The Sun Drops Its Torch; EROS INterACTive; AnArchy Partycam

by JoAnn Gillerman

Words on Works

The Sun Drops Its Torch; EROS INterACTive; AnArchy Partycam

JoAnn Gillerman

My works are environments meant to fully envelope a viewer/participant in an electronic space and time. To achieve this totality, I address aspects of interactivity, sensitivity to spatial arrangement, sculptural elements and socialization of audiences. Though context, presentation and content has varied (including narrative and non-narrative aspects), exploration of creative new ways to engage in an interactive multimedia environment has remained my constant interest. Current works concentrate on communication and cooperation through interactive installations that use imagery and concepts applicable to varying peoples, cultures and the Earth. Sometimes the content deals with private issues in a public context, and other times a public issue in a private space. I design installations for cooperative multicultural group interaction (i.e. simultaneous use by several participants), as well as individual experiences. Through seductive interfaces that allow viewers/participants personal voices to become part of real-time interaction, these pieces question the limited or open parameters of interactivity. I believe that all interactive works respond to some pre-determined parameters, so it is the responsibility and concern of the individual artist to decide what and how much open-ended interaction is desirable or appropriate to the work. Many of my current works try to give a significant portion of this open-ended interaction to its participants.

Three recent works include The Sun Drops Its Torch, EROS INterACTive, and AnArchy Partycam. All three deal with issues of open-ended interactions using various computer platforms and unusual audience/media interfaces.

As the Sun walks the bridge between summer and winter solstices,
sometimes he simply drops his torch and thus an eclipse occurs.

---Bella Coola Indians of Northwest Canada

The Sun Drops Its Torch (1995) is an interactive environment and series of electronic media works that I produced in collaboration with Rob Terry. The piece includes interactive CD-ROMs, interactive installations and related environments with sculptural elements.

In 1991, a total solar eclipse occurred on the Big Island of Hawaii, where I had been recording the active volcanic lava flows for years. Thus, I was provided with a chance to explore a rare event and the opportunity to collect source material. On top of the 14,000-ft geological summit of Mauna Kea, armed with custom-designed/built devices for two of our three video cameras, my collaborator and I captured views of the eclipse, the horizon and surrounds. We used a small telescope as a lens of one video camera, while another camera continually panned the horizon (360 degrees) like a giant camera obscura. The third camera was free-floating on a steadycam. Though the visibility and vantage point were extraordinary for our specialized systems, extreme conditions of temperature and altitude made this shoot a difficult accomplishment.

After returning home with over 500 slides, several audio tapes and 10 hours of surreal video shots of both the eclipse and the active lava flows, I spent almost a whole year translating and organizing this material into a meaningful experiential work that did not trivialize or try to simply recreate that which could not be re-created. Since it is difficult to convey the natural power of these macro-cosmic primal events in a synthetic environment of micro-cosmic scale, the work had to go in another direction. Throughout history this gorgeous and predictable event, a total solar eclipse, has been much feared by cultures around the world, resulting in a wealth of related information and stories---ranging from tales of monsters devouring the sun to lovers' quarrels---each having appropriate associated reactions to correct the sun's current situation. This has led to a series of works and on-going research of relevant anthropological, cultural and individual reactions to these natural events, as well as appropriate means of presentation.

The concepts and scope of this piece have been continually expanding due to my interest in observing various indigenous cultures' reactions to these extraordinary events. In addition to materials resulting from the 1991 Hawaiian eclipse, we were able to record video, audio and slides at a recent total solar eclipse in Bolivia, where we were extremely fortunate to witness and record the reactions of an indigenous Quetuan Indian family during the eclipse at our carefully scouted location 15,000 feet up in a remote area of the Bolivian Andes in 1994. And, in October 1995, we traveled to Fatehpur Sikri, India, where a total solar eclipse occurred over much of the country, a place steeped in cultural history that includes engaging explanations of a total solar eclipse.

