WHYRL? is composed of two large six-foot-tall
boxes. The front of each box is a rear-screen projection system on which
a series of photos and words are projected. Above the boxes (but hidden
from the visitor) are sensors that can determine if somebody is standing
in front of the boxes and how close they are.
What's it about? What Haven't You Read Lately? is a dynamic
captioned photo essay about how language and text permeate the environment.
Drawing from over a thousand photos taken all over the world (from China
to San Jose) it presents these images, one every few seconds, in a meaningful
but non-prescribed order. The photos show text in the environment being
used on everything from street signs to cereal boxes, from T-shirts
to newspapers. Superimposed on top of these photos are questions that
invite us to think about how these thousands of words got there, who
wrote them, and what their purpose might be. These questions become more personal
the closer the visitor stands to the boxes. In reading both the photos
and the questions, the visitor is invited to make sense of the juxtaposition.
What is the experiment? WHYRL? is an experiment in dynamic
epigraphic (wall) reading. In particular, RED wanted to explore what
happens when the reader's proximity to a wall can change what is displayed
on the wall. RED was also interested in understanding how writing taken
out of context (the photos) are read and how narratives are formed when
such images are displayed one after the other. RED was very interested
in the question of captioning, the placing of words on, or near, images
and studying how captioning changes the meaning of the image (and vice
How does it work? Stored digitally on the computer inside each
box are over one thousand photos taken around the world. These photos
are cataloged along many dimensions (language, purpose, length of phrase,
location, etc.) such that a specially written artificially intelligent
program can present them in a meaningful, but non-repeating order. Above
each box is a sensor, similar to ones used for burglar detection, that
determines how close visitors are to the screen. This information is
sent to the AI program that chooses which question is to be digitally
superimposed over the photo, based on how close the visitor is standing.