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Dec 20, 2010
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Leaky Data, Leaky Water

Final Project

Major Studio Interface and Design for this Century


WikiLeaks’ release of diplomatic embassy cables is in the process of transforming social, cultural, and political systems and the relationships comprising the individual elements of these systems.  WikiLeaks did not just make visible faults in the system but also punctured our vision of the system as a whole. By releasing a constant stream of cables daily,  Assange assures it. Despite this upheaval, most people have not read the actual cables.

By drawing an analogy between water and data, this project creates a physical exploration of the emergent properties of data in the form of a “fountain” that reads the cables and visualizes their frequency with water.

This fountain is a system of pipes, connected to form the phrase “History is a set of lies agreed upon.” When WikiLeaks releases a new cable to the public, a stream of colored water is released into the pipes, eventually leaking out of the holes and crevices.  An LED screen below displays the title of the cable released.


Presentation posted here.

Dec 6, 2010

Major Studio: Final Project Prototype 1

Originally, I wanted to create a fountain powered by the release of new leaked cables; each time a new set of cables was released, the fountain would turn on via Arduino. There were a few problems I encountered with this: (1) the only pumps available were 120V AC pumps. After consulting to numerous people on possible ways to do this, the feedback I received was that the element of danger involved with water and wall voltage outweighed novelty, so I am scrapping this setup for the moment. In the interim, however, I will use this as my first prototype/proof of concept:

PPT Fountain Prototype 1 from Liza Stark on Vimeo.

Conceptually, however, this water circuit/cycle configuration embodies the spirit of the narrative I want to establish: water circulates from the future up to the past, drips onto and dissolves the printed word of the present, finally finding respite in the transparent box of the future before going through the cycle again.

On another conceptual hand, there is not as much interaction between the user and the fountain as between the web and hardware. I am also vascillating as to whether or not I would like to focus this project specifically on WikiLeaks or as a general mediation inspired by CableGate. One potential conceptual and design solution is to place an independent container of water above the “past” and use a solenoid valve to release water into the pipes. The trigger to release the water would be a sustained keypress: to release the valve, users have to type for at least 5 seconds, or enough to engage in some form of communication and the water will continue to flow as they type. For the interface they type into, it will either be an email or a comment documenting their response to a historical event or random question or their opinion of CableGate.

I like the idea of the user having control over the flow of water since an extension of my concept involves an individual’s recognition of their agency in defining and redefining the historical narrative. However, the interaction among elements and ideas through the fountain setup highlights the cyclical nature of history which is also a fundamental element. I am looking forwatrd to receiving feedback from the class regarding which tradeoff works best within the context of my concept and design. Here is a diagram for visual support:

Another possible solution that just struck me for the solenoid iteration would be to place a plant (I am thinking lots of vines) in the bottom (future) that would grow up the back and become wrapped up in the past. I really want to highlight the entangling relationship between the past and future that is unmediated by the present. It would also make the association of cyclical time stronger as well.

This also ties in quite nicely with the idea for the original analogy between water and data: both are flowing forces that require pressure and restraint to stop, both take many forms, and both (at least now) are essential to life. In essence, both are intrinsically generative and destructive forces; they can wreak havoc by bursting the proverbial dam or can irrigate and lubricate fields for sustained growth.

Dec 6, 2010

Major Studio: Final Project Concept and Design Questions

History is a set of data agreed upon.

WikiLeaks is an organization that prides themselves on creating transparency by releasing confidential documents held by the government and other private organizations. Through their recent release of diplomatic cables, aptly being called “Cable Gate,” the general population has access to information that calls into question an already formed idea of history. In the wake of Cable Gate, this quotation reemerged in my head after a period of dormancy:

History is a set of lies that people have agreed upon. Even when I am gone, I shall remain in the people’s minds the star of their rights, my name will be the warcry of their efforts, the motto of their hopes. (Napoleon Bonaparte, 1815)

Which then reminded me of a line from a favorite song:

I’m set free to find a new illusion. (Lou Reed, 1969)

Data gives us the illusion of temporal omniscience, whether in print book or screen database. Words and numbers aid us in constructing our perspective of the past and its impact on the present and future. When that data becomes subverted later on, our historical narrative surrounding it is also called into question.

For my final project, I will create an water-based installation that meditates on the cyclical and leaky narrative of history in a data driven age.


In an age of data, stored memory is altering traditional ideas of history.

Technology is transforming popular perceptions of history as a static framework for examining relationships between past, present, and future. With the ability to create, communicate, store, retrieve, and recommunicate information, the lines of linearity are becoming blurred to engender a more cyclical, humanized paradigm of history.

Design Questions:

How can an analogy between water and data be presented in object form to conceptualize a narrative that addresses the fluidity of time-based events, ideas, and people within a historical context?

(Another phrasing of this question: How to objectify an analogy between water and data to conceptualize a narrative addressing the fluidity of time-based events, ideas, and people within a historical context?)

Further, what is the most effective way to illustrate the appearance of a cohesive system while highlighting the reality of their disjointed elements?

