Creative Play Time with Kawandeep Virdee

We love how Kawandeep Virdee uses technology and art to encourage collaboration, play, and creativity. Kawandeep co-founded New American Public Art to build interactive art that makes public spaces more communal and welcoming. His work is displayed publicly as installations, but also via the internet. Both venues invite the viewer to interact.

Through his work, Kawandeep explores how humans interact with their environment, illustrating his broader interest in the human condition. We found his work to be visually compelling – often incorporating repetition of pattern as a device to draw the eye. But the pattern is never perfect, and as such, includes a human aspect to it by honoring that imperfection. He also creates interactive experiences on the Web that integrate patterns and sounds and invite humans to play.

An accomplished speaker, Bend Design is honored to have Kawandeep join us for our 2017 event, to speak about his work and experiences.

Interactive new media and video artist, and ScaleHouse Board Member, Kiel Fletcher, had an opportunity to catch up with Kawandeep this month. Kiel is leading the charge in the arts and graphic design department for OSU-Cascades here in Bend, OR. Here is an excerpt of what Kiel learned:

Where are some of your current public installations?

I have a mural in Boston, at the Greenway Lincoln Street Triangle downtown. It’s at the intersection of the Leather District, Chinatown, and South Station [that was] was painted last summer.

How do you involve play and interactivity into your work?

There is some part of the piece that is open ended. That’s where the viewer can participate. It can be a bit scary giving up control of the piece, the interpretation can change, the meaning can be lost…will people get into it? But that kind of makes it exciting too.

Can you give some examples?

I’ve done interactive pieces giving the audience a website to explore and make sounds with, like Bloopdance. Will they be willing to explore and get a bit weird with it? Sometimes I make it a bit more challenging. Instead of using a phone synth, what if we use our voices? It can be awkward to sing out loud, especially if it’s just mouth sounds and not words. There’s a risk it can fail, but that adds an extra surprise and delight.

How much are you guiding/planning the interactions in your public installations?

There’s a rough idea of the space of possibilities people can play in… if it’s too narrow then I find the piece a bit boring. It’s watching people play with the works – and surprising me – that is most exciting. Sometimes works get minimal on the signage, opting for an experience where the viewer “discovers” the piece and interactions. I prefer to offer a good explanation of what’s going on. People can read it if they like, or skip it.

Do you get a greater level of satisfaction from setting the parameters of an installation or witnessing the outcome?

Adding constraints to a piece I think is the poetry of the interaction. You can allow someone to do anything and it becomes more of a tool or an instrument. That’s fine, but I wonder what would it be if I were more intentional. There’s less works like that. It’s easy to keep parameters open ended. It’s harder to define them, and pick which ones to define. Witnessing the outcome is the most rewarding part of making an interactive thing. Seeing people make the work their own, or build on top of it. That’s so energizing.

Is there a difference in the motivations behind your hand drawn patterns versus your public installations?

The public installations came from a place of changing public space and the politics of public space. Could I make public space more welcoming and playful by introducing interactivity? Could I create works for groups of people, to cultivate social and creative interactions?

The pattern drawings came from a place of reflection. They began at a small scale in notebooks. They’re more introspective, and they’re to process thoughts. I thought about grooming, about combing my hair. A repetitive gesture that reflects care for myself, slowing down, and being less concerned about achievement and production.

What role do you feel technology plays in your work? Do you feel that the UX design of your work allows for a greater level of accessibility?

Programming screens and electronics allows some flexibility on the nature of the interactions – the sensing and the responses. To an extent the intrigue and glamour of technology makes the works feel a bit magical and surprising.

Is there something you are currently working on that you have a great amount of excitement for?

While making the interactive works and the pattern art was valuable, I’m excited for this new direction I’m exploring. I’m doing text and representational drawing with a pen and notebook. I felt the interactive works were valuable because of the tech, and the pattern works because of their effort. In this new direction I’m focusing more on the concepts in the works, and people finding value in those, rather than the craft. In this way it feels I’m pushing myself in expression and exploring voice, relying less on gimmicks to make the work valuable.


Kawandeep Virdee will be speaking at Bend Design 2017.