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Eric Zimmerman
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artist statement | technical statement | process



artist statement
FLUID is a ecosystem as play; a system designed for meaningful interaction. Housed in a blue plastic industrial waste container, FLUID is a playful and multi-leveled touchscreen installation. The touchscreen is parallel to the floor, and players interact with the system by touching, stroking, and poking at the screen.

Inside the screen lives an abstract, miniature ecosystem made up of a handful of different species of organisms. When the player first touches the screen, the organisms respond smoothly and immediately. To interact with FLUID, the player touches, strokes, and pokes at the horizontal screen. This core activity is the sensual substratum with which the user explores relationships between the elements of the system.

Within the ecosystem of the screen live a number of simple organisms, each species relating to the user and to each other in unique ways. Some of the organisms need to be guided by the user in order to move about the environment. Others have their own means of locomotion. Some of the elements can be combined with others to form new organisms. And some of the organisms have the ability to transform elements of the ecosystem.

The elements of the ecosystem include:
ALGAE, the grid of dots that form the substratum of the system

FEEDERS, organisms that have to be assembled by players and that in adult form turn algae into edible food

FORAGERS, hungry creatures that move towards and eat up edible algae

MUCK, the gray substance that first appears when a player touches a forager and spreads slowly about the screen
FLUID is a system, abstracted to a simple, stylized language. The visual graphics resemble geometric design patterns of the 50s and the rich audio mixes natural sounds with procedurally generated electronic static. Playing with FLUID means exploring the relationships between the organisms. In a sense, the structure of the ecosystem, the interactions between the organisms, is itself the content. The immediate sensuality of the experience, combined with the dynamic quality of the evolving ecosystem provides a curiously structural set of pleasures. The toylike interaction rewards deeper and deeper exploration, as players continue to uncover the relationships between the organisms.

For example, to rid the ecosystem of muck, the player has to lead the foragers around the screen by strategically moving the feeders over algae, creating a trail of bread crumbs that indirectly maneuver the foragers towards the muck. In order to accomplish this goal, the player has to understand the properties of all of the elements in the system: the algae, feeders, foragers, and muck.

There is also within FLUID a kind of moral fable. Interacting with one of the organisms in the ecosystem results in an unpleasant gray muck to be released. This muck will slowly spread across the entire screen if the player does not discover a way to stop it. If FLUID is a game, then the goal of the game is to eliminate the muck from the screen. Yet paradoxically, the muck is only present because of the user's own seduction to interact with the system.

Fluid was commissioned from gameLab by the Swiss Re Center for Global Dialogue.