Call and Response: The Future of Museums Presentation

On May 6th, I had the privilege of presenting my Master’s thesis at ITP.  Below is a video of the presentation.


Master’s Thesis Presentation
May 6th, 2010

The slides can be seen here.

And just for fun, below is the chat room conversation during my presentation:
Jim posted from a guest at (05/06/10 14:25):
i think sara bremen is writing an article about museums for a magazine, i forget which oneJim posted from a guest at (05/06/10 14:25):
so look out for that

jelanijohn@… sent an instant message at (05/06/10 14:25):
comic sans confirmed

jelanijohn@… sent an instant message at (05/06/10 14:26):
by jonathan

tom.igoe@… sent an instant message at (05/06/10 14:26):
I’d start with an overview of what other solutions have been tried for people with very little mobility. Brainwave might not be the right answer. Dano’s point about EMG is worth considering. And Marianne’s on the work done in the field.

Michelle Mayer posted from the web at (05/06/10 14:27):
whasn’t Sara going at 3:20!!!?? DAMN I was on my way to see it

Michelle Mayer posted from the web at (05/06/10 14:28):

tom.igoe@… sent an instant message at (05/06/10 14:28):
I used to live on that corner.

tom.igoe@… sent an instant message at (05/06/10 14:28):
I think

Sue Syn posted from a guest at (05/06/10 14:29):
go sara

Jason Rosado posted from the web at (05/06/10 14:29):
Go Wes!

camera posted from a guest at (05/06/10 14:30):
Jonathan Ystad

Marianne posted from a guest at (05/06/10 14:31):
Sara is so wonderful.

Marianne posted from a guest at (05/06/10 14:31):
This is great.

jelanijohn@… sent an instant message at (05/06/10 14:31):

kio posted from a guest at (05/06/10 14:33):
great presentation skillz

Jim posted from a guest at (05/06/10 14:33):
i touched a richard sera sculpture when it was at the moma three years ago

Jim posted from a guest at (05/06/10 14:34):
i don’t think i was supposed to, but it’s dumb that you aren’t allowed to

Jason Rosado posted from the web at (05/06/10 14:34):
she’s on fire

jelanijohn@… sent an instant message at (05/06/10 14:34):
how did it feel?

Jim posted from a guest at (05/06/10 14:34):
i think sara’s right that there needs to be more engagement

Marianne posted from a guest at (05/06/10 14:34):
that was a really beautiful show

Jim posted from a guest at (05/06/10 14:34):
like steel

tom.igoe@… sent an instant message at (05/06/10 14:35):
Love the gestures.

Gordie posted from a guest at (05/06/10 14:35):
Sara is wonderful

Sue Syn posted from a guest at (05/06/10 14:36):
she speaks really well

jelanijohn@… sent an instant message at (05/06/10 14:36):

camera posted from a guest at (05/06/10 14:36):
I disagree Jim, some sera’s should touched, and some not so much. it depends on the piece. you’re talking about the one in the courtyard right?

Jason Rosado posted from the web at (05/06/10 14:37):
brooklyn always does it well.

ruferto posted from a guest at (05/06/10 14:37):
aye, we go hard

Jim posted from a guest at (05/06/10 14:38):
i think art should be experienced through several senses, your eyes will never tell the whole story. i think it was on the second floor, in the main gallery.

Jim posted from a guest at (05/06/10 14:38):
i mean i get that we shouldn’t touch paintings, but sculptures are in a different realm

camera posted from a guest at (05/06/10 14:39):
that was an incredible show. the one in the courtyard had tons of rust on it, and when people would touch it despite the obvious sign saying they shouldn’t, they would start complaining loudly about the rust and disrupt the wonderful flow through the piece

Jim posted from a guest at (05/06/10 14:39):
and the dinner party is another one that i would’ve loved to touch the plates around the table, sit down at the table, etc.

Michelle Mayer posted from the web at (05/06/10 14:39):
she has an amazing stage presence

camera posted from a guest at (05/06/10 14:39):
sara rocks

kio posted from a guest at (05/06/10 14:39):
she has actor training, doesn;t she?

