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Stalactite questions how to curate New Media Art in a whitewashed gallery space, without de-contextualising it. It includes 20 works by Brown students and professors, showcasing the New Media Art being created and experimented with at Brown University. The tip of the stalactite is the flash drives containing the art works. The tip is the most recent part of the stalactite's formation, representing the newness of New Media Art.
Although Stalactite is interactive, the viewer's agency is only superficial because the flash drives are non-distinguishable until they have been plugged in. The action of randomly selecting a flash drive mimics the experience of browsing new media art online. Like a stalactite growing in a cave, New Media Art has been building in strength and prominence since the 1990s. Like Plato's Cave, Stalactite only presents shadows on a wall of all the New Media that exists today.
Two views of Stalactite
Stalactite exhibits digitally oriented work primarily from the Brown and RISD community. We chose multi-disciplinary, experimental work that would have been more difficult to exhibit in a traditional space. The pieces which we chose for the exhibit are an eclectic offering of digital mediums including movies, photography, GIFs, sound pieces, language arts, and standalone applications.
In addition to asking peers, we put out a call for submissions at RISD and in several different Brown departments including Visual Arts, Modern Culture and Media, and Literary Arts. The response was overwhelming from every department, and we received everything from videos to paintings to sculpture. We tried to exhibit a diverse variety of work, although we were constrained based on what would fit in the space. As we had planned to exhibit all of the works projected against the wall, we were unable to take physical 3D objects (such as a laser cut chair) and decided against showing simply photographs of them as it would not do the work justice.
Screenshots of a few pieces in the show. Clockwise from top left: Chris Novello's "Perfect Futures," Claire Kwong's "Sunset on Thayer," Diane Zhou's "Untitled," and Nina Ruelle's "Grey."
Stalactite is a New Media Art exhibition that attempts to recreate the interaction users have with the Internet by setting up an installation in which the viewer becomes also a participant. The intention is that the audience actively takes one of the digital pieces that have been offered and plugs it into a USB hub, connected to a Mac Mini, for its projection.
The installation consists of a simple structure made out of clothesline and fishing line that is then attached to the ceiling of the living room. There are various strings made out of fishing line hanging from the main cord. At the end of each string there is a metal hook with an unlabeled flashdrive. Each flashdrive contains an artwork from a different artist. The public is expected to grab one of the flashdrives and plug it into the Mac Mini so the piece plays. Upon entering the space, the visitor is greeted with two different prompts to invite participation (seen in the images below). First, the large projection on the wall defaults to a black screen with the white letters "PLUG IN." Second, next to the USB hub, is a small label with a slightly longer explanation: "Chose one, plug it in here" with an arrow pointing towards the hub.
During the actual Intallation process we had to make several metal hooks that were attached each to a length of fishing line. These strings were then connected to a thicker rope that got tied up to the bottom of the living room above us. The furniture of the room was removed and stored leaving only three metal stools; two for the viewer to sit and one to store the Mac Mini and place the USB hub where visitors can insert a flash drive to play a piece.
(a) Projected screen that first greets you on seeing Stalactite, (b) USB Hub where visitors insert flashdrives to play pieces
Technically, the exhibit presented a challenge. How were pieces, that were saved onto different flash drives, to be loaded and automatically played when a visitor plugged one into the USB hub? Most operating systems have disabled the ability "auto-run" from an external disk, as it is a security risk and how many viruses have spread. After playing around with several different applications and processes, we finally decided that it would be easier to store all of the pieces on the Mac Mini that is running the projection and use the flash drives as "keys" so to speak. We wrote an Applescript to run continuously in the background on the Mac Mini which detects when a device is plugged in. Each flash drive has a unique name and depending on the name of the drive that is detected, the script launches a different piece. Thus, there is a one-to-one correspondance between the flash drives and the pieces, as though the pieces were still on the drives. After opening the corresponding piece, the script then ejects the flash drive so that it can be pulled out safely by the user.
A piece that begins will loop continuously until one of two conditions occurs. If no other flash drives are inserted, the piece will loop for approximately 10 minutes, then shut down, displaying the "PLUG IN" screen once again. However, if another flash drive is inserted before those 10 minutes are over, the piece currently playing will close and the new piece (which corresponds to the new flash drive) will begin to play.
The original mock-up for Stalactite.