What was an ordinary walk to the washroom on Level 6 of the University Centre for the Arts is now anything but mundane.
The wall flanking the entrance to the U of L Main Gallery used to house a bank of pay phones, but with the removal of this obsolete technology, a great opportunity was afforded.
"I think people can easily agree, the advent of the smart phone has been terrific for the promotion of events and cultural organizations," says Dr. Josephine Mills, director/curator of the U of L Art Gallery. "For the gallery, changes in technology have meant another less obvious boon to our visibility."
The gallery quickly called dibs on the now vacant space.
"We requested a renovation that included the gallery-standard drywall over three-quarter inch plywood backing so that the wall could support hanging objects in frames, and we had the foresight to build in electrical and Internet connections," explains Mills. "Spurred by successful student design projects I had seen around campus, I initiated a call for proposals from new media students and faculty to create something for the new wall to raise the profile of the main art gallery."
She assumed she would get ideas that involved applying vinyl or other traditional options to the wall.
"Instead, new media faculty members Leanne Elias, Dana Cooley and Carl Spencer, delighted and surprised me with a fabulously innovative idea to install an interactive projection, which was then developed by BFA New Media major Brendan Matkin," says Mills.
The playful interactive installation grabs attention as anyone walking by accidently sets the letters projected onto the wall dancing.
"With this collaborative project we wanted to try something new and different," says Matkin. "We wanted to promote the gallery, motivate others to realize this is a creative opportunity and have some fun."
Several people were involved with the project.
"We started planning in December and the hard work started in January," says Matkin. "In addition to Leanne, Dana and Carl, fellow student Alyssa Buck was an advisor on the project."
Matkin did the actual project development and worked with the open source Processing environment.
"We used a short-throw projector and Xbox Kinect and were able to overcome a few technical glitches," he says with a smile. "It's been a terrific learning experience."
Explaining how it works to a layperson, Matkin says, "Each letter interacts with the others as well as the digital shadow of people coming into the field. Gravity is used to
attract the letters back to their home position; however, to make the letters behave in a convincing manner, I used about 500 times normal gravity. The physics engine is the same as for Angry Birds."
Leanne Elias is pleased with the results of the project and its future potential.
"We are wildly excited about this project because it points towards new directions in interactive media," she says. "And the fact that this was a student-driven project makes it just that much more exciting."
She adds that several students, including Matkin, are going with her to the SXSW International Conference.
"Going to this interactive conference exposes our students to things we can't even imagine – truly cutting-edge technology."
Mills is excited about the future of the wall.
"Brendan created a superb inaugural project and, with the system in place, we are looking forward to further proposals for ideas to promote the gallery and our exhibitions and programs," she says.
The Art Gallery would like to thank the experts in the U of L Department of Facilities (Jim Vanderzee, Bill Hudains, Mick Nutley, Al Mueller, Paul Peterson) for their work in renovating the wall and installing the technology.
This story first appeared in the March 2013 issue of the Legend. For a look at the full issue in a flipbook format, follow this link.