Jim posted from a guest at (05/06/10 14:40):
yes and she can walk on stilts

Jim posted from a guest at (05/06/10 14:40):
fun fact

jelanijohn@… sent an instant message at (05/06/10 14:40):
she’s was a dancer as well

kio posted from a guest at (05/06/10 14:40):

kio posted from a guest at (05/06/10 14:40):
i challenge her to a stilt race

tom.igoe@… sent an instant message at (05/06/10 14:41):
this is a very stilted conversation

jelanijohn@… sent an instant message at (05/06/10 14:41):
can you hear the squealing noise in the room?

jelanijohn@… sent an instant message at (05/06/10 14:41):
just curious

tom.igoe@… sent an instant message at (05/06/10 14:41):

jelanijohn@… sent an instant message at (05/06/10 14:41):

tom.igoe@… sent an instant message at (05/06/10 14:42):
but my hearing is not that good.

Jim posted from a guest at (05/06/10 14:42):
i love this idea that layers can be applied to works of art, that an old work by judy chicago can get an added dimension by new media

camera posted from a guest at (05/06/10 14:42):
How much of a say should an artist have on this kind of augmentation?

kio posted from a guest at (05/06/10 14:42):
i’m wondering why that feels ok with Chicago’s work and not so much with others

Michelle Mayer posted from the web at (05/06/10 14:43):
yay!!!!!!! great job Sara!!!!

kio posted from a guest at (05/06/10 14:43):
will somebody in the room as something along those lines for me?

camera posted from a guest at (05/06/10 14:43):
marina’s FIRST Q

kio posted from a guest at (05/06/10 14:43):
oops, cancel!

Women in Love: A Big Screens Project


On December 4th, 2009 Women in Love opened ITP’s annual Big Screens show, presented at the IAC building in New York City.  The piece ran for a little over four minutes and played twice.

Women in Love is an audio and visual collage of women, love, flying, and Sonic Youth. The audience watches and listens to five women as they watch back, as they read aloud, and as they inhabit a world of limitless gravity, multiplicity, and soaring and searing love.  Confronted with these larger-than-life women, audience members can choose to call a number and hear one of their stories, chosen at random, more closely.  The stories focus on love–romantic, familial, painful, and completely joyous.  When they call, a balloon floats onto the screen, hovers for a moment, and floats off as a gentle signifier of the listeners’ presence.  After the audience members hears one of the women’s stories, they have the option to leave their own story of love.  This new addition to the vault gets added to the mix and a new listener may be presented with this audience member’s story.


Technically, Women in Love runs on three applications.  The videos of the women are played through an openFrameworks application.  The application listens for OSC messages sent from a Processing application which is, in turn, listening to messages from an Asterisk server.  When a listener calls in, the Asterisk server notifies the Processing sketch which sends an OSC message to openFrameworks via the IP addresses of the computers, calling for a balloon to be drawn.

view code

Acting and the Digital Expansion of Theatre Space

Once a month for the past fall semester, I’ve attended and worked with the Acting and the Digital Expansion of Theatre Space workshop, a collaboration between ITP and the Grad Acting program at Tisch.  Using excerpts from Charles Mee’s Tunnel of Love as our text, we staged three scenes that attempted to incorporate technology in new, useful, and significant ways.

My contribution was a program written in openFrameworks that allowed for a performer to record “loops” of action and replay them, much as a musician does when she records a small section of live music and loops it underneath her playing.  While video has become familiar in theatrical productions, this experiment more closely connects the performers and the story to the content of the video display.  Actions on stage are recorded live by performers themselves, creating short clips available for playback whenever the performer so desires.  The performers can now choose in the moment what is to be echoed, emphasized, or seen in a different context.

The final version of the program ran through Arduino and acted off of buttons pushed by the performers to signal when to record and when to playback.  It was an aesthetic choice on the part of the director and myself to line the loops in a grid format, adding to the objectifying and cold nature of the video.

In this first version, the operations were controlled by me on the computer.




In the final presentation, buttons were attached to the camera and the performer controlled how the videos were taken.

Other participants from ITP included Gabe Barcia-Colombo, Andrew Schneider, Drew Burrows, Adam Harvey, and Daniel Arce.

The workshop was directed by Shawn Van Every, Scott Felden, and Jonathan Ward.

view code

You’re Not Wrong, Barton, You’re Just an Asshole: A Coen Brothers Python Mashup

You’re Not Wrong, Baron, You’re Just an Asshole creates movie script scenes based on the Coen Brothers’ movies O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Barton Fink, and The Big Lebowski, and their respective influences.

