Five Reactive Books

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Designer | Artist John Maeda
Year 1993
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When I was just starting out in 1992 to create interactive, or reactive as I dubbed them, graphics, there was a great deal of CD-ROM-based content emerging that seemed to miss the point of computational media. With the digital media publisher Digitalogue, I created 4 books (the 5th never made it to print) that focused upon different aspects of the computer as related to the visual medium.

The first was entitled The Reactive Square released in 1994. The Reactive Square was 10 squares that respond to input from the microphone. After that came Flying Letters in 1995 which used the mouse as input to manipulate typographic marionettes. I then created the series of 12 digital clocks in 1996 entitled, 12 o’clocks that played upon simple graphical time-based behaviors. In 1998, I released Tap, Type, Write as an homage to the typewriter rendered in only black and white. To be released

in 1999 was a piece called Mirror Mirror that used video input as the primary interaction means, but Digitalogue closed its doors in 2000 due to the founding publisher’s illness.

These books are no longer published, and the software exists only in Macintosh format (pre-OS X). They are now in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

I wrote the following text back in 2000-ish about them. Gee, I was so serious back then …

The computer is a multi-dimensional canvas, manifested as projected light or a printed surface, over which we can exercise complete expressive control in one of two ways. First, through some direct physical
means, such as hand-to-mouse, where there is a one-to-one correspondence between our gestures and change on the canvas. This approach is closest to the traditional process of visual expression–applying pigment to paper through physical interaction with the medium–and is thus the most natural of means. On the other hand, there is the decidedly non-physical mean of expression called computation, where a computer program, defined by a programmer/artist, explicitly instructs the canvas on where and how to apply virtual pigments to itself. The artist makes no physical contact with the medium, aside from the process of inscribing the program instructions onto the computer.
In my research, I actively seek to bridge the gap between computational and non-computational expression by designing print-based work which illustrates a sensitivity to the past while embracing the future. However, I also continue to push the envelope of expression with
work created solely for the digital medium. (These two projects were related in chronology, but not in spirit). The Reactive Book series illustrates a union between my endeavors in print and digital media.