist the installation and reveal the desktop or, worse yet, launch a different program or website. So, the choice was made very early on to automate the user interaction in this artwork. After all, aside from loading the artwork, the only user interaction needed was to press F5 to refresh the page. How hard could it be?

Well, it’s very hard to do. Displaying the artwork required two main steps:

  • Launch the web page
  • Refresh the artwork after x seconds

Launch a web page

Launching a specific web page on startup is a relatively easy task. Raspbian by default comes bundled with Chromium so I decided to use this browser (more on that later). The Chromium Man Page says that in order to launch a webpage you just need to run chromium-browser http://example.com. Simple! There’s lots of ways to run a command automatically once a Raspberry Pi is turned on but I settled on this answer and placed a script on the Desktop, made it executable (chmod +x script.sh), and in ~/.config/lxsession/LXDE-pi/autostart I added the line @sh /home/pi/Desktop/script_1.sh. At this stage the script simply was:

#!/bin/bash

while true ; do chromium-browse --noerrdialogs --kiosk --app=http://example.com ; done

I’ll break it down in reverse order. --kiosk launches the browser but in full screen and without the address bar and other decorations. A user can still open/close tabs but since there’s no keyboard interaction this doesn’t matter. --noerrdialogs prevents error dialogs from appearing. In my case the one that kept appearing was the Restore Pages dialog that appears if you don’t shut down Chrome properly. Useful in many cases, but since there’s no keyboard I don’t want this appearing.

I wrapped all of this in a while true loop to safeguard against mischievous people who somehow manage to hack their way into the Raspberry Pi (ssh was disabled), or if Chromium shuts down for some reason. It’s basically checking to see if Chromium is open and if it isn’t it launches it. This will become very important for the next step

Refresh a web page

This is surprisingly difficult to achieve! As mentioned before, this piece requires a user to refresh the page at whatever point they desire. As we were automating this we decided that we wanted a refresh every five minutes.

Unfortunately Chromium doesn’t have any options for automatic refreshing of a web page. There are lots of free plugins that offer automatic refreshing. However, at the time that I tried them they all need to be manually activated. I couldn’t just set it and forget it. It could be argued that asking a gallery assistant to press on a button to activate the auto refreshing isn’t too taxing a task. However, automating ensures that it will always definitely be done.

At this point I looked at other browsers. Midori is lightweight enough to be installed on a Raspberry Pi. It has options to launch a web page from the command line and, according to this Stackexchange answer it has had the option since at least 2014 to refresh a web page using the -i or --inactivity-reset= option. However, I tried this and it just wasn’t working. I don’t know why and couldn’t find any bug reports about it.

It was at this point that I unleashed the most inelegant, hacky, don’t-judge-me-on-my-code-judge-me-on-my-results, horrible solution ever. What if instead of refreshing the browser tab I refreshed the browser itself i.e. close and reopen the browser? I already had a while true loop to reopen it if it closed so all I needed was another command or script that would send the killall command to Chromium after a specific amount of time (five minutes). I created another script with this as its contents:

#!/bin/bash

while true ; do sleep 300 ; killall chromium-browser ; done

The sleep command makes the script wait 300 seconds (five minutes) before proceeding onto the next part, which is to kill (close) chromimum-browser. And, by wrapping it in a while-true loop it’ll do this until the end of eternity the exhibition. Since implementing this I noticed a similar answer on the Stackoverflow site which puts both commands in a single file.

And there you have it. To refresh a web page I basically have to kill it every 300 seconds. More violent than it needs to be!

Departure from Vivid Projects

It was recently announced that after four years of leading Black Hole Club and seven years total of working with Vivid Projects (and previously VIVID) I’ve decided to leave to focus on my own artistic and curatorial practices.

I’ve really enjoyed curating exhibitions there and working with the Black Hole Club artists to develop their practices. I could never have guessed that from my first interactions with Vivid Projects in 2009/2010 with the fizzPOP Howduino and GLI.TC/H 20111 that I would go on to become a core part of the team.

My heartfelt thanks go to everyone at Vivid Projects past and present who has welcomed me with open arms and helped me grow as an artist and curator. They’ve always been excited by the digital arts and have provided vital support to me in curating exiting exhibitions in this developing field. This has helped me to exhibit the work of over 100 national and international artists over seven years. I’m proud of everything that I’ve achieved with Black Hole Club over four years and it’s been truly inspiring seeing the artists involved develop their careers and go on to exhibit nationally. However, at this point in my own career I feel it’s time to focus on my own independent artistic and curatorial practices. I wish everyone at Vivid Projects the best of luck and want to say thanks again to Yasmeen Baig-Clifford for her support, encouragement and dedication. Without her work the digital and media arts in the West Midlands wouldn’t be as lively as it is now.