Following my interest in fiction distillation and character-focused prose with my midterm Scarlett, negligently, automatically, I chose these three movies for two reasons.  Each movie has a clear, strong main character (Everett, Barton Fink, and the Dude).


In addition, because of the kind of process the Coen Brothers employ, each movie also has an influential source text.  The structure of O Brother is based on Homer’s The Odyssey, The Big Lebowski’s structure is similar to that of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, and the character of Barton Fink is loosely based on the playwright Clifford Odetts.


The program generates one scene, drawing from lines of the main characters, lines from the narration of each movie, camera positions and shots from each movie, and each movie’s influential sources.  Below is a diagram that explains how each of the 13 is generated.  With the middle three lines–those that include text from the influential sources–are run through two steps.  Once the line is generated, the program goes through and searches for referential, personal pronouns (I, me, you, we, etc).  If it finds one of those words, the line is turned into a character line (the name of the character is printed and it becomes a line).  If the line does not include one of those words, the lines becomes narration.

Picture 1

I ran the program multiple times and chose four of my favorite scenes.  Each scene follows the structure above, though the last two scenes have an additional step.  The program went through all the proper nouns of those two scenes and changed them to match one of the characters included in the scene.  For example, if the program came across “Walter,” a character from the Big Lebowski but not one of the three I included, it would be changed to either “Barton” or “Everett.”  The hope was to keep the scene more focused and bring a cohesion to the lines.  The problem, though, is that the replacements aren’t particularly intelligent.  A two-word proper name, “Starla McGill,” for example, becomes “Barton Barton.”

Finally, the results are best appreciated, I think, by someone particularly familiar with the films.  Though someone unfamiliar can appreciate the combination of lines and sources and narration, the potential humor of the Dude calling Barton Fink an asshole is, perhaps, lost.

Our final presentation received a little press coverage!  Links and more information about the class can by found on my professor Adam Parrish’s blog.

A huge thanks to Brian Jones, Chris Jennings, and Nathan Roth for reading the scenes during our final presentation.  Brian read for Barton Fink, Chris for Everett, and Nathan for the Dude.  I read the narration and shots.

The Birthdays, The Divorce: An Exploration in Memory of Memory

The Birthday, The Divorce explores the idea of memory in a projection of three videos and three still images.  The three stills are based on photographs from my early birthday parties and the videos show my mother, my father, and my brother as I remember them during the conversation when my parents told us they were getting divorced.

The Birthday, The Divorce was exhibited at the ITP Spring Show (May 10-11, 2009) as my final project for the classes Interactive Documentary and The World: Pixel by Pixel.  The project was also featured at the Division of Human Works’ Manifest Video show (July 11-19, 2009) and the RUST FEST at the McDonough Museum of Art (June 13-July 24).

Often when we think of memories from the past, we remember our memory of them more than the actual event—a memory of memory.  Each memory is filtered through not only out own recollection, but also through the rest of our lives following the event.

ITP Spring Show


To present this concept, I play each of the “characters” in the videos and still images—my parents, my brother, and a younger version of myself.  In addition, it is only through photographs and documented images that we see what we, ourselves, looked like.  In this vein, I have not included myself in The Divorce.  That is, I can remember what I was feeling during that conversation, though I do not know what I looked like.  In The Birthday, on the other hand, I reference three photographs that include me along with my family.

Finally, thinking about memories and remembering our memories does not always yield a clearer understanding.  As such, both sets of images change the longer a viewer looks at them: the still images from The Birthday grow more blurry and the videos from The Divorce slow down until the characters become almost unrecognizable, almost alien-like.  The viewer sits in a chair that is intentionally close to the large projection.  This viewpoint gives both a sense of being young and looking up at people as well as an idea of how overwhelming memories can grow.

springshowsetup springshowsetup2


In the set-up above, from the ITP Spring Show, a description of the project was presented on a labtop where spectators could read about it.  One person at a time would sit in the chair and control the projections of memories.

The project is currently in two formats: a single-channel, “passive” version and an interactive version written in openFrameworks.  In the single-channel version, the audience member watches the memories in a set order as they fade in and then blur out.

As an application, the viewer first sees interwoven text.  When she presses the ENTER button, one of the memories is selected. She can then stay with the memory as long as she’d like, pressing the EXIT button to leave it.

