In order to distill my thesis project I had to break it down into several components: objects, markers, media, interaction, lighting, and the cabinet itself. I decided that I wanted a mix of objects that were both curated and that belonged to the participants, so I sent an email to the class requesting that they bring an object they considered, “sacredly-mundane or mundanely-sacred.” I then went back and forth on whether or not to put the fiducial markers on the objects themselves or to place them on tiles of glass, but ended up going with the latter. Due to the time constraints, the media and lighting were pushed toward the end of my production process. I spent a lot of time thinking about the interaction design and the story of the cabinet, which unfortunately delayed my time working on the media and visualizations.
I have mixed feelings about how the demo of my two-week thesis went. Of course, with interactive installations it’s hard to predict what folks will do especially in a more exploratory experience, but I feel like it was not at all what I expected. To summarize: I presented participants with a large box that contained a journal and a small cactus. I let them know that going forward, I would only be speaking Spanish and that if they had questions then I could answer them (in Spanish only).
My first mistake was bringing them the box outside of the installation itself, as it effectively separated them from the cabinet and core part of the experience. I guess I expected folks to take the box with them to the cabinet without any instruction: wrong. The box itself was incredibly distracting because participants initially placed their objects inside of it instead of the cabinet. I was hoping that they would dialogue about the objects that each of them brought or perhaps exchange them, but they just went straight into the box. They were definitely curious to examine what as already inside the box versus the other objects that people had brought, but unfortunately they did not talk about anything.
Once they finished examining the contents of the box, the cabinet felt like a seperate, secondary experience. I tried to rejoin the experience by bringing the box closer to the cabinet, but that didn’t quite work. I was hoping they would decipher the three pages with glyphs inside the journal, but they paid little attention to those and instead asked if they could go near the cabinet. Despite the failure of the journal, it seemed like folks were curious about the foreign glyphs projected onto the cabinet, and there was a desire to understand this other world. Someone commented that it was almost as though the script was from, “the language of an immigrant,” or another culture that they wanted to understand. I am really glad that they felt that because I was interested in creating this foreign space that was magical, but didn’t feel too out of this world. It was also an interesting comment because I felt like it reflected a bit of my artistic identity: my fascinations with other-worldliness and wanting to bring people from different backgrounds together in a form of collective understanding.
Someone else noted that there was a disconnect between the objects that people brought and the TUIO QR codes. Namely because the codes were on glass tiles and not on the objects themselves, and that the media felt disjointed from the objects that people had brought. The former was a product of my fascination with glass objects, and because I thought people wouldn’t want to put stickers on the things they had brought. I also suspected that I wouldn’t yet be able to curate the projected media to meaningfully reflect the objects themselves (besides perhaps triggering a webcam).
Thankfully the request for participants to bring something, “sacredly-mundane or mundanely-sacred,” came through in the the presentation of the objects in the cabinet. One participant said the objects were not particularly astounding and somewhat mundane, but the placement of the objects in the cabinet did feel significant, and sacred in a way. Someone else felt like they needed to put their object in the cabinet as a gesture or an offering since they received that previous email invitation. I am glad that they remembered the email because some other folks had totally forgotten it. If I could do the project again, I would definitely try to contextualize the experience and remind participants about the email. I would also get rid of the box, and present the journal inside of the installation itself.
I am still reflecting on this experiences as I don’t think it was an accurate representation of my thesis, but do think it was a great exercise in rapid prototyping. I learned quite a bit observing everyone interacting with the objects and with the cabinet, and think that I need to experiment with a set of instructions or rules for interaction. I think I need to dive a bit deeper into the work of the Situationists and from Augusto Boals’ Games for Actors & Non-Actors. I also need to start thinking more critically about the media and what the connections will be between the objects and audio/visuals. I keep circling back to this notion of play therapy and social interactions, but I am not yet sure how it will unfold. This project partially reinforced the idea of a wunderkammer as my thesis project, but more and more I am finding that the individual components of a cabinet of curiosity are interesting to me, but I am not sure yet of the relationship between the markers, the media, and the objects in the cabinet. I am also still ruminating on how the demo reflects on my artistic identity. If I look back at the four words that we each started the quarter with -- mine being, surreal, spiritual serendipitous, systematic -- I feel that the demo did manage to encompass some of those adjectives. What they mean for me as an artist?
To be continued.