There is something solitary about the experience of riding public transportation. Passengers on a crowded subway train retreat into their own interior worlds, disappearing into a book or newspaper, perhaps; or they pretend to sleep, maybe, eyes closed to avoid making contact. What might be going through their minds? Are they thinking of that brother they wronged and hoping for forgiveness, or are they angry about not getting a raise or simply excited about that upcoming meal of fried chicken?
New York-based artist Alon Chitayat commutes from Brooklyn to Manhattan on the C train everyday, sketching passengers. Chitayat and collaborator Jeff Ong used the sketches as the basis for an interactive video that explores the thoughts of rapid-transit passengers through fictional narratives. Subway Stories, an installation at this year’s Currents International New Media Festival, allows visitors to tap into the interior states of the train passengers and hear their innermost thoughts. “I saw the sketches and thought it would be an interesting scenario to hear what these people are thinking,” Ong told Pasatiempo. “It’s a common thing we do in public places; we’ll project our own thoughts onto other people, imagining what they’re thinking.”
Manipulating the levers on a device that resembles a conductor’s box, users can move a video projection of an animated train back and forth, zoom in on various passengers, and hear the monologues going through their minds. The device uses Arduino, an open-source, interactive programming kit. The visuals for the animation were created using a programming language called Processing. “We put the sketches into an animated environment,” said Ong, who met Chitayat in the Interactive Telecommunications Program of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. “At first there were no thoughts to hear. You could only control the subway; zoom in, zoom out, and move the train forward and backward.” The stories were added later. Ong and Chitayat asked friends to look at the passenger sketches and narrate an inner monologue for each. The authors were asked to improvise the monologues on the spot in order to provide a realistic sense of stream-of-consciousness thought patterns. “We recorded about 30 of these stories,” Ong said. Subway Stories takes the isolated, introverted experience of the daily commute and transforms it into an intimate experience between the observer and the observed.
Subway Stories is located inside El Museo Cultural de Santa Fe where, as in past years, the bulk of the new media installations are on display. Currents opens Friday, June 12, with a series of events at El Museo and in the Railyard plaza, including outdoor installations and projections and multimedia performances. Currents continues through June 28 with satellite exhibits and related activities happening around town.
For the second year in a row, Currents curators Frank Ragano and Mariannah Amster present the New Mexico New Media project, an initiative to promote and highlight media arts throughout the state. This year, new media exhibits are featured at partner sites Warehouse 1-10 in Magdalena, the Center for the Arts in Hobbs, the Roswell Museum and Art Center, and the David Anthony Fine Art Gallery in Taos. Exhibit details and a map for self-guided tours are available on the Currents website (www.currentsnewmedia.org), where visitors can also see a list of artists included in this year’s festival as well as all event details.
Former Santa Fe Art Institute artist-in-residence Tomoko Hayashi, who was here last year working on her Tear Mirror project, returns with Mutsugoto, a collaboration with Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab Europe. The project bridges the physical distance between couples in a long-distance relationship through technology: a ceiling-mounted camera connected to a computer interprets the movements of touch-sensitive LED devices worn by the couple. “Mutsugoto is a Japanese word meaning ‘whispered conver-sation between lovers,’ ” Hayashi told Pasatiempo last year. “Rather than using a generic interface like mobile phones, I wanted to make a special ring with an infrared LED. It can be installed anywhere in the world if there’s internet, a bed, and a ceiling.” Mutsugoto allows the wearers to trace their lover’s hand movements across their bodies when they’re not in the same room.
As part of the opening weekend festivities, current Santa Fe Art Institute artist-in-residence Hye Young Kim presents her Intimate Distance project. Attendees can participate in the ongoing project by agreeing to be videotaped in close, intimate proximity with a loved one, whether it’s a friend, partner, or family member. Participants are videotaped for three minutes with their eyes closed while keeping their faces as close together as possible without touching. The video is then added to one of two videos displayed inside El Museo. The other video shows the original project that Kim made in Korea with members of her family. “My intention is to capture psychological, intimate moments from the physically closest distance and to show family dynamics by questioning what intimate relationships are, how to define roles of family, and how the intimate relationships of family affect who I am,” Kim told Pasatiempo. “I will set up a video booth, kind of a tent. I ask the participants, let’s say a mom and daughter, to sit and close their eyes. Every night I will do the simple editing. But I’m not altering it. I just make a mirror reflection that emphasizes movement and transformation.” The project is also available for viewing on Kim’s website (www.hyekimstudio.com).
In the video, dynamics play out subtly between the two participants. Using a mirror effect, a face appears as though unfolding from the center and sides of the screen. The minute physical distance between the two is broached by scent and breath and the awareness of the proximity from one person to another. “I ask them to close their eyes because when you close your eyes, you are losing that visual distance. These days we depend too much on our eyes. When you close them, other senses are heightened.” Kim also noted differences in how adolescents engage with their parents at different age levels. “I notice when kids are young, let’s say five years old or ten years old, they’re still very physically close to their parents. They don’t mind hugging their mom or touching their mom. The teenage boys are not comfortable with it. They don’t want to grab their mom’s hand. They’re almost scared. Some Americans are not comfortable with it or they try to avoid the interaction by talking.”
Three minutes, though not a long duration, feels much longer when your eyes are closed and your and your partner’s faces are mere centimeters apart. “People tell me it feels like five or 10 minutes,” Kim said. She began Intimate Distance last summer, then continued the project during a residency in Hungary before coming to the Art Institute this spring. “I’m more interested in relationships like father and daughter, mother and son. I’d love to expand it to other human relationships. I have lived in the U.S. for seven years, and I visit my family once in a year or once in two years. I have a strong Asian family bonding, but they’re physically far away. Families, especially in Asian culture, they take care of everything for you but at the same time they value individual privacy. There’s my freedom, there’s my choices, my privacy. That was in my mind, and last summer when I asked my family, ‘Can you do this? Just close your eyes for three minutes?’, in the beginning they were not sure about it. But once they participated they were interested, especially my mom; she’s very supportive.”
Kim began to see a pattern in the family relationships she recorded that challenge cultural roles. “Sometimes a mom takes a passive role in the family but in the video, mom will actually try to keep the intimacy. In a way, in the relationship, mom has a more active role than her husband. It’s a whole hidden dynamic, expressed in the body language. Maybe your mom is the one who bonds all the family or she’s more strong and persistent. Hopefully this body performance reflects that hidden relationship.” Visitors can participate beginning at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, June 12, or between 1 and 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The video project will be on view at El Museo for the run of the festival. ◀