Tag Archives: supernova

New Genres: Otherworldly Translation


When I started in New Genres, I was determined to make a game. My original idea was to create a visually simplistic, text-based narrative that the user would progress through by answering questions. After reading “Strategies of Interactive Art” by Ryszard W. Kluszczynski, I learned that games aren’t the only cool way to create an engaging and thought-provoking interactive experience. For now, I put my original idea aside.

Once we decided on the theme “Supernova” for the Art Party, the rest of my idea began to take shape. As a lover of linguistics, my mind went straight to alien language. I could stick with the idea of asking questions to my audience by writing them in a language of my own creation and translating them into English. I later decided I would create a slideshow of questions and proverbs to display with two projectors simultaneously.

I started off by brainstorming a set of symbols with which to build my language. I wanted the symbols to look different enough from the latin alphabet but still recognizable as a language to my audience. I decided that they would be composed only of straight lines and could be strung together without spaces in order to form words. Pictured below is an example of the first version and a string of random symbols.


The next step was to create a font so I could type my language. I used fontstruct.com, a website that I had never used before but was easy to figure out. This is an example of what the interface looked like as I drew each letter:


While translating my hand drawn letters into their digital forms, I discovered that the diagonal lines weren’t working as well as the horizontal or vertical ones. They looked strange and out of place, so I wrote new characters using horizontal and vertical lines only. I also realized that it would be difficult to tell where one symbol began and another ended when they were all strung together, so I added a dot centered above every symbol to make it easier for the reader to discern. Finally, I decided to make one symbol for every letter in the alphabet so I had enough of a variety.

One problem that was troubling me as I worked on my project was, what does each letter sound like? I realized that creating an entire phonetic system was much too big of a task and also not relevant to my project. Because it was going to be projected, the point was for it to be visually interesting and different from English, so it didn’t matter what it sounded like. Whenever I was asked about this, I explained that humans are incapable of producing the sounds of the language.

When I finished my alphabet, I downloaded the font and began typing out my questions and proverbs. The questions were meant to be thought-provoking, not cheesy, and start conversation among my audience. As I wrote them, I imagined an alien civilization that wished to communicate with other planets. What would they want to know? I thought about what their planet/culture might be like and how those features would become apparent through the questions they asked, such as space travel, dimension hopping, crystals, slime, and beasts. I wrote 26 in total.

To create words, I mostly just typed random letters until I came up with something visually appealing. For some words, like sun and moon, I used the symbols to create shapes that looked like what they described. I also needed to create words for concepts that don’t exist in English, like solid-bodied or soft-bodied or body swap. I recorded every word I used in my journal and created a dictionary for myself to refer back to.


I also created a basic grammar system for my language. I did this by making up rules as I needed them, then sticking to them. To start, I decided that the basic sentence structure would be subject → object → verb. If the verb is is, it’s left out because it’s implied. For example, I like pizza becomes I pizza like, and I am a student becomes I student (am).

Here are some more of my grammar rules:
  • Words that indicate time go at the beginning of the sentence (now, tomorrow, always, never, sometimes, etc.)
  • Adjectives precede nouns
  • There is a single symbol that can be written after a noun to express possession (similar to apostrophe S in English)
  • There is a word that can be put at the end of any sentence to indicate that is a question (similar to a question mark)
  • There is no punctuation
  • Articles like a or the are not used

Following the grammar rules was a lot like putting together a puzzle. When translating English questions into my language, I would first rearrange the English sentence using alien grammar. Then, I could simply replace every English word with an alien one. I typed them out in a document like this:


I then used Photoshop to make the slideshow I would project on the wall. Each slide consists of one question/proverb, with the English written above the alien language. I decided on a simple but declarative design, a black background with white text in all capital letters. This would allow the viewer to compare and contrast the features of the two languages easily. My inspiration for this was Jenny Holzer’s projections and truisms.


My two projectors were originally going to be set up on two walls facing each other, but because I was unable to build a rig for the projectors in time, I moved it at the last minute. Instead, the two projections were side by side in a different area. Ultimately, I was very pleased with how it looked in the new spot, probably more than I would have liked it in the original one.

