this blog is the platform for publishing the research conducted by the students of the "Prehystories of New Media" class at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), Fall 2008, instructor: Nina Wenhart


for tagging, please only use your name and the title of your paper only, so that we'll get an index. make sure that you end your tag with a comma.

here is an example:
Nina Wenhart: Prehystories of New Media,

students' blogs


Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Cara Boldarini: Text Rain

Text RainAbstract

Text Rain is an installation that allows viewers to participate in a setting where words are virtually falling on them. I chose this specific piece because it incorporates poetry, technology, the human form and performance which all complement each other if used correctly. The way Camille Utterback and Romy Achituv have incorporated each of those elements is seamless and the transition between reality and technology is almost invisible. Since this is a piece in new media I have used the internet to do all of my research. I went on multiple archiving websites and collected data on Text Rain and Caimlle Utterback. In my research I have found that very little information is out there on new media. It was rather difficult to find new information other than what was on Camille Utterback’s personal website.

Text Rain by Camille Utterback and Romy Achituv is an interactive installation where the audience participates in creating the art. It involves falling letters and the viewer has to catch them in order to read what it says. This piece allows the audience to create their own art through Utterback and Achituv’s work. Text Rain is visually pleasing because it combines poetry, performance and technology, which in turn, all compliment each other.

Camille Utterback is a pioneer in Media Art. She is a programmer in the field of interactive art and her work has been shown in exhibits worldwide. She has displayed her work at The New Museum of Contemporary Art, The American Museum of the Moving Image, New York; The NNT InterCommunication Center, Tokyo; The Seoul Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Netherlands Institute for Media Art; The Paipei Museum of Contemporary Art; The Center for Contemporary Art, Kiev, Ukraine; and last but not least Ars Electronica Center, Austria. Utterback received a BA in Art from Williams College and a Masters from The Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. She has taught in the MFA Designs of Technology department at the Parsons School of Design and also at the Interactive Telecommunication Program at NYU.

Romy Achituv is an Israeli artist working and residing in Brooklyn, New York. He was trained as a sculptor and his projects incorporate a very large range of media from photography and video to performance and new media. His work tries to connect formal experimentation with personal expression. Combined, Utterback and Achituv similarities in new media were able to create the popular playful interactive installation known as Text Rain.

In Utterback’s artist statement she says she wants to “bridge the conceptual and the corporeal.” She wants to show people that their interactions with computers do not have to be frustrating and instead create a world where the interaction is seamless, playful and inspiring. I chose it because it allows people to play with art. I remember going to museums as a child and just wanted to play with everything. The interactive installation that Camille Utterback and Romy Achituv created allows the individual to make their own art from the artists’ work.

Text Rain uses a video camera to create physical-digital systems that captures people’s bodies instead of only their fingers and eyes. Utterback uses the video camera as an input device. The video data that is collected creates a richer collection of information about the physical objects rather than using a mouse and keyboard. Utterback says “[she] writes custom software to process the incoming camera signals to glean information about the users’ positions, motions, or gestures in the installation space. Imagery is then generated and projected in response to the camera input. The effect is that the images on the screen appear to magically and transparently respond to the people in the space.” Because she is using a video camera, it allows multiple people to interact with the installation at once. So not only are the people interacting with the installation, they are also interacting with each other, which creates a magical environment.

In Text Rain, viewers witness a live black and white projection of themselves while color letters fall down the white screen like they are raining. The letters can be caught and balanced on the person’s head, limbs, or any other object that is darker than a certain shade. Once the letters are dropped a new line of letters begin to fall. It a viewer “collects” and balances enough letters they will be able to read a line from a poem by Evan Zimroth.

I like talking with you,

Simply that: conversing,

a turning-with or –around,

as in your turning around

to face me suddenly…

as your turning, each part

of my body turns to verb.

We are the opposite

of tongue-tied, if there

were such an antonym;

We are synonyms

for limbs’ loosening

of syntax,

and yet turn to nothing;

It’s just talk.

Participants reading the words that are formed by balancing them on their body.

A close-up of the falling letters.

The main reason that Text Rain was successful was because it incorporates multiple realms of art. Performance is a major media of art. It allows people to express how they feel or deliver a certain message without saying anything. The participants are able to interact with the words and perform in front of the screen. For example in the line, “for limbs’ loosening” the participant could extend their arm and interact with what is being said. It gives the audience a sense of direction in how to respond to the work.

Poetry is one of the most beautiful forms of written expression. In the fragmented sentences that create poems, readers have a sense of what the poet is trying to explain, but with the little information given, readers still get to put in their own imagination in order to understand it. With the poem that was chosen, Talk You, by Evan Zimroth, he wrote about the human body and its relationship to text. With the text falling and landing on people, the audience interacts and catches the letters in order to read a line from the poem making the poem come to life.

The technology that is used in Text Rain is very simple. With the other realms of art that are present in the installation, the technology that is used is almost forgotten about. The audience uses the familiarity of their own bodies. If they want to reach anything in the real world, they hold out their arm, which is exactly what happens in Text Rain. The screen resembles a mirror which users are already familiar with. In real life we use of both vocal and body language without even questioning our movements. This installation shows how easily we accept a physical activity, even if this is in the virtual world.

