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Interactivity: Groundbreaking Art Apps Developed in NYC
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Interactivity: Groundbreaking Art Apps Developed in NYC

Picture of Audra Lambert
Updated: 12 July 2017
Art and technology don’t always see eye to eye, but with the seeming ability of apps to govern everything from the next restaurant we check out to who we date, it was only a matter of time before art apps began appearing on the scene. While developers have created apps to fulfill a wide array of daily needs, artists have been quick to find interesting opportunities to reach new audiences through today’s technology. We find out more about the artistic applications developed in New York City.
Pplkpr app; photos courtesy the artists, Lauren McCarthy and Kyle McDonald
Pplkpr app; photos courtesy the artists, Lauren McCarthy and Kyle McDonald

Two standout artist-driven apps are iParades, 1&2 (iParade 1: Rocks That Look Like Rows of Trees and iParade 2:Unchanged when Exhumed ) and pplkpr. Taking a look at how we use technology to discover the world around us, iParade and pplkpr allows users to understand social and geographical landscapes in a new light.

This burgeoning field of artistic practice, most evidently falling under the umbrellas of internet art, new media and arts & technology, isn’t your mom’s iPad ‘sketch’ app: far from allowing the user to create drawings, these apps allow the user to experience their environment in an alternative way. Many of these innovative technology + art initiatives are happening right here in New York City: from Brooklyn to Harlem, there is ample support for artists working in tech, not to mention the opportunity to connect and share with a wide audience. We sit down with artists LoVid and Lauren McCarthy & Kyle McDonald and take a visit to Eyebeam, a nonprofit art & technology center founded in 1997 that serves as the de facto motherboard for interdisciplinary artists working in new media, in Brooklyn and beyond.

Pplkpr app; photos courtesy the artists, Lauren McCarthy and Kyle McDonald
Pplkpr app; photos courtesy the artists, Lauren McCarthy and Kyle McDonald

On a frosty Friday in February, Marko Tandefelt, Eyebeam Art + Technology Center’s Director of Technology and Research, walked through the space and spoke about the center’s programs. With a dedicated A/V equipment storage facility, printing rooms, specialized workspaces and a lecture room, the center has top-notch facilities and, equally important, fosters discussions with qualified individuals and the public about emerging technologies and their impact on the arts. Marko walked through several of the crucial ways that Eyebeam supports artists living and working in Brooklyn and greater NYC. Artists invited to participate in residencies and fellowships go through a rigorous screening process, and the sheer volume of projects that have received support through Eyebeam proves that developments in art and technology, worldwide, wouldn’t be the same without it. Open Source Hardware and Openframeworks, two Eyebeam-produced projects, have changed the game when it comes to coding and creating new media art. Many more projects have received crucial support and networking opportunities through Eyebeam, including littleBits, the popular electronics kits that allows inventors the world over to explore new possibilities using circuits and electronic modules.

Lauren McCarthy and Kyle McDonald, two artists working at the forefront of art, technology, and social interaction, were supported in part by Eyebeam in creating their app pplkpr (read: people keeper), which establishes a personal social hierarchy among one’s friends by utilizing mobile and wearable technology. We interviewed the artists to gain insight into their goals for the project and to learn how the app has developed over time.

AL: How did the concept for pplkpr arise?

LM&KM: We were looking at this increasing trend toward wearables and quantified life and we wondered: when does it go too far? Not taking the time to figure out your own relationships seems ludicrous…the idea of an algorithm tracking and managing your social life feels creepy, but what if it actually works? Just like we can chalk up our faux pas to autocomplete or our spam filters, could an app like this provide the excuse or justification we need to say and do what we really feel? Together, we both have an interest in challenging social norms and assumptions about interaction, creating spaces that allow us to ask more questions.

LM: This builds on my interest in social relationships, identity, and what is means to be a person at this moment where our lives are becoming more automated.

KM: This builds on an interest in machine understanding of human experience and interaction, including face and eye tracking and other topics…[such as] experimental interaction design.

