Workshop 1: Machines, Mechanics and Materials

Week 1’s workshop introduces what we will be looking at in this subject, how we will be exploring these areas, and why will we be doing it. We begin by asking how we interact with creative works? What produces meaningful interactions? We will also be getting our hands dirty by making simple machines, exploring mechanics, and manipulating materials to make things move. 

Welcome to: System, Play and Interaction

What will we be doing?

These 3-hour tutorial class will be workshop-based with lots of hands on practical exercises. We will be working as well as thinking through the issues that concern us in this subject including:

  • aesthetics of interaction
  • technical literacy of making
  • objects as medium and materials
  • how we create experiences
  • how audiences experience artworks

These issues are relevant in all creative fields whether you produce art, design, music, performances, screenworks. As a creative practitioner, you create experiences.

Discuss the fields of creative practice you are interested in and how this investigation is relevant to this. For example, a previous subject MEDA201 focuses on screen-based works: are screen-based works interactive? What kind of experiences do they produce for an audience? And how do they do that?



  • What is the common understanding of interaction/ interactivity?
  • What constitutes interactivity in an everyday context?
  • What are the historical definitions and circumstances?
  • What may be the criticism of these approaches? (e.g. Stimulus response, active/ passive)
  • What constitutes participation?
  • What constitutes engagement?

Walter Benjamin writes in ‘Authors as Producers’:

[Art as an apparatus should] bring [consumers] into contact with the production process’ turning ‘readers or spectators […] into collaborators.

What does this mean to you? Discuss the following questions by thinking about your own experience as an audience and as a creator:

  • What happens when you ‘consume’ a work – whether this is a film or an artwork? How do you react with the materials presented to you? Do you try to make meanings of your encounter? How do you make meaning?
  • In your own experience of making a create work (that is as a producer of experience), do you think about how an audience or a  ‘consumer’ might interact with your work, or make meaning from what you present?
  • What will happen when an audience is transformed into collaborators of a work?

What Claire Bishop writes in ‘Viewers as Producers’, in her book Participation, may present further consideration:

In calling for spectators who are active as interpreters, [Jacques] Rancière implies that the politics of participation might best lie, not in anti-spectacular stagings of community or in the claim that mere physical activity would correspond to emancipation, but in putting to work the idea that we are all equally capable of inventing our own translations. Unattached to a privileged artistic medium, this principle would not divide audiences into active and passive, capable and incapable, but instead would invite us all to appropriate works for ourselves and make use of these in ways that their authors might never have dreamed possible.

Bishop is proposing a similar strategy: turning spectator into active interpreters.

  • Do you agree that ‘we are all capable of inventing our own translation’ when encountering a creative work?
  • If so, how do we do this? For example, how do we make meaning from a film narrative, or an artwork? What is the process?
  • How might we invite an audience in to interpret or translate our works?


Analysis: Research artworks

In a group of 3, research one of the following artworks and present your findings to class.

Consider , present your research that answers the following questions:

  • Describe the artwork. Who is the artist/ producer? What may be their intention(s)?
  • Imagine and describe the experience of the artwork (including how it works).
  • What are the physical objects used?
  • Describe the interaction that takes place between the audience and the artwork.
  • Does the audience participate physically? If so, how? If not, how do they interact with the work?

Now consider Benjamin’s and Bishop’s ideas (quoted above), in interacting with the artworks:

  • Does the audience collaborate in some way? With who or what? Does this collaboration produce anything?
  • Does the audience interpret what they encounter? If so, what do they interpret?
  • Does the audience ‘appropriate’ the work in some way?

1. Peter Flemming’s Instrumentation, 2012

2. Rafael Lorenz Hemmer’s Pulse Room 2011

3. Ingrid Bachmann’s Symphony for 54 Shoes (Distant Echoes), 2006 – 2012

4. Karina Smigla-Bobinski’s ADA, 2010 –

5. Kate Turnbull, Modern Vanitas

6. George Khut’s Alpha Lab, collaboration with James P. Brown, 2013 – 2014


Exercise: Building Simple Machines

Invent for Good

Using LittleBits Student Set provided, follow your tutor’s instructions in creating a machine or a device.

See: Invent for good instructions

Curiosity Machines

Etienne Jules-Marey's Zoetrope

Etienne Jules-Marey’s Zoetrope

In a group of 3, research and construct a Phenakistoscope or Zoetrope using the equipment available in class:

There is plenty of information on the internet and various ways of making the devices. For example, zoetropes can use drawings on a flat strip for animation or they can use 3-dimensional objects. Find a design and adapt it for your construction. Your group will make a simple animation for the device.

Present your research and device to class. Tell us:

  • The history of the device—who invented it? When? Why?
  • What was it used for? Who used it?
  • How does the device work?
  • How does the audience interact with the device? What was the audience’s reaction?
  • What is your processes of construction?
  • What are some of the contemporary uses that are based on this historical device?


  1. Create a new category on your personal learning blog for MEDA202 (if you do not have a blog, create one).
  2. Create an entry on your blog of your artwork analyses, relevant notes from the discussion in class and your exercises. These weekly workshop posts will contribute to the research for your Major project assignment.
  3. Go through subject outline and assessment outlines.
  4. Visit one of the exhibitions listed for the Research Essay assignment.
  5. Bring a battery-powered device (that you no longer need) to week 2 class, ready for some hacking!

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