Emily Webster is a student at the ITP (Interactive Telecommunications Program) program at NYU, with a background in ballet and architecture – she has quite the eye for space and movement. Since we already see her taking impressive measures in new media programming, we are certain that with graduation just around the corner, she will be on an unstoppable path of creation. Read the interview below with Emily Webster, to learn about how her observations of the human environment play a huge role in the type of art she develops – in particular we highlight her most recent project, Movement #24 and her thesis project, Cellar Door.
What was your role in the creation of Movement #24? What was your collaborative partner, Mathew Epler’s role? This was a collaboration from start to finish. We worked together to find an interesting data set then gave the dancer direction in order to get some interesting movements from her. Programming was a challenge and creating an object from such a complex data set that could actually be printed was also hard work. But Matt is an excellent programmer and I have a dance background so we worked together really well.
What is the summarized process for creating the sculpture out of the dancers movement in Movement #24?
- program the kinect to recognize a human and track 15 points that make up the “skeleton” … it’s called skeleton tracking!
- bring in the dancer
- capture her while she performs
- export data points into a 3D modeling program (Rhino.python)
- add form to the data
- print on a 3D printer
What was the project you saw that first turned you onto kinects? We’ve been hacking kinects for quite a while at ITP so we have really pioneered a lot of projects here. We wanted to use data to inform a sculpture, but when we began to look for interesting data sets to work with, we realized that we didn’t feel very connected to them. We decided we wanted to generate our own data set by using a human body and the kinect. So sorry, but no real first project turned me onto kinects, rather the discussion of it.
What is a tip, a device or method you find essential in all the digital installations you create? Keep it simple and everything will be alright. When simplicity fails … minimize variables!
What are you doing for your thesis, since you are about to graduate from the ITP program at NYU? I just had an opening last week actually, for the piece I created – titled Cellar Door, which uses the cellar doors that line New York’s sidewalks. As someone who isn’t native to New York, I became really fascinated with these spaces. They’re modular spaces that spread throughout most of the city. They straddle an interesting gray area between public and private … they belong to the business owners, but they bleed out into the public thoroughfare of the sidewalk. They affect foot traffic and people have a lot of fear of falling into them. And whenever the doors are open I look in. But my view is always truncated. I can never see exactly what’s happening in there. The frame of the doors creates so much mystery about these spaces simple by what it cuts off from view.
I wanted to intervene in these spaces. It’s a space that needs to be reclaimed and reactivated for pedestrians. I didn’t want to cover or cloak the cellar in some other clothes. I wanted to highlight and frame how diverse and unique each of these spaces are. I want people to be more aware of volume of those spaces and to walk away being slightly more conscious of the infrastructure of our city. I also want to create something that allows people to stand in a space that they often avoid or overlook. And finally, I want to interrupt pedestrian movement and try to create pause in this city, which has such a specific pace to it. I did so by creating an illuminated surface, which fits into the cellar and responds to a person’s presence. In terms of the contents and what was framed within the cellar, in order to really explore the specificity of these spaces I gave myself the constraint of working with contents that already existed in the cellar. In this case, the chairs and fluorescents were my palette and I arranged them to try and accentuate the depth of the space.
If you could put a digital installation anywhere in the US where would you put it and what would you create? Well a lot of what I do involves digital programming but then extends that into the physical space. Right now I’d like my graduate thesis project, Cellar Door, to be installed throughout Manhattan. I would love to see this piece installed in 50 different cellars in New York City. I’m also working on a lot of exciting projects with my collective, StudioView. Some of them involve the kinect others are physical products – Tangible Lights, but all of them push this idea of a physical interactions with technology.
Who/what is on your radar right now? I’m constantly inspired by my studio partners, Mustafa Bagdatli and Genevieve Hoffman. We work really well as a team but I’m always surprised by the work they’re doing individually outside of the studio. The e-project is also amazing and worth checking out. And of course the veterans, Olafur Elliason and Jim Campbell.
What is an inspirational quote or lyric you want to leave off with?
“keep it simple and everything will be alright”