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Thursday, October 13, 2016

Interactive Artworks Take Flight at BTV

Posted By on Thu, Oct 13, 2016 at 4:43 PM

click to enlarge James Keats '18 interacting with "Graffiniti" - STEVE MEASE
  • Steve Mease
  • James Keats '18 interacting with "Graffiniti"
In his opening remarks, Burlington International Airport aviation director Gene Richards dubbed the airport's two new interactive art installations as "advertisements, with a twist." Just behind his head, a red and yellow biplane toot-tooted cheerfully among digital clouds. The 70-inch wall-mounted monitor is the vehicle of "Flight," one of two new works developed by students at the Emergent Media Center at Burlington's Champlain College.  

In game programmer James Keats' words, "Flight" lets passengers and passersby do that thing that we all do as little kids: "pretend to be a plane." Adapted from a Microsoft Xbox 360 Kinect, the experience uses skeletal tracking technology — motion detectors — to let viewers standing in front of the screen "become" the plane/pilot and control its gentle, ever-forward trajectory through their own movement.

As a graphic on the right side of the screen indicates, users can change their plane model by crossing their arms in front of them. Options include a Da Vinci-esque winged contraption and a U.S. fighter jet, with six choices in total. Whichever vessel you choose, the ride stays smooth. You won't crash. All the better for keeping the soon-to-be airborne not only entertained but calm.
click to enlarge Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger with "Flight" - STEVE MEASE
  • Steve Mease
  • Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger with "Flight"
Keats is a 20-year-old game programming major in Champlain's class of 2018. "I'm working on stuff that people in my industry wish they could be working on," he told the crowd. At the unveiling, Keats acted as the designated student representative of the Sandbox team, the student cohort working with BTV through the EMC's MakerLab.

Though the backdrop of "Flight" is emblazoned with "Champlain College" as well as the school's logo, Keats noted that, to him, the project was "less of an ad and more of a demonstration of what we can do." 

Jen Adrian, EMC's creative and communication manager, described the EMC as a working design studio that pays students to participate in real-world projects — "like an internship, but better," she said. 

In opening comments, college president Don Laackman reinforced Champlain's emphasis on setting its students up for the "real world." He touted the school's "radically pragmatic education," and remarked on its high post-graduation placement rate. 
click to enlarge Sandbox Team - STEVE MEASE
  • Steve Mease
  • Sandbox Team
The Champlain/BTV creative partnership began about a year ago, when Richards attended the opening of the newly finished EMC. There he spoke with David Provost, Champlain's VP for institutional advancement. In brainstorming ways to represent Champlain to BTV visitors, Provost said he had initially envisioned nice photos of the campus and its students. No," Richards reportedly replied, "I want people to experience Champlain." 

The second work, "Graffiniti," is located at Gate 11, in the airport's southern terminal. Also using adapted Xbox 360 Kinect technology and a 70-inch monitor, the interactive project lets users create a temporary digital masterpiece using their hands — what Keats described as a "low-risk, approachable little package." A graphic instructs that the right hand controls the movement and size of the paintbrush, while the left will change colors. Think Microsoft Paint with no mouse clicking. 

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger also attended the unveiling. "This is a city of innovation," he said. "That innovation runs through everything we do." 

(Disclosure: Seven Days publishes BTV: The Burlington International Airport Quarterly.)

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About The Author

Rachel Elizabeth Jones

Rachel Elizabeth Jones

Bio:
Rachel is an arts staff writer at Seven Days. She writes from the intersections of art, visual culture and anthropology, and has contributed to The New Inquiry, The LA Review of Books and Artforum, among other publications.

More by Rachel Elizabeth Jones

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