The Yellow Wallpaper

Production design for a distributed reading of ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’, a short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The reader’s voice, and intention, interacts with the pattern of the titular paper. This project uses speech recognition via Wit.ai, audio input from the reader’s laptop and osc messaging from a touch screen mobile device.

Introduction.

The Yellow Wallpaper is a short story told from the perspective of a woman who is convalescing following an unspecified illness and the birth of her son. As she grows more isolated, she begins to notice increasingly sinister patterns appearing in the wallpaper of her room. This work by American writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman, was first published in January 1892, and is now in the public domain. The video above is an excerpt of the longer text, which runs to about 20 minutes when read aloud. In order to exhibit the range of interaction with the wallpaper, I have truncated what would be quite a slow burning set of visual cues. All visuals and transitions were written in c++ using OpenFrameworks, with speech recognition via Wit.ai enabled with python scripting.

Technical.

Wit.ai
The readers voice interacts with the ‘wallpaper’ code in a number of ways. The most subtle interaction, and the most technically challenging, involved transitioning from one set of images and colour palette to another, based on the content of the readers speech. This involves taking a short recording of the reader’s voice and this as an http POST request to Wit.ai. Wit.ai then return a transcript of the text, along with any ‘entities’ it’s trained to recognise. In this case it was trained to recognise sentiment, and returns value indicating whether the recorded speech was ‘positive’, ‘negative’ or ‘neutral’. 

After struggling significantly with posting audio streams in C++, I ended up writing a script in Python. The script records and POSTs the http request detailed above. The response is then converted to JSON, parsed and saved as a text file. My openFrameworks programme then reads this file, extracts the response and uses it to trigger the change in colour palette. 

The image below illustrates the ‘Positive’ and ‘Negative’ color palettes. 

posNeg
2020-05-07 (11)

This image shows the Python script running and writing the response to file. The openFrameworks console shows the the sentiment of the statement, in this case ‘neutral’, which is stored as a variable and printed. It then tries to delete the file – returning an error if the file has already been consumed.

Audio in
Other graphics are manipulated using the audio inputted through the reader’s laptop microphone. The volume of speech is extracted, and used to change the parameters of certain shapes in real time, as the image below illustrates.

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OSC messaging
Although my intention was to have all scene transitions be dictated by voice, speech recognition was too unpredictable to rely on fully. In order to have more nuanced control of transitions during performance, I also used OSC messaging to allow me to make finer changes to the scene.

OSC

Reflections.

This work was originally conceived as a live performance, to be seen in a physical space.  Following the restrictions imposed on movement earlier in 2020, I made the decision to try and adapt my production design for web. I think was ambitious and somewhat successful, however although I had intended to create an experience which was specifically designed for web, I do recognise that as a performance the reading may have been more engaging in person as originally envisioned. I also struggled with the Python scripting (I had never used Python prior to this project) so long that I wish I had spent more time on making the work more varied over time.

References.

Text
The Project Gutenberg eBook of The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (no date). Available at: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/1952/1952-h/1952-h.htm (Accessed: 7 May 2020).

Code

Audio input example, openFrameworks example sketch

indianpythonista (2017) ‘Speech Recognition using Wit.ai’, Indian Pythonista, 10 April. Available at: https://indianpythonista.wordpress.com/2017/04/10/speech-recognition-using-wit-ai/ (Accessed: 7 May 2020).

The Ultimate Guide To Speech Recognition With Python – Real Python (no date). Available at: https://realpython.com/python-speech-recognition/ (Accessed: 7 May 2020).

C++ addons
ofxDelaunay
ofxOpenCv
ofxOsc

Textures
Concrete 2, and Soft Wallpaper by Atle Mo via https://www.transparenttextures.com/

Font
Redruth’s Basement Software, Fountain Pen Frenzy, (c) 2001 RBS, Freeware

_carpet_weavers

Carpet Weavers is an installation which consists of a projection mapped on to a physical object – a pile of cardboard cubes. This work was exhibited in January 2020, as part of Push Pop Repeat, a showcase of MA Computational Art student works.

