Volume 38 Issue
April 3, 2006
Circulation: 10,000



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Converse With Art at the Beall Center in ‘5 ‘til 12’

by: Ross Johnson
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, http://www.beallcenter.uci.edu.
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