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Andrea Frank
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Krzysztof Wodiczko
Professor of Visual Arts Director of the Center for Advanced Visual Studies Head of the Interrogative Design Group

What are you working on?

Perhaps I’ll begin with some past work and then talk about present plans. Dis-Armor is a project that was developed for Japanese high school students. It was conceived and created here under the umbrella of the Interrogative Design Group , which I established here at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies and in which I’m a leading person. Initially, the city of Hiroshima asked me to come up with a proposal to build a sculpture in the city. This was connected to the Hiroshima Prize I received. I managed to spend some time in Japan while preparing my exhibition and special projection projects, and began learning about various problems young people have to live with there, specifi cally the tensions that exist between that demographic and the rest of society. I soon discovered that the root of all these problems was poor communication.

So here at the Interrogative Design Group ––with the help of Adam Whiton, Sung Ho Kim, other members, and graduate students ––I developed a proposal for a piece of equipment that would help young people communicate their anxieties, doubts, criticisms, and existential quandaries to anybody they could approach in public space. This piece of equipment, also developed with help from local school teachers, school psychologists, psychoanalysts, and other specialists on the problems of young people in Japan, was specifically geared to a particular group of kids known as school refusers ––a group of young people that refuse to participate in the school system.

The project is based on the suggestion, popular in Japan, that one can learn about what someone is thinking by looking at that person’s back. Presumably, it is more than can be learned by looking at the face. So, by combining different pieces of equipment and various types of available technology, we armed those young people with the possibility of communicating ––in pre-recorded mode and in real-time mode ––through their backs. We transmitted their eyesight to their backs through a special headpiece equipped with video cameras pointed at the user’s eyes, then added monitors, a speaker, and a microphone. A computer allows pre-recorded speech to be triggered, or replayed, in a particular moment of conversation or contact with the interlocutor who is standing behind. An additional rearview mirror ––and later, camera and monitor––enabled the young people to see behind themselves. The equipment has other features as well, including the possibility of walkingand speaking in tandem , with one person carrying the other person’svoice and eyes, and vice versa.

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Andrea Frank