Non- “FLOS” public space and aesthetic invention

Are the iPhone and iPod Touch new spheres for public art?

Bloom iPhone Application from Lawrence Brown on Vimeo.

The question is more than whether you like a particular aesthetic app on your device, such as Bloom or Buddha Machine, but how does the controlled space of the iPhone and iPod and their app store constitute a public sphere for artistic intervention?

Some might argue that as closed, legally controlled systems, the devices do not truly constitute “public space.” On the other hand, from Linda Benglis’s magazine ads to Giselle Beiguelman’s interactive billboard art to Dara Birnbaum’s Rio Videowall for an Atlanta shopping mall to the world-making in corporate controlled Second Life, there are numerous examples of important experiments by artists in legally constricted but nevertheless functionally public spaces. It is crtical, however, to always keep in mind that these spaces are not what one might call FLOS – Free/Libre/Open Source – spaces.

Pixi by Tiny Wonder Studios Recently, Tiny Wonder Studios releaased Pixi for the iPhone and iPod touch. According to it website:

“Tiny Wonder Studios is on a mission to create tiny miracles for the iPhone. Using nanotechnology, our patented “chaos process”, and very small screwdrivers, we lovingly craft the finest stuff for your mobile enjoyment.”

The first Tiny Wonder release is Pixi, which they “introduce:”

“Meet Pixi. Create infinite animated spirals of color and light by touching your screen. It’s magical. It’s mesmerizing. It’s music for your eyes. Pixi is simple to use, but you’ll find endless ways to express yourself the deeper you explore.”

Pixi is a bit like creating your own screensaver and can be mesmerizing, although, since I don’t use my iPod Touch as an ambient device – visually – it hasn’t, yet, migrated to my first screen of most-used apps.

In a conversation with Lawrence Bricker, a “film school graduate and lead geek” of Tiny Wonder Studios, he demonstrated a prototype version 2.0 that used the network to share Pixi creations and even locate nearby users in real time.

Target headquarters in Minneapolis at night Personally, I’d like to see Pixi as a multi-storey display on the Target headquarters building in downtown Minneapolis and be able to modify it from my iPhone (which I plan to buy when Apple no longer forces me into a device-marriage with ATT, speaking of non-FLOS public space . . . ), like a Twin Cities version of Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s Vectorial Elevation.

Mostly, however, Pixi makes me think of some kind of Moore’s law of aesthetic invention, where what decades ago Dan Sandin or John Whitney might have labored over for months or even years is now accessible in my pocket with the flick of a finger. That’s an interesting kind of progress, which like un-FLOS public space can’t simply be ignored.


“In PERMUTATIONS, each point moves at a different speed and moves in a direction independent according to natural laws’ quite as valid as those of Pythagoras, while moving in their circular field. Their action produces a phenomenon more or less equivalent to the musical harmonies. When the points reach certain relationships (harmonic) numerical to other parameters of the equation, they form elementary figures.”
John Whitney