Morgan Mueller Merges Science and Art in an Array of Interactive Media

An engineering student merges science and art in an array of interactive media that explores the tension between man and technology.

Megan Chew

Reverie Field (2018)

“Reverie Field” is an installation that engages not just the physical senses, but something much more abstract: memory. Using force-sensing resistor sensors connected to 15 light bulbs, the installation allows memories to materialize in the form of light patterns. The installation is paired with a headset and a console in which the FSR sensors are installed. 

Once the user dons the headphones and places their palm on the console, an audio guide prompts them to recall a recent memory and focus specifically on the emotions associated with it. Then they are prompted to add pressure to their fingertips according to how they feel. The FSR sensors respond to the changing pressure, causing the light bulbs to light up and dim accordingly, creating a light show unique to each viewer. 

The experience comes to a climactic end as the pattern of the lighting is fixed and looped, allowing viewers to step back and review their memories manifested in physical form. The viewer is left in a lingering state of reverie, before the lights dim and fade out.

Morgan Mueller’s Reverie Field isn’t just an installation. It’s an experience that allows participants — such as NYU President Andrew Hamilton, above — to translate their memories and emotions associated with them into patterns and sequences of light. Once the participant finishes their exploration, they find themselves surrounded by their memories and feelings in the form of unique light patterns. (Courtesy of Morgan Mueller)
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PPAM (2019)

“Predictive Policing Awareness Machine” is a social statement on the police’s use of artificial intelligence for risk assessment. Built on a ring stand, the machine consists of two parts an eyedropper and a blender, representative of the predictive policing system. Between them sits a flower, delicately balanced on the blender. 

An acrylic slip attached to a high-torque servomotor squeezes the eyedropper, causing the essence of a durian, an extremely pungent fruit, to drip onto the flower. This action creates a sensory juxtaposition of visual beauty and olfactory disgust: what was once perceived as perfect becomes contaminated. 

When the eyedropper is not contaminating the flower from above, the blender is rattling below it. The blender operates asynchronously to the servomotor, activated by the powerswitch tail. After it is activated, the blender continues to be triggered at time intervals correlating to the rate at which black individuals are imprisoned due to systemic bias. 

These alternating actions continue until the flower falls into the blender and is violently shredded. The flower is representative of all the people who are vulnerable in the hands of a system that was meant to protect them. This brutal imagery is meant to demonstrate how some people who fall into the jaws of the American criminal justice system never come out the same. 

According to Mueller, “The Predictive Policing Awareness Machine” he created “is meant to bring awareness to the corrupt predictive policing epidemic occurring in the United States” The sculpture is interactive, too — if a viewer approaches it, the mechanism gets triggered. Durian fruit essence is squeezed onto a flower, which falls into the blender. The blender rotates at the rate at which black individuals are incarcerated in the U.S. (Courtesy of Morgan Mueller)

Metamorphosis (2019)

“Metamorphosis” is an interactive audio and visual performance that explores the digitization of humanity. As one performer inserts a microscope slide into a microscope, the two screens light up with moving images of organic matter with Steph Butchko’s haunting, minimalist music in the background. 

The process continues for a while, before a monotonous, automated voice declares “System error: anomaly detected,” destabilizing the piece and sending the images into a flurry of glitches. The music intensifies and heavy breaths become audible. Soon, the images evolve into digitally edited representations like a pencil sketch put through Photoshop. They become less grainy, more aesthetic, and yet, less recognizable as organic human cells. 

Then the automated voice reenters, calling for a “baseline test” in which the viewer is prompted to repeat words. The voice announces “test failure” and that the “unidentified subject is highly contagious.” The face of one of the performers now flashes periodically on the screen, lacking any texture of organic matter. The image goes through a series of alterations, until the human face is barely recognizable. As the screen fades to black, the voice declares “system override” which cues a final slideshow of pixelated, black-and-white images that mimic the movement of the original organic matter. They represent an extreme metamorphoses of what makes a human, human.

Mueller is fascinated by the way humanity is becoming more digitalized. His project-performance, Metamorphosis, explores precisely that. The audio-visual performance explores the question of what it means to be human in an alternative or a futuristic universe where humanity is entirely digitalized. (Courtesy of Morgan Mueller)

Email Megan at [email protected]

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