Manifest Video

at Manifest Video

at Manifest Video

I am here, You are here, He is here, She is here


I am here, You are here, He is here, She is here is an interactive map of lower Manhattan created with found materials and formatted according to patterns of color and architecture.

The map shows Houston to 30th Street, 1st Avenue to 6th Avenue.  The spaces in the window and the metal frames act as streets and parks.  The middle frame line represents Broadway.  The colors follow the brightness and hue of the paint chips at Ace Hardware.


There are four wooden arrows with magnets embedded in them.  Each arrow declares either “I am here,” “You are here,” “He is here,” or “She is here.”  With these four simple statements, mini-narratives emerge from the map.



Alchemy of Light

Ruth Sergel and Peter von Salis created Alchemy of Light as part of their artists’ residency at the HERE Art Center.  My main contribution was to build a shadow-puppet theater that was used during the performance.  Their write-up is as follows:

There is an aching tension between the promise of technology and our critical need for human interaction and touch. Melding 19th century illusionism with current interactive technology, Alchemy of Light traces the life of the legendary magician, Torrini, who toured the world with his daughter and wife showcasing their illusions. One day, a tragedy dispels the happy demonstration of technical prowess.  Torrini is left straining against the limits of technology as he struggles to regain his lost family. Alchemy of Light is a parable from a time when our lives first became mediated by machines.

Ruth had a frame with a piece of light muslin already attached.  My first addition was to add a frame inside the wooden frame in order to make the screen look more like an old-fashioned framed photograph.  I glued lace inside railroad paper and tied the paper to the corners of the wooden frame.  I used the inverse of the paper I cut out to create a background scene of stars and a moon.

Following the “wooing scene” of the performance, I created a way for objects to be sent up to the moon shadow.  Using three wooden spools, I built a conveyor belt by running polyester thread around the three points.  One spool was on the bottom left corner, one on the top left, and one in the middle of the top of the frame.  Tom helped with the drilling.

I hooked a small wire loop to the thread where different puppets could be hung.  Each hanging puppet is a wooing object–items that the character Torrini uses to woo his wife.  Each are made out of paper with a little wire hook running through.

This is what the frame looked like with the top half of the lace frame.  You can see the spools with the thread running around and two puppets hanging from loops.  Eventually, the loops of thread were replaced by one loop of wire tied to the thread.

The next major step was to create a base for the screen.  I got a large piece of plywood and, using a jigsaw and Peter’s generous help, cut an enormous circle.  I attached the frame to the circular platform with an L-bracket on one end and a propping screw on the other (again, thanks to Peter).  Originally, we tried to attach the platform to a vintage tripod.  The legs of the tripod, though, didn’t lock in place and the structure was not stable.  I then built four table legs and screwed them to the bottom of the platform.  Because we wanted the platform on wheels, the legs would have required some major bracing.  Instead, John came to the rescue and let me use a platform with wheels already attached from the shop.  Rob also lent us a theatrical light which I attached to the end of the platform.

I also started making stationary puppets attached to rods.  Unfortunately, I had to hot glue  the puppets to the copper rods–it didn’t look very 19th century, but it quickly did the trick.  The puppets were still very fragile as the paper kept bending.  I finally made a small canister to hold them.

There were two character puppets.  The Torrini puppet was based on a drawing that Luigi had made.  The woman in the moon hung from a wire and was attached to a copper rod which rested on a tack in the frame.  Someone could move the rod and the puppet swung back and forth.

Below, Luigi rehearses with the theater.

The final element was a small iSight camera that rested on the front of the platform and projected part of the shadow image on a curtain downstage.  I drilled a hole through the platform for the camera’s cable to run through and the camera itself rested on two small screws.  I covered the camera with black wrap and built two other coverings to look like footlights.  I also attached fabric with trim around the platform to hide the legs, wheels, and cables.

Below are images of a few of the puppets–Torrini, balloons, a hanging flower, the woman in the moon, and birds:

Audio Narrative: Moms

Please listen to my audio narrative Moms:


Moms is three interwoven stories told by myself and two of my best friends, Jane and Tracey. We each tell a story about our moms.
Music by Arcade Fire and Band of Horses.

