Zen Drawing

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Zen Drawing was a project developed by Néill in collaboration with three of his postgraduate collegues (Tara Carrigy, Colin O'Sullivan and Scott Wade) for a public, interactive art exhibition that took place in the Science Gallery in September, 2008. Zen Drawing was completed as part of the masters program in Interactive Digital Media at Trinity College Dublin. The concept was to create an immersive, responsive environment which attempts to represent the physical world in the spirit of the zen masters. It was a realm of beauty to be admired but also of mystery and illusion to be reflected upon and mollified.
Vision Statement

In ZenDrawing we aim to create an electronic environment based on the ontology and philosophy of Japanese zen; an ethereal nursery where ideas can be planted and concepts cultivated, but where there will also be space and time for reflection and contemplation.

The audio and visual elements of the exhibition were based on designs derived from the aesthetics of traditional oriental arts, designs which aspire to capture the essence of the object rather than reproducing a photographic representation. Japanese gardens, the iconic outlet for zen philosophy, are metaphors for a vaster landscape; they are representations of nature on a microcosmic scale. Naturally occurring phenomena such as wind, water and mountains are rendered through abstract forms and rhythmic patterns that echo sumi-e—minimalist, calligraphic pen and ink drawings.
Fluid, kinetic patterns and sounds, which are projected on to a series of encircling, floating planes, surround the visitor and dynamically respond their movements. These generative graphics and audio are rendered in real time by the computer, in response to the gestures of the audience. The intention is to encourage a playful, physical and spatial interaction by presenting digital media as a malleable medium that can be pushed, pulled, stretched and sculpted.

The Zen Drawing team were researching how computer vision techniques may be used with procedural computer graphics to create playful and reactive environments. We were using techniques such as infrared, motion-tracking and wireless sensing to detect visitors movements in the exhibition space, thus facilitating interaction with the artwork. This information is interpreted in a creative graphical manner and projected back to the viewer. He/she is effectively empowered to reconstruct the space via their physical presence dictating narrative expressions of calm or chaos. These factors are in turn reflected in the audio-visual landscape.

Visitors to the exhibition were able to manipulate abstractions of natural sounds and images. They were invited to draw with colour and sound, via their own motion and gesture; to create an individual experience by contributing expressive and creative designs.