INST-INT 2015 Recap

Recently returned from my annual pilgrimage to the INST-INT conference at the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis. INST-INT is a gathering of 300 installation artists from around the world. It brings together artists and production teams who are working a wide variety large scale public artworks. These folks are pushing the bounds of installation artwork not only technically, but creatively.

As someone who often has a hard time explaining what I do to others it’s an amazing experience every year to be in a group of professionals who all are working in similar fields. We learn a lot, but we also gain a sense of community which is invaluable. I leave each year feeling inspired, personally, creatively and professionally.

This year my main take-homes from the conference were:

  • EMOTION IS KEY  – Really happy to see how much emphasis is being placed on the emotional impact of good storytelling. Way too much tech based artwork I see is primarily about the technology and less about the human implications/story/meaning. Johanna Marsal of Moment Factory really hit this point home in her presentation about their approach to their spectacular work. Johanna shared a lot about their approach to their work, both conceptually and process.
  • ROBOTS ARE GOING ORGANIC – Really inspired by several presenters who showed off unconventional robot projects. Ruairi Glynn, Director of the Interactive Architecture Lab at Cambridge University, shared a collection of pneumatic silicon rubber molded expansion cells. While most mechanical robotic motion moves by either a rotating motor or a linear actuator, these rubber cells expand when inflated to deform and create motion in multiple directions. The cells can be designed to channel their motion in a general direction, but the overall effect is much more organic with surprising curves (vs straight lines). This was just one example of using inflatables to animate robotics and create unconventional spaces. Also saw some great examples of using muscle wire to activate organic shapes and robots using the displacement of a tensegrity structure’s center of gravity as a surprising method to give them mobility.
  • DISPLAY ≠ SCREEN – I like to think that I stay on top of emerging display technology, but Prof. Yasuaki Kakehi from the X-Lab at Keio University in Japan is definitely on the cutting edge. His lab is exploring a wide variety of fascinating display concepts I haven’t seen anywhere else. His lab’s work includes: “scent displays”,  living moss displays (low resolution, high latency!), LCD volumetric displays that work in direct sunlight, and robotic assisted drawing compasses, among many other interesting projects. Very inspiring to see someone working so creatively around expanding the definition of “display”.
  • BUILD MORE PROTOTYPES!!! –  The most interesting presentations were the one’s that featured not the final product, but all the explorations it took to get there. Cyril Diagne of LAB212 presented a wide variety of his prototypes and each one had lessons to offer. It’s cool to see finished works, but I learn much more from seeing the in-process work of other artists. I plan to be building more experimental prototypes of ideas in the near future (check back to this blog for more of these).
  • BIG VISION CAN LEAD TO DISAPPOINTMENTKeri Elmsly, Executive Creative Director of Second Story, shared the behind the scenes story of her Drone Orchestra project for the Barbicon, a harrowing project that required not only heroic efforts by her team, but also a willingness to accept the limitation of actually trying to stage something so complex (and dangerous). Working on the bleeding edge you can’t expect everything to go as expected, and as creatives in projects like these we need to be prepared to deal with the emotional disappointment that can sometimes arise and not take it as a sign of failure. Reality will never fully live up to our limitless imaginations and we shouldn’t let that stop us from pursuing it. This was the kind of story that only someone who has tried to do push the edge of what is possible can fully understand and a great example of the kind of wisdom that I often leave INST-INT with.
  • DANNY ROZEN’S MIRRORS – Another bonus of attending INST-INT is that every year I usually get to meet an artist whose work has recently inspired me. This year it was Danny Rozen. I got a chance to see some his latest works this past summer at the Bitforms Gallery in NYC and was delighted by his playful penguins and creepy-cool fur mirror. Danny gave the closing talk and he talked not only about the evolution of his projects, but also shared a lot of valuable personal insights into his process. Probably my favorite presentation of the conference.

Aside from the presentations, I really appreciate the efforts the organizers go to in keeping the event intimate and focused on building community amongst the attendees. The conference is small enough that you could conceivably meet everyone and they are able to keep the sessions to a single track so the group stays together for the full 3 days. I get as much from the presentations as I do from the casual conversations and friendships I make throughout the conference.

Presenters are encouraged to not to “pitch” their work, but rather share their stories, challenges, philosophies, and lingering questions. Last year one of the presenters even shared a messy spreadsheet of one of his project budgets so we could all discuss the topic that is often avoided… money. So rarely do we get to discuss the very specific issues that large scale technology art projects face in a group with so much knowledge and experience.

Looking forward to next year…



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