Black Hole Club Producer opportunity

Singing Litter

With my departure Vivid Projects is now looking for a Producer to lead the Black Hole Club. From the Vivid Projects website:

The Producer will develop and deliver Black Hole Club artists’ projects, exhibitions and events, supporting approximately 20 artists per year to develop their creative practice, present work to public audiences, and widen their professional networks. The core programme runs 1 March-31 December each year; each cohort is selected in January and launched on the first Friday of March.

The Black Hole Club Producer should be excited by collaboration and risk taking, with experience drawn from areas including digital art, live performance, experimental audio, film and video, animation and computer-generated art.

If this sounds like your kinda job go download the application forms. Deadline for applications is 18:00 30th January.

No Copyright Infringement Intended, 1st – 23rd September

I’m happy to announce the second iteration of No Copyright Infringement Intended  will be taking place at Vivid Projects, Birmingham, from 1st – 23rd September.

Image: Still Not Sure if Art or Copyright Infringement by Emilie Gervais

No Copyright Infringement Intended is a group exhibition exploring the relationship between copyright and culture in the digital age, investigating how the concept of ownership and authorship is evolving and coming into conflict with outdated copyright and intellectual property laws.

Since the 1990s the internet has provided the opportunity for mass copying, redistribution and remixing of content – profoundly changing the way culture is produced and shared and sparking legal battles and debates that still rage on. Today, the increasing availability of technologies like 3D scanning and 3D printing have extended the ability to digitally copy and reproduce to the physical realm.

For many people now, mass sharing, copying and remixing seems like a natural form of self expression. Rather than embracing this change and using it to their advantage, rights holders and lawyers often resort to reinforcing outdated laws – penalising those who copy – and placing barriers on technology’s ability to share information and content freely.

Meanwhile, among artists there is widespread misunderstanding of copyright and how it affects their work. The phrase “No Copyright Infringement Intended” is often used as an attempt to avoid repercussions of copyright infringement. The phrase has no legal standing, but its widespread usage shows a lack of awareness of existing laws and the consequences of breaking them.

Featuring 10 national and international artists working across a range of creative practices, the exhibition highlights the ongoing tension between production and copyright, considers the new artistic, social and political possibilities created through this tension and suggests new ways forward for artists, rights holders and the wider creative community.

The exhibition features work by Nick Briz, Emilie Gervais, Nicolas Maigret, Christopher Meerdo, Jan Nikolai Nelles & Nora Al-Badri, Duncan Poulton, Fernando Sosa, Andrea Wallace & Ronan Deazley.

Like the first iteration of the exhibition, there will be a number of related events including:

Algorave Birmingham, 3rd December

On 3rd December I’ll be curating and performing at the Algorave at Vivid Projects.

Algorave Birmingham

An Algorave is a party where electronic music is generated live from algorithms. The word was coined around 2012, initially as a joke, but has since taken hold with Algoraves taking place in over 40 cities around the world.

At an Algorave the creation of algorithms are brought into the experience of the music itself. This is done using specially made “Live Coding” environments such as SuperCollider, TidalCycles, Gibber, ixi lang and Extempore. This processed opened up by projecting the code on screens around the venue, so audience members can see how the music they hear is being made. This is often complimented by algorithmically generated visuals projected alongside the code.

The Birmingham Algorave will feature a diverse range of artists from across the country performing noise, rave, electronic and glitch audio.

The event will feature Canute, Algobabez, and Charles Celeste Hutchins on audio and Coral Manton, Ryan Hughes, hellocatfood (y’know, me) on live visuals. This will be complimented with a video installation featuring work by Ryan Hughes, RITUALS, Chez.io, Sam Wray, Dario Villaneuva, Sarah Walden, cappel:nord, and catweasel.

Algorave Birmingham runs from 19:30 to 23:00 on Saturday 3rd December. Tickets are only ÂŁ5 plus booking fee (more on the door). Get yours now!

Associate Curator at Vivid Projects

After eight months of working at Vivid Project as an Associate Producer my role has evolved and I’m now an Associate Curator.

vpfestive

In this new role I’ll be continuing to organise the activities of Black Hole Club. This year I, with the input of its members, organised and oversaw the development of events including I Am A Strange Loop, a Dirty Video Mixer workshop, various Crit Clubs and tART. Expect more of this in March 2016 when Black Hole Club.

