Projects: Personal/Allotment/Allotment 4

A view of 1 side of the space, showing the main projection on to black gauze

Allotment 4 is the second Allotment project I was involved in. The over-arching theme was Cyberspace and Social Networking. There was an open call for submissions from artists who had worked on the previous Allotment incarnations.

I initially proposed a large-scale shared text adventure game (Zork), using Twitter technology. In fact I developed this to a proof of concept state - users could use their smartphone to send messages to a custom Twitter account and could affect the outcome of the game. However for admin/practical reasons it wasn't possible to organise any kind of internet connectivity to the space. So a rethink was required. I hope to realise the Twitter Zork piece elsewhere in the future.

Due to the lack of internet, I chose to engineer a 'closed social network' - users could join a local WIFI network and send messages to a giant screen within the space. The screen displayed a realtime 3D scale wireframe scene of the real space - a representation of the space within the space. As users post messages, an 'avatar' figure appears within the scene representing their presence, and the 3D camera pans tracks and zooms around the scene to frame each poster. John Butler built the 3D people used in the main server app. The piece is named NATTER (Nifty Allotment Tiny Textual Expression Relay) and the client aesthetic clearly references Twitter. It wasn't intended to be taken too seriously...

This entire setup was created on, and ran live on, a MacBook Pro running the server display (screen) software and using Apache server to serve web pages and run PHP scripts (created by Nick Crampsey at JEM). The main server software ran on top of this. A bespoke client was also built to run on 4 identical laptops within the space. These laptops sat on separate plinths and connected to the screen wirelessly, allowing users without smartphones to post messages. The projection was interesting as it was upon a huge sheet of black gauze. This made the text appear to float in space, and was visible from front and back sides.

The piece ended up being a great success - visitors were not scared of voicing their opinions, and several interesting exchanges occurred. I have saved the transcripts from both nights. This technology is totally extensible and could easily be tailored to suit many large-scale sites.

The other smaller piece I submitted for show was named ScanlineConverter. It was simply a video input processor, generating strips of 3D lines which responded to input luminance.  It was built in Processing. It was built upon a routine outlined by Andy Best. I simply enhanced and customised it. The camera was pointed down upon a range of people sitting at tables which created an organic cellular feel to the visuals. Once visitors realised they were feeding back to the screen, they enjoyed experimenting with moving arms and objects around to create patterns.

The words and line illustration seemed to float in space

The laptops were placed on plinths and faced the screen

New provocations appeared every 15 minutes, all evening

4 laptops were scattered throughout the space

The projection filled the space from the top...

... all the way to the floor

A custom web app was designed for smartphone use

Visitors responded to the provocations and created spontaneous conversation

Some people used it to meet up

The scanlineConverter projection hung in darkness above the musician's/DJ area

The mesh warped between shapes generated from the video cameras input

The camera pointed down from the ceiling on to inadvertent bystanders and their tables

Once discovered visitors enjoyed effecting the input