Camille Utterback–“Text Rain”


In her 1999 installation “Text Rain,” Camille Utterback allowed participants to interact with written text by using their body movements to “catch” falling letters and position them wherever they would like on a screen.  A live video camera containing a motion sensor was combined with the falling text and programmed so that the letters would stop moving when confronted with any dark sillouette. If a person extended his arm, the letters would appear to land on it.  People who waved would appear to be repelling the letters with their hands.  The idea is similar to those floor panels in malls where you can step on a screen and make an image (like lava or liquid metal) seem to pool around your feet. I believe that Camille Utterback is successful in creating an immersive, diegetic experience because instead of prompting viewers to passively watch a video onscreen, she makes it so that the piece depends on their presence and interaction. It would’ve been easy to edit a pre-made video of peoples’ sillouettes and letters falling on and around them–but this is a live installation that is informed by the viewers’ actions.  The image responds to their own unscripted movements, and that’s what makes it diegetic. Without the spectator, the piece would unfold in a predictable (and much less interesting) pattern.


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