is a greeting, a connection starter, something we say when we travel, arrive at a location and are met by other people, and also when we engage in a dialogue over our communication devices.
The concepts of communication and transportation have some interesting similarities and intersections.
Trains connect distant locations and mobile devices connect distant people. Trains carry our physical presence; mobile devices carry our immaterial presence.
But a train track also divides territories, in the same way that a mobile device can separate people who share a common location, by allowing them to easily disconnect from their physical surroundings and engage with a remote (non-local, whether physical or virtual) technology-mediated reality. This is most evident in public transportation, where local commuters are often absorbed in the use of their devices rather than in conversations with the strangers seating next to them.
This art project was thus built around two main concepts:
- a (surreal, cadavre-exquis-esque) mobile text-based conversation, similar to the millions that happen daily, worldwide. However, it will likely be a rather difficult conversation to follow, since half will be in Thai, and the other half in Portuguese. It will be graphically reminiscent of most conventional mobile text platforms (Messenger, WhatsApp, iMessage, etc.), so audiences will be able to immediately identify and relate to the situation;
- the inescapable human condition of producing correlated meaning from different (and unrelated) sensory inputs. The project uses generatively transformed (broken, remixed) photos of Thai commuters and landscapes and sounds recorded in public transportation (suburban trains and underground) in Portugal. These recordings incidentally captured fragments of actual ongoing conversations during suburban commutes in the Lisbon area, where trains are not only filled with Portuguese citizens, but also a very significant number of tourists, thus turning the audio into a rather intricate mesh of different languages.
Images of Thai people and landscapes, such as the ones you would find (or imagine) during a suburban commute, are remixed with glitches and interferences from other realities – much like what happens with our own trains of thought.
Sounds captured in Portuguese suburban trains and in the Lisbon underground (Metro) are filled with different languages – and paradoxically conversations in Portuguese appear to be almost absent from those recordings.
A text-message conversation in Thai and Portuguese will leave most (Thai and Portuguese) readers baffled as to what is going on, trying to imagine or guess what the other (probably unintelligible) half of the conversation is about.
All these stimula overlap and create the sensory journey of fleeting visions and sensations we experience, either driven by our immediate physical surroundings, by conversation-triggered memories or imagined scenes, or even our own personal ramblings and self-awareness during a suburban or city journey.
The sensory stream invites visitors to embark on a cross-continental immersive and interpretive journey. As they enter and move in the projection room, they are already and unknowingly interacting with the installation, becoming both “the subject of conversation”, as images of the room are captured and inserted into the visual stream, and the “journey conductor”, because their movements control the system behaviour (more movement in the room implies more intense audio, more dynamic visuals and more messages exchanged).
This artwork was developed within the “Cultural Adventures” research project, hosted by the University of Technology of Architecture and Design of King Mongkut Thonburi, Thailand, and the Research centre for Arts and Communication (CIAC) at the University of Algarve, Portugal.
Conversations with Phanuphong Otto Songkhong played an important role in the early stages of this project and contributions from other Thailand-based participants were also significant.