Featured Student: John Bell

Submitted by Matthew.Leavitt on Wed, 11/03/2010 – 12:55pm

John Bell
 is a software developer, data artist, and teacher in his final year of the Intermedia MFA program. Ranging from straightforward and utilitarian to confounding and aggressively useless, the running theme across his projects is a desire to merge concept, design, and technology to convey a single, compelling argument to his audience.  He has created information systems including The Pool and the Variable Media Questionnaire that help creators apply different epistemological models to their work; written computer code, academic articles, and dinner theaters; built interactive installations and static pieces that challenge viewers to activate them; and given birth to an artificial intelligence that accidentally committed suicide.  The diversity of his work is reflected in the variety of places it has been featured, spanning arts festivals including Ars Electronica and ISEA, research groups like DOCAM and the Berkman Center, and publications ranging from WIRED to the Chronicle of Higher Education

Octris (op 1 capriccio for bells and space) is an installation shown at Without Borders VII in 2010 that draws together many of the disparate threads of Bell’s practice. Players of a 3D virtual reality Tetris variant begin building walls around themselves by sight, but quickly must transition to playing the game using nothing but audio cues. Successfully implementing this project involved solving the technical challenge of programming a virtual reality world that senses the player’s movements, the conceptual challenge of remapping a highly visual and spatialized game to a playable audio experience, and the perceptual challenge of designing an interface that draws from the relatively common experience of playing a twenty year old game but transforms it enough to make it unique and interesting.  As a final twist, the gameplay creates a composition as the sounds used to convey spatial information to the player are transformed into an impromptu performance of synthetic bells at the end of the game.