4.1. Exercise: Object and Material Manipulations

Objective: explore the expressive potential of interaction with an object or material.


  1. end-of-class demonstration,
  2. short 10-20 second video posted to the blog.

The general prompt for the course project is to use a manipulation process between a mechanism and an artifact or material to create surprisingly animate behavior. We can eventually accomplish the behavior using the tools and techniques of robotics and automation. This exercise is an attempt to begin from the object itself, exploring the boundaries between the object, the agent interacting with it, and the world at large.

For the engineers and computer scientists, this is an opportunity

  1. to practice thinking like an artist,
  2. to let go of your preconceptions and see a physical thing purely in terms of form and behavior,
  3. to reflect on the cultural meaning of an artifact or substance.

For the artists, designers, and dramatists, this is an opportunity

  1. to practice thinking like a roboticist,
  2. to limit a physical interaction to mechanical possibility: e.g., imagine your hands were paddles, your eyes just a single pixel, your mind a computer program,
  3. to perceive the nature of a process as energy and information moving between physical and computational domains.

For everybody, this is an opportunity to:

  1. discover the unexpected dynamics in an interaction,
  2. see the equilibrium between an object and its environment,
  3. explore the nature of control versus passivity,
  4. consider the natural and forced tempos possible in a physical process,
  5. imagine the implied narrative of a single action,
  6. to consider the expressive possibilities of behavior, which lie neither in physical form or action, but some dynamic relation between the two.