Still Standing: Motion-Sensitive Poetic Forms

still standing

Text: “five chapters of addiction for my personal commotion. bring my brain to a stop the inception of sedation is needed for the waves to break and the spin to reduce. letters to litteral [literal?] the motionless moment hides for my sight to seduce”

Camille Utterback’s Still Standing is an installation art piece in which a motion-sensitive projector displays words at the bottom of the screen. When someone interacts with the piece by walking across the screen, the text reacts to the movement as if it were being pushed away (see image below). still standing push If the person interacting with the piece stays still, however, the words slowly move upwards and mimic the person’s form. Once the person moves again, the text collapses back to the bottom of the screen. The Electronic Literature Collection’s blurb already has much to say about Still Standing, specifically that the piece shows that “reading requires cognitive rather than bodily engagement, that stillness is a necessary prerequisite.” I’ve been turning this statement over in my head because I feel that it goes against how Hayles wants us to conceive of interactive literature as very rooted in physical embodiment. With so many texts of electronic literature emphasizing a multisensory, active experience, isn’t equating stillness with cognitive behavior almost a step backwards? Is Still Standing a self-defeating project considering that part of its interaction requires you to move and watch as the words back away from you?

These questions are further complicated by the actual text that comes to absorb your form when standing still (see caption under first image). In “bring my brain to a stop the inception of sedation is needed for the waves to break and the spin to reduce,” it seems like the text is telling us to not just keep our bodies still, but our minds as well. The text is asking us for a sedation of cognitive and physical functioning so that the words themselves take shape and have power over us. The spin reduction part of that line seems more like a technical explanation of how the words spin in place before stopping, but the wave-breaking phrase could have a larger place in the project. If we have to stand still for waves to break, our still form works as the object that the waves break against. This again goes back to the idea of sedation or a paralysis of body and mind so that the words can show their full effect (so that, like waves, they can wash over us).

Staying still also has the cool experience of shaping the text to have a very particular form. The words morph into your silhouette when you’re motionless; they don’t rearrange themselves into very structured lines and stanzas like a traditional poem. Yet the way in which the words and letters rearrange themselves to fit someone’s figure reminds me quite strongly of poetry. Maybe Utterback intends to show poetry as organic and amorphous, though it’s still only a material object that requires us to be still to read it.

I’m not exactly sure what to make of the way that moving disrupts this poetic form and that the words react negatively to a person’s movement. It’s very much like we physically break the waves ourselves and the words move around like water. The video demonstration says that movement is part of the piece’s statement on a fast-paced culture in which we can only appreciate text when we slow down. That interpretation, while it may or may not be from the creator herself, seems to not take into account the whole project. A possibility I’ve considered is that, by letting ourselves have too much power over words or ignoring word choice, the words themselves begin to lose meaning and scramble themselves up into nonsense. I’m not sure how much I like that interpretation, considering that having the skill to use words effectively is quite valuable in our culture. I guess I have a certain agenda, however, in wanting to like this piece more than I do because I feel like its interactivity is way cooler than the ideas it is attempting to convey.

One last thing. I was drawn to this piece for two reasons: the first because it reminded me of another installation art piece that MoMA had two years ago called the Rain Room (its original debut was in London in 2012). In this exhibit, motion-sensitive sprinklers would imitate a continuous rainfall. Whenever the sprinklers would sense someone underneath them, however, they would stop “raining.” The viewers, then, could walk around in the Rain Room environment, watching rain all around them but not being rained on themselves. Part of my interpretation of Standing Still may be influenced by how the Rain Room gave viewers the experience of feeling powerful, almost godlike or aloof in this weird form of weather control. So my analysis is a little tainted in terms of seeing Standing Still as a power shift between ourselves and the words on the screen.

The line for the Rain Room was six hours. MoMA is only open for seven hours. I chose to just view it, not experience it.

The line for the Rain Room was six hours. MoMA is only open for seven hours. I chose to just view it, not experience it.

The second reason is because we’ve been talking about how multisensory and experiential many interactive literature texts are, so I’ve been struggling with how to incorporate touch and movement into these texts (specifically dance, considering that embodiment is an important concept, and because music and other audio elements are included in many texts). This project seems to stand as an obstacle towards those efforts, but I’ll keep searching.

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3 Responses to Still Standing: Motion-Sensitive Poetic Forms

  1. pmc9122 says:

    I think that perhaps a possible interpretation of this work would be in line with another of Hayles points that we discussed last week, namely the importance of deep attention. If you think of the piece as an analogy of the brain, the constant movement which destroys the text could represent the danger Hayles sees in the flickering attention that she thinks our generation is imbibed with. By being still, the work comes into focus, and allows the viewer to see the shape of themselves in the words. So by that analogy, perhaps by stilling our attention on the words themselves, we can trace the boundaries of our minds through the edges we find in the words themselves? I don’t really know, but that was the first thing that came to my mind, now time to flicker off somewhere else.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. charlenejo says:

    I feel your frustrations with this piece! I’m prepared to accept Hayles’ argument that our modern cognitive process has been forever altered/morphed by the hyper-attentiveness asked of us in the digital era, but I struggle to think of this as something we need to fear and certainly can’t grasp that it’s something we need to reverse, which in many ways seems to be what this installation is suggesting. “Maybe Utterback intends to show poetry as organic and amorphous, though it’s still only a material object that requires us to be still to read it.” –I like this interpretation much better, but the fact that the message is scrambled and incomprehensible when we’re interacting with the program still confounds me, as it suggest (as you have) that we must slow down to a more relatively sedative state in order to absorb literature/poetry.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. festsjester says:

    This is a truly interesting form of interactive literature because of the newness of it, at least in terms of the pieces we’ve looked at for this class previously. I also feel conflicted about the message of the piece itself and all that we’ve been learning in class. The interactivity is still present, however, since, based on your own physical presence, the piece reacts to the viewer and his or her movement. Although the piece seems to be saying that physical, and perhaps mental, stillness is necessary for a real viewing of the piece, it’s still got a sense of interactivity. It also made me think of all the types of control we’re giving up to technology. In the talk we had about Vannevar’s essay, we relinquish a degree of control to computers in order to make our own lives easier and freed, but this piece exhibits the opposite. We must obey the rules set by the technology (which is, for the time being, controlled by humans) in order to get the desired effect. I find this piece is fascinating in relation to all we’ve been talking about. Thanks for the post.


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