Nov 22, 2010

Interface Final: Hand Prototypes

My final project will be another iteration of our public space project, but the design question and concept will change to reflect the movement of the object into a broader space.

Here are some of my initial questions/idea snippets:

  • In what ways does sound impact your relationship with your immediate environment?
  • How can an individual experience their normal environment in a profoundly new way?
  • How do people experience a personal relationship with an object?
  • How does sound define an object?
  • How can sound  desystematize environments and behaviors associated with them?
  • The transformative properties of sound

Here are some initial rough prototypes of what this contact/sounding object might look like:

All of the objects drawn will be placed on a glove. I am still debating what type of fabric will best work for this type of project and that will not interfere too much with the vibrations emitted by the object.

On the left, we have the back of the hand/glove that will house the speaker and two LEDs indicating on and off states. A headphone jack will allow users to plug into the object that they are “listening” to. On the right  is the front of the hand/glove with the piezo disk.

Nov 12, 2010

Interface Final: Nascence

My final project will be another iteration of our public space project, but the design question and concept will change to reflect the movement of the object into a broader space.

Here are some of my initial questions/idea snippets:

  • In what ways does sound impact your relationship with your immediate environment?
  • How can an individual experience their normal environment in a profoundly new way?
  • How do people experience a personal relationship with an object?
  • How does sound define an object?
  • How can sound  desystematize environments and behaviors associated with them?
  • The transformative properties of sound

Here is some inspiration and precedence to illustrate my concept and proof of [in]sanity:

It’s a long, exciting, sleepless era ahead. stay tuned!

Nov 8, 2010

Liminal Sounding: Prototype Take 2

The third prototyping test was a bust. We had constructed a speaker to attach to the contact mic and amp, but once we hooked everything up, the speaker was not loud enough to hear any type of noise. This could have been for a variety of reasons, from wear of the contact mic to a lose connection.

Not to be deterred, we instead walked around the bridge for another round of sonic observation to determine the acoustics of the sounds coming from the cars below and the construction closer to the Brooklyn side. We found that the sound environment changed as we passed through the first tower, with the sweet spot of transformation occurring just as you walked past the tower: here the static and muddiness of the combined noise decreased significantly.

We also more closely observed the connection between heard and felt sound. That is, you wouldn’t expect to hear individual footsteps on the bridge, but the wood planks of the path give enough that you can feel them move as people walk on them. Within the acoustics of the bridge, these individual sounds of walking become audible over the wind and cars due largely in part to feeling the wood move.

A third observation that was the most fascinating from a behavioral point of view was the manner in which people chose to cross or not cross the bridge. We had been speculating what tourists would do when confronted with the mass expanse of street to travel once they arrived on the Brooklyn side – would they actually cross all the way or would they turn around and come back to Manhattan once they reached the middle or end of the bridge?

We divided people according to their goal for coming to the bridge, a division that correlated highly to the distinction between locals and tourists. We were working under the assumption that the majority of tourists would consider the bridge a destination, a place to knock off the list and to take in the entire city. Locals tended to actually cross the bridge, using it for either transportation from working Manhattan to home in BK or vice versa, and as a means of decompression or perhaps better put, a way to scale themselves against the city, or from habit or exercise. We made a point of watching specific groups of people as we prepared and crossed, noticing about eight different groups of tourists returning to Manhattan. For the moment, we are putting this observation away , but it was an extremely interesting find that we hope to integrate into further iterations.

An update of a few key changes to our project emerged from this round:

  • We decided to use headphones instead of a speaker; it is a much more intimate way to accomplish our goal of having people hear the bridge and interact with their surroundings.
  • Initially we had thought about focusing only on the locals. We justified this with the idea that tourists as outsiders generally experience a heightened sense of awareness in a new and exciting environment. After speaking with Victoria, however, we decided that we are not going to differentiate between an audience, or focus on engaging one more than the other: if the bridge democratizes, we certainly don’t want to infringe on that lovely side effect and alienate one group by focusing on a specific population.
Nov 1, 2010
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Liminal Sounding: First Iteration

Here sits the presentation Caitlin and I gave for our public space project on the Brooklyn Bridge.


Oct 19, 2010

Public Space Project Proposal

In observing the use of the space, we were interested in the idea that after a certain vertical point, the majority of the bridge is physically unused, though still essential for structural purposes. We were enamored of the idea of using this structural space – especially the steel cables – as a location of engagement and interaction.


As we were especially excited about the subtle sounds of the bridge, we have been discussing the idea of coupling a sound input source like an enhanced contact microphone to these cables, allowing people to amplify and become aware of the constant vibrations that all the elements of the bridge – pedestrians, bikers, automobile traffic, wind, weather – are creating. We would like to do some tests involving attaching microphones to the bridge cables with magnets, allowing them to be moved around and giving the impression that one is “playing” the bridge like a musical instrument. We’re also interested in the idea of using small vibrating motors, also on magnets, so that a group of people could interact by “playing” for each other. The sound created would therefore be a vertical connection through the bridge, which is not usually accessible: the traffic below would be creating the most significant vibration, the people on the pedestrian level could make smaller-scale changes, and the entire thing would be enacted by the vibration of the cables above.