On the night of the art party, some people only glanced briefly at the piece and then moved on. But those who realized what it was were really excited about it. I saw many people taking pictures with it and hanging out nearby. But nobody seemed to be talking about the questions. I would have liked for there to have been some kind of discussion going on.



There are a few ways I could have better engaged with the audience. There could have been a performance aspect to the project; I could have stood by the installation the whole time and held a lesson in the language or assumed the character of an alien and told about the world I was from. I also could have created some sort of hand out, like a book of lore or a dictionary. It wasn’t really visible to my audience that I put in such an effort to create my own grammar and lexicon, so a hand out could have better conveyed that. I actually did create stickers, but I forgot to bring them to the party. My installation didn’t end up being as interactive as I wanted it to be this time, so next time I will keep these techniques in mind. But overall, it was a huge success, and I had so much fun with it. I think this project is the first of many constructed languages and projector installations to come.

Supernova: Blast Off!

Jenny -Supernova

This is a screenshot of a post someone put on their Instagram Story!


The night of the Art Party!

I learned about augment reality in our first class this semester, by using the HP Reveal app. At first I was very frustrated trying to figure out the app but amazed by augmented reality and that elementary children use the app. My original idea was continuous dance, I would be dancing in a purple suit then you would come up to one of the symbols on my suit and an overlay of me dancing would appear. I  found out after a little trial and error that the app is very finicky and I would not be able to dance while someone uses the app. But this was only the very beginning of the idea. I soon became a space alien because of our theme for the Art Party; Supernova! I would have a helmet and glitter all over my face, complete with eyeshadow. I started by making the helmet, I used a bike helmet to paper mache over as a base.
paper mache set up

This was the set up for the paper mache helmet

helmet 2

Helmet with the point

helmet 1

Helmet after one round of paper mache without the point

helmet 3

Helmet with foil, finished product

Overlays: The overlays were my favorite part of this project. Performing and interacting the night of the Art Party was fun but I could not actually dance at the Art Party or else the overlays do not come up, so filming them was the best!! The first round of overlay videos that I showed Angela were of me dancing to the entirety of Bennie and the Jets by Elton John, and two other videos of me dancing to Stitches by Shawn Mendes with different colorful space videos being projected onto me. Well Angela liked the videos with the projection so much more. And I was asked to choreograph different dances for each overlay. Each overlay would then have separate choreography, a different song and a different colorful projection. Below are the overlays: Symbols: I wanted them to be abstract and not 100% recognizable. During this process I discovered that it is very difficult to register symbols that are simple. My symbols were not recognized by the app my first few times, the app would not pick them up. This was incredibly frustrating. But this also pushed me to make the symbols more unique because the app can not recognize images that have already been used to trigger overlays. During this time I also was having a difficult time because the lighting was always different and the angle people pointed their phones at the symbol were always different too. So even when the symbol registered the overlay would not come up because it was a different angle or light. In crit we solved this problem. I found that pictures of the symbols worked just fine at registering the images. So not only were the physical symbols on my suit but many printed copies of the symbols were too. The prints then worked and triggered the overlays! Some of the symbols had to be put on a flower background to make them more unique and able to be registered. The others just have the purple background that is the suit. Below are the final symbols used:
Green Blue Dot

