Converse With Art at the Beall Center in ‘5 ‘til 12’ |
Always the place for unique and interesting exhibits, the Beall Center
for Art and Technology is now displaying another one of its signature
showcases. “5 ‘til 12” is an interactive video-based art form that
takes the shape of a narrative and, in this case, a murder mystery. |
The Center’s official description of the exhibit reads: “5
‘til 12 is an immersive narrative installation that explores the
fragile human ego using evolutionary algorithms and game theory.
Through user identification technology, interactive video-based
characters with complex personalities develop in direct response to
audience participation over the two-month duration of the exhibition.”
In non-ICS terms, four televisions set in black columns are
spread across a darkened room. On each is the bored face of a person,
but once you insert a punch card, they light up and start to tell their
side of the story. They are fictional characters in fictional
circumstances, but the concept of the presentation is to apply a
computer program to make the story less identifiable and predictable,
and therefore the characters more believable.
A series of video clips selected by the computer and spliced
together describes the night of the crime. It takes place at an opening
or exhibition of its own, but the exact event changes from character to
character, which is one of the novelties of the production. Placing you
into the narrative almost as an investigating police officer or
journalist, each person takes you through their personal reasons for
attending the event, their expectations once they arrive and their
reaction toward a certain couple present.
The pieces begin to fall into place after a few of these
“interviews,” but there is really only one thing each person can agree
on: a girl invites her ex-lover to the event only to introduce him to
her new slice, and that everyone present is significantly inebriated.
There is a little awkwardness when the ex produces flowers, but the
cordiality of the occasion prevents anything more dramatic from
happening … until those involved step outside for some air.
The story changes each time someone tells it, and no one can
agree on the suspect. Only after a few circuits through the exhibit
will you be able to piece the entire story together.
The artists, Sue Huang and Brian House, who go by
“Knifeandfork” for this production, describe the piece as “a nonlinear
narrative.” They have used the “prisoner’s dilemma” from game theory,
where players will “score” higher the more blameless they appear and
the more they inform on the other players. The computer uses this
algorithm when deciding which clips to play when, so each character
tells the story that makes him look the best. Each sequence of the
character’s relation is decided by a computer that recognizes the user
from the inserted card. A new user will evoke a different story, while
a repeat listener will hear “All right, I’ll tell it again.”
The Beall Center has always been the place for new and
nontraditional art forms applying technology, and “5 ‘til 12” is just
the latest in a series of exhibitions over the last few years that have
included “Microepiphanies,” a digital opera and “The Roman Forum
Project,” a classic Greek performance merged with Internet technology.
“5 ‘til 12” runs until March 15, and takes less than an hour
out of your day. It gives you a view into the state of today’s art, so
go soon. But maybe not too soon, because according to the artists, “In
the last few minutes of the final hour, anything is possible.”
The gallery’s hours are 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday and
Wednesday, and 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. For more
information, visit the center’s Web site,