Art Department

Back to Contents of Issue: March 2001

Artists of the Floating Words

by Andrew Pothecary

IT'S A SMALL WORLD, digital arts. For example, as a junior at Tsukuba University, artist Satoko Moroi admired the work of a senior named John Maeda, who I profiled in the December 2000 Art Department. And Toshio Iwai, introduced here in the January issue, attended the same program.

But it's a small world getting bigger. Moroi now teaches at Japan Electronics College, a vocational school where hundreds of students study computer graphics and prepare to contribute to the ever enlarging gene pool of digital design.

floatingAt the school (but as her own project), Moroi has teamed with programmer Shinji Sasada to create the entertaining word-play piece pictured here. Speak into a voice trumpet attached above a pool and water drips onto the surface, creating a starting point from which your words appear and ... float off. You can give them a stir with an electromagnetic wand.

Of course, it's actually a mixture of voice-recognition (at the moment using only words that are pre-programmed into the computer) and 3D graphics software projecting words onto a screen beneath the water. The trumpet is a recorder: your voice activates a pump that draws up the water and dribbles it into the spot where the program will begin the word cycle. It's a nice illusion: the words would start without the drops. (The wand works by wirelessly feeding the computer directional instructions.)

artistThe piece has that playful, child-at-heart spirit of the games you probably played in swimming pools and sand boxes as a kid. And it's fun, which seems to be mostly Moroi's aim. Even when it doesn't work it's fun: one editor's words just translated into a floating anata kirai ("I don't like you") whatever she tried to say. Last year Moroi and Sasada created paper-folded "doughnuts" -- multiple-sided möbius-like wreaths of computer-designed paper that you folded into shape by following the printed directions. It won a prize from a town in Shizuoka known for paper crafts. The piece shown here got the artists onto a popular TV show, where the rapid-fire words of a comedian couldn't get a single word out of it. -- Andrew Pothecary

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