Text Rain responds immediately once a person is in front of the camera, whether they want participate or not. There is no “virtual reality” mask that is needed and you do not have to wait for your turn. Users can talk and engage with other people who are participating in the installation, while still playing with the falling letters. As Utterback stated, “The boundary between the real space and the virtual space is ‘thin’ because it is easy for users to be present in either the real or virtual space, to seamlessly shift between the two, or to feel present in both simultaneously.” The viewers who are participating are not asked to learn anything new in order to play with the letters, they just control their own bodies, which they are already familiar with. There is no wrong way to interact with the piece.

The installation was first exhibited in 1999 in New York and was included in the inauguration show of MOCA Taipei, Taiwan in 2001. The installation has also been exhibited in several locations around the world since then including Kiev International Media Art Festival, Center for Contemporary Art, the Kiev, Ukraine; the Microwave International Media Art Festival, Hong Kong City Hall, Hong Kong; at the WRO Biennale, WRO Center for Media Art, Wroclaw, Poland; in Montevideo/Netherlands Media Art Institute, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; Ars Electronica Center, Linz, Austria; the Seoul Metropolitan Museum of Art, Seoul, Korea; at the European Media Art Festival 2000, Osnabruck, Germany; at NTT InterCommunication Center, Tokyo Japan; Postmasters Gallery, New York, NY; at the New Langton Arts Gallery, San Francisco, CA and more recently at the Reading Festival in Tel Aviv in 2003.

Camille Utterback has done an extensive amount of interactive installations since Text Rain. Her pieces can be seen all over the world, in public and private exhibits. Utterback has created a series of interactive installations that according to her website, “hinge the parameters of dynamic compositions to human motion in the gallery space.” She titled these the “External Measures Series.” The series is quite similar to Text Rain where the audience participates in creating the art. The difference is that the final result looks similar to a Jackson Pollock piece rather than a puzzle to figure out what word is being spelled. The audience movement is tracked and the output is recorded through lines being painted on the screen. Rather than working with a certain shade, the External Measures Series recognizes when someone is present and tracks the movement. On Untitled 5, even the stillness of the participant is tracked and the art is still created.

Another installation that involves audience participation and incorporates text is Composition. Composition uses the same technique as Text Rain and the External Measures Series by using a camera as an input device. The difference with Composition and the other two pieces is that the result on the screen is the person’s image copied using letters and symbols. The different shades are created by the use of different letters. In one image the letters “A” and “g” are used to create darker shades while commas and semi-colons are used to create a lighter shade and appear as the “light grey” color. The majority of Utterback’s installations are similar where the rules are never stated and the audience members explore the reality of the work through experimentation.

Since Text Rain uses the simple technique of video as an input device, there are several similar artists that use the same method. The first person to ever use the same procedure was Myron Krueger. He is considered as one of the first of virtual and augmented reality researchers. “Videoplace”, one of Krueger’s most famous installations is very similar to Text Rain where the viewer is in this “artificial reality” without the use of any extra equipment. In Videoplace, the user interacts with the projected image instead of the actual technology. Other similar projects are Raffelo Lozano-Hemmer’s “Body Movies” where the participants are projected onto a large wall and interact with the other shadows that other participants create.

After researching this installation for a couple of months I was able to think of the limitations and other situations that arise with the current programming. While the poem selected works extremely well with the given work, how would people react if multiple texts were “raining”? What if the text was a novel? How would one proceed to the next section? Would the interaction be the same where people would just have to let the letters fall in order to continue? Would they have to leave the installation and return? What if the text was raining sideways? If it were a “rainstorm” the audience could push the letters to the side and interact with the text in a completely different context. The audience could even manipulate the text and create their own words or phrases, similar to magnetic poetry.

The installation itself is an extremely captivating piece of art. The simplicity of it all engages not only the participants but the viewers watching the people interact with it. I would have loved to see this installation in person. While watching videos of Text Rain, I think I paid more attention to watching how others reacted to the whole project. I loved when people brought in props to collect more letters. There were two scenes in the Youtube video where people brought in an umbrella to scoop up the letters, and another where a couple extended a scarf in order to collect more than the length of their bodies could. It was just a fun, playful environment to be in.

The problem with researching for this assignment is that all of the information is repetitive. It was almost impossible to find new material about this installation. I used every resource I knew of and kept coming up with the same video, pictures and technical information. In all of my research papers, I have never come across this problem. I realized that because this is a new media of art that not a lot of archiving and former research has been done in this field. I may not understand any of the technology that is used to create these pieces, but I do appreciate them and would like to learn more. It is just a shame that this field of art does not get as much research as the others.

Works Cited

Camille Utterback Responds in Turn.” electronic book review. 22 Mar 2004.

Utterback, Camille and Romy Achituv. “Text Rain.” Text and Language. Special Issue of Aspect Magazine. Vol. 4

Hazan, Susan. "Locating [Israeli] digital art - artists think global and act local." Regeneration of digital art. Nov. 2004. .

"Text Rain." Ars Electronica. .

"Text Rain: camille utterback and romy achituv installation." Youtube. 01 Aug. 2006. .

Utterback, Camille. “Text Rain” Home Page. .

Images taken from

No comments: