Talk & Exhibition

Philomène Longpré

Video Player

I am so honored to be here, to present my works at the Hong Kong Arts School.


Thanks everyone.


I will introduce myself a little bit and talk about my background and research. Then as a group, we can go to see the exhibition, Octopus, one of my interactive systems. I know some of you have already seen it and interacted with it. When we go together I will explain everything about how it works and what kind of senses I am using.


First of all, my name. Philomène Longpré, a French name. It’s a little difficult to pronounce, so call me Philo. If you have any question, feel free to interrupt me any time.


My father was a filmmaker and animator. When I was young I saw him draw everyday. For me it was easier to communicate with sounds and images since that young age. So my background is in painting and drawing. It was only in 1999 that I learnt how to integrate technology into my work. I began with painting and drawing and sculpture, and installation was next step I had in fine art: it was a way to bring the visitor to a specific space. I was looking for a channel of communication between my view and the visitor, conceptually and physically. So I started with the interactive video systems. Octopus is the one in the exhibition room. Up to now I have ten different systems, and each system has a robotic screen for video. We can see there is the capture, an environment for a virtual character. Each character is a different way of communicating, by using all kinds of technology in relating different concepts. I want to interact with the visitor.


My most recent system is called ILLUSIO, which means the root of illusion in Latin. Illusion is about all the different senses. I will show you a video so that you will understand the interaction. The character is projected through the whole structure. We can see only the character on the wall. The illusion is trapped and stuck, you can only see the shadow of the structure in black here. There are three different modes of communication. The first one is when the visitor activates different colors of the structure. The second is where the character takes form and represents the color the visitor activates by the movement. The idea came from when I did my degree in Art and Technology Studies in the School of Art Institute of Chicago and where I was teaching art and tech.  Hong Kong is similar to Chicago in that they’re both cities full of tall buildings. When I’m out and about downtown, I’ve always thought that you don’t see the lights because of the shadows of all those buildings. It’s the illusion about being trapped by your own space and environments, both conceptually and physically.


ILLUSIO is an interactive video system and the viewer triggers different emotional stages in the virtual characters. This immersive environment is depended on human presence. Without the viewer, the character stays still in its virtual role. Based on the communication between the visitor and the virtual character, ILLUSIO exposes a predicament of being trapped by shadows and the environment.


This is the visitor approach and it is perforated by 362 holes. Base on the location and measure of the visitors’ atmosphere, illusio reacts to the human person of six different emotional stages.

And the first state, a virtual character is hidden in the dark. The environment seems to be lightless until the second mode is activated by the visitor. The color and the structure represent the degree of the character emotions. Follow with them is unreal illusion. The color changes in our relationship in the actualize stages. Increasing tension builds indirect proportion to the duration of the visitor stay as the character realizes its own trapped situation. From fear to acceptance, Ilusio are thesis of emotion and thoughts, and combