The Creartathon offers new perspectives on the dialogue between art, design and digital science
The 2021 edition of the Creartathon was co-organized by the Inria Saclay - Ile-de-France center, the Paris-Saclay University and the association Societies with the support of the Ministry of Culture, the Diagonale Paris-Saclay, IRT SystemX, the Gradutate School Computer Science of the University of Paris-Saclay and DATAIA (member of the organizing committee).
Artificial intelligence and human-machine interaction at the service of art and design... and vice versa
Heads bent towards each other, computers scattered about, ideas flying, fingers on keyboards... the atmosphere that reigned in the premises of the FabLab Digiscope of the Paris-Saclay University at the end of August could have been reminiscent of any hackathon. If it wasn't for the sketches, plastic pieces, silicone molds, models, prototypes, etc., also lying around. It was not in fact a gathering of digital science experts, but a meeting of two worlds.
"Our goal was for art and design students and students of artificial intelligence (AI) and human-computer interaction (HCI) to build something together, but more importantly, to appreciate the differences in approach of each discipline and to learn from each other's values," says Wendy Mackay, research director of the Inria Ex-Situ team. This is why this new kind of hackathon has been named "Creartathon".
The origin of this innovative event goes back to the beginning of 2020 and the will of Jean-Yves Berthou, director of the Inria Saclay - Île-de-France center, to make art, design and digital sciences work together.
"I've organized many workshops leading to interactive creations and Janin Koch, one of my former post-docs, has participated in several hackathons," says Wendy Mackay. So the idea of a kind of workshop combining the competition side of the hackathon with the art creation seemed like a good way to bring the two worlds together."
The project still had to be set up.
Four art and design schools, two masters in digital sciences
For this, Wendy Mackay and Janin Koch join Benoît Monégier du Sorbier, in charge of the communication of the DATAIA Institute, an artificial intelligence institute of the Paris-Saclay University, and Nicolas Taffin, graphic designer within the Ex-Situ team. They are joined by Jeanne Turpault, in charge of programming and coordination for the association Societies, which aims to take art out of the places that are usually assigned to it.
The latter is approaching four Parisian art and design schools to expose the project to their students: the Beaux-Arts de Paris, the École nationale supérieure de création industrielle, the École Boulle and the École Duperré. Wendy Mackay is promoting the event to students of the Paris-Saclay University's masters in artificial intelligence (AI) and human-machine interaction (HMI).
32 students and four artists
More than fifty applications were submitted and finally, 32 students of different nationalities were selected and divided into seven teams.
"We selected students who, based on their portfolios, already had a track record and were able to work collaboratively," says Wendy Mackay. Then we tried to build groups that were balanced between art, design, AI and HMI."
Four artists are also recruited to accompany the teams: Maxime Bondu, the duo Ittah Yoda and Christophe Lemaitre.
"I had four criteria in mind for their selection: that they be interested in the theme of the event of course, that they be used to transmitting and sharing, that they be young enough to be close to the students, and finally that there be a diversity of approaches between the coaches in their creations and in the vision they have of AI and HCI."
The team is complete, the workshop can begin: the students will have only five days, from August 23 to 27, to realize a creative, interactive and intelligent artifact... a nice challenge!
Five days of immersion
On Sunday August 22nd, everyone met at the Paris-Saclay University to get acquainted and settle in: participants and supervisors were accommodated in a hotel on campus. On Monday morning, the teams attend two master classes on AI and HMI to give some basics on the subject to art and design students. This is followed by a presentation of the four artists, this time to quickly train the digital science students in the art creation process. The groups then have until 4pm to come up with an idea... and until Tuesday noon to make a video presentation!
"Then we did a progress report every morning to see where everyone was at," says Wendy Mackay. I thought the students would be anxious, but in fact, except for a few moments of panic, the atmosphere was very relaxed and not at all competitive! The participants also realized early on that in order to succeed, they really had to listen and understand other ways of working within their team."
The artists also provide valuable support: they move from group to group to provide advice on storytelling around an art project, on how to think about the notion of audience, on the more formal aspects of aesthetics and materials, and finally to provide assistance in making.
Seven prototypes for a jury
The recipe works so well that on Friday, to the surprise of the organizers, seven functional prototypes are presented to the jury. The jury was composed of Denis Pansu, member of Fing, the think tank on digital transformations, Jean-Yves Berthou, the artist Mathilde Lavenne and Pierre-Paul Zalio, president of ENS Paris-Saclay. First place went to "Cor Epiglottae": a plastic and silicone sculpture with the ability to listen to what visitors say to it... and to respond. Second place goes to "Latent Organism": a sort of giant cushion that reacts to the pressure and touch of visitors to generate and project unique 3D shapes on the wall. Finally, "Persona" is on the last step of the podium. This artificial intelligence wrapped in a humanoid body is not intended to help the visitor, but seeks to make him doubt and question the way he interacts with it.
An extremely fertile event
"I was really surprised that in such a short period of time, we were able to create so much and find true originality," says Wendy Mackay. Each group was pushed from within by the complementary nature of its participants."
Jeanne Turpault also appreciates the result:
"It was first of all a human and social adventure: to put ourselves to the test and see how we interact with so many people in such a short time. But it was also an intellectual adventure because we brought together several worlds, several languages, several ways of thinking. And finally, a creative adventure: ideas were constantly being generated. The event was wild with imagination and possibilities... and in the end, extremely fertile."
The Creartathon will not stop there. The works produced were exhibited from 3 to 5 September at the Joseph Gallery in Paris, and the 2022 edition of the event is already in the minds of the public. We will probably organize it at the end of June or beginning of July and there are other arrangements under discussion," says Wendy Mackay. But one thing is certain: the motivation is there!