This month’s Shift cover was designed by Carlos J. Gómez de Llarena. Carlos has been pursuing his creative activities under the name, med44. Gómez works on a variety of media from web-based art work to public installations where he explores different relationships that works can have with the audience.
We interviewed Carlos about his projects and how they have been evolving over the years.
First, please introduce yourself.
I have a really long name: Carlos Javier Gómez de Llarena Figueredo – and I could keep going. I was born in Caracas, Venezuela and I have been living in New York City for the last eight years.
I present myself as a media architect since the term loosely groups my work and areas of interest. I originally come from an architecture background but I’ve worked in broadcast, digital advertising, interaction design and creative direction.
You work on your projects in various media such as web, films, public installations, games. Please introduce your representative works.
I started doing work with new media while I was still at architecture school. At that time I was interested in the overlaps of film, architecture and video art, which became the subject of my thesis. In 1997 I had the idea to make a video mosaic of my city and proposed it to a museum as an immersive art installation. The resulting piece was Visionary CCS and I had three months to shoot and produce it from scratch.
Videopsychosis (video / animation, 1998)
In years following I got into animating, compositing, designing sounds and making loops for VJ sets. I started performing in raves, mixing 2D animations with video games and footage I shot. I made another short film called Videopsychosis which juxtaposed some of these loops with quotes from prominent visual culture theorists that influenced my thinking at that time.
Parallel Space (video, 2001)
In 2000 I came to New York to begin studies at the Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) of New York University. I was interested in exploring how my background could be combined with the interactive technologies I was learning. In reading about technology, telecommunications and urbanism from William J. Mitchell and the research work that Anthony Townsend (one of my professors at the time) was doing, I started realizing that ubiquitous computing would become another architect’s tool in the future. It would allow for creation of spaces and designs that change our perceptions of built environments and social relationships. I thought of this as “media architecture” at the time and produced another video, Parallel Space, which envisioned some of these new data-driven urban interfaces and architectures.
Swipe Wall (installation prototype, 2002)
During the remainder of my Master’s degree studies I focused on trying out these ideas in physical space. I did a series of media architecture prototypes, for example the Swipe Wall. This installation for the hall of a subway station allowed commuters to spontaneously make music by swiping their Metrocards through slits in the wall sculpture. Projects like Vectorial Soundscape or Scope challenged established perceptions of public spaces such as subway stations, a lobby, or the street across from a museum. At ITP I also learned to embrace collaboration with peers, far more than in architecture school, and some of the projects I did were the beginning of a series of ongoing multidisciplinary collaborations in my career.
Node Runner (wireless urban game, 2002)
Upon completing my Master’s degree, I had the opportunity to work on an outdoor urban-scale project exploring wireless interactions for an art workshop. The idea was to come up with a game using the new wifi hot-spots that were starting to crop up all over New York in 2002. The organizer of the workshop was Eyebeam and NYCwireless and for this project I teamed up with Yuri Gitman since we both shared interests in wireless, cities, and game design and had worked before. The end result was Node Runner, a competition game that placed two teams in a race to connect to the most hotspots in two hours. The team members had to submit photographic proof of the hotspot locations to a blog as they raced from one departure point to a finish line.
That year I got a job working for R/GA on a new project for Nike called Nikelab. It was a pitch when I started, but the company won the project and I ended up doing the interaction design for the four different versions of Nikelab that were launched between 2002-04.
Urballoon (wireless installation & website, 2003)
In 2003 I started working on Urballoon as part of a residency program, again at Eyebeam. This urban art installation consisted of a large three-meter helium balloon with a video projector attached to it, and a wifi laptop. The project also had a website that allowed people to submit images and texts that were projected by the balloon onto a public space, such as a park, plaza or indoor gallery. This has been one of the longest projects I have undertaken and I eventually worked with my friend David Yates on the technology side to develop it.
Double Cute Battle Mode (VJ game / performance, 2004)
In 2004 my wife, Aya Karpinska, and I were invited to submit project ideas for a gallery event in New York. We came up with the concept of a two-player VJ battle game that we called Double Cute Battle Mode. It used the familiar Playstation video game controllers to rotate 3D layers of texts and images that were controlled by the two VJs in their visual jam sessions.
Operation 6453 (mobile urban game, 2004)
I worked on another urban game design project for Nike called Operation 6453. It was a scavenger hunt where players had to roam the city looking for posters with unique number codes. These could be sent by SMS to a website to win points and earn the right to pre-order limited edition sneakers designed by the graffiti artist Stash. There was a website that displayed player rankings and showed the known poster locations as they were being revealed during the four-day game.
Mobile City Maps & Guides (mobile advertising campaign 2006)
Nokia became an R/GA client in 2005 and I started working for them doing interaction design and concepting for their Nseries digital marketing. Among this work was a mobile advertising campaign in London metro stations which involved Bluetooth-enabled posters sending maps to mobile devices. Each map covered a one kilometer area around a station, with recommendations of bars, restaurants and shops curated by the guys at Superfuture.