The cables of the bridge:


Another theme that we were very interested in was the presence of photography on the bridge. Since so many people are taking pictures, it’s interesting to wonder what the composite view of everyone’s photos must be, or whether people can relate to each other through their photos. We were also interested in the play between light and shadows that the cables create – perhaps we could have some kind of visual puzzle where passersby need to interact with each other to merge different photographs or create a certain outcome. We’ve also been discussing using these ideas of light and photography to trigger the sound piece as described above; the motors could start vibrating at a certain time of day when the sun is shining, or could react to the flash of a camera.


Oct 19, 2010

Public Space Site Observations

We began our journey in search of public space with three sites in mind: the Silver Towers, a residential complex for NYU faculty members; the Brooklyn Bridge; and Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn near the Franklin Avenue subway stop. We chose these three for their diversity of environment, both geographically and structurally.

Site 1: Silver Towers


Silver Towers is an odd paradox of stark, industrial architecture punctuated with intimate family activity. Built in the 1960s, it consists of three Soviet Brutalist style complexes forming an open box around a grassy island. This green space is the obvious focal point and houses a very large, imposing statue created by Picasso. A driveway runs the perimeter of the green space and to close the box established by the buildings is a wide sidewalk with a ledge for sitting a green space behind that for play (but not for dogs). The entire complex felt cold, and children were generally the only ones who interacted with the space outside of its prescribed boundaries. As an exercise in observing and analyzing public space, these factors made it a great place to start, but in the end we decided that the character of the space was more conducive to observation, largely due to the hermetic nature of the space; namely, that it might feel too forced. On a minor note, we also thought the inhabitants (or their security force) might not see our endeavors as enriching the space.

Site 2: Brooklyn Bridge


Next we took the 6 train down to the Brooklyn Bridge. Both of us were immediately inspired by the opportunities and challenges working in such a space would involve. There are a few characteristics of bridges as a general symbol that were immediately appealing to both of us: bridges connect two separated spaces; bridges are thresholds from one place to another; all types of people use bridges (whether driving, walking, or biking); bridges must economize horizontal space; bridges have the capacity to facilitate a distinct type of connection between an individual and other people (an intimate friend, passerby, or cantankerous biker); individual and him/herself; an individual and the immediate space of the bridge as a structural environment (the trusses, the cables, the cars passing underneath, the people walking by, etc.); an individual and the passive space of the background, namely the two places the bridge unites and the landscape in between. In a word, bridges are inherently liminal spaces, in between spaces, and very powerful in their capacity to stimulate interaction. Their uses are multifarious, serving as spaces for transportation, personal reflection, social interaction, and more. This liminality also serves another function, deeply necessary for the above relationships: it offers the individual a sense of scale, both in space and time.

The BK Bridge has a rich cultural history as a symbol of New York, most importantly as a symbol that all New Yorkers as well as visitors can lay claim to. I think the latter part of that statement is very important in underscoring the bridge as a binding force; walking the Brooklyn Bridge is a (literal) rite of passage. The bridge is an equalizer of sorts, largely a result of its past. There is a spectrum of events that narrowly converge to form the vast and vibrant history of the Brooklyn Bridge. Here are some of the histories we will be exploring:

  • the conception and construction of begun by John Augustus Roebling in 1867 and completed in 1883;
  • the significance of the bridge’s architectural feats and the dynamics of suspension bridges in general;
  • transit strikes and other events that increased pedestrian traffic;
  • Olafur Eliasson’s Brooklyn Bridge waterfall installations;
  • the space once inhabited by the Twin Towers;
  • also interesting is the recent controversy surrounding the BK Bridge Park art vendors (

Our Crossing

We had not had the pleasure of walking the bridge recently, which in retrospect was key for the experience we had while crossing. Stepping up to the foot of the bridge, we were immediately surrounded and passed by a diverse crowd of crossers. As we continued walking, a few distinct characteristics and behavior patterns emerged from the group: almost everyone was taking pictures or recording video, no one paid attention to the bike lane, bikers become very upset at this, people stopped at various points along the path for sight-seeing, picture-taking, inspecting a historic marker, etc. Individual groups or couples tended to form larger groups at a few locations that seemed ideal for picture-taking, especially places which captured both the skyline and the bridge towers in their focal plane.

We immediately confronted our first challenge, which was twofold: (1) people were already interacting with bridge and (2) the amount of unused space to work within seemed to confined. A few key observations about the space allowed us to rethink the assumptions of these two problems. First, we noticed that the most unused space on a bridge is vertical. Cars inhabit the lower levels, giving the above onlookers a sense of omniscience and scale. Second, the dynamics of the bridge create fascinating pockets as you approach the middle that seem to lack noise (I choose this word carefully) and wind – this intensifies the feeling of completing an epic journey once you arrive on the other side. Third, the bridge emits a variety of interesting sounds, which are generally ignored by people who are aurally engaged by their own conversations or iPods or cell phones.. Fourth, crossers have a heightened relationship to real time travel. At the other end of the bridge, we had one solid project idea and many themes to continue exploring: