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Shapes (and Other Shapes)

April 11, 2015


Part of The Museum of Human Achievement’s ALTAR Series, in collaboration with Fusebox Festival, Austin, TX, 2015

Concept, Art + Production Design and misc tech by The Octopus Project, Everest Pipkin and Wiley Wiggins

Shapes (and Other Shapes) was a live performance by the Octopus Project accompanied by projections and a live reading of generated texts built from a corpus of creation and destruction myths. The texts were generated live each performance and printed out on stage for a ritualized reading. Each performance followed a simple game-like randomized structure and was presented as an attempted “translation” of a newly discovered cosmological text. The installation space also included a large rotating projection-mapped cube that would occasionally “speak” in response to the occurrence of a keyword in the text that would signal the words of a deity (sadly, or appropriately, there’s not a video recording of one of those occurrences). An automated telephone system was also created as part of the performance (free tickets could be won by interacting with its phone tree). The number is still working see show site but sound files from the system are also archived here.

(This was a group project and my inspirations and interpretations may differ from my collaborators)
When we made Shapes… I had been making a lot of really noisy visual art and animation and I had always had a really hard time compressing it effectively for the web. I was putting video online and also doing live projections for shows and installations, and I could never capture online the stuff I was doing at events. I got kind of fascinated with how video compression works and the natural perceptual equipment that people have that mimics video compression in some ways. I was thinking a lot about how much of what we see is actually there and how much is an impression or even an hallucination. I liked the idea that the work of perceiving by the viewer was of equal importance as what I created and I was just setting up the conditions for them to have an experience, like a game. At the same time I was starting to wonder about putting the stuff I did in an art context, which I had never worried about before, because I wanted to make more ambitious things. Shapes (and other Shapes) is about a pseudoscience organization trying to decode meaning from background noise, and distilling this sort of creation myth from it that might just be an artifact of the equipment they’re using to try to ‘detect’ that meaning. Even the working group name that Everest and I came up with played with ideas of “scientification” and authority- “Fantasy PHD”.

show listing:

In the first phase of trance an altered state of consciousness would come about. People would experience geometric shapes commonly known as entoptic phenomena. These would include zigzags, chevrons, dots, flecks, grids, vortices and U-shapes.

During the second phase of trance people try to make sense of the entoptic phenomena. They would elaborate the shape they had ‘seen’ until they had created something that looked familiar to them.

In the third phase a radical transformation occurs in mental imagery. Subjects have found that they experience sliding down a rotating tunnel, entering caves or holes in the ground. People in the third phase begin to lose their grip on reality and hallucinate monsters and animals of strong emotional content. In this phase heightened sensory awareness gives one the feeling that they have undergone a physical transformation.

The Octopus Project is a multimedia rock n’ roll band from Austin, TX. Fantasy PhD consists of visual artists Wiley Wiggins & [Everest] Pipkin.

This show is free, but will require a reservation as attendance will be limited to 30 per performance. Please check back for details regarding rsvps.

Altar is an ongoing project which pairs a visual artist with a performance artist for a large-scale immersive environment experience and interactive installation. This pairing intends to bridge gaps between traditionally non-collaborating mediums with the result of surprising original works that exist in the liminal space between visual exhibitions, musical performance, theatre, and new media.



S(aoS) excerpt 1
S(aoS) excerpt 2
Audio Files:


shapes phone tree

I always bring up the Shapes (and Other Shapes) installation/performance I did with The Octopus Project and Everest Pipkin because it was probably the most fully realized non-movie art piece I’ve worked on in the wild before I started art school. One part of the show was a phone tree you could call that I built with the old ruby version of Tinsel. The phone tree was big and let the caller hear recorded and text to speech audio from Everest’s text generator output. This application had been running on Heroku for years and you could still call and play with it. Recently Heroku forced moving to a new VM, which required a newer version of Ruby. Updating ruby for the application was a nightmare of sorting out package dependencies, but after a day of futzing with it I got the dependencies worked out and was able to push to heroku and have the application build. But now when you call you get a voice saying “an application has occurred”. This all happened right around the time I really would have liked to have it still working to show at a talk I was giving.

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