Coding as an Intersection of Art and Technology (My Talk on TEDxTelkomU)

On 15th December 2013 I had the opportunity to talk at TEDxTelkomU. It was such a pleasure for me, as I’ve always been wanting to talk at TEDx event for such a long time and when I received the email i felt so flattered. Of course, that invitation came with another question, “what should I talk about?” In the end, after some thinking, I decided to tell a bit of my life story: how I view coding as an intersection between art and technology (in short, my daily practice) and how doing it actually improve my programming skill, which believe me, was mediocre initially.

So, without further ado, here’s ┬áthe slide that I presented. Enjoy.

Here’s what I actually talked about.
Everyday I do programming, from doing interactive installation, game, website and I even do lecture on the subject Introduction to Programming in this semester. However, things weren’t always that good, I mean I weren’t really born as a good coder. I initially had troubles in getting grip with what actually programming is. I got a C on a C++ programming subject during my undergrad year. And that was the peak of my programming experience for a couple of years.
During my undergrad years, I also started playing in 2 bands (and being serious about them). In both bands, though I had the main job of playing guitar, I also had the chance to venture out a bit and started dabbling with synthesizer. That’s when I got the knowledge that I could actually do programming on that hardware to make sound. Moreover, I could also do the same thing only on software synthesizers on my computer. That was probably the coolest thing I’ve encountered up until then.
So, after reading some articles on the internet, I founded out that I can even do programming, like computer programming with a programming language, to generate sound or even make my own synthesizer using a programming language called Pure Data. After some more reading, founded out that Pure Data can also do visual as well as making interactive objects using sensors and stuffs. That was when I founded out about Arduino and I decided to utilize both for my Undergrad Thesis to make a product called “Lantai Interaktif” (Interactive Floor), which did exactly what the name said.
After I finished my undergraduate, I instantly fell in love more and more in this creative computing field. I started to study Processing as well and as a result I managed to exhibit my first work as an artist called “Lite”, which is an interactive sound installation. That was when I decided that I’d leave my job and pursue a master degree in this field. Thus, I enrolled myself in the Master of Interaction Design and Electronic Art in University of Sydney.
Moving to Sydney was a good decision for me. I was instantly mesmerized by the fact that contemporary art was (and still is) a burgeoning field. I had a good dose of influence for my artwork. I also gained a lot experience by working and collaborating with other students who came from art/design background as opposed to me, who was basically an engineer. During my 1,5 years of living there, I managed to produce several artwork, highlights include “Indonesia” a 3 screen film, “Skin”, an interactive light, visual and sound installation, which I co create with Susznne Chan and Johnny Campos, and “Reefs on The Edge”, a data visualization with a tangible user interface, which I co create with Phil Gough. These years were also when I honed my programming skill to realize artistic ideas using software as a medium. Also, this was where I exposed myself to different technologies such as Microsoft Kinect and wider array of sensors.
After I finished my study, I decided to go back to Indonesia and do a full time job as a freelance programmer specializing in programming for interactive installation. And things were running pretty well. I managed to create several installations for corporate clients, which highlight includes ones for Nike, as well as programming for artists who need such resource, example: 1930. Having work as a freelancer also helped me to do some more programming outside of work and establish my own personal lab so I can conduct fun experiments which I may use in future projects.
What’s happening now, is something different. Something that I believe, me in the past won’t believe. I’m actually getting better at programming. I can now tackle projects using best practice approach that software engineers do on their daily job. For example, Baby Pedrito, the visual for baby app that I made couple of months ago. In this web app, I utilize MVC software model using Backbone JS. Something that previously scared me, but looks friendlier for me now. Of course, this is a result of years of programming, starting out humbly and getting a good understanding of what programming is, regardless of what I’m programming. That results in a new knowledge and skill that I can apply in programming language other than Java or C++. Programming now works for my brain.
Now, for me, there are 2 reasons why programming for art purpose actually makes sense for me. The first one is for me personally, coding becomes a medium of expression. A friend of mine made an immortal quote “If other people paints with canvas, brush and oil paint, Didit paints with code”. Which can’t be further from the truth. These days, I approach coding just like as if I draw sketches in a piece of paper, sometimes it becomes something bigger, sometimes that’s just that, sketches. I also view this activity as a representation of how the user can use software as a medium of expression, just like me, the author do that while creating the piece. And it feels liberating, just like I’m jamming with my guitar. I feel very fulfilled, because my need to create has been accomplished by doing programming.
Second, I feel that art puts programming, or even more general, technology, in a context. This is where the use of technology makes sense, no matter how complex or simple the technology is. As an example, I recently created a Twitter account named “Demi Metallica” where people can sell their possessions in order to raise money to buy ticket for Metallica concert in Jakarta. It managed to rack up over 2000 followers in the space of 1,5 months including exposure from local media, which was fully unplanned and of course unexpected. I point that success as a result of utilizing technology in a powerful story, a context of how the Twitter account was used.
And what does it bring to humanity? For me, the barrier to do computer programming gets lower and lower every day. Now, designer or artist can easily learn to code with the abundance of the available resource. This will make communication between them and the engineer/programmer gets easier, because now they have common language to talk with. This collaboration will only bring benefits to humanity, because future products will have not only functions, but also emotional fulfillment for its user. The last one will have the product feels more enjoyable to use for its users. Better user experience. That’s thanks to art and technology collaboration.

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