My art practice is generally very conceptual, and can be quite sombre in tone. For this project I wanted to push my comfort zone aesthetically as well as technically, and have a bit of fun with it. I set about trying to create a series of graphic patterns which complemented and augmented a boxy structure. I chose to use a pallet of vibrant, at times inharmonious colours. I hoped this would arrest attention and that the colours would translate well to projection. Predictably, when installed there was some colour bleaching and at certain points the area around the structure was more brightly lit than I would have wanted.

https://giphy.com/embed/ehCK8KfJ6vT1DkvC2D

The structure of the boxes was intentionally haphazard, and the final structure was confirmed on the day of installation. Although we didn’t plan the precise arrangement of boxes ahead of time, we knew we wanted the structure to have a tangible depth and physical presence. The intention of this was to foreground the mapped images, rather than the structure.

https://giphy.com/embed/h4NH6bQ1AhnfNL6tkq

The overall look I was trying emulate was a combination of 1960’s textile design, science fiction and kitsch. I referred to the work of op artists including Victor Vasarely and Bridget Riley, and fashion houses/designers including Mary Quant and Marimekko. The inspiration for the individual patterns themselves initially came from textures I observed in everyday objects – the texture of a fibreglass suitcase, a carpet in a pub, a gif of a candle lid under a ceiling fan. I would then set about reverse engineering the patterns with OpenFrameworks. I maintained a cohesive aesthetic by using a specific colour pallet, and reusing the grid structure. This in turn reflected the textile designs to which I was referring. The piece ends with a scene of a cluster of points moving in space, with stars slowly blinking in the background. This is intended as an explicit nod to science fiction, and a design aesthetic that’s both futuristic and retro.

https://giphy.com/embed/YnAIkkoooxnqf0dkOO

I am happy with my work but I think if I were to do this project again, I would draw less granular patterns as some of the detail was lost when translating from a screen to a projector. Although I hoped to keep the audience’s attention with transitions and scene changes, some of the patterns were quite static, so I would incorporate more exaggerated movement. I did try to push myself technically by creating lots of patterns and scene changes. However, my confidence has increased significantly in the short time since writing the code for this assignment. Therefore somewhat conversely, if I were to start this project again, I would focus more on creating an elegant and succinct work – rather than stress out about my visuals being too simplistic.

https://giphy.com/embed/ckqXCnPoMfShbF84uc

Music Credit, sro – Self Driving CC BY-SA 4.0 Creative Commons License

ofxPiMapper – openFrameworks Addon, Krisjanis Rijnieks 2019

Evil twin; using technical critical practice to create a disobedient object.

A ‘disobedient object’ subverts the material or functional qualities of a familiar object in order to communicate a particular, often political, message. Typically, these objects are dopplegangers of everyday/ubiquitous items (the clock, the bra). A ‘disobedient object’, a trickster twin, uses its appearance of ubiquity to belie its radical intentions, while acknowledging the original object’s existing web of relations.

‘Disobedient objects’ may be badly behaved in that they do not perform their function as expected. Or else they may behave in exactly the way they were intended; but are used in a subversive context – i.e. as a tool of disobedience. Often made in resistance to an established process or system, the disobedient object’s objecthood sets useful boundaries for it’s maker/artist. By imposing a limitations – insisting the object is physical – its creator is forced to distill the message to a pithy, memorable phrase.

As the disobedient object is often to a reaction to a systemic condition, the ideal space for the object to be found is in the space where the symptoms of the condition are also observed. For example, an object commenting on conditions of working life, would be found in the workplace rather than in an art institution or gallery context.

Using technical critical practice, the conceptualisation of disobedient object can evolve through the scrutiny of an authoritative or political process. I attempted this recently with colleagues. We began by choosing to interrogate the online status icon – a digital artifact which lets an individual’s contact know they are online and indicates whether or not they are available to talk. Once we had scrutinised the technical, discursive and social aspects of this artifact, we then dreamt up our own version of its naughty twin.

Mapping of the social, technical and discursive aspects of an online status icon.
Example of Facebook chat online icon – the green dot, with contact details obscured.

