Threatbox.us is an art installation with web surveillance interface in which a movie frame "attacks" visitors via a robotic video projector and computer vision tracking system.
The beam of light that technologies of vision cast upon the world is also always the line of sight for a weapon with which to destroy what the beam presents as its 'objective' -- its target. The moving projection becomes an aggressor. The merging of these technologies of vision and of destruction result in our "military-entertainment" industry. Threatbox.us seeks to question the ideological onslaught of American military-entertainment politics.
Over the past few years I have been examining the compromise, and prize of personal commitment, between self-awareness and subjection. ACCESS (2003-2005) focused on the ambiguity among surveillance, control, and visibility, celebrity. BE[AM] (2005-2007) focuses on the intertwining of military, entertainment, marketing, and the underlying political ideology. Threatbox.us focuses on the aggression that the military and entertainment industries together use to disseminate their propaganda.
Threatbox.us also questions interactivity, and therefore control, as a genre. In this work, the interacting persons are unsuspecting and have no power over their interaction. The web users are powerless as well, witnesses or voyeurs. The rules are set inside the frame of the event, or stage, or game, or – at a larger scale – the consumption economy, the "new world order", the terrorist fear, and the security industry.
Threatbox.us turns a space into an environment in which unsuspecting passers-by encounter video "apparitions" of popular media. A public scale video projection teases viewers with slight but noticeable movements on the wall, moving up, down, to the right, to the left, an unusual way for an advertisement or information screen to behave.
If the passer-by approaches, she enters a detection zone and is tracked by a hidden video camera on the ceiling. As soon as she is detected, the projected movie "attacks" her by swiftly moving onto her body and simultaneously transforming into a purple spotlight, while emitting a loud, threatening sound. This purple light encircling her body encloses her like a target. She cannot escape it. She becomes the center of attention in the public space and to anonymous web users watching online. She is freed of it after several seconds. The projector then moves quickly back on the wall, playing the continuation of the movie, and is ready to attack the next person to be detected.
The background material for Threatbox.us comes from a database that I have collected of popular films, animations, comic books, TV shows, TV news, and computer games. The foreground material will use effects such as explosions, plane crashes, military orders, war zones, disasters, and domestic scenes of people passively engaged in entertainment.
The web component is real time streaming of the space, its public, the movie and the attacks. As for the unsuspecting "targeted" visitors, the web users have no action on what they witness.
A custom program in MAX/MSP/Jitter controls the robotic video projector and video. The system is driven by a small camera mounted on the ceiling above the unmarked detection zone paired with computer vision software which analyzes the camera's signal for changes and passes this data on to the MAX/MSP/Jitter program.
Each new visitor is tracked as she approaches. The system remembers who has been followed in the zone, and will not track a given visitor twice. Couples and close groups such as families are tracked as one.
Custom-designed spatialized 8.1 channel audio immerses the space via speakers placed in the 8 corners of the floor, walls, and ceiling, plus sub-woofer.
The web component is real time but passive, and uses off-the shelf streaming webcams. Real time audio from both the movie and the attacks are webcast.
View technical diagram