Thursday, September 15th, 2011

Island Art Encampment and Cartography Archive

In late July of 2011 Uta Hinrichs and I (working as the TRAUBENSAFT! Collective) took residency on Bumpkin Island in Boston Harbor, and spent five days using experimental cartography and psychogeography methods and strategies to create a map archive of the island– a participatory mapping project. This Archive is part of the Berwick Research Institute’s Annual Bumpkin Island Art Encampment, produced in cooperation with the Boston Harbor Island Alliance and the MA Department of Conservation and Recreation.

Visitors to Bumpkin during the Encampment browsed Traubensaft’s small collection of original, experimental maps of the island. The map archive also offered visitors use of a “map-making kit”, with materials and instructions to create their own maps. As part of the map making process, physical flags/pins could be placed in the environment (and carry a message or label) by the artists and participant cartographers. These flags referred to landmarks or symbols recorded on particular maps, and created visible signs of the mapping process on the landscape.

Visitor-created maps were donated/contributed to the Bumpkin Island Map Archive. The Archive headquarters and display site was fully integrated into the landscape, located on under a tree at the center of the Island. At the end of the project, the archive consisted of over 70 maps, the vast majority created by the public. This project is documented on Traubensaft!’s website.

Sunday, June 19th, 2011

Awkward_NYC, a map of awkward social interactions in public spaces

Awkward_NYC, or The New York City Map of Awkward Social interactions in Public Spaces, is a collaborative online map for reporting social accidents and small interpersonal traumas that occur unexpectedly in public spaces. The map pinpoints sites in the New York Metropolitan area where misunderstandings, outbursts, physical altercations, arguments between friends or strangers, and romantic spats or break-ups have occurred. These mishaps are characteristic of the human urban experience– they’re unsettling, often comic, strangely powerful mini-narratives and dramas that would otherwise go untold, but may linger in memory for months and years, as we move through the same urban landscapes, day in and day out.

Anyone can add a story to the map; the project is fully web-based and participatory. The map taps into the confessional, voyeuristic, narrative impulses that typify online behavior and subverts the notion of mapping as reductive, objective, and authoritative. As stories are added to the map, a series of data visualizations depicting the emotional terrain of the city will be generated.

Awkward_NYC is a 2012 commission of New Radio and Performing Arts for its Turbulence website. It was made possible with funds from the Jerome Foundation. Thanks to Rodrigo De Benito and Adam Lassy for troubleshooting code.

Click here to use the map on

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

Heartbreak Haiku

The Heartbreak Haiku site invited visitors to condense their tragic, failed-relationship stories into three line haiku. While many internet communities spring up around common interests or obsessions, Heartbreak Haiku attempted to create a community of users organized around a particular set of emotions:

“Your best pals are happy to listen to your rambling, romantic sob stories once, maybe twice. But don’t be tempted to go on and on… Channel your obsessive thoughts, weepiest self-pitying moments, and bouts of vengeful fury into the concise, elegant Japanese poem form HAIKU. Submit your haiku here, your comrades in frustration and devastation and misery and rage will read them… and you might even feel better.”

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

Feedback Playback

Feedback Playback is a dynamic biofeedback action movie viewing and re-editing system. In the system, the users’ physical state determines the visceral quality of movie scenes displayed; immediate reactions to the scenes feed back to generate a cinematic crescendo or a lull. We used material that is rigorously narrative, formulaic, and plentiful: the action movie series Die Hard, starring Bruce Willis.

In FeedBack PlayBack, the cinematic converges with the physical present, exploiting the power of fiction to manipulate and alter our state of being at the most basic, primal level. We attempt to synchronize the media and viewer– whether towards a static loop or a explosive climax.

The system consists of 1) a panel for user input– we use Galvanic Skin Response, which measures arousal via skin conductivity. GSR is the same type of data collected in lie detector tests. In this case, we measure GSR across the fingertips. The panel contains a microcontroller which connects to a laptop inside the panel enclosure. 2) A library of short clips from the Die Hard movies, each about 10 to 5 seconds long, and sorted into high, medium, and low– or hard, medium, and soft–action/arousal categories. 3) An Open Frameworks application that manages the library, and displays clips according to GSR input. 4) A monitor on which the clips are displayed, as well as information (graph and score) of the user’s response, in real time. This project was developed in collaboration with Che-Wei Wang.

Monday, February 14th, 2011

Disaster Boat!: anxiety-enacting video object

boatMovie from zannahlou on Vimeo.

My slapdash model ship, made out of cardboard and masking tape, was set it to sail on video sea and sunk in a storm of pixels, in a rehearsal of the disaster fantasies of my coastal New England youth.

The boat was constructed from readily available household/schoolroom materials: this fantasy is rooted in my elementary school days, when poster paint and masking tape were craft-project standbys. The object serves as projection surface; all details of the boat were executed in vector graphics, aligned to the object, and then integrated into the video itself. Sea footage was borrowed from popular disaster films and TV nature specials.

Monday, February 14th, 2011

Give-n-Get Economy Outlet

The Give-and-Get Economy Outlet is a pop-up store and a dynamic, distributed collection of objects. It’s a structure that serves as a site for interaction. And it’s a series of practices, strategies, and resulting interactions with and between users.

As a system, the Give-N-Get is an experimental economy, with transactions (exchanges) between participants (who are all members of the same community). It seeks to produce a new narrative form: an object that contains personal meaning or emotional value, transformed into a “product” using explicit visual language and conventions of commercial/advertising practice.

In the Spring of 2009 I built a cardboard and masking tape structure, the Give-n-Get Economy Outlet store, and installed it at 721 Broadway, 4th floor. Prior to the store’s opening I collected small keepsake objects from some members of the community. I requested objects that had particular abstract, personal emotional value or meaning independent of any material value; I asked contributors/investors to write an explanation of the object’s history and meaning to them. I created hand-drawn graphics for each object, and packaged the objects as consumer products. When the store opened, these objects were its products; visitors to the store could acquire an object only by trading a keepsake of their own. Incoming keepsakes were packaged and added to the inventory.

While the outlet was open, there was usually free limeade and cake available to lure in potential visitors. These consumables also had an abstract meaning/story connected to them, which was explained on hand-drawn and hand-lettered signs. Promotional pins were also given away at the outlet. The outlet was open for 5 days, during which 62 trades were made. A total of 66 objects passed through the system, plus 3 gallons of limeade, three cakes, and 40 free pins were distributed.

Monday, February 14th, 2011

Theory Comic: World of Wrestling

Roland Barthes and the Fantastic Four explore the world of wrestling!

I fused excerpts of Roland Barthes’ essay “The World Of Wrestling” (published in his collection “Mythologies”) with a 1974 Fantastic Four comic book that I had in my collection. I manipulated the pages to add extra speech bubbles (since Barthes had more to say than the superheros) and remove distracting figures and objects from frames. Barthes’ essay on the hyper-amplified signs that characterize wrestling merged unexpectedly seamlessly with the overblown, simplified visual langauge of superhero comics.

Read the full Barthes essay here.

Thursday, January 6th, 2011


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