IPoC Workshop (April 2014): Interactive Patina of Culture – Designing Social Interaction in Public Spaces

This workshop will take place during the SDL weeks, from April 7 to April 18 2014, in Taicang, China. We will be working together which teachers and students from Chinese universities (Jiangnan University, Nanjing University of Arts, Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts etc), creating or designing public installations for social interaction, inspired by elements and techniques from performance arts in the theme of “Interactive Patina of Culture”.

A Patina is often understood as a trace of repeated use. The stem of a hammer acquires sheen, a polish of repeated use by a carpenter. This polish tells a story about how it was used. Connecting Patina with Culture changes the meaning. We posit that culture “rubs off” onto the artifacts in use. That is to say the artifacts in a culture are shaped by the values of that culture; they are part of the patina of culture. This is best elucidated by an example: during the previous workshop we felt intrigued by a particular rolling pin in the kitchen section of a local supermarket. A few days later one of the Chinese hosts asked us which variant of rolling pin we were so interested in, and explained that different varieties of rolling pins exist that have different thicknesses and lengths and these properties are instrumental in the type of dough that is created when using them. To us this told stories about how the way that food is enjoyed has influence on how it is made. The values of a culture are expressed in the artifacts that it produces.

Ashes of passing time adsorb onto the artifacts, while coming time blows these ashes away. Changing time brings about natural changes and leaves physical traces on the artifact, which is transmitted unconsciously and results in physical patina. Changing lifestyle and human behavior also bring anthropogenic shifts to the artifact. This workshop is going to take place in China. Let us take a close look at Chinese culture and more specifically at Chinese Fine Arts. Chinese Painting started in the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317-420 AD), when artists used black ink done on silk. With the invention of paper in the 1st century AD, this new but cheaper material brought Chinese Painting up to a new level of popularity and prosperity. This was not the only change; in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Western art was exposed to China, and due to changing taste and preferences Chinese Painting was rejected by some artists and it was combined with western traditions and style. Comparing Chinese paintings in 206 and in 2006, artistic innovations and shifts were led by social and cultural dynamics. Looking back these thousands of years, accelerating culture even reshapes culture itself, driven by modifications of lifestyle, behavior, and technology. Connecting the concept of painting to the concept “Patina”, we need to see how the artifacts in a culture are shaped by the values of that culture. This change in technology and thus material available to artists has significantly shaped the practice of Fine Arts that came after. In this sense, technological and also cultural change can be seen as a patina on older and more universal concepts – such as Fine Art.

Another example for such patina is connoisseurship stamps on many famous Chinese: A famous painting sometimes has many stamps from collectors of different generations who owned the painting and marked it before it passed on to a different collector. While the painting itself has a story, the collection stamps add different stories on this painting as time is passing. Paintings are often considered finished and need to be preserved in their original state meticulously. Collection stamps, however, add to the story of painting and, in a way, let it live throughout the centuries. Viewers get more experiences than what can be delivered by a static painting: a view on the flowing culture behind it, people involved so much in art and the painting that they leave their trace on the artwork itself.

We do not stop here: instead we connect “Interactivity” to the “Patina of Culture”, and look at interactions and dynamics instead of still objects. Interactions and dynamic behavior can have a “Patina of Culture” as well as cultural influences and changes slowly but certainly change how we interact. Here we see different kinds of transitions emerging: Some are reluctant and some are forced. Some are invisible and some are deeper. Some conform to a trend or the Zeitgeist. Some result from creativity, and some fade away into extinction. We care about the experiences and results of interaction, and we also treasure the blur gap between existence and extinction for interaction. A good example is the performance arts where one can see different culturally shaped and formed dynamic principles at work. Performance arts and interactive public installations have much in common: both have a time core to drive the dynamics; both have to manage inside a public space and the space has to be carefully structured for functions and interactions; both have to accommodate active or passive participants with different roles and goals. Performance arts have much to offer and it is time to explore how the elements and techniques could inspire interaction design. We will try to apply performance techniques and elements from dynamic art forms in the design process and to investigate how the installation would blossom when approached from a performance art perspective that essentially includes the users as well as a broader physical or social context.


Schechner, Richard. Performance theory. Routledge, 2003. [PDF, password encrypted]

Related papers

J. Hu, J. Frens, M. Funk, F. Wang, and Y. Zhang, “Design for Social Interaction in Public Spaces,” in 16th International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction, Creta Maris, Heraklion, Crete, Greece, 2014. [PDF]

Joep Frens, Mathias Funk, Jun Hu, Shengxiong Zhang, Kai Kang and Feng Wang,  Exploring the Concept of Interactive Patina of Culture, in 8th International Conference on Design and Semantics of Form and Movement (DeSForM 2013). ISBN 978-90-386-3462-3,  Wuxi. Pp 211-124 [PDF]

Yu Zhang, Jing Gu, Jun Hu, Joep Frens, Mathias Funk, Kai Kang, Qi Dong, Yuanyuan Wang, Feng Wang, Matthias Rauterberg, “Learning from Traditional Dynamic Arts: Elements for Interaction Design,” in International Conference on Culture and Computing 2013, Kyoto, Japan, 2013, pp. 165-166 [PDF]

Jun Hu, Feng Wang, Mathias Funk, Joep Frens, Yu Zhang, Thom van Boheemen, Chenxi Zhang, Qi Yuan, Hongrui Qu, Matthias Rauterberg, Participatory Public Media Arts for Social Creativity,  in International Conference on Culture and Computing 2013, Kyoto, Japan, 2013, pp. 179-180 [PDF]