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Individual Fancies artwork | video clip (10MB)

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"Individual Fancies" an interactive teatable.

Some new technologies have raised questions of community and communication which amplify current societal issues. Unlike many interactive computer-based pieces, this artwork is designed to be more rewarding when used by more than one person; a piece where the social sharing skills of the audience play a large part.

The artwork presents a minimum of visible technology, an intuitive interaction, and a range of textural pleasures.

The theme:

Of loneliness and isolation, and ways in which people overcome that.

The set-up:

A table with four fixed wooden chairs. Each chair has a pressure sensor to register if someone is sitting on it. The table is covered by a linen cloth and has a large plain teapot in the centre and a cup for each chair. The teapot is on a hidden turntable and can be rotated.

Images are projected downwards by a data projector on to the tabletop. There are speakers in the backs of the chairs, so that voices issue very intimately from the viewers' head-height, and vibrate the chair slightly.

What happens:

The table stands in a warm pool of light, an embroidered pattern (echoing the dot pattern of LCD video projection) projected onto the linen cloth. If nobody sits down, a soft voice invites people to take a seat. If a viewer sits down, then in their place at the table a pair of projected arms appear in slow animation (each seat has a different 'character' which is constant). If only one viewer is at the table then the fingers drum, the voice sighs, and quiet comments suggest obliquely that they invite someone else to sit, even if they are shy.

Only if one or more other viewer(s) sits down can the next 'level' be reached, and the 'conversation' started. By rotating the teapot and 'pouring' the viewers can fill each others' cups by video projection, and then that character starts to reveal things about their isolation, in poetic language, which mirrors each character. They also show objects (snaps, leaflets, toys) and their hands move with the words, revealing their story by a series of clues.

The next 'level' is triggered by further tea pouring by viewers and starts to reveal how the characters overcame their isolation. 'Rewards' of plates of fancy cakes ('individual fancies') appear projected on the table, and the table becomes littered by objects and many voices, the pacing becoming much more upbeat.

If all the characters complete their revelations, then additional visual rewards are triggered, like the figures on the embroidered tablecloth becoming animated, and meeting up together, or the cakes metamorphosing. The characters then invite the actual audience to speak to each other, or tell a story. Perhaps there might be an opportunity for viewers to write 'Wish you Were Here' postcards of their own stories.

The audience can leave or take seats at any time, and the hands leave and progress through their roles at appropriate points.

The Characters:

The four characters who appear at the table represent a range of 'isolations and community' and a range of speech patterns and textures from Scottish to South Asian: including a divorced father, a trade unionist for homeworkers, a victim of crime, an isolated computer worker.

The characters are based on interviews and conversations over many years of my experience of living in post-industrial areas where crime and unemployment is a problem, and my special research into homeworkers. The characters' stories attempt represent a range of experiences of 'community', often ambivalent rather than didactic, ringing changes in ideas of community rather than nostalgically looking back.

Some examples of the revelations from the characters:

Early revelations:

"It's like trying to squash a week's relationship into a weekend. It's like I'm trying to make up for divorce by forcing ice cream down them. It's like trying to shoehorn a whole family into my poky wee bedsit." (Scottish father)
"It's like having a sewing factory in your flat, only with kids, so I do it mostly when they're asleep. It's like sometimes you can just ignore the muggers and the rain outside. It's like the rest of the world washed away sometime and you're up here alone in the sky." (South Asian homeworker)

Later revelations:

"Now we crack on so much the kids call us wifies, but they swop stories too, maybe about their part-time dads. Now they make me do things, those kids, we did pottery with them the other day... looks like it would fall apart doesn't it? But it didn't." (Scottish father)
"Now, we don't meet very often but the meetings make a big difference. Now, we watch out for each other at home too, for burglaries and that, I can see Dilbahar's window from here. Now, working at home you've got to be organised don't you?" (South Asian homeworker)

Equipment needed to show work:

A Mac computer: Quadra or Centris type or better, with at least 16 Mb RAM and 40Mb of free hard disc space.

An LCD data projector and Mac cable, to project downwards onto table top. Image size 1.1metre by 1.1 metre. (This piece is actually better with an LCD than a more expensive CRT type projector.)

Equipment which the artist supplies:
1 wooden table 1.1m x 1.1m x 1.1m
4 wooden chairs with built in speakers and sensors
1 rug 2m x3m
cups and teapot incl spares.
small domestic amplifier.
Mac keyboard with attached sensors.

Room requirements:
Controllable lighting; must be dark or very dim.
Controllable sound; soundtracks etc from other works should not be audible.
Minimum space 4.5m x 4.5m
Means of suspending projector above table (at approx 9ft or more above ground).


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<Artwork | last updated Jan 2003