Erasure Proposal

A large-scale, multi-armed chalk writing machine.

(HD Video rendering of Erasure Below – alternate video link)

The core goal of the proposed project is to create an artistic installation that engages the mass performance of identity encapsulated in compact online formats like Facebook Status Updates and Twitter messages. While terse, these micro-performances reveal much about their authors – the desire to be heard, the desire to help, and the desire to share a record of one’s life. Inspired by the familiarity, physicality and reusability of slate and chalk contrasted with the persistent – almost mechanical – digital mediation of the Internet, this installation offers viewers the opportunity to physically engage this mass online performance phenomenon. In the installation, live messages are endlessly written in chalk on fragmented slates by mechatronic arms, erased and then replaced by new messages. The proposed installation will premier in a solo show at the Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, NY beginning in April, 2010.

The proposed installation is a continuation of my recent explorations of our online identities and networked selves. In My Map (A Self-Portrait) [1], I began to contemplate the way that I imagine and represent myself vis-à-vis the tangle of relationships represented in my own decade-old email archive. In Hello World! or: How I Learned to Stop Listening and Love the Noise [2], I created an immersive experience that questioned the nature of technologically-mediated participation itself. The installation consisted of thousands of “first-time” YouTube video diaries played simultaneously, revealing the intense human desire to speak and be heard. In It’s Been a While Since I Last Wrote [3], I was captivated by the continuous flow of blog entries that begin with variations on the phrase “It’s been a while since I last wrote … ” This sentiment immediately resonated with the self-imposed sense of obligation to audience that is often seen driving participation in these online forms. Murmur Study [4], a work-in-progress, examines the sheer volume of messages suggesting the impossibility of keeping up with or physically archiving the unending flow of often-banal messages. In the proposed installation, tentatively entitled Erasure [5], I am particularly interested in transforming the way these messages are consumed. Rather than simply viewing the messages on a computer screen, they will manifest in a familiar physical form – accompanied by a familiar chorus of chalk scratches and erasures mediated by the mechanized hum of a strangely anthropomorphic set of computer-controlled drawing arms. The anticipation accompanying the slow and deliberate revelation of these “hand-scripted” messages is an essential part of the audience experience and core to the formation of relationships with their authors.

A proposal for an interactive installation. (Rendering by Christopher and Laura Baker)

Supporting Work Below


Hello World


Hello World! is a large-scale audio visual installation comprised of thousands of unique video diaries gathered from the internet. The project is a meditation on the contemporary plight of democratic, participative media and the fundamental human desire to be heard.

On one hand, new media technologies like YouTube have enabled new speakers at an alarming rate. On the other hand, no new technologies have emerged that allow us to listen to all of these new public speakers. Each video consists of a single lone individual speaking candidly to a (potentially massive) imagined audience from a private space such as a bedroom, kitchen, or dorm room. The multi-channel sound composition glides between individuals and the group, allowing viewers to listen in on unique speakers or become immersed in the cacophony. Participants are encouraged to dwell in the space.

Project website here.

Hello World! in the Nash Gallery. (Photo by Sarah Sampedro)
Hello World! in the Nash Gallery. (Photo by Sarah Sampedro)
Hello World! in the Nash Gallery. (Photo by Sarah Sampedro)
Hello World! in the Nash Gallery. (Photo by Sarah Sampedro)
Hello World! in the Nash Gallery. (Photo by Sarah Sampedro)
Hello World! in the Nash Gallery. (Photo by Chris Houltberg)
Hello World! in the Nash Gallery. (Photo by Chris Houltberg)


Murmur Study


Murmur Study is a work-in-progress that examines the rise of micro-messaging technologies such as Twitter and Facebook Status Updates. One might describe these messages as a kind of digital small talk. But unlike water-cooler conversations, these fleeting thoughts are accumulated, archived and indexed digitally by corporations. While the future of these archives are still to be seen, the sheer volume of publicly accessible personal expression should give us pause.

Project website here.

Murmur Study #1 at the Spark Festival (Photo by Márton András Juhász)
Murmur Study #1 at the Spark Festival (Photo by Márton András Juhász)
Murmur Study #1 at the Spark Festival (Photo by Christopher Baker)
Murmur Study #1 at the Spark Festival (Photo by Christopher Baker)
Murmur Study #1 at the Spark Festival (Photo by Márton András Juhász)
Murmur Study #1 at the Spark Festival (Photo by Christopher Baker)
Murmur Study #2 in the Nash Gallery (Photo by Colleen Ludwig)


My Map


Email became an integral part of my life in 1998. Like many people, I have archived all of my email with the hope of someday revisiting my past. I am interested in revealing the innumerable relationships between me, my schoolmates, work-mates, friends and family. This could not readily be accomplished by reading each of my 60,000 emails one-by-one. Instead, I created My Map, a relational map and alternative self portrait. My Map is a piece of custom designed software capable of rendering the relationships between myself and individuals in my address book by examining the TO:, FROM:, and CC: fields of every email in my email archive. The intensity of the relationship is determined by the intensity of the line. My Map allows me to explore different relational groupings and periods of time, revealing the temporal ebbs and flows in various relationships. In this way, My Map is a veritable self-portrait, a reflection of my associations and a way to locate myself.

Project website here.

Individual connections can be highlighted.
Smaller groups can be examined.
A date range can be chosen.
Detail from the print.
Detail from video installation.


It’s Been A While Since I Last Wrote

One might argue that the primary goal of writing is to communicate with others. But writing, particularly writing by hand, can also serve as a meditative act – a practice that fosters slow, thoughtful contemplation. While it borders on nostalgia to think that these two functions were in perfect balance once-upon-a-time, it seems clear that the rise of digitally mediated communication has altered the nature of writing. In this fast-paced, keyboard-dominated, Internet communication culture, speed is of the essence.

A quick web search reveals that each day hundreds of hastily written blog entries begin with variations on the phrase “it’s been a while since I last wrote.” Invariably the authors then proceed to describe their busy lives and commit to publishing updates more frequently. Messages like these reveal not only a sense of obligation to communicate with a real (or imagined) online audience, but also point to the desire to slow down and take time to thoughtfully contemplate, record and make meaning from one’s daily experiences.

It’s Been A While Since I Last Wrote is a meditation on the often-competing desires for slow contemplative writing and fast-paced communicative writing. The installation, which is comprised of a 40” x 40” luminescent surface and an ultra-violet writing head controlled by two motors, continuously scrawls the phrase “It’s been a while since I last wrote” in a digitized version of the artist’s cursive. Disappearing almost as quickly as it is written, the phrase encapsulates the competing desires for speed and thoughtfulness.

Project website here.

It's Been a While Since I Last Wrote at the Soap Factory, Minneapolis, MN (Photo by Andrea Steudel)
It's Been a While Since I Last Wrote at the Soap Factory, Minneapolis, MN (Photo by Andrea Steudel)
A proposal for an interactive installation. (Rendering by Christopher and Laura Baker)