Video 1: Who is Tom Barker?
Interviewer: Your work is creative and innovative. How did your background lead you to where you
are now?
Tom: Well, if I go back a long way I guess when I was a kid I was always playing with construction
sets, I used to play with Lego a lot and gradually I got interested in science. My parents used to take
me to a lot of art shows and I can remember as a kid going down to the south of France we used to
go and see works by Picasso, by Leger. And for me it was quite natural for the science and the art to
be kind of fused together and that’s really the route that I’ve taken both in my learning and in my
practice which has eventually led to the ‘Janus’ piece.
When I left school I studied engineering and then I worked for a computer company for a little bit,
then I went back to college, did a Masters in industrial design, then I went to practice in a
architectural practice and in fact it was Arup’s that built the Sydney Opera House, although that was
before my time that was 1956, I’m a little bit younger than that.
Then, after that I went back to college again and studied architecture. So, I’ve been through a
number of disciplines and I guess that the way my work has evolved is that it’s tended to draw on all
of those different characteristics. It doesn’t mean to say I can do all the work but it does mean that
when I need to go and get help I can go and see those different people.
And when I studied you know I was at college in the 80s, 90s the disciplines tended to be much more
distinct and so if you wanted to do multidisciplinary work it was quite complicated you had to go and
see the different departments et cetera, et cetera. I think these days courses are much more flexible
and people get a broader education so it’s a little bit easier.
And I'm always trying to provoke people to keep learning. The thing I really hate is when people say
"Oh, you know, I'm so glad I left school because I really hated learning." Yeah, well school learning is
hard you know and it's unnatural. But learning because you're getting problems thrown at you and
you're having to think of creative solutions is actually very enjoyable.
© DET 2010
Video 2: Janus
Interviewer: How would you describe ‘Janus’ and the concept behind the project?
Tom: Well, the name ‘Janus’ firstly comes from a Roman God, he was a god with two faces and the
reason we call it ‘Janus’ is because we’re interested in exploring the extreme emotions of the people
of Sydney. The idea behind ‘Janus’ was to investigate, basically making an interactive artwork that
would allow people in the city of Sydney to communicate and see how that communication was
affecting the piece.
So, we looked at a number of technologies, we looked at a number of ways that could be done and
in the end we settled upon the idea of a giant face which could reflect the emotions of the people in
the city. That really became the building block and after that it was a question of ‘Well, what sort of
technology could we use to do that?’ ‘How could we implement it?’ ‘How could the internet
contribute to the work etc, etc?’
And obviously it was a piece that was designed to go into a light festival so we knew that light was
going to be an important part of what we were going to do. So the concept really is ‘Well, how can
we get people’s emotions into an artwork and how can that artwork reflect those emotions?’
So, what we’re doing is we’re inviting people to send their photos from a mobile phone or from a
computer to our website and the website accumulates all of the different emotions and then at
periods of about thirty minutes the system works out which emotion is dominant and then that gets
put onto the face as an animation. Once that’s run for a little while it resets the system and then
another emotion gets a chance to have a look in. And what we’re finding is most people in Sydney
tend to be quite cheerful or happy which is nice.
© DET 2010
Video 3: Generating ideas
Interviewer: What techniques do you use when you’re generating and developing your ideas and
what role does collaboration play?
Tom: When I’m generating ideas, well one of the first things I do is I try and put my mind in a space
where I’m not thinking about other problems, other projects. So giving my head a bit of space is
important and going and sitting somewhere quietly with the other people involved. So, initially there
were two of us that had to come up with the main idea so we put ourselves in a coffee shop with
some pieces of paper and some pencils and we just chatted about what our aspirations might be,
what we were thinking of doing.
The way I tend to generate ideas is initially to think about what would be a good outcome personally
as opposed to what the concept should be. And then we start thinking about how to frame that. So,
in this instance we knew we wanted something that would be interesting for the people of Sydney
and we wanted them to be able to interact with it.
Personally, it was my first project in Sydney, I just moved over from the UK just six months before so
it was important for me personally to do something that was interesting and I guess not too
disastrous because otherwise I’d burnt my boats.
And we were sitting down brainstorming, sketching, bouncing ideas around, it’s not a very linear
process, we tend to play a lot, there’s a lot of ‘stream of consciousness’. If you’re too rigorous about
it and you get too stressed and then it’s actually quite hard to come up with creative ideas. So, we
played around a lot and we had a number of ideas which were completely crazy and we eventually
settled on something that was still quite exciting but we had a feeling that we could make it work.
And one of the things that I do at University of Technology, Sydney where I’m a professor, is I bring
students to work on my projects. So, for example ‘Janus’ had about fifteen undergraduate students
working on it for a couple of weekends and they had a lot of fun and it was great for us as well
because we get ideas from the students. And one of the things that is kind of interesting about
students is you have a lot of creativity, you don’t necessarily have the experience to follow things
through. As you get older you get more resistant to ideas and you get worried about risk and that
kind of thing so having kids around saying ‘Well, why not, why not try that?’ is a really good way of
actually pushing things forward.
© DET 2010
Video 4: From submission to finished product
Interviewer: You’ve made an innovative project happen on a small budget and a tight timeframe.
Can you run through the steps in which you went from the submission to the end product?
Tom: Yeah sure. When we heard the project had been successful, the first thing I did was I brought
together the team - there were about five people working on this to discuss all the details for the
planning, for the materials, all different components and who was going to do what. The budget was
quite small so we had to be quite careful not to overspend in all these different areas.
And what we did was we did the plan, everyone went off, they came up with their own ideas, we
also focused on using components of technology that already existed and putting them together in
an innovative way because if we innovated everything then we knew we’d never get the project
finished on time. So, for example some of the face recognition software, some of the internet web
software was already in existence but we joined it all up to make our new piece. And then going
forward we had to be careful with the time scale, we had to make sure that the materials were
It took us quite a while to find the lighting components from a supplier in Australia that wasn’t too
expensive. It all takes time and with a project like this, it’s a big rush to get it ready for just a couple
of weeks. So, we had two challenges with that, one was you want to get it so that it works as well as
possible and doesn’t fall down, hurt anybody but the other thing is you can’t make it too expensive,
too permanent because the budget was just too small.
I think for us the measurement of success is whether when you go back and look at the original
specification of the project whether or not you’ve met the main objectives and for us we knew this
was successful when people were stopping in the street, taking photos of it, they were talking to
each other about it, they were emailing their faces on the internet. This kind of thing can only be
measured in terms of whether or not you’re getting good audience engagement and participation
and we certainly were getting that so, we felt that was good. Technically we met all our objectives so
it was definitely working, it was doing all the things we wanted it to do.
© DET 2010