LØRDAG OG SØNDAG, KL. 11.00-18.00

A Flock of Birds

A flock of paper birds begins to fly as you help the leader bird into motion. Here, traditional origami meets simple human-computer interaction.

We had a chat with Kaja, the maker of this fantastic installation.

Can you tell us a bit more about what it is that you've made, Kaja?
I made the paper bird installation as a project in a subject called Computing and Creative Arts at Queen's University in Canada, where I was an exchange student. I study teaching at the University of Oslo, but I had the opportunity to choose my subjects quite freely at Queen's, so out of curiosity I visited the School of Computing and was inspired to pick this one. The course was tied to the Human Media Lab where they do a lot of weird and exciting stuff - it was a whole new world for me! We worked with different kinds of programming and were tasked with making an art project in groups. We were told to make something that involved human-machine interaction, but other than that we had a lot of freedom. I'd never programmed anything before in my life, but on the other hand I've always been good at working with paper and such. I teamed up with two other students with a lot of programming experience for the project.

Because I had no idea what was possible and impossible to do, I discovered that I could inspire the others to try new things. Maybe I was thinking outside the box because I had no idea what was inside it... We worked with a more complicated idea in the beginning, which led to me starting a few small fires where the prototype was burned to ashes. In the end we made the paper birds as our semester project, and we displayed it at the university in spring 2011. In February 2012 we displayed it at the TEI conference.

We used old-fashioned origami, and we wanted the bird to be both the input and the output. The tactile is important here. When you hold the bird and move it around, you immediately affect the whole flock. This provides a very close relationship with the technology. Everybody knows how paper feels, and we combine this with the surprise of the technology to make the experience interesting. These were the thoughts we had when we made it, but we did it mostly out of curiosity and because it was fun. Regardless of how simple it may be, we were fascinated by the movement of the birds, and so are the people who get to play with the installation.

When did you start making things and who taught you?
I've always enjoyed making things, everything from handiwork to stories. I like working with ideas and make something out of them. My parents are good at repairing and making things, so I often participated in these kinds of things when I was little. I was allowed to use scissors and knives at an early age, and I got a hammer for my first birthday. These kinds of things probably gave me good starting point for trying to do stuff on my own.

So why do you like to make things?
It simply is a lot of fun to make things with your hands and think about form and function. Currently my hands are being used mostly on the computer keyboard because I'm writing my master's thesis. Making things is a great way to relax both my head and my hands and do something completely different. It's so nice to see and feel something that you've actually made when you're done!

Where do you find inspiration for the things you make?
Inspiration can come from music or from colors, but often it's just an urge to use my brain in some way that leads me to make something. I don't do a lot of this at the moment; it's usually just cutting, glueing and folding stuff in paper, just because I don't really have time or space for bigger projects. But it's a lot of fun, and while I'm working I dream of more complicated things that I might never make, but still find joy in thinking about.

What are your favourite tools?
I wish I could say that it's some kind of cool sensor or an advanced piece of gadgetry. But honestly, what gives me the most joy is a simple pair of scissors and a paper cutter.

What would you like to tell those of us who walk around with these kinds of ideas in our heads, but don't do anything about them?
I think it's a good idea to just try doing things, without actually having any ambition or ideas about what the result will be. The desire to make something is all you need to get you started! For example, I knew absolutely nothing about programming, but I was urged to just try it out. I started with very simple code and manipulated variables and values to see the results. By cooperating with someone who knew a lot more than I did, I was inspired to do more myself. I would simply say what I wanted to do, and I got help to make it happen!

Visit Maker Faire and get the opportunity to say hello to Kaja! Don't forget to try out her fantastic paper bird installation as well. Welcome!

Kaja Swensen