Meet Lark Buckingham: Critical Design

26 May, 2016

Meet Lark Buckingham: Critical Design

Animator, filmmaker, performance artist, designer, tinkerer, activist, and data scientist, Lark Buckingham is a versatile and multidisciplinary provocateur.

Growing up, Lark excelled at math and science. However, she realized early on that her interest was not “in the pursuit of the concrete,” but rather in using her technical and analytic ability towards creative processes. At Harvard, she continued to explore hard sciences and computing, but embarked upon the study of film as well. While taking courses in film production, Lark discovered and fell in love with animation, “the perfect blend of calculation and creativity.”

Upon graduating, Lark undertook a career in nonprofit television broadcasting before turning to motion graphics. At the same time, she began to dedicate creative energy to music and performance, playing the clarinet, keyboard, bass guitar, and electronic tambourine in several experimental and improvisational bands. Around 2010, she started to perform solo and incorporated non-musical elements into her set, including lectures, literature, time-based sculpture, ventriloquism, and video projections. Increasingly, Lark’s work focused on the ways in which technology mitigates the human experience and, in turn, our identities.

To further investigate technology’s evolving role in our lives, Buckingham decided to pursue an MFA in Art Practice at the epicenter of the tech world: UC Berkeley.

During her MFA study, Buckingham has produced several works which combine her fascination with the electromagnetic potential of the human heart, data visualization, and the challenges of privacy and tech entrepreneurship. Tattletale Heart acts as a heart rate mood ring, interpreting the user’s heart rate and creating verbal descriptions of the user’s emotional state which are displayed on the user’s online feed on the device. The device also presents animations and allows users to play games – all at the pace of the user’s heartbeat. Babump, meanwhile, appears to be a business card holder, but actually works as a cardiovascular monitor, detecting heart rates on compatible devices and using the data to analyze people’s moods at the same time as its camera identifies facial micro-flushes, which indicate changes in emotion.

Both devices explore some of the uncomfortable consequences of the information age. Tattletale Heart pokes fun at our almost compulsory social media over-sharing while also highlighting how intimate information about our bodies and lives can be exposed online. Babump questions the kind of information access authority figures can and should have into the lives of employees and ordinary citizens and what privacy means in the age of big data.

Neither device is presented as an art piece or with the didacticism of a formal installation. Lark instead introduces the projects as products from a start-up, using the marketing language and “social location” of such organizations as a medium to allow the audience or consumers themselves to critique the tech culture in which we live. Taking advantage of the ambiguity of the devices, Lark is able to explore how our enthusiasm for Silicon Valley start-ups could lead an eager public into a dystopic future.

But Lark is no luddite. She is deeply aware of the positive impact technology can have and harnesses its power in her critical designs to serve populations in need. Recently, she received a CITRIS Foundry grant to create Meeglo with Janine Heiser. Meeglo assists people in deep-breathing exercises. The device seeks to help people working through mental health issues and emotional trauma find ways to control their heart rate using the tangible object’s color coded readings. Lark will soon be launching Meeglo on the market, while also developing her senior thesis project which will explore more deeply the interplay between technology and humans as well as her other work on sexuality, intersectional identity, and sexual violence in a “queer speculative fiction” film. More on this later!