In the Spring of 2016, I participated in a course offered by Georgetown professor Evan Barba that was designed to teach iterative design by way of an interactive, multimedia installation. My contribution to this project, itself a part of a multi-class effort called “The Pilgrimage Project,” was the “Window to the Present.”
The initial goal of the project was to provide a novel means for individuals visiting the exhibit to experience stories related to Old North, the historic building in which the exhibit took place, and then be able to contribute their own stories, reflecting the fact that as inhabitants of the building they have already become part of the building’s story. The physical embodiment of the window represented the Old North building itself.
After some re-working of the design, many of the literal elements of “story telling” were removed; at first, images of individuals would just be paired with famous quotes from speeches made in the building to reflect a sense of history, and the final version ended simply with videos of individuals at the event, staring uncomfortably out through the window. There were some technical necessities that drove this decision, but in user testing it was found that even without text or audio, the video of individuals looking out at the viewer through the window had a mesmerizing quality. Using face detection software, a hidden camera recognized when the audience was present for a certain length of time, and record a short video to add to the archive.
Based on conversations following the event, the success of the installation was largely based on the abstract nature of the exhibit. Without text or audio explaining the context, viewers were left to watch the randomly playing videos until they saw themselves or someone they knew in the exhibit, as a part of the show. Only then was the secret revealed.
Although the story-telling element of the original design was lost, what was gained was a more nuanced experience in which the audience became a part of the performance, which also suggested the ways that the people passing through a building, or a campus, or a city, become a part of that space’s history.
The “Window” was also exhibited two weeks later at the second annual Georgetown Mediafest, a student organized multi-media exhibit for which I have worked as a volunteer and contributor for both of its years of existence.