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Aaron Steed

F.wish is a new online project commissioned by Folly by Boredom Research based on the Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees. In Hong Kong near the Tin Hou Temple you can visit these trees, write your wish on a “bao die”, tie it to an orange and throw it up into the branches. If your wish is caught in the branches it is said to come true. The tree used to be a camphor tree where a tablet for worshipping Pak Kung was placed before it withered and became hollow. The myth goes that a worshiper prayed to the tree to fix his son who was slow in learning. The granted wish led to many more wishes being made of the tree.

F.wish has the same warm and friendly characteristics of all of Boredom Research’s work. Processing has not so much changed the style of their work but added to it allowing a greater amount of diversity than what is possible using Director, which although respected has been shied into being seen as a multimedia presentation platform that lacks the support of Java and Flash, especially on the internet. Some of the animated elements in f.wish move with a fluidity this author knows very well: the increasingly popular physics library for Processing. The “bao die” have been given a playful elastic nature and the text seems to drift in a blow away delightfully. I sent some questions to Boredom Research about their new piece and they were kind enough to give me some very exhaustive replies.

FF: Have you been to Hong Kong then? Or perhaps did this come out of some other kind of research?

BR: We visited Hong Kong in August 2006 during which time we were developing the Folly project. The premise at this time was a landscape as a contemplative space for users to explore. Also, we had been researching the eastern practice of Omikuji which are random fortunes written on strips of paper or ribbon found around shrines often on trees. And the perhaps similar custom of writing a prayer on a specially-prepared wooden block called an Ema which is then tied to an ad hoc scaffold. We became interested in how these ritual environments were carefully arranged in an attempt to be conducive to losing yourself in thought and contemplation.

Our Hong Kong travel agent became immediately besotted with our two year old’s golden curls and clung to us with the vigour of a very hungry leach. In-between telling us that he, as he pronounced it, would “like to bitch him” he also gave us the hard sell on their key tourist attractions. The Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees were on his list. When we realized that “bitch” was “bite” badly pronounced and hopefully, meant metaphorically, we relaxed and looked at the brochure. We wanted Folly’s online environment to be a space where a visitor would not feel prohibited to leave a message or explore. So when we read about the Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees we immediately became inspired by this notion. The trees have motivated millions of people worldwide to visit and leave their desires hanging from the branches.

On our return, we started researching the history of the wishing trees – a Banyon tree is very sacred in South Asia and over the years they have been renowned as attractive meeting places for village communities. Hence, the Banyon tree name originates from “banias” (merchants who used to do business under the shade of the trees.)

It was also the aesthetics of the Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees that appealed to us, the paper that hangs from the branches is a deep crimson colour and when the tree is laden with wishes they take on a magical form – its like the tree is blossoming with peoples wishes. We were keen to recreate this beauty within our online environment.

FF: I’m betting it’s been put together in Processing. I recognise some of those physics simulations in f.wish. Does f.wish use traer.physics or are you using stuff of your own.

BR: F.wish has been produced in Processing & yes we did use the traer.physics library.
Which to our untrained eye looks like every other we have seen, so, we’re not sure how you can tell. We wrote our own to do the particle bit but springs became a problem. Could be because we didn’t have a 4th order Runge-Kutta integrator and as we have no idea what a 4th order Runge-Kutta integrator is we used Traer.

We also used Michael Chang’s Vector Library and a script that I think was modified from Yonas Sandbæk savetoweb and hashVec by Flux. The java applet communicates to a PHP script which writes the wishes to a MySQL database.

FF: Do you draw those nice backgrounds yourself or are they generative?

BR: We built all the software in Processing to generate the plant form and the text ribbon.

We did spend sometime playing around with other software which could create plant-forms i.e. ContextFree and TreeGenerator but they failed to give us the gnarly qualities we were looking for.

The tree is grown using the principles of an L-system but built around periodic oscillations modulated to a fixed number each new branch is spawned at the angle of the last branch section + 180 degrees + a fraction of the branch length. Branch sections are added with a scaled rotational increment.

The ribbon was drawn by hand using a multi line tool we made in processing (it took many attempts before we got the one we used.)

FF: Did you approach Folly or did Folly approach you? ?

BR: Folly originally approached us, they were keen to commission some artists to produce a work that would utilise their data management system. Folly’s primary interest was to further develop an online audience. We immediately started to think about online forums and how they are good illustrations of a process where threads develop over time. However our interactions and experience of them are experientially impoverished; focused entirely around efficiency and functionality. Despite this focus they soon become overblown and difficult to manage and navigate.

F.wish is really only a sketch. The full project will extend upon f.wish as a multi-user navigable landscape that explores the ground between standard computer gaming models and traditional forms of artistic representation. We hope that this investigation might lead to a way of navigating the potentially unruly space of an online forum in a way that is both conducive to consideration and comment as well as responding to our inbuilt ability to navigate by landmarks.

FF: Any other work on the horizon?

BR: apart from the above mention extension of f.wish and realSnailMail ( which we hope to be operational early next year we are working on a new body of work that continues where we left of with “Ornamental Bug Garden 001” Moving from lingo to Processing has profoundly changed the creative possibilities for us and we are very excited to be re-engaging with this work.