4D Games, Liberation Technology and a Penis Wall at ITP Spring Show 2014

May 21, 2014 | Marina Galperina

The two-day Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) graduate showcase at NYU was a madhouse, with some 100 projects on view, ranging from groundbreaking innovations to timely trinkets. Here are the highlights of recent works from the international group of artists, programmers and technologists.

There were several game-based projects, but Omer Shapira’s 4D-gaming concept for Horizon blew me away (above). The fourth dimension is time. To advance the character through the gamespace, the player can “scroll” through the various objects the character has already passed, bringing them to present space-time — summoning a staircase, for example, that appears through iridescent pink window to the malleable bits of its recent past. It’s quite challenging and in progress of being tweaked, but it has the makings of a thoughtful and truly innovative visual gaming experience.

Peiqi Su’s Penis Wall was the talk of the show. It had 81 3D-printed six-segment servo-motorized “erectable penises” rising and following in a hypnotic choreography. With its ultrasonic distance sensor, the individual units respond to the viewers movements and can also be programmed to dance along to music (as seen above.) The Penis Wall can also serve as a visualization for data, like the fluctuations in the stock market. Peiqi Sue told me she was inspired to link her Penis Wall to the stock market after hearing that “everyone on Wall Street is a dick.”

But the Penis Wall itself came first. “The penis is so different!” she wrote on her project site with inspiring honesty. “This is my initial motivation, to study one of the oldest and probably the most attractive thing that humans interact with.”

There were several aggressively timely projects and a few using the Oculus Rift. While Sarah Rothberg’s complex recreation of her childhood home — “The future of memory in virtual reality!” — using a Unity 3D model and overlays of home video and other complex data was thorough and impressive (not pictured, seen with Oculus Rift), I personally lean towards projects less focused on self-portraiture.

Jason Sigal’s Sonic Scrolls was perhaps the best music-based project, “an interactive musical notation and performance system based on color and shape” seen here with a transparency projector and some Sharpie markers. The experimental melodic texture emitted via this color-sensitive shape-specific “instrument”-variable system is pretty fantastic.

Sam Brenner’s Adventures of Teen Bloggers turns your un-dead Livejournal from the 2000s into a throwback game of “the most epic of journeys: a walk down a high school hallway.” You know who you are. Get your emo on.

Yang Wang’s Sukhavati was my favorite Oculus Rift-based project. It offered two interactive environments. I tried the one that simulates every day anxiety, running through grey abstract streets between sharp buildings until the sensor strapped to my waist would direct a flood, depending on my breathing patterns. Several times when I was submerged, I would hear Yang Wang’s voice reassuring me to not be afraid. It was a very emotional, cathartic experience.

And now we come to my favorite, Allison Burtch’s thesis project Navigating the Really Real. Burtch has been working on “Liberation Technology” — “technology that liberates from unjust social, economic or political conditions.” Above is her circuit board design that will block cell phone signals.

There is also a Firefox add-on that “appends names and brands in the browser with who they’re owned by” and will revolutionize the way you read the news.

There were new trends this year — several projects that lock you out of your phone on command or disable your social media use until a task in the physical realm is completed it with other flesh-people; a few data visualizations like an augmented reality map of New York and an interactive sound map of child poverty; very cheap alternatives to expensive scientific equipment; a portable printer that prints on any surface; a vibration-based Braille cellphone system… Things that would make a corporate tech scout get a hard-on. Then again, things that would have them running back to their HQ, screaming of impending consumer mutiny. It is these projects which work against the corporate interests and the revenue-focused marketability of technology that are most important, and luckily, they exist. (Photos: Marina Galperina/ANIMALNewYork)