The argument over whether games can be art is pretty much over (of course they can), but a new acquisition by New York's Museum of Modern Art raises an interesting iteration of that question: can apps be art?
Well, yes. We've seen more than a few that would qualify; but it's Bjork's groundbreaking experiment Biophilia, an interactive experience designed to accompany her album of the same name, that has received the honour of being the first downloadable app to be inducted into MoMA's collection.
The app, wrote Paola Antonelli, senior curator of the Department of Architecture and Design, is a strong reflection of Bjork's interest in collaborative projects -- not just with the artists, engineers and musicians who helped create Biophilia, but the users who participate in the experience.
Originally launched in July 2011, the app was the first of its kind: an accompaniment to an album by a world-renowned musician, designed to allow users to explore the music more fully through the medium of a touchscreen. Launching the app, users are transported to the Biophilia "galaxy", where flying around the songs, represented by glowing stars, listening to a strange melange of sounds.
Tapping on a song lets you play a minigame related to the song, view an interactive animation, read an analysis of the song, listen to it with an animation, view the lyrics or listen to it while following along with the score.
Each song has a different minigame. In the song "Crystalline", for example, you play a sort of endless runner, tilting your device to collect crystals as you travel through a hexagonal tunnel. On "Moon", you have to rotate strings of pearls curling out from the bone structure of a lower abdomen in order to produce notes. In "Dark Matter", you touch glowing orbs to create different note scales, observing their intersecting lines and the flow between them.
"The scientific term biophilia refers to research that suggests an instinctive biological bond between humans and other living systems. This suggestive link forms a powerful subtext to both the lyrics and visuals of the 10 songs in the app," Antonelli wrote.
"I started thinking about acquiring Biophilia when it was released, in 2011. At that time, a year after the iPad had been introduced, designers and developers were excitedly experimenting with apps that took advantage of a screen bigger than the iPhone. With Biophilia however, Bjork truly innovated the way people experience music by letting them participate in performing and making the music and visuals, rather than just listening passively."