Text Rain (1999) by Camille Utterback and Romy Achituv
About Text Rain:
Text Rain is an interactive installation in which participants use the familiar instrument of their bodies, to do what seems magical—to lift and play with falling letters that do not really exist. In the Text Rain installation participants stand or move in front of a large projection screen. On the screen they see a mirrored video projection of themselves in black and white, combined with a color animation of falling letters. Like rain or snow, the letters appears to land on participants’ heads and arms. The letters respond to the participants’ motions and can be caught, lifted, and then let fall again. The falling text will ‘land’ on anything darker than a certain threshold, and ‘fall’ whenever that obstacle is removed. If a participant accumulates enough letters along their outstretched arms, or along the silhouette of any dark object, they can sometimes catch an entire word, or even a phrase. The falling letters are not random, but form lines of a poem about bodies and language. ‘Reading’ the phrases in the Text Rain installation becomes a physical as well as a cerebral endeavor.
As Text Rain relies heavily on the interaction of participants, Utterback and Achituv had to create systems that will respond to the body movements in real time. Using Norbert Wiener’s theory of cybernetics, the input would be the movements of participants. The system would then pick up these movements and convert these data into the output, which are the text that are projected on the screen. This stable system enables the artwork to work effectively.
Text Rain is a highly immersive piece since it reacts seamlessly to the participants’ movements, enabling the participants to feel as if they’ve stepped into a magical place. This immersive experience does not take away the experience of being present in the moment. In fact, it encourages participants to do exactly that since the participants would be conscious of how their bodies would interact with the artwork. They would be eager to do different poses with their bodies to see what would happen. Even though the participants are conscious of their body movements, they’re not self-conscious because they no longer see themselves in the real world, but in the magical world that Utterback and Achituv had created.