Interactive Installations

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Review by Douglas Eyman

The interactive installations session continues the effort to showcase projects that have more interactive or artistic elements that have been taking place at past C & W conferences. In 2009, the “Digital Art and Narratives Exhibit” organized by Jonathan Alexander and Jacqueline Rhodes featured multi-modal and multi-media installations that drew on the sense of “installation” as it is enacted in art galleries and public spaces; since then, the installations at C & W have shifted more toward the genre of the digital poster — in general developed along more academic than artistic approaches (and at the 2011 conference in Ann Arbor the sessions were listed as “New Media Poster/Installation” which highlights the shift toward a more poster presentation format).

The seven works presented at this year’s conference were certainly more like posters than art projects (although that is not to say that artistic elements were not present in some of them). But as I viewed the varying presentations of pedagogical practice, projects that required innovative approaches to programming and interface design, and even a demo of an open source learning management system, I was struck by the fact that “installation” could also be read as a form of “install” — as in “installing software.” So while the majority of the presentations here were more poster-like than artistic, they all did engage the act of installing at some level.

The installation session took place in the “Technology Sandbox” within the D. H. Hill Library. The sandbox is a bright, open space that houses a number of new presentation and large-scale touch screen technologies for faculty and students to experiment with. A few of the installations made use of some of these presentation approaches, and, although not part of the installations per se, some of the resident objects, such as the Microsoft Surfaces tabletop touch-screen system, also received quite a bit of attention. (The sandbox also provides gesture-based gaming consoles, but they were not in use during the installation sessions).

The installation session also featured “Howling Cow” ice cream (courtesy of NC State’s creamery), which was universally proclaimed “very delicious” — and added an experiential mode (taste) that has not yet made its way into our presentations (but is a tradition that I hope will be continued … I’d approve of an installation the involved cookies and computers and writing, for instance).

The presentations:

: )|:( Discursive Performance in Digitally Mediated Communication
by Rachael Hodder & Minh-Tam Nguyen, Michigan State University

This installation consisted of a video (presented on the sandbox’s quad-screen display system) that examines the use of emoticons in different writing spaces. The presenters wanted to work with the kinetic and the visual, and decided that video would be a better platform to both show and theorize the performativity and embodiment represented through emoticon use. Except for one specific historical example, their video installation is intentionally devoid of human faces (a decision that helps them focus on embodiment and expression in ways that are not traditionally represented in studies of verbal communication). More details of the project are available at

ArchiSEXTture: Getting It On in Digital Dating Spaces
by Kevin Brock, North Carolina State University, Dawn Shepherd, Boise State University, & James Burka, Epocrates, Inc.

This project was one of the more technically interesting, as it used a few different back end technologies (Ruby and Processing) to gather the data and represent it as a visualization. As I understand it, an OK Cupid profile was created that then could search for a variety of data types (men seeking women, men seeking men, etc.). The system then uses the search results and produces a geographically localized visualization (representational, not literal) of the number of hits for each data type in a given city. Although the creators couldn’t tell me where in the city I should go for a date, the visualization itself has potential application to any aggregate data type that perhaps should not be directly connected to people or places. I also liked the way that the visualization process allows us to see human geography as a kind of writing on the world that we can view, map, trace, and make arguments with via systems like this one.

Collaborating in 140 Characters: Storify, Twitter, and FlashFiction in the Composition Classroom
by Shea Stuart, Gardner-Webb University

This presentation provided a number of student examples that used Twitter and Storify to create fictional narratives. I really liked the way that the affordances of the different social media were used to in interesting and creative ways that clearly engaged the students in professor Stuart’s first year composition courses. She had collaborative groups create characters and narratives in Twitter and other social media that could be brought together (from disparate streams) via the aggregation engine of Storify (which adds coherence to what might otherwise be a many-threaded and perhaps chaotic project.)

Open Professional Writing Preview
by Adam R. Pope, Purdue University

Open Professional Writing is a content management system (based on Drupal 7) that is designed to support professional writing courses. From the project description: “Open Professional Writing seeks to alleviate this problem by giving instructors a content management system that works alongside writing pedagogy and theory rather than against it. And, at the same time, Open Professional Writing offers classroom management tools to simply some of the daily routines that are part of teaching any writing class.” I like the clean, simple interface (designed using only css, not image-based, which is a laudable design feature and technical feat). This is the presentation that made me think that perhaps “installation” was related more to the process or act of installing, as this project is open-source and freely available to faculty who may want to use it (although it does require access to a server to install it on). I may well use this for my professional writing courses in the fall (although I suspect it would work as well with composition courses of any kind).

Providing the “Big Picture”: Reusable Videos for Teaching the Back Stories of Information Creation, Discovery, and Use
by Kim Duckett & Anne Burke, North Carolina State University Libraries

This presentation provided a look at several of the short videos about the research process produced by librarians at NC State. The nice thing about these is that they aren’t NC-State specific, so they can be used in any context where it would be helpful to provide additional research support to students in a composition course. The presenters demonstrated three videos that focus on “big picture” issues: identifying peer-reviewed articles, understanding Wikipedia, and an overview of the literature review process for graduate students (embedded below). They found that the literature review description was also being used in undergraduate courses and are considering revising it to make it more broadly applicable at all levels. The videos are also Creative Commons licensed, which means they can be incorporated into a course site (with attribution) or could be embedded in a larger tutorial). More information about the videos is available at the NCSU library website.

Recreating bpNichol’s “First Screening”
by Brent Simoneaux, Samara Mouvrey, & Fernanda Duarte, North Carolina State University

At first glance, this project appeared to be a simple animation of text on the screen … but it turned out to be much more interesting and also more installation-like (in the artistic sense) than the other presentations in this session. The authors of this work took bpNichol’s “Self-Reflexive #1” digital poem, writing in Basic in 1984 (see below for the original), and reprogrammed it in Processing, adding algorithms that produce visual iterations of the text that appear to toss and turn, mimicking the insomnia referenced in the poem. In addition, the background consisted of a running real-time update of mentions of the word “insomnia” on Twitter. (I found it interesting that because insomnia is a cognate in a number of romance languages, a good deal of tweets that appeared on-screen were not in English, thus giving the project a more global feel, which in turn intensifies the universality of the expression of the poem).In the video below (of bpNichol’s “First Screening”), Self-Reflexive #1 appears from 0:43 – 1:01.

A screenshot of the recreation:

The ARchiTEXTure of Mobile World Browsers
by John Tinnell, University of Florida

This presentation was a video collage of augmented reality (AR) in action from a variety of sources, as well as a description of AR projects that Tinnell’s students created. Unfortunately, AR is geographically-specific, so unless one visits the UF campus, an actual experience of these projects is unavailable (although the descriptions were compelling — one student created an AR version of campus so that students taking a summer campus tour could look through a mobile phone and see what it looks like when all the students are on campus). More about Tinnell’s work with AR can be found in All the World’s a Link: The Global Theater of Mobile World Browsers (Enculturation, issue 12, 2011).

Douglas Eyman is Senior Editor and Publisher of Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy and Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Writing at George Mason University.

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