Recording the interviews was both really fun and much more intense than I had been expecting. The idea was originally Tracey’s–she wants us all to have a knitting circle where we tell stories about our moms or maybe even write a book together. When it came time to record, however, Tracey was very concerned about making a permanent record concerning anything with her mother. As a solution, she told the story that made her feel that way in the first place. I was amazed how well Tracey told her story. She had such clear images and remembered such vivid details. She claims it’s because her mom (and dad) are reporters.

I was lucky that my friend Jane was visiting for a few days and she had been thinking about various stories she could tell over the week. Tracey was in the neighborhood the night of the recording, so we all sat around. Jane had trouble deciding on a story and the three of us tossed around suggestions for a while. In the end, she decided on a new story at the last minute. Perhaps because she hadn’t had time to mull it over or prepare, what came out was a beautifully candid story about her mom and their relationship concerning Jane’s physical appearance.

I was concerned afterward that I had gone too far.  I trusted, though, that because these were my best friends, they would have been honest with me.  It made me think about recording/documenting people I don’t know as well–they need to feel comfortable saying no.  And then I have to trust that they will if they need to.

My own story was recorded at the suggestion (and request) of Tracey–I’m not sure if she would have agreed had I not also participated.  I recorded it once at her apartment.  She held the mic and asked a few follow-up questions.  Originally, I had thought of putting my story last because I knew it was shorter than the others.  I recorded it again at school by myself.  In the end, I used the recording I had done at Tracey’s almost exclusively.  It sounded much more natural telling the story to someone, as opposed to recording it over (and over) by myself in a little booth.

The editing process was really fun.  I went through all the recordings and cut them into sections–I knew I wanted the introductions and the locaters separate.  I of course had tons more recording than I could use, but I tried to incorporate some of the side comments in addition to all the facts.  I wish I had used a few more of Tracey’s ruminations looking back–she had a great explanation of  her mom the next day as well as why she had kept the ashes of the journal (to paraphrase, it was because you need to keep reminders of the good and the bad)–but the facts of her story were so compelling and so classic.

The background music happened a little more arbitrarily.  I knew I wanted intro music that would drop out when Tracey said her mom read her journal.  There was also a beat change after Jane told about the scar she has is a reminder of the incident.  I had originally put “In the Backseat” by the Arcade Fire in the beginning and two Andrew Bird songs in the middle and ending section.  I realized then that the piece had a clear beginning, middle, and end–set-up, moment, reflection.  I think that structure really helped keep the stories coherent.  In the end, I didn’t like having vocals behind the middle section and replaced the Bird with an instrumental piece by Band of Horses, looped on top of itself to fill the space.  I went back to the Arcade Fire song–the repetitive piano was what had drawn me to it in the first place and while the end of the song (with the repeating piano) didn’t work for the beginning, it did work for the end.  It’s nice to come back to the first sound, too.

The feedback I received in class was really positive and I’m going to continue editing the piece.  The main comments had been about the levels and I hope that tweaking the background music (and levels) will address this issue.

My class’s projects can be found here.

Real World Pixels


After being given this assignment, I started to see pixels everywhere.  I have always seen little faces and such in tiles, but to really find an image made out of smaller pieces proved to be challenging.  Often, the material would prove insufficient for the image I had in mind or the image would have no connection to the materials.

The bookcase was a thought I had early on.  I wasn’t sure, though, what to do with it.  It seemed random to try and recreate another book cover–are there well-known book covers?  The text, I think, proved to be a pretty good solution.  I think an image would have been more interesting but, given the literary theme of books, the letters seemed like a good fit.


The first step was to find the most prevalent book cover color.  It was obviously red.  Tom and I pulled out all the red books and then started with a clean slate by turning the rest of the books over so that their pages showed.  The most challenging part was that the shelves were uneven–the middle shelf is significantly smaller than the other two and so we could only use certain books in that shelf.  The difference in shelf height as well as book height revealed the books to be not true pixels.  They are not uniform.  We tried to use that to make the letters look better, at least.  The smaller books were strategically placed to create slopes or spaces in the letters.


I also had access to a lot of cookies.


Cookies didn’t make for the most articulate pixels, but I didn’t re-create a graph.

These cookies approximate the Dow from November 14-20, 2008.



Finally, I know this is cheating, but I can’t get this image out of my head.  Maybe someday I could do it with real traffic lights: