Networked Multiuser Art Installation

Fall, 2003

Fujii, Yuriko
Nimoy, Josh
Poochareon, Ann

Japanese Cartoon character teardrop sculptures can be caressed in order to make water stop streaming from their eyes. The teardrop sculptures may behave organically, but that's only because they are hooked up to other random public viewers over a network. It's art.

In Japanese, the word naku means to cry, while ku in Chinese also means to cry. In these installations, we address the physical sensations of sadness and comfort by placing anecdotal/artistic visceral interfaces between two types of art viewers: the sad, and the comforter. The two people interact with one another remotely over the Internet, making it possible for the two parts of Ku to be installed in two different locations. Ku is a subjective and personal exploration into one deep emotional state that all humans share. In the first installation, providing material sensory encouragement simulates the experience of crying. In the second installation, artificially emotive sculptures have the ability to dynamically cry -- and be comforted by the physical touch of humans. Such elements in these two installations interact with one another over the network, creating two-way surrogate communication between two humans in a highly personalized fashion.

Human Experience
In the first installation, a person from public is invited to sit down in a chair and put their head through a hole in a constructed divider while willingly tripping a sensor that releases water onto their face for however long they wish. Meanwhile in the second installation, water has begun to flow out of the eyes of five hanging sculptures of anthropomorphized teardrop shapes. These tear sculptures cry in parallel to the pouring water of the first installation. In other words, sitting down to get water in your eyes will cause the teardrop sculptures to cry. Viewers located at the second installation are invited by signage to reach up and pet, stroke, caress, and otherwise touch the crying teardrops in order to stop them from crying. As the tear puppets are calmed to a dryer state, so does the water flow of the first installation; the person on the other side stops experiencing water in their face. In addition, a blanket lowers from above and falls into the person's lap, a networked signal of comfort coming from the compassionate hands of the people at the other installation. All is well.

Background Information
The project was for Networked Objects class, and also received consideration and research in Kinetic Structures class. The concept for the art piece stems from many motivations. We aimed to ponder within the arena of alternative communications technology -- particularly responding to the human confusion caused by today's overwhelming and clouding of communications technologies. We also aimed to create a gallery art piece whose concept really pops at numerous levels (and in numerous locations).
Technical System
Hand-programmed microprocessors are embedded ubiquitously into each installation, controlling a water valve with running tap, a water pump, a force sensing resistor, and several charge-transfer touch & proximity sensors. The two installations talk to one another through a TCP/IP network and require two IP addresses from a network administrator - or they can be hooked up in isolation from the Internet with a dedicated hub or router.

Click the image on the left to enlarge