LoVid (artist duo)'s iParade in usage (Elastic City)
Courtesy of LoVid

AL: What Ethical Considerations did you Consider while Making pplkpr?

LM&KM: We wanted to create a piece that addressed more of the nuance and contradictions of these new technologies. It was important to build a functioning app: this goes beyond speculative design fiction. Because it is a real app, when you encounter it, you are faced with choices and questions. Will you download it? Will you use it? What happens if it actually improves your life?

Ethically, it’s not like we are creating a startup, so the life our app will be a provocation and an interactive experience that people may choose to engage with. We have purposely made the app and the video extreme, almost antagonistic in its user experience. Ultimately, we are hoping to create a situation where people can decide for themselves how they feel about this technology.


Counter to McCarthy and McDonald’s emphasis on social interaction and engagement, LoVid takes on environmental interactions and personal experience of the ‘other’ in the iParade apps they have developed. Video plays a central role in connecting users with their surroundings, re-defining and displacing past memories and allowing audiences to use technology to engage interactively in site-specific, durational activities. LoVid sat down to discuss the development of iParades 1&2.

scene from iParade #2 by LoVid  (Elastic City)
LoVid’s iParade#2 | © Adam Gundersheimer

AL: How did the Concepts for iParade 1&2 Arise, and had you Worked Similarly in other Mediums prior to Transitioning Concepts into Apps?

LV: The first version of iParade (iParade#1: Rocks That Look Like Rows of Trees) was produced in 2010. It developed out of several ongoing interests of ours. We work with video as a core element and have focused since 2003 on the relationship between the human body and video as a material, using projections, wearable video, and touch-based interactivity. We often look to challenge the technology we are using, and have done other projects in previous years working with networks themselves (cellular or internet).

Our initial interest in iParade was to challenge cellphone networks by inviting multiple users to stream video content simultaneously; we were looking for the instabilities in the GPS signals and how related glitches could affect the experience of the piece. Eventually, we discovered the broader potential in the medium of public space based media art and locative cinema.

We were also interested in the expectations of our audience as media consumers; that media/video should be available at any time, anywhere, and on any platform. iParade really challenges those expectations since it requires going somewhere physical and engaging with a work of art in a specific set place. The presentations as group walks further challenge these expectations by requiring participants be present at a specific time in the specific place.

AL: Can you Talk a bit more on iParade’s Reliance on Geospecificity, explaining the Challenges and Rewards of working with Site-Specificity in a Virtual (app) Environment?

LV: The goal with iParade was always to link between virtual content and physical locations.

It has been extremely exciting and artistically rewarding to work using this platform. We are able to create an authentic experience by blending and embedding realities; the imagined and poetic content we provide, alongside the ever changing and unpredictable urban setting. When committing to spend time with this work, viewers immerse in an experience that expands their sense of place. Though the work itself does not address social political issues directly, the process of creating each episode, as well as presenting, has exposed us to inspiring discussions. These discussions involve contemporary issues, from local community activism and gentrification, to virtual worlds and psychogeography.

The challenges of working in a site-specific medium are both technical and organizational. There are some obvious difficulties of working with developing technology because devices, operating systems, and networks are continuously being upgraded. Producing experimental content for a commercially driven platform is also challenging, especially since we envision iParade as media public art and are dedicated to distributing the App for free.

Another challenge is the presentation of the work. With iParade, we tend to explore somewhat out-of-the-way locations that are often unknown to most of our audience. As a result, we have been presenting iParade episodes as events in the form of artist-led walks. Outside of seeing the content completely, through the App and on-location, aspects of the work can only be experienced through video documentation, which mixes excerpts from the piece together with views of the streets where it is located, and participating audiences.

Kyle McDonald and Lauren McCarthy are continuing their work in interactive art + technology, with upcoming projects listed on their websites.

LoVid are constantly working to adapt the iParade experience to new locations: upcoming projects can be found on their frequently updated website.