Text Rain is an interactive installation in which viewers play with the falling text of a poem. The text responds to motion and can be caught, lifted and released to fall again. If participants accumulate enough letters along their outstretched arms, or along the silhouette of any dark object, they can read words and phrases formed by the falling letters. With active participation the text of the poem Talk, You, by Evan Zimroth* can be gradually reconstructed.
The Text Rain interactive installation developed out of AbacusParts – a series of theatre and dance collaborative workshops produced and directed by Romy Achituv and Danielle Wilde in New York City in 1997-98. An early idea for the piece was to create an interactive installation for the stage, which would display a handwritten classical manuscript about perspective, possibly by Brunelleschi or Durrer. The manuscript was to scroll into the screen from the top and slowly “disintegrate” into letters and diagram-parts, which would flow around the captured image of the performers.
After developing a number of initial prototypes - Romy began collaborating with Camille Utterback on the installation. Utterback’s work at the time was inspired by linguistic metaphors which referenced the physical world, and often involved the creation of digital systems to allow for unusual encounters with text or language. The collaboration resulted in the current Text Rain installation, which was further developed by Utterback and prototyped at the Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University, where she was then a researcher.
As the piece evolved, the focus shifted from developing a piece for use in performance, to a free standing installation. While we watched people engage with the prototypes it became clear that the interaction between the viewers and the text created a unique dynamic suited for both individual and collaborative exploration.
We are constantly amazed at the individual methods people develop to engage with the text. Some stand still or freeze a pose, letting the letters slowly accumulate on their heads, shoulders, arms and legs; others move quickly or jump up and down, using their whole body to affect and alter the display; still others link arms or stretch garments across the screen in an attempt to catch as many letters as they can.
Viewers work together to decipher the poem, communicating with each other through their projected/mediated image, or alternatively, distrupt the ‘reading’ of the poem by stealing letters from one another.
The poem Talk, You was selected for Text Rain due to its resonance with the structure of the piece. Zimroth’s poem creates metaphorical bridges between the physical and the linguistic. It employs images of the body moving through space to speak of interpersonal relationships, illustrating how “meanings” come together and fall apart through transient “syntactical” spatial relationships.
Talk, You eloquently blurs the boundaries between the physical and virtual, echoing and complimenting the structure of the interactive experience within the piece.