Squeak (2007)

Squeak

Squeak is a video based interactive installation that uses human motion to drive a projection display of clips taken from a 1960s era scientific documentary about how animals learn. As a viewer enters the installation space a video camera automatically detects the change in its field-of-view and initiates the interactive video that is projected on the wall. Normally on a title screen loop — "Squeak the squirrel" — the video cuts quickly to bold text reading "Ready, Set, GO!" once activated. This prompt is followed by images of a squirrel trying frantically to grab a peanut dangling from a string just outside of its reach. To progress through the video, the viewer must gesture with their arms in the same manner as the squirrel in the video.

Squeak (2007) Squeak (2007) Squeak (2007)

To encourage the viewer against stopping or slowing their engagement with the installation, prompts and a grading scheme are embedded in the video — so the longer the viewer participates the more likely the grade will move from a 'C minus' to an 'A'. Once a grade of 'A plus' has been achieved, Squeak the squirrel is able to seize the nut from the string and run hurriedly to his nest with it, successfully bringing the video (and the frenzied arm waving) to a happy conclusion. Conversely, if there is no participation by the viewer, the installation will react by slowing the video to snail like tempo and counting down a clock until a grade of 'F' is given. In both cases, an 'A plus' grade and an 'F' grade, the installation resets itself automatically allowing the viewer to try again or step aside for someone else to have a go helping Squeak the squirrel grab the nut.

Conceptually, Squeak is a playful critique of contemporary institutional education and society's ever increasing expectations on its learners to achieve good grades and more credentials for life success. As a young person that went through college myself, the idea of academic inflation is also of personal significance. Much like Squeak the squirrel reaching feverishly to grab the nut in the lab experiment, it feels like people today have to extend more and jump through extra hoops to reach even their modest goals. If we play the game and work hard enough, however, we expect to get our nut. Perhaps someday we'll also question the curious scientists as to why the nut is hanging by a string in the first place.

development

The programming for Squeak was completed solely using MAX MSP JITTER. A plugin for MAX called Cyclops was also heavily used to implement the motion tracking interaction via the video camera. By setting motion sensitive "zones" within the Cyclops imaging window, for instance, I was able to adjust how much and how high a viewer had to wave their arms to interact with the installation.

Squeak was produced as a final project for a course I completed in Intermediate Video.

technology

  • MAX MSP JITTER with Cylcops
  • Video camera