Fulton Fence (outdoor installation & website, 2007)
In 2007, I worked with my Venezuelan friends Carolina Cisneros and Mateo Pintó on the Fulton Fence. This is an art installation (it’s still up) on a fence that borders a construction site in New York. It was a commission to improve an urban area that looked chaotic because of street construction. However, we used some of the media architecture ideas to connect our installation to an online “fence” that could be accessed by mobile devices using QR codes, and of course computers. The website in turn mirrors the physical intervention online and explores the notion of a construction site as a generator and aggregator of information.
MetropoliPhone (mobile site, 2008)
This year I launched a service-oriented project for mobile devices, specifically for the iPhone. MetropoliPhone is a simple and free repository of subway maps from cities worldwide. It uses the iPhone’s intuitive image zooming and panning features to provide a useful map-viewing experience. I also plan to add bus maps on the site over time.
Many of your works involve usability or others involve places that people associate with in their everyday life such as interaction design for mobile phones. Where do you usually get ideas for such projects?
I generate ideas by connecting a fuzzy network of things together in unpredictable patterns. It could be things I like to do, see, read or hear. One of the most inspiring things for me has to be living in a big city like New York; the sole act of walking on a street here can be so rich on energy and visual stimulus. I take photos of details of things I notice on the street, and specifically of how people use the urban environment.
For instance, the idea of browsing subway maps on the phone came after noticing how people in the New York subway tend to walk up to the posters inside the car. I noticed how this often annoys both the people who have to stand up as well as those sitting in front of the map (they have to deal with people bending over them). Since 2005 I’ve been using a NYC subway JPEG map that I sent via Bluetooth to my phone so I could check it anytime.
I complement this kind of contemplation with spending time online looking at what people, blogs and businesses do in that space, but I’ve been doing less of that since it can get so overwhelming.
I play video games, I’ve always found them inspirational since they are extremely immersive and interactive experiences.
I don’t have a particular formula, but I usually try to favor clever and simpler ideas with some substance over ones that can be just too technical.
Also I always carry a notebook and a pen to make sure I can write or sketch any thought as it comes.
You studied Architecture. What made you pursue the path of interactive media?
I studied at the Universidad Central de Venezuela from 93-98. However, as I mentioned before, during this period I was already working significantly with digital video and animation, doing VJ sets and web design. When I got my BA in Architecture, I wanted to live in New York and study filmmaking in graduate school, but I made it only to the waitlist that year. In 1999 came to the city to interview with film schools here, but then I got a bad impression from these programs. Luckily on that same trip I also found out about the weird and fun work they were doing at ITP and decided to pursue new media instead since I wanted to learn within a multi-disciplinary environment with more openness to digital media and ideas than film schools seemed to offer.
This decision changed my career forever and I’m happy I did it.
Out of all the public art projects you have been involved, what was the most memorable response that you received?
In terms of press and recognition the Node Runner project was the most acclaimed, it won a Golden Nica at Ars Electronica in 2003 and received extensive coverage after that.
How do you think would the relationship between interactive media and the society change in the future?
My educated guess would be that society is going to interact exponentially more with interactive media, whether we like it or not. There is a lot of momentum building up with pervasive computing technologies and this is going to affect so much of our daily lives.
There are significant concerns and challenges in the short term with issues like global warming, information overload, privacy issues but I think good multi-disciplinary design will emerge to address these issues.
I’m not entirely happy about this though: our current ways of doing business and consuming are not sustainable. A lot of consumer attitudes need to change if we want to keep us all on this planet in the long run.
Having said that, the future does look good for interaction designers, as they should certainly play a role in this change.
Tell us about your concept for this month’s SHIFT cover design.
I haven’t animated anything new in a while so I wanted to go back to some of those roots. I used to do 1- or 2-second loops for my VJ sets that played with abstract geometries and colors. When thinking of Shift as a theme I thought of two ideas: a movement of displacement and the notion of color shifting. I could relate to these ideas in animation well so I went with a design that played with a reveal of the word “shift” and mixed with a kinetic overlaying of colors.
We heard that you or your family are originally from Caracas, Venezuela, and you also made some work about the place. Could you describe what kind of place it is for people who never visited there? What sort of aspects does Venezuela have an effect on your creativity?
Venezuela is my home – I still have most of my family there. The country is stunning and lush with sunlight. The greenery is just everywhere and I miss that part, as well as the warm spring-like weather all year. The landscapes change a lot, we have snowy mountains next to Caribbean turquoise sea beaches. People there are happy with life in general although the current president we have has divided society to some extent.
I’m very influenced by Venezuela’s sunlight, landscape and colors. Also by famous key native artists like Armando Reverón, Jesus Soto, Carlos Cruz-Diez and the architect Carlos Raúl Villanueva, who designed my alma mater.
Please tell us about your future projects.
I’m looking forward to working on more projects involving cities, environments, mobile and embedded computing. I have a couple of ideas for urban installations using wifi servers on sites hooked to microcontrollers and sensors, relaying events to a website.
Another temporary art project I want to do is a big, on an urban scale, that uses little technology but will be quite expensive and lengthy to produce.
I would like to get more design work for clients in the realms of urbanism, architecture, interior design, retail and events, but so far I’m mostly getting asked to work on mobile devices.
It would be great to do a project in Japan one day – this way I could finally come and meet the place.
Also I really want to start my own studio with partners.
Carlos J. Gómez de Llarena
Address: 17 w 54 st, Apt 8-d, New York, NY 10019
Text: Kyoko Tachibana