The most significant aspects, as we identified them, were as follows:

  1. The colour scheme of the icon mimics the traffic light system– red == unavailable, green == available. These signifiers have their roots in industry – specifically the rail/automotive industries in the West.
  2. Social expectation of availability and the subsequent development of new digital social etiquette have changed as consequence of the immediacy and inexpensive nature of internet communication.
  3. There has become a blurring of personal, industrial, local and global temporalities.
  4. We experience multiple presences (for instance I am here typing, I am having a conversation which has lasted a whole day on Whatsapp, and one that’s been going on for years on facebook and I am present for them all), which contributes to an…
  5. Altered sense of immediacy, change in temporality (a life lived in multiple timelines [1]).

We each felt that these observations gave legitimacy to the latent dislike we all felt towards the online icon – although we had not been cognisant of them before the exercise. We merely felt a directionless unease with the idea of tracked through our app usage.

We considered a number of different ways to subvert the icon – for example creating an add-on which makes it appear as if you are logging on and off continuously, obscuring your real presence. However, the solution we felt most expressed our distaste for being categorised as ‘online’ or ‘offline’, was the substitution of the status icon with a multicoloured ‘disco’ ball (we image via an add-on). The ball would appear as many colours simultaneously, obscuring the users activities while acknowledging the fact we are all simultaneously online, offline, away, at the gym, seen 32 mins ago…

[1] http://dismagazine.com/discussion/78352/the-terror-of-total-dasein-hito-steyerl/

Minutes of the Meeting & Winnie Soon

Image: Winnie Soon in collaboration with  Helen Pritchard

Title: Recurrent Queer Imagainaries
Year of production: 2019 (forthcoming)
Medium: Installation


Following last week’s research and theory lecture, the group converged to discuss potential next steps for the Computational Arts Research project.

In terms of the subject of our research topic, we concluded that investigating sound in an environmental context was a useful point from which to start our research journey. We had been intending to focus on the idea of the cellular as metaphor for describing the macro in terms of health (bodily health as a description of environmental health). However, we found this focus was potentially too expansive and we feared without more specialist medical/biological knowledge we might make unfounded assumptions or sweeping statements.

We decided that the essential questions at this stage are:

a.    What is sound ‘pollution’ and how is it classified as such?

b.    How does sound effect us in ways that are invisible/we are not aware?

These questions allow us to approach a range of sub-questions in a way which does not prescribe our findings (i.e. how is sound quantified? What is good sound v bad sound, and for whom? What is our own understanding of these concepts given we are in London, all are hearing able etc).

At the next meeting the members will discuss their findings and understanding of these questions in the context of the environment, but also in terms of technology/computation. It may be worth identifying key findings which are particularly surprising before the meeting.

At this point, suggestions for final projects should be considered speculative and meant to spark discussion – unless explicitly stated otherwise. We agree at this stage we should not commit to make a specific work but rather see what emerges through collaboration.

The lecture led by Winnie Soon was particularly emboldening from this perspective. Her emphasis on process rather than prescribed outcomes allows the unexpected to potentially enrich rather than derail.

The discussion with Winnie was dense – not in the sense that it was impenetrable, but more that we discussed a lot in a relatively short space of time. This in conjunction with the set reading I’m struggling to fully synthesis all we considered without skimming over quite weighty topics or clumsily paraphrasing. She spoke about her body of work, and how her background as a computer scientist informed her practice and interest in the intersect of the technological and social. We discussed how we might make visible aspects of technology which are mistified or blackboxed. It is this aspect which I feel is key to all of her work and many of the discussions we have in class. We are becoming more consistently aware of technology in relation to transparency, privacy, bias and mythology.

I’m particularly interested in how existing technological structures can be repurposed or subverted. Winnie spoke about her interest in Chinese characters and how their pictorial nature allows writers to layer meaning both in the content of their words but also the form. Soon described how users of the Chinese microblogging site Weibo were circumventing censorship by using characters which visually resembled objects, like 占占人 which resembles tanks approaching a person, a reference to the Tiananmen square protests in 1989, and the famous image of a man standing in the way of tanks.

Even in paradise, I am here.

Ahead of the last research and theory lesson we were asked to choose to bring in an article which reflected our research interests. Upon reflection, the article I chose is about technoscience, but was not necessarily computational as such. I chose, ‘ET IN ARCADIA EGO: ADDRESSING CANCER, DEATH AND IMMORTALITY USING SCIENCE’. The article describes the making of an installation by artist Charlotte Jarvis in collaboration with Hans Clevers and colleagues, molecular geneticists from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. The work involves Jarvis collecting and growing her own malignant cancer cells, which are then are set and displayed as part of a larger work.  

