in {cantation} in {translation}


spring open studios

in {cantation} in {translation}

in {cantation} in {translation} is an encounter with a contemporary divination mirror. This immersive installation combines projection mapping with responsive technology to envelope participants in a digital poem of the past, present and future.


Based on the obsidian mirror of pre-columbian Mesoamerica, in {cantation} in {translation} reimagines the practice of scrying through a futuristic oracle. Participants are invited to perform an incantation over the bowl, and learn of the oracle’s memory through short verses of ancient Aztec poems. In pre-Columbian times, mirrors were used as a means to peer into 'other' worlds and to connect with the god, Tezcatlipoca. Obsidian (iztli in Nahuatl) was known as 'the talking stone,' and one of the materials used to make mirrors. These mirrors were used by the Mexica to connect the material world to the ethereal, the mundane with the sacred.

What is the native language of a digital poem?

This piece interprets the history of colonization through the use of three languages: 

  • Nahuatl - the native language of the Mexica and Nahuatl-speaking people indigenous to Mexico

  • Spanish - the language of the European conquistadors who came to the Americas during the age of discovery

  • English - the language I currently use, and spoken predominantly all over the world

The text in Spanish appeared as an intermediary between the Nahuatl and the English to convey the instructions for piece, respira con tus manos. While the Nahuatl came in the form of an ancient glyph that depicts the god, Tezcatlipoca (seen in the center below). Finally, we see an English translation showing verses of Nahuatl poetry. This piece sampled two poems; see one below.

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installation & Development

little system diagram

The initial development for in {cantation} in {translation} spurred from classes that were part of my MFA trajectory. The first class was led by Noah Wardrip-Fruin about playable media, games, and fiction; the second, an independent study with Jennifer Parker on projection mapping for responsive media environments.

My research for this project centered around rituals of scrying, the use of obsidian mirrors in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, and responsive projection mapping with digital sensor technology. I used Derivative TouchDesigner to develop the software for the system, along with a Python extension (thanks Matthew Ragan!), a leap motion sensor and two projectors.

To read more about my preliminary research you can see previous blog posts:

Embedding the Leap motion

The leap sensor was fitted into a laser cut box, that I painted and then placed into a glass bowl filled with obsidian sand, shells and crystals.