thesis, research week2

There was a daily show episode last week where Jon Stewart made a lot of jokes about Internet cat memes. It’s clear that the idea of cats as media is something that everyone is talking about without any real attempt at analysis or insight (not there necessarily should be analysis or insight). I also read this pretty funny cat conspiracy idea:

“Cats have been domesticating and harvesting humans for at least two millennia, albeit slowly, generation by generation. With the Internet, they are moving much faster, and in only two or three more generations, we will be completely incapable of sustaining a line of thought for more than half a second, and therefore effectively be zombies in the service of our feline masters who will use lame Photoshoppers to communicate with us.”

It’s a joke, but I like how it evokes the structure of Internet conspiracy movies like Loose Change and Zeitgeist. I used to write for a blog about Internet conspiracy theory media and I think its a pretty compelling narrative structure, that is pretty particular to new media. The blending of fact and fiction is borrowed from a long history of more literary minded pranksters like Robert Ware (here’s a thing I wrote about him). This essay and a lot of the stuff I’ve been writing about Beware the Cat show this sort of common theme of intertextuality that seems more prevalent during times of large changes in media technology. In the hundred years following the printing press, it became very easy to forge documents and write fake histories. Many of the early examples of novels that we read about were actually published as fake histories or memoirs, including the work of Daniel Defoe, who is probably most widely considered the first “novelist.”

I also read some more of Heart of Darkness which obviously doesn’t seem like a good starting place for a humorous story, but I think it could be a good structure to use in talking about a cat conspiracy, maybe set in a futuristic time looking back on the past, like La Jetee or something.

I also saw a bunch of interesting art this week, some things people sent me, and other stuff on the Internet, and at a kinetic art show at the Pratt Manhattan gallery. At Pratt’s thing I saw this piece called Spider Drone which had a really nice interaction and looked pretty cool. It definitely evoked an animal form, even if it wasn’t particularly obvious. I checked out Bjoern Schuelke’s website and a lot of his work is interesting in terms of the use of kinetic sculpture and cameras. Engin sent me a link to these kinetic animals which are really amazing and being used for performance.

I also saw the “robot theater” performance at the Japan Society, which was actually pretty disappointing. I had high expectations, and the robots were definitely cool, but the two plays that were performed were pretty boring. They had very little in terms of plot or structure, and relied on basically cliche robot jokes to keep the audience invested. But I had a big take away from the show, which was that my project could as easily or more easily be a performance as opposed to an installation. I actually have a lot more experience with performance in general, having done a lot of theater in college and playing music since I was a kid, as well as some dance and performance art. The robots used in the show really evoked a sense of empathy in me, despite knowing they were robots and knowing that that was the whole premise of the performance—I couldn’t help thinking about the emotional experience of the robot. I think this is a big part of what I want to exploit with the robot cat.

I also did some more drawings of possible installation ideas, including using some projection and pepper’s ghost effects instead of the camera and monitor. I think pepper’s ghost stuff could be pretty compelling for an installation, but I’m more interested in the language established by camera and screen in terms of narrative.

I also looked into augmented reality development environments. Last year I did some work with Junaio, which works really well but has some significant drawbacks, mostly financial. It was a lot more free to use a year ago. It also is primarily used for mobile applications, which isn’t the direction I want to go. Although it works well and is super easy to use, I’m hesitant to spend $500 on a development environment for the wrong platform. Qualcomm Vuforia also seems to work really well, and is free, but is primarily for mobile development. I had also used ARToolKit and the Processing version NyARToolKit last year, which I found more annoying, mostly because the documentation isn’t great and the end product is a lot shakier than the most robust environments. But looking into it now, it seems like the best solution, at least until I run into some insurmountable obstacle. Besides being free, ARToolKit is used to make apps for mac, which is probably what I’ll use in the installation, and probably has more potential for customization overall. My current plan is to move forward with ARToolKit and take that as far as I can. NyARToolKit also has a Unity port, so that could be good if I end up using some Unity stuff.

If anyone still reading this has suggestions for other AR development environments, please shoot em my way.

I also spent some time this weekend modeling the installation, both on the computer (in SketchUp) and with physical materials. It was kind of fun and forced me to think about scale and space, which will be very helpful for designing the cat and other elements, because I hadn’t really thought about how big the maze would need to be, or how much room that cat would need to walk and turn corners and stuff. That might change once I start building things, but I now have a much better idea of what I need to consider. The process didn’t tell me much about the content though. I’m not sure if I was expecting some huge revelation, but I didn’t feel particularly pulled in one direction or another.

Will upload some photos later.


After meeting with Marina and Gabe I’ve had some more thoughts about solidifying the story and trying to make that inform the installation. I need to think more about the joystick interface. I had thought of it as a sort of stand in for digital input, the way people interact with computers, showing how cat media is the subject of this type of interaction, but the interface could be more interesting or encourage more movement and interaction from the viewer. Part of what I’m trying to get across is that cat media is an abstraction of the image/personality of a cat, and not at all related to the actual mental or physical being of cats, so making people imitate cats or inhabit a “cat perspective” seems counter-intuitive to my goals. But there could be ways of immersing the viewer in a digital world, a video game setting or something, that evokes the fake world of the future robot cats.

I also thought a lot about the use of images, video or audio of real cats. I have been pretty opposed to using anything like that for the reasons I just mentioned, but I think that the story could incorporate the robot cats fascination with real cats, and so cat footage could be used to that end.


Author: owen ribbit


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