What does “Interdisciplinary” really mean? & more refinements…

This week was a lesson in what the term “Interdisciplinary” really means.  We started this quarter with the idea that we’re forming an inter-disciplinary group of individuals from a variety of fields / expertise (Art, Marine Biology, Computer Science, Gaming, Engineering, etc..) so that we can cross-pollinate and create a diverse team of knowledge, production & understanding.  However, during the initial days of figuring out what to do with everyone in our newly formed team, we counter intuitively yet instinctively started to break our groups back up into specialties as that is what we’ve been trained to do with our 19th / 20th century educations that focus on specialization and division.  Fabricators over here, gamers over here and engineers over here.  This week was all about taking two steps back and realizing that we need to maintain the larger group diversity and allow everyone to inform each other naturally and to allow the inter / trans disciplinary connections to form.  Our first group meeting was an illustration of the fact that this kind of diverse team really works.  We had idea’s jumping from one side of the table to other, from one set of knowledge to the other.  The group is off to a good start, doing research, drawing sketches and forming initial plans for our first steps in producing our prototypes.

This week was also about refinement.  In the words of my mentors Helen & Newton Harrison,  I had an “A-Ha” moment this past weekend while driving back from a CNC workshop at the Tech Shop in San Jose.  I figured out a way to bring the data sensing / “data barometer” back into the main part of the project by re-thinking the way the hanging systems function within the project and how they are interacted with by the audience (see design schematic w/ post).  Instead of the “Machinic Diatoms”(pictured in blue) being alone in the game of balance, they will now be surrounded by the elements that dictate their growth (green = nitrogen, ph = magenta, salinity = orange).
os-new-mockupWhen the user interacts with the corresponding conductive sensor (larger rings in diagram), they’ll control the corresponding hanging elements movement and when a state of balance or imbalance is achieved (in the spirit of “Conway’s Game of Life”) the “machinic diatom” will spring to life or die, depending on the choice made by the user.  The system is not being engaged, it will switch to an automated mode to display sensor data from the water directly under the installation, out in the SF bay and in the Elkhorn Slew of the Monterey bay.  When the user decides to interact, they become an active agent in creating balance or imbalance.

After a great critique in Sharon Daniels class, I decided to try to pull back the tide of “complexity sprawl” within the project, by further unifying some of the separate sub-systems back into one greater system of interaction.  I’ll be posting new 3D designs in the coming weeks that will explain these refinements with greater detail, but in short, this week was all about removing the unnecessary and pulling together all the core elements that I spent the last few months separating.  It’s funny how that parallels what we were doing with the team dynamic in search of a true sense of Interdisciplinarianism, but sometimes these things happen in tandem and for a reason.


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