Ali Momeni and MAW

Ali Momeni teaches here in Minneapolis and started a collective in Minneapolis called MAW – the

He says: I’ve been reflecting on the outings we’ve done. It was initially an acronym for Minneapolis Art on Wheels, but we do way more than that, magic for example.  It’s a revolving collective, a group of students that come in and out every year.

A quick catalog – we started by taking the model that GRL set into place to do large scale urban projection.  A workman’s bike that can carry a lot of weight accurately.  A sound system in the back.  We work a lot with real-time technologies.  I’d like to try to get rid of the façade of technology and try to make these more human interactive.

One of the reasons I got into this is because the bicycle scene is so huge here.  They ride fixies all winter long.  I come from Iran and speak Farsi.  We have two words for Hell, a hot one and a cold one.  This is the cold one here.

This is a Kelty backpack that’s made for carrying carcasses (shows picture).  We carry our gear in it.

We try to find the right social context, the right participatory context for using affordable off the shelf technologies for this kind of projections.

We have a policy, we never ask for permission.   But part of that is if anyone with authority asks us to stop we stop.

One of our students collected things people had lost and tagged them, then created a map of where she had found them.  Then she projected and typed text into Photoshop.  Impromptu poetry, we were projecting for 10 minutes, and the cops came by.  I explained what was going on to them.  While I was going on and on the typing went up “I lost everything and I feel great”.  And the cop looked up and said “Hey, that’s exactly what my friend was just saying to me the other day!”  And it was like they got it right then.  I like that.

If students with no background in this work can do this, then maybe anyone can do it.  I like this.

Maw does a lot of projections impromptu and unannounced.  The notion of audience is different.  More accidental.

How is it that I got into this?  My background is in music composition.  How do I think about something that now is such a buzzword, mobile projection.  It turns out male mosquitoes listen to female mosquitoes and match pitch when they fly.  You could create a choir of mosquitoes.  We gave a live mosquito a fake stimulus.  Inspired by drupod (sp?), brothers singing, two pitches following each other like someone walking a dog.  So keep that in mind as we talk about public projection…  And another piece.  3-4 years ago we could customize our news with Google.  I added a section about Iran.  I saw an informal survey of what’s happening.  What Google found was mostly about people who wanted to attack Iran.  There’s an absurdity to this infatuation with violent solutions.

We made an installation with a radio reading news headlines from Iran.  We made a machine to blow smoke rings.  A useless blowing of smoke.  Keep that in mind.

Here’s where I really come from.  I made a performance of tabletop musical theater (he shows a video of a percussive performance where two performers place and grab blocks onto an amplified surface – with an exactitude of timing and rhythm.

So this collective is a lot of common knowledge, but there are so many nitty gritty things when you start to do it regularly.  At this time 50-60 students have gone through.  400-500 outdoor performances.  What happens in one of these outings is we ride out with the group, set up, we’re interested in the rapid deployment.  Setting up in 20 minutes as opposed to projection mapping with 50K projectors that you set up for hours… I love that work but it’s not what we do.  We use a pen and a paper instead of a Wacom tablet, as a sample distinction.

So I want to do a reductive methodology of outdoor projection work.  We often have operators that double as performers, sometimes in costumes or wearing orange.  In input device –the camera – and the output device, the projector.  In particular because of my background in music I like physical interfaces, controllers with high affordance.  Give someone something and they know what do to with it right away.  That’s the kind of thing we’re interested in.  The cops are coming in 15 minutes, it should just happen right away.  Height distances and physical distances are very important to notice.

The most basic thing we started with we now call Livedraw.  It turned into a software environment I wrote in Max. Layering, scaling, stop motion.  Of the 500 outings we’ve done it’s been present at 90%.  This solves the big problems with easy solutions.  Scale, placement, mask, layering.

(He shows a video of animations done with puppets projected).  We often use a camera pointed down at a lightbox so we can write with pen and paper.  Make a drawing and then physically move that piece of transparency or cutout so the image travels along the screen.

This is one of the important factors, where you can come into a public space, it’s impossible to know what’s going to happen.  I f you’ve practiced your instrument you have an intuition of what to do when something starts happening.

At some point we started to have visitors.  The evening evolved into an impromptu freestyle livedraw session.  Soon after there was a dance party.  And then a guy started kind of going nuts and fell into the projection and one of our students started waltzing with him and he followed his lead and the situation was saved…

I connected an open source package called Animiata which lets you give joints to your drawings, there’s gestural mapping work that’s here, you give it to someone and they start dancing.

Here’s a different model that I would call the theatrical model. People are part of the projection.  Not at all new in theater.  A performance was devised where using Livedraw   You could hold a feather over the screen and move it where the person is so they are tracked.  It’s done physically not with the software.

Ali goes over some of the other kinds of methods they have used to project.  Projecting a question and people text their responses, for example, or interviewing people and projecting their eyes.  Remote participation thorugh a person answering the phone and typing it.  The person you’re talking with may edit you.  There’s a human interaction inserted, it’s not done with Java.

The Pride festival in Istanbul is quite unpopular.  It’s energetic and superheated.  The 1200 that are there will be there even if there’s a tank… and there was.  It’s clear that no permission would be given for projection.  A friend had an apartment that had a view of the tower.  We made a projection with Livedraw.  At the end we projected two of the symbols for “female” with a heart.  At times like this there’s a comfort I feel from having a US passport.  It turned out a European Councilmember from Germany was in town, she was supportive.  When I left the police stopped me but they soon got a phone call from that woman.  In an instant it the conflict was over and the policeman said, “was that all live? Was that really your hands?”  He actually was interested in the process of it.

We did a projection called “Exquisite Corpse/Lavish Martyr”.  Where different people drew different parts of the same body.  I wanted to create a social context where a conversation about a very difficult topic could happen in a playful way.  We had a printer and people all over the world sent drawings of body parts over skype and we printed it and put it on the lightbox and projected the drawings.

We made a dcase, a portable drawing easel at chest height.  A pbooth, a personal photo booth around a person’s head.  We used these tools to make a short video at the Minneapolis Institute of Art.  If we hadn’t had their “help” the whole thing would have been so much easier.  I am much more interested in the lowbrow.  Big institutes tend to think big dollar amounts mean quality.

From the Q&A:

For projection, we usually use five 3Ks that weigh a lot less than a 10K and cost a lot less.

We got a ticket only once, in the Badlands, when the police told us that the people in the campgrounds thought the UFO’s had landed.

Have you had outside funding or projects?

Everything you can imagine has been covered, from gigs that pay to totally unannounced and self-motivated.  We generally don’t do parties and events, we don’t do advertisements.  Maw has been really good at leveraging the ease of public projection.  This is getting to be a popular medium commercially, but I have mixed feelings about it.

(I’ll catch the typos and do the links later, but wanted to get it up for now).