Monday, 31 January 2011

My first installation, argh!

I've recently been asked to help build an interactive projecting installation for a museum in the UK (can't say much more about it for now, but it's a well-known art museum in Liverpool, you work it out!).

The brief is to come up with a way of letting users comment on the exhibition interactively, and to display that information to other visitors in an interesting way. The plan is to have one machine dedicated to user input (hopefully a touch-screen), and then another machine hooked up to a projector in the venue that will have an animating display showing loads of live data, that contantly checks through user's comments and displays them nicely. I'll be using AIR for both parts, and some sort of database solution to store the info (I might even grab tweets from a dedicated Twitter feed too, if there's enough interest).

This is a really nice example of what I'm seeing in my head, although this one is A) webcam enabled, and B) completely bloody amazing. Still:

Nike NO MORE TALK from seeper on Vimeo.


It's an interesting challenge anyway, and something I've got no experience in doing really. I'm quite excited to be involved though, but it means I'm going to have to really think hard about how I go about doing it. My work is usually online, or given to reps, or installed on computers. Having my work displayed in public for a few weeks where large numbers of people are going to screw with it presents it's own set of issues for me. Like these:

Potential Issue #1: Idiots. 
Idiots love to break lovely things like the thing I want to make. By this, I mean typing "cock" instead of a name, or sneakily quitting the app, or somehow trying to break it, whatever. I need to bear in mind that while writing "cock" as a username isn't the end of the world on a website, projecting it onto the wall at a busy art exhibition might be slightly more of an issue. I think that the museum setting means that this sort of sabotage is probably slightly less likely to occur than say, if it was in the middle of a street, but regardless: this thing needs to be completely twat-proof. My data will probably be stored remotely (a really simple mySQL type deal), which means that I could give staff at the museum the power to delete any offensive comments that slip through the net.

Potential Issue #2: Technology.
The program will be running for long stretches of time, which means that I really need to know that if things go wrong, I've got some sort of backup. My plan is to have the two machines hooked up to a network, but at the moment I think it'll be wirelessly. That means that if the wireless drops out for some reason, I need to know my program won't shit the bed and break completely. I think I'm going to have rolling checks at regular intervals that will grab any new comments from the database, and copy them to a local source which will then be used to power the projection content. This means that I can do a check for connection before each update attempt, and if none is found then it's not the end of the world and the program will keep running.

Potential Issue #3: Setting.
This is the first piece of work I've ever done that is location-dependent. How and where it's installed, and on what kit, is going to have a pretty huge effect on the end product. This means that I need to get in there with a camera and figure out where and how I'm deploying it, before I do anything else. There's even been talk of projecting onto a none-flat surface (maybe having raised sections to project individual quotes on to), which would be great, but is a lot more involved. We'll see what happens with that though.

So yes, I'm very excited, and can't wait to get stuck into tackling this thing. Once I get a proper working prototype down I'll probably update again with how it's going.

This should either be a really positive learning experience for me, or a massive and spectacular failure. Luckily, I'm an optimist prime. :)

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