In my own practice I have struggled with being able to adequately describe the experience of having had cancer through my artwork, or represent cancer itself. It would be legitimate to ask why I dwell on this experience, and the truth is I very rarely do think about it. However, a feeling of having been betrayed by your own cells is profoundly strange and I think, interesting. The poet Anne Boyer has compared her experience of breast cancer to that of pregnancyi, and this rings true to me – you are, in both cases, growing something.  

Apart from the technical process of making the installation, Et in Arcadia Ego, I found the repulsion Jarvis expressed in relation to the cells interesting. Despite knowing that the cells are preserved in ethanol and cannot inflict any harm or infect Jarvis in any way, she found they held a ‘talismanic’ power over her:  

‘these parts of me remain incomprehensibly terrible’ 

I don’t think I would find this the case if I were confronted by my own cancer cells. I have, through my practice, attempted to conjure them into being. It wasn’t the cancer I felt betrayed by, it was the body (my body) which created it who I was angry with. And of course, it’s natural I should want to meet my offspring. 


Fig 1. Too many ideas.

Using our research interests as a loose framework we have formed a group. We will, as a group, attempt a piece of practice-based research. After having kicked far too many key words about [fig 1.], we have settled on the idea of researching ‘Cells’. Frankly, we’re not sure what form this is going to take as yet but we are discussing cultures of cells as metaphors for the world/environment. I’m slightly trepidatious about the project – not because of the topic or the group in whom I have great confidence, but rather I’m worried I won’t have and good ideas/anything new to say.  

i Boyer, A. (n.d.). The undying

Wk. 1: A Good Life & Flexing a muscle

I’m less and less sure my decisions are my own. I take the route I’m recommended, I listen to what’s up next. My impulse has been, when cognisant of being manipulated (guided?) in this way, to vow to secede modern life, delete a load of apps and clear some cookies.

It can be a kick in the ego to discover you behaviour, or your even your taste, is not your own. However, I think we can agree it’s futile to try and disavow our symbiotic relationship with technology and ‘the good life’ your way to autonomy. Would you want to if you could?

When reading this week’s set text A fish can’t judge the water’ by Femke Snelting, I was reminded of a work by the technology and design studio IF. The work, Data Licenses, (2015), was displayed as part of ‘Big Bang Data’, a 2014-15 exhibition at Somerset House, London. Visitors to the exhibition were invited to scan objects representing different types of personal data. When an object had been scanned (for example a bank card representing financial transactions), users were given a run down of the risks and benefits of sharing that data – you location may be traceable by using a card on public transport but that data could be used to improve/optimise a public service. Do you opt in? After making a series of these choices the visitor is then given a print out of their ‘licence’ for their records.

As Snelting alludes to in her writing and is implied in the Data Licences, a fuller understanding of the uses of ubiquitous technology grants us the ability to make informed decisions or make radical interventions. Seceding from the network, as I have been inclined in the past, does nothing to stop it functioning. As Laboria Cuboniks state in the Xenofeminist Manifesto, ‘slowing down and scaling back’ to a fictional, simpler time is a privilege few can practically afford.


My first class with Dr Helen Pritchard was reassuring in several ways. My colleagues are clearly very talented and experienced in a variety of fields. I hope to both contribute to and draw from what is clearly a wealth of collective expertise. The text I recommended as a representative of my interests and practice was Art Without Death: Conversations on Russian Cosmism, an edited collection and part of the e-flux book series. Artists and philosophers, including Hito Steyerl, Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi and Anton Vidokle discuss an obscure Russian philosophical movement. A blend of eastern philosophy, the Russian Orthodox church and Marxist ideology the movement is centered on the idea that it is our moral and ethical obligation to work towards permanently curing death, and then reviving all those who have died. Although, these goals may at first appear incredible, they have pervaded within the transhumanist movement. Personally, I am interested in how art in particular could literally, physically heal in a world where access to adequate healthcare is uneven. 


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