Caterwaul

INTRODUCTION

While the Gross National Happiness (GNH) of Bhutan has been criticised for being naïve and an attempt to deflect attention from the material poverty of its people, website there is no doubt that its citizens have benefited from the emphasis on well-being and the environment their king has instituted. The advent of television and Internet has nevertheless raised questions of the fragility of this so called “Last Shangri-La”. Part of the success of the King’s GNH is based on the preservation of traditional customs and culture which the spectre of materialism inherent in both on-line and broadcast media threatens to unravel.

DESCRIPTION

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The smile detection machine in Thimphu, Bhutan.

Grand Mutual Smiles is an installation that explored networked mediated happiness through an international smile exchange. The project captured the smiles of people and transmitted them across the Internet to display them in the city of Linz in Austria and Thimphu in Bhutan. Using cameras equipped with smile detection technology, installations in both cities progressively captured pictures of smiling people, displaying them both locally and remotely. In both cities the pictures of smiling Bhutanese and smiling Austrians were projected on video screens. The motivation was to encourage people from the respective countries to communicate with each other across the Internet in a non-verbal and humoristic way, by smiling.

The project website can be found here: http://www.digitalstar.net/projects/grand_mutual_smiles/
The proliferation of networked on-line worlds has provided a small quota of the human race the option to seek refuge in utopian, bulimics
less troubled imaginary lands. Rolling synthetic green pastures offer us respite from a planet undergoing exploitation and climate change. For those of us too firmly rooted in this material world to join them, pilule
how shall we communicate with them? In what way shall we lament their departure?

The essence of this piece is a large monolithic dark wall that is represented both in the real and virtual worlds. It is a one-way portal to the virtual world through which people can whisper their thoughts, scream their frustrations and convey regret without the privilege of reply. It is a wailing wall through which to mourn the loss of our humanity to the virtual network.

CATERWAUL is an interactive sound installation that operates as a one way “portal” to Second Life via the Internet. A physical wall in operates as a totemic locus of grief. People approach it with intent to wail and mourn. The mourners grieve their lost loved ones who spend more time in virtual and on-line worlds than they do communicating in real life. The cacophony of the lamentation is recorded by hidden microphones in the wall, transmitted across the Internet and piped out of an “identical” wall in the virtual world Second Life (http://secondlife.com). A website displaying a simulation of the wall allows other people, on the threshold of “real” and “second” life, to vicariously eavesdrop the wailing.

Project webpage: http://www.digitalstar.net/projects/caterwaul/