Some people begin their thesis process knowing exactly what they want to do. For myself it has been a far more iterative experience. Knowing that I always had a passion for networks (the internet), installations, and interactions, I knew that this thesis would most likely fall inside this spectrum. Determining the concept has been the biggest challenge thus far.
In the beginning I thought about how it would be possible to build systems to change the actions of people in public spaces. Without thinking of the concept too deeply I built a system I called Human Synth, which would take a piece of sidewalk and change its landscape into a surprise musical interface. This piece was laid out in a 3 by 2 grid; when there would be motion detected, sections of a Jackson 5 song would be played.This was intended to have individuals become more aware of their surroundings and hopefully explore the area to have the entire song play back for them. Though this wasn’t tested in an actual setting it was clear that there would have been a need for a physical interface in order to be understood by users.
This led me to explore the idea of how people would interact when they were met with a projected interface. Thinking of a recognizable youthful interface, I started to project a simple hop-scotch court and documented how individuals would act towards and participate with others. It was immediately clear that individuals would play with this interface because it was so recognizable. I then projected what I called the Confetti Circle, which was a circle with 5 empty spaces inside of it. Once each space would be filled, a confetti shower would rain on those that were participating. While some users enjoyed this, others users found the response not rewarding enough and found themselves let down. This made me rethink how the interaction could become more immediate for the individuals. Thinking about how the hop-scotch projection was effective, I decided to take the Confetti Circle and repurpose it to help direct a game of Hokey Pokey. This was met with a far better response. The immediacy of the projected reaction was clear in that those involved were having a more pleasurable experience and felt more rewarded as opposed to having confetti rain down on them. It was at this point I learned that the landscapes in which these were projected can be changed and reimagined. My biggest issue at that point was that I still needed context for what I was trying to do.
I stepped back from the projection and looked into what I was trying to say. Thinking about landscapes and environments, I started looking at the digital environment many people live in. Through networks, communication and ideas are shared via images, videos, and text. These ideas and thoughts are commonly known as memes. While sometimes a meme living in the digital environment does grow outside of the digital landscape, there are still thousands that remain unknown. Thinking about how to explore the line between digital culture and mainstream culture, I built a prototype called the Meme Mirror. This was a program that interacted with individuals. When they would look into a camera, their face would immediately become part of the digital culture by replacing their image with a common meme. Much like the change in the Confetti Circle, users found the reaction entertaining and funny. I knew then that I was onto something but needed to think deeper into what I was trying to say and how this could tie into my desire to project within an environment.
The final prototype in the works is a system by which individuals in a public space would be faced with a podium that invites them to place their face in it. Once their face is inside, an image of their face would then be replaced by the likeness of a meme. This is made possible through the face tracking software developed by Jason Saragih, and the openFrameworks Facetracker add on and the FaceSubstitution repository developed by Kyle McDonald and Arturo Castro. While looking into the podium the users image will be displayed on a monitor (projection for public settings) as well as stored for others to see via a website. Like a parasitic device, this would take an individual’s hope for privacy and turn it upside down by using their image in a way they may have not intended, like many memes out there (e.g College Freshman, Ridiculously Photogenic Guy, Scumbag Steve).