An interaction

Review by Catherine Turnbull for Northings,
Arts & Culture in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland
"There was a strange creature as the focus of an interactive art installation. On the screen was projected a prehistoric sea creature called a Nautilus, which is related to the squid and octopus but has a shell. As people walked into the grain loft of an ancient farm the colour of their clothing was picked up by a camera and the data streamed onto the shell. The effect as the colours built up over the days in a triptych arrangement was similar to the luridness of thermal imaging, with features reminiscent of mountain ranges, coral and sea against a shore. As I approached wearing a borrowed bright red coat the creature's tentacles waved more excitedly. Participants were thrilled by the experience of contributing to the week-long residency by artists Genetic Moo through interacting with the nautilus and through children's workshops."

 

Background

The Nautilus was created as part of a residency for Land Art Papay Westray. We visited this remote Orkney island last summer (2011) to show some work and talk to the locals and collect samples including several small spiral shells. We decided we wanted to make a durational piece which would change over the course of the week in response to the activity of the users.

The theme of the festival was repetition, self transformation and myth and we came across Olaf Stapledon's science fiction novel 'Star Maker' which got us thinking about Nautiloids (evolved boat creatures), Deep Time and 'living fossils' such as the Nautilus which appears relatively unchanged over 400 million years. We had previously tried out some experiments at Exploding Cinema with falling sand particles creating strata of coloured information and we combined all these ideas into a new durational piece.

The Nautilus would build up layers of activity over the course of the week runnig several hours each day, so it made sense that the piece recorded its own changes over time. Self documenting worked really well, with the program capturing a screen grab once each minute. When played back at one frame per second they create an instant video record of the event.

 

Day 2

Day 4

Technical description

Hardware · Laptop, projector, Logitech Webcam

Software · Processing

Projection surface · Back Projection. Lycra screen

Nature of interaction · Colour sensing (unencumbered)

A large white lycra screen (5m*2m) was suspended from floor to ceiling in a darkened space. A webcam was attached above the screen. A lightbulb was attached in front of the screen and above the audience. It had a shield so that light would fall on the users and not the screen.

When a user enters the space a webcam picks up their image which can be seen screen right. Bright colours will be recognised by the program and turned into a stream of 'sand' pixels which flow to the left and form sand piles in the central part of the screen. These naturally erode over time to form geological like formations. To the left of the triptych is the Nautilus dreamily unconcerned with the fleeting interactive goings on to its right. This piece has been constructed to work with multiple users and will also respond to placed coloured objects.