In addition to Black Hole Club I’ll be continuing with my curating work. Just prior to my appointment as Associate Producer I co-curated ÎĽChip 3 with Sam Wray in March 2015. In June 2015 I curated Stealth (let’s not talk about the drone). Next year expect more of a focus on digital and New Media art.

If you want to know more about the Black Hole Club or just want to chat or pitch ideas to me I can be reached on antonio@vividprojects.org.uk

Black Hole Club at Vivid Projects

Things on this blog have been rather quiet in recent months. I’ve stopped updating it with absolutely every event or exhibition that I’m somehow involved in – there’s now a dedicated Events page for that. I’ve also been very engaged with delivering workshops (gotta entertain the young ‘uns somehow this Summer!), such as the How To Gif workshops for Future Curious and a number of Pure Data and Glitch Art workshops.

Another thing occupying my time and filling it with joy is my work for Vivid Projects and Black Hole Club. On 7th August Black Hole Club returned to Vivid Projects to exhibit recent work as part of Digbeth First Friday.

I Am A Strange Loop

Kate Spence - She Came In Waves

Unweidly Film Monster

I Am A Strange Loop

I Am A Strange Loop

The exhibition, titled I Am A Strange Loop, explored the ideas of loops and recursion, inspired by the book I Am A Strange Loop by Douglas Hofstadte. Artists that exhibited were Kate Spence, Rebecca Mahay, Leon Trimble, Sarah Walden and Ollie MacDonald-Brown, and Michael Lightborne. Even though the exhibition was only for one night all of the contributing members really put a lot of hard work into their pieces.

It’s been a very big learning experience working with the Black Hole Club members to put on events and generally help develop their individual practices. Some of the members are already experience and established artists and see the scheme as another outlet for their creativity, whilst some are still trying to solidify their practice and establish themselves within the local community. Whatever their level it’s been great seeing the collaborate and work together to put on a great exhibition!

Stealth Launch Photos

Stealth launched at Vivid Projects on 25th June and it was a great success! It’s the first time I have curated an exhibition or event that has lasted more than a few days, so I’m happy to see that there have been a steady flow of visitors.

Stealth

Stealth

Stealth

Stealth

Stealth

Stealth

Thanks again to James Bridle, Manu Luksch, Joseph DeLappe, Sang Mun, Ryan Hughes and Henry Driver for participating in the exhibition and to Dave Checkley for helping to draw the Drone Shadow piece. He certainly had a lot of fun unveilling the piece.

If you want to know more about the exhibition check out the interview with myself and several artists for Imperica.

Stealth runs until 11th July and is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 12:00 until 17:00.

Stealth

On 25th June I’ll be putting my curator hat back on for my first curatorial duties since my appointment as Associate Producer to present Stealth at Vivid Projects.

stealth

STEALTH presents recent work by UK and international artists critiquing surveillance culture and the invasive and pervasive technologies that shape our daily interactions.

Utilising a variety of media including installations, video, social media and software, the exhibition explores how technology affects and disrupts our perceptions of privacy.

Exhibition launches Thursday 25 June, 6.30 – 8.30pm, and continues to 11 July, open Thu – Sat, 12 – 5pm.

Artists: Manu Luksch, Sang Mun, Henry Driver, James Bridle, Joseph DeLappe, Ryan Hughes.

Associate Producer at Vivid Projects

I’m happy to announce that I have recently joined Vivid Projects as their Associate Producer.

vpfeedback

If you’ve been following my progress as an artist you’ll see that I have worked with VIVID/Vivid Projects in various forms since 2009. In 2009, as a result of the Young People on Arts Boards programme I joined the board of directors at VIVID. As VIVID I curated/co-curated the fizzPOP Howdowino, GLI.TC/H and Bring Your Own Beamer. In their reincarnation as Vivid Projects I curated/co-curated Dirty New Media, Bring Your Own Beamer and µChip 3.

In my new role as Associate Producer I’ll continue to curate shows of new media and digital art and also take the lead on their Black Hole Club members’ scheme.

bhcglitch

Started in 2014, Black Hole Club is a lively, daring space for all kinds of creative people to share and test ideas. Members can use the space to develop their own work, with the possibility of using the space for exhibitions and performances. I plan to take a very active role in helping members develop their practice by finding opportunities, arranging talks and workshops and whatever else they may need.

If you want to know more about the Black Hole Club or just want to chat or pitch ideas to me I can be reached on antonio@vividprojects.org.uk