The Pen and The Postcard (2013)

The Pen and The Postcard (2013)

Last month, Peter Wildman and I were involved with Electrofringe as a part of the This Is Not Art festival in Newcastle. It was a nice escape from teaching and PhD’ing, and a good opportunity to turn out a work quickly, rather than something that gets bogged down from the usual drawn-out process.

We had two works in the show, with the following – The Pen and The Postcard – being a comment on our fascination to continually add higher and higher levels of technology to objects that already function perfectly well in their analogue form. By adding every sensor we owned to an oversize pencil, we wanted to see if this obscene amount of technology encouraged people to engage with the act of writing, or instead impeded their attempts.

Testing, everything.

The absurd nature of the work made programming relatively simple. We wanted data streams from each sensor (accelerometer, flex, photoresistor and proximity), but the mapping of these streams to output was deliberately erratic. An Arduino board sent these values to Max (via a serial feed), where there was an array of pseudo-random events: DMX lighting and both sound and voice synthesis. Download code below…

Arduino sketch.

Max patch (requires [aka.speech] and [dmxusbpro] objects).

DMX, Max.
Peter, drawing.

With these absurd pencils, visitors could write a postcard to whomever they chose. After they ‘posted’ them, we sent the postcards through normal postal service, along with a message at the bottom of the postcard for the receiver to register their arrival here. This was a further comment on our fascination with tracking all of our movements through digital technology.

It was entertaining to watch visitors try and write neatly with the pencils, but for the most part, also quite impressive. Many managed to not only write legibly, but through their careful movements, they also avoided triggering much of the annoying digital feedback that we programmed (mostly for our own entertainment).

Pencils, two.
Postcards, box.
Postcards, posting.
Postcards, posting.

Whilst we haven’t received many responses for postcard arrivals, this was an interesting process and the project may see the light of day in another form soon. Clearly, many of you need to be encouraged to write to your mother more often.

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