Cell at the Alpha-Ville festival

Cell is an interactive installation commissioned for the Alpha-Ville festival, a collaboration between myself and Keiichi Matsuda. It plays with the notion of the commodification of identity by mirroring the visitors in the form of randomly assigned personalities mined from online profiles. It aims to get the visitors thinking about the way in which we use social media to fabricate our second selves, and how these constructed personae define and enmesh us. As users enter the space they are assigned a random identity. Over time, tags floating in the cloud begin to move towards and stick to the users until they are represented entirely as a tangled web of data seemingly bringing together our physical and digital selves.

I first got in touch with the organisers of the festival, Estella Olivia And Carmen Salas, around May with a view to contributing. They asked if I knew of Keiichi Matsuda, and whether I would be interested in a collaboration. Coincidentally we had met up a month before and had discussed the idea of joining forces as our areas of research are very similar. We come from different fields, he architecture and film making, me new media art and interaction design. This turned out to be a perfect combination. We shared the concept and design, Keiichi focussed on the fabrication, planning the space and putting together the documentary while I happily wrote the software. Even with these distributed roles we found we were often offering suggestions and help to each other throughout the course of the project.

The wall

The concept wall

Microsoft have supported the project from the early stages. Keiichi and I were both speaking at an event in June when we met Paul Foster who was promoting the MS Kinect for Windows SDK. We discussed our project which would be utilising the Kinect camera and he was interested in helping out. He introduced us to William Coleman and since then they have supplied all the equipment and funded the studio space (thanks to Tim Williams and Tom Hogan at Lumacuostics for putting us up and all the advice).

In addition to this, Microsoft also introduced us to Simon Hamilton Ritchie who runs Brighton based agency Matchbox Mobile. These guys contributed a great deal to the project, most importantly, ofxMSKinect, an openFrameworks addon for the official Kinect SDK. One of the main advantages of using this over the hacked drivers is the auto user recognition, we no longer need to pull that annoying calibration stance which can be a big barrier in a piece such as Cell. In addition to depth/skeleton tracking, the potential for utilising the voice recognition capabilities is an exciting prospect for the interactive arts community. This will be integrated into ofxMSKinect in the coming months.

Multiple Skeletons

Skeletal data from 4 Kinect cameras

So on to the setup, Halfway through the project we realised that we would only be able to track 2 skeletons using a single Kinect camera. While this is fine for gaming, for a large scale interactive experience this would not be enough. So instead of 1 camera we decided to go with 4! We organised 4 Dell XPS 15 laptops each connected to a Kinect camera. The skeletal data from each client is fed to an Alienware M17x laptop through a Local Area Connection (with help from Matchbox) giving us the potential to track the skeletal data of up to 8 users in a space of around 5m x 4m. The software on the Alienware server then calculates and renders the scene which is rear projected onto a large screen using a BenQ SP840 projector.

The screen posed a bit of a challenge. We could either rent one for a ridiculous price or build our own and have complete freedom over the design. This was important to us so Keiichi put his woodwork skills to the test and made a 4.2m x 1.8m screen that can be reduced to 1.5m. Quite an achievement for a rear projection screen with no supporting beams! We used ROSCO grey screen material which was perfect for our requirements.

Setting up

Keiichi and Iannish preparing the screen at the Alpha-Ville festival

We were very pleased with the reaction to Cell. The feedback from the festival goers was really positive. It was important to us that the participants were both interested in the concept and taken by the experience. Many that we spoke to seemed to engage with the piece on both levels.

If you would like any more information please visit the Cell website. If you would like to contact us regarding this piece, please email – info [at] installcell.com

I’d like to thank the following for their help in realising this piece (in order of appearance):

Carmen Salas, Estela Oliva, Paul Foster, Will Coleman, Simon Hamilton Ritchie, Theo Watson, Kyle McDonald, Arturo Castro, Tim Williams, Tom Hogan, Claire Holdsworth, Vincent Oliver and Iannish Posooa.

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