Understanding Echo

2001 Understanding Echo: Space embodying narrative


Understanding Echo was first shown at in Losing the Plot at the Pittville Pump Rooms as part of the Cheltenham Festival of Literature in 2000. It was also shown at Watershed Bristol in July 2002 and Nagoya, Japan for ISEA2002


Excerpt from Understanding Echo installed at Watershed Media Centre, Bristol

The main direction of my recent work has been in examining the nature of theatrical and interactive installation spaces where poetry can be re-imagined as a part of a hypertextual universe. In pursuing this direction I am attempting to synthesise aspects of cinema, video art and more primitive and associative spaces to create a narrative form based in a physical environment, rather than a virtual one. While in a previous installation, Labyrinth a more directly theatrical route was chosen, the Understanding Echo installation was an attempt to root interactive narrative in a magical space corresponding to a part of the audience’s ‘collective unconscious’ where “memory, dreams and reflections” could rise to the surface. On the wall of the darkened room stands a screen displaying large digital photographic montages. In the central space of the room is a shallow circular pool of water. In the silence of the installation the audience can make out the drip of water. Flickering in the pool is the image of a woman’s face, submerged below the surface. She is of indeterminate age and from time to time she rises from the depths and talks slowly in short poetic fragments or aphorisms.

The audience may not immediately understand, but the form of these spoken fragments becomes ever more personal as they get nearer to the pool. The large changing digital montage projections around the pool represent combinations of memory, reflecting aspects of childhood, identity and nature. The spatialised narrative and the poetic monologues are fused together in the environment of the piece. Once an audience enters the installation room they are part of the diegetic space of the narrative and are continually addressed directly or obliquely by the character of Echo.

The figure rising from the waters loosely relates to the nymph, in myth forced to forever speak the last lines of her lover Narcissus’s speeches and trapped in a pool for eternity. The form of the work alludes to all the female spirits that inhabit wells and rivers in various folklore, such as the Lady of the Lake in Arthurian Legend. as is the drowning Orphelia in Hamlet.

The woman reviews her life and the sense of powerlessness her situation has brought. The poetic fragments are intended to resemble a mix of colloquial musings and the timeless incisiveness we associate with poetic aphorism. They vary from the general to the intimate. The woman is by turns embittered, flirtatious and coquettish, disillusioned and enthusiastic. Her character moves through a wide emotional range, returning obsessively to her situation and the unhappy love affair which caused it. The order of the fragments is unimportant. There is no linear temporal curve involved. The woman inhabits the present, but lives in the past. On to the audience she projects her loves and fears. We are her blank screens.

Understanding Echo Technical Notes

The installation creates a responsive environment using a combination of still digital imagery and projected video clips encoded as full-screen QuickTime. A video camera and infrared sensing software, which detects audience movement within three pre-programmed zones around the central projection area, control the installation. The software used was custom written in Java and C++ by Simon Yuill, controlling a fast hard disk and data projector. Connection between sensor and projection can be via Ethernet, Appletalk or Airport.

The projector is mounted directly above the pool). Via infrared sensing, software detects audience presence in any one of three zones marked by their corresponding distance from the centre of the installation: Distant, Intermediate and Intimate. The programme reacts to human presence by playing a corresponding projection, graded by emotional tone, which is displayed in the pool and linked to an image or class of images on the main screen. The anticipated movement of more than one audience member is compensated for by the logic of the programme.

Each video fragment is coded for audience distance and movement within a zone and is sequentially triggered by pre-programmed patterns of audience activity. The projected video fragments change without obvious repetition over a 40 minute cycle. The minimum required for Echo is a space approximately 10 metres square with low light conditions. 3 G4 Apple Macintoshes and two 1000 ansi lumens data projectors are required plus ethernet network hub and twin speakers and amp. Screens, cabling, infra-red lighting and detection systems are all supplied by the artist. A computer and projector are also available to the artist.



tripc lane3    WATER2annieflower

Images from associated projections


Camera : Gary Hall

Sound and Direction: Noe Mendelle

Programming: Simon Yuill

Actor: Echo: Bonnie Hurren

Funding: DA2, Watershed Media Centre, Napier University