Interview from Computer Arts Thailand Magazine.
Computer ARTS Thailand

[ email coexist at ]

COEXIST was Shown at SIGGRAPH ASIA 2009, Yokohama, Japan

About Coexist:
About Coexist
The coexist team consist of me Allistar D. Peters, idea zealot who often blends technology with as socials twist, Meng Li, a social/urban interventionist who is curious about the everything, and Rendall Koski, a space cadet programming whiz looking to extend his form and share with others.
Coexist is an interactive behavioral experiment that perpetually observes how people react to the intrusion of other species considered unsuitable to coexist with in their habitat. We choose the common cockroach, a pest deemed nasty by many and makes their skin crawl, as the species that may provoke a reaction of the engaged participant. What choices will they make? Will they kill or COEXIST with them?
The members of my team often express a social concern about mans intervention and wanted to present this in a form that subtly jolts participants. Since we are all interactive artists what better way than a projected installation where you get to smack something we thought. So we sad down and brainstormed and after many trials filled with failures and successes, here is what we came up with.
Using software programming, in our case Flash, we rendered the images and implemented basic AI to mimic the movement of roaches and its spawn and death rates. The roaches are then projected onto a wall where a user can attempt to smack and kill them, without the after effects of roach guts spearing your hand or favorite show. As for the trigger we used sound for killing the roaches. After all, when we smack them there is validation that and action has happened. the sound was analyzed in Processing, a free open source lite java based tool. You can cheek out for examples and downloads. And just like when smacking most roaches sometimes they run away. We also miss the eggs that spawn many more roachlets (baby roaches), which grow up to coexist with us.
At the beginning Allistar and Meng sat down for a few days and discussed what adaptation means to us, a process we normally go through hash through in all our indeveours. How do we interoperate adaptation. We then looked to nature for the answer and found that the roach was a very familiar, provocative, misunderstood and a remarkable subject. There are thousands of species of roaches and can survive in most conditions, including being submerged in water for 30 minutes and coming back to life - thanks to a system of breathing tubes. They've been known to survive microwave reaction and in some cases found to survive nuclear radiation. When they are out of food they can eat the materials around them including each other. As a side note I remember when I was a kid I used to paint with acrylic paints. Was my main hobby at the time and I had generated many paintings. But there were times when the dried paintings when left of seemed to be eaten by tiny mouths. It was later discovered that it was the roaches which we reluctantly coexisted with. But we created the right conditions for the roaches. Or maybe we removed their ideal condition therefore they adapted to our living conditions.

Anyway, back to coexist, we played around with many scenarios in terms of what to expect form a user. We've all had the pleasure and / or disgust of killing roaches and we thought about what that would feel like. We started off with just the images on the wall. People responded as we expected with the universal words, yew! Later we implemented the roaches reaction. At first we tried camera tracking using infraRed light to track the position of the smacking hand. It worked but was not the perfect solution for many reasons. We we missing many ingredients including a greater power source in a small package and this also added another level which was a glove, something people would have to put on. After many rounds of discussions and failures we found the glove to be more of a hindrance than an asset. Maybe for future exhibits we will track and test.

We settled on sound as the trigger, using microphones as a general location of sound sours. This is where Processing shines being that it is light and can send data to Flash. Marrying the two apps took some tweaking but we got it to work. As you can tell the above video is the result.

But with all the technology at our fingertips we are very eager to observe and learn what people would do. We also had questions including if the setting would influence greatly people's participation thus lessoning the provocative nature of the experiment. But all we can do is watch, learn, modify and teak, and observe some more. What would people do? Would they learn if they don't try to smack them their spawn rate would lesson creating a seemingly ideal coexistence.? Would they go crazy trying to kill them all given-in to impulses? Would they encourage others to do the smacking for them? We found this to be very important questions because we believe that's how we approach life, removing and/or destroying things to feed our desire of our individual ideal world. And when it comes to nature there are often negative consequences and this is evident regardless if we like it or not. DO WE LEARN FROM OUR ACTION or LACK THERE OF?

What's the next step!