Green Blue Dot

Purple Blue Dot

Purple Blue Dot

Ball of Beads

Ball of Beads

Pink Dot

Pink Dot







Garlic Flowers

Garlic Flowers

Plastic Star

Plastic Star

A couple weeks before the Art Party I was workshopping how to get people at the party to download the app, and tackle the learning curve of using the app. I decided I wanted to make stickers that had pictures of the symbols. I would greet people at the door and use showmanship to get them to download HP Reveal and from there I would get them to follow my account. Then so that they were able to manage and use the app I would give them the sticker. This way before the performance they would have experience with the app and hopefully be hooked! I’ve found that having something an audience member can take away with them is a key factor in interactive art. The Performance! The art party was a huge success in my eyes. I would bate people coming into the party by asking “would you like to “Blast Off?” this got their attention and I would continue from there by asking them to pull out their cellular devices and download HP Reveal. During the sometimes awkwardness of people downloading the app and us waiting around for that I would explain, that “We were going to travel through time and space together, and that because we are going to travel so far and so wide we have to make an account or else the connection between planets will be lost! AH and we wouldn’t want that would we?!” Audience members were hesitant to make an account but you have to to see my overlays so that was my reasoning. I would I did three big performances and after those I walked around and interactive one on one with people. I found that once the weirdness of downloading the app was over and they had the sticker people were into it. Especially during the performance, I did a little dance and jumpy thing to signal that we were “Blasting Off” I also explained how every symbol was a transport into another galaxy and the overlay was us traveling to the new planet! Audience members ate this up. Every couple minutes during the performance I would ask if we were ready to “Blasting Off” again and I would ask for space, then I would do a new little dance and spin, then I would strike a new pose. This way the audience would be able to get at symbols they couldn’t before. Over all this was a very labor intensive project that had a lot of trail and error and a lot of glitter but it was all so worth it. I loved it so much and I love augmented reality and how accessible this app is.  
Me in the suit, the first day I got it!!

Me in the suit, the first day I got it!!


The first day I got the suit I was so happy and struck many dramatic poses

View from behind, audience members using their HP Reveal with the stickers!

View from behind, audience members using HP Reveal with the stickers!

I was on quite a few audience members Instagram stories

I was on quite a few audience members Instagram stories

Interaction! Blasting Off!!

Interaction! Blasting Off!!

After Striking a Pose!

After Striking a Pose!


[New Genres] Supernova


When we began planning the art party, I had no idea what it would look like, or even really what making it would entail. But I dove headfirst into brainstorming it, beginning with the theme, which proved to be a difficult needle to thread. It was important to provide a basis that was simple and broad, but not too broad, so that artists working on the party would have a jumping-off point for installations but still have the freedom of having their own take on the theme. We also needed to make sure that the theme could be communicated easily to attendees. The theme and title we chose, Supernova, ultimately combined the postmodernism and elegance we were going for with a kitschy, space opera vibe. To go with the title, I created a dress code that would further flesh out the world of the party, which we included in the posters. Leading up to the party, we also decided to create a new poster for each day in the week, putting them up at night to preserve the magic of the poster changing.


Then there was the question of decoration. Again, it was a question of fitting the theme without being cliche; and of making Heimbold into something completely different from its everyday self. We gelled lights, changing the color of the space, and used mylar to cover a wall upstairs. The reflection of the colored light on the mylar really changed the experience of the space, and over the course of party almost everyone who attended wanted to take a picture in front of the wall. We also made balloon structures and mylar nests of candy, and covered projector tables and food tables in mylar sheeting, which really brought together the visual aesthetic of the party. The decision to make this change overnight also affected the outcome, and added to the mystical element of the party. Not having the work of setup as part of our fiction allowed for a more fun and carefree atmosphere at the party itself. A few semi-contained spaces of fully realized change rather than a half-realized change throughout the whole space proved to be very effective, and the gels and music throughout the building carried the spaces that were less transformed. The harmonious visual aesthetics of the decoration also helped with this – using mostly silver, white, and blue, even with things as simple as candy, connected all of the different pieces around the building.


Attendees expressed how much they enjoyed it, and bought into the fiction of the world we had created, dressing up and engaging with interactive installations. By concealing how we created things, and what work had gone into them, the party became a space of wonder and engaged the curiosity of anyone with a desire to enter the space of play. I struggled a lot with time estimation on this project – it was difficult to figure out how long something I had never done before would take, especially when factoring in multiple people working on the project at once. There were a few elements of decoration I had to abandon because of this, and I initially thought that I would be able to experience design and make an individual piece, which ended up not being the case. Because the format of the art party was new to Sarah Lawrence, I think it was also difficult for some participants – both artists and attendees – to fully understand beforehand what the art party would be. We also struggled with creating a large-scale piece in a shared space and the challenges that posed (not being able to use certain rooms, sound bleed, etc), even needing to change the date because of budgeting concerns towards the beginning of the process. Despite these setbacks, people really enjoyed the party, and I was immensely satisfied with the outcome. I learned a lot about creating a piece like this on a larger scale and how to preserve the mysticism in presentation; I also really value the work that I did with the rest of my class as a team. It was really rewarding to see everyone’s individual work and how it all fit together, and I’m truly happy I got to be a part of it.