The Sun Drops Its Torch, an interactive environment [1], consists of a semicircular or full circular ring of 10--24 monitors (displaying video and manipulated computer images), audio speakers (for multilingual stories and primal drum sounds) surrounded and controlled by multiple floor sensors (each displaying an image related to the individual part of the collective image that is being controlled) intended to create a "sacred space" in which to explore personal, primal and universal phenomena. The floor sensors activate the computer and thus the images and sounds of the environment and allow viewers to "play" the environment, determining different combinations of images and multilingual stories by simply walking around the installation space.

The Sun Drops Its Torch is a multi-user system designed to allow one or more persons to interact with it at the same time. Since the main monitor display contains a composite of several different layers of visual information, each person adds to a collective image. The environment is about group dynamics and encouraging cooperative interactions. In this manner, no one "erases" what the others are doing; all are in collaboration with each other. The sensors trigger both images and sounds. The sounds include relevant multilingual stories spoken by native-speaking people, tribal drums and natural environmental sounds collected during the initial shoot. The environment includes an interactive laser-disc and multilingual CD-ROM, as well as an interactively triggered "Video Lava Rock Sculpture."

Audio Obscura is a collection of relevant mythology, folklore and personal stories (on volcanoes and total solar eclipses) that are triggered by the floor sensors. The histories are in many different languages. Those interested in participating can send their personal stories via e-mail to for inclusion in The Sun Drops Its Torch.

EROS INterACTive (1995) is an interactive multimedia register [2] that I produced with Rob Terry. Soft whisperings and seductive images entice the viewer---in real time---to record their comments and listen to others' comments on eroticism and interactivity. EROS INterACTive is an interactive real-time register/bulletin board designed to solicit 10-second comments in real-time ("Record"), let participants listen to their own comments and the comments of the previous 35 people ("Playback"), as well as view/listen to pre-selected portrait-segments on the EROS Screen. The highly resolute Silicon Graphics monitor with sensuous imagery whispers constantly and seductively to encourage interactions. As one strokes an on-screen body, it may whisper, "Hello, come talk to me, tell me what you are thinking. I'll tell you what I'm thinking. . . ."

EROS explores private issues in a public context. It is a very open-ended interaction in that a real-time record mode lets the viewer/user determine their own uncensored response in both video and audio forms. A practical limitation imposed on the work (due to physical limitations of computer memory) arbitrarily allocates 5 MB per person to maximize the number of responses.

AnArchy PARTYCAM (1995) (Fig. 3) is comprised of an interactive performance and two costumes that I designed with Rob Terry [3]. One costume has a camera that "sees"; the other costume projects the camera's display. Both costumes can act separately, but for the display to work the cooperation of both participants is required. Voluntary cooperation and collaboration inspire the human interfaces inside the costumes to combine the elements in a coordinated effort of spontaneous interaction. The viewer/participant becomes the display and object of curiosity, bridging gaps between "in" and "out" and "us" and "them."

I am committed to a multidisciplinary, multicultural and multimedia approach to art making. My work often deals with interactivity, audience participation using intuitive innovative interfaces, multi-user systems that promote cooperative unique experiences and observations of collective group dynamics. Through the use of new technologies and computers, the interfaces remain simple to use and non-technological. This is meant to maximize audience participation and creative experiences in a non-threatening way. Some of these interfaces have included, but are not limited to: floor sensors, light wands, musical instruments that "play" images and other provocative intuitive replacements for the more traditional computer mouse and keyboard. Currently I am working with real-time input (video and audio) from participants for open-ended interactive experiences.


The Sun Drops Its Torch is an Amiga-based interactive installation with custom software and floor sensors, video laser-disc player, video lava rock sculpture and interactive multimedia CD-ROM.

uses Silicon Graphics Indy, Custom Software, video and audio.

is a portable real-time video and audio performance.

Copyright 1995 ISAST
WORDS ON WORKS is a regular feature of Leonardo , a print publication available through the MIT Press (

Words on Works

edited by Judy Malloy

Words on Works are short, informal statements about new artworks in which art and technology coexist or merge. In the spirit of Leonardo, the information in Words on Works is what the artists themselves have chosen to say about their own work. In some of these statements, rather than describing the work in detail, the artists use nontraditional language that echoes the work itself and is expressive of their vision. By introducing these artists, Words on Works operates in the same way that alternative art spaces operate in the gallery-museum milieu.