New Genres: Supernova Installation

Speak to me!

Claim 1: If I communicate to other people through a sound visualizer and text-to-speech library, then it will feel equivalent to or easier than talking to people face-to-face. (Hint: this is false.) Claim 2: If an installation setup meets the correct criteria, then it is quite simple to deceive an audience regarding the legibility of artificial intelligence. (Hint: this is surprisingly true.)

For the Supernova Art Party 2018, I created an installation revolving around a pseudo-artifical intelligence program. I set up a large monitor with a microphone and speaker in front to encourage the audience to “speak” to the monitor. I connected my laptop to the monitor via HDMI cable and hid in a curtained area behind the monitor. The program I created and ran was a simple audio visualizer, where the central circle changed diameter depending on the volume of the surrounding area. There were also some extra visual effects (such as the circle gradually changing color, a fade-out effect on the circles of different diameter, and a grid background), as well as a text-to-speech feature. This is where the magic happened: I had a small text input box hidden at the bottom of the screen (which, due to resolution differences, coincidentally didn’t show up on the monitor), where I could enter text and upon pressing the “return” key, have a text-to-speech library read the text I typed. Thus, I could listen to the user’s questions to my program and type a response from my computer, giving the user the illusion that my program listens and can respond without any outside help.

I must admit, as a moderately shy person with absolutely no showmanship experience, I found my idea of hiding behind a curtain for the party as part of my project pretty genius. I knew, however, I still had to tackle the issue of being hidden, but still aware of the interaction with my piece. This was, overall, still the hardest part of my installation. I found it difficult to balance between interacting with people curious in my installation versus people trying to get from point A to point B and not interested in it, especially when I couldn’t see the people behind my Mylar curtain. The curtain seemed semi-transparent during daylight, but once it got darker it became much harder to see through and I found I couldn’t rely on it to see people. All I could rely on was their voices. This worked out somewhat, as people felt the need to treat it like any other talking device such as Google Home or Alexa and initiate the conversation. It still caused some anxiety, however, as I felt pressure to type and respond quickly, respond with wit, and do all this without seeing the other person (or sometimes, without hearing them quickly as some people’s speech into the mic was muffled). Thus, it was most definitely NOT easier to communicate with people via technology (in this case). In the future, I think placing the installation in a space where people go specifically to interact with it, versus a walking space, and making sure I could truly see the audience would create some ease on my part.

Speaking of space, I believe I was able to use the parochial nature of the space that is Heimbold (and Sarah Lawrence) to my advantage. As everyone at the party was united by being members of Sarah Lawrence, I could make college-specific references that made my “AI”, Sam, feel surprisingly knowledgeable and surreal. I was worried this would break the Turing Test quality, but even with specific references, many people appeared to think this was a program built with true artificial intelligence. On top of all this, I think the knowledge of local culture made it easier to befriend (and even fall in love with) Sam.

A screenshot of an acquaintance’s Snapchat story. I don’t think they had any idea it was me behind the curtain. I’m Internet famous!

This idea that I could make an AI interface built upon local knowledge is a unique and tempting one. What if, instead of having a mass production of general knowledge machines, we had specific localized AI that was built upon data within a small radius or specific community? But I digress. The specificity of this bot worked well at the Art Party, a culmination of the parochial localized culture we are a part of. While I wrestled with some aspects of my text-to-speech library, like Sam’s difficult-to-understand accent, I don’t think a general, clear-spoken Alexa would have been as fun or interesting.

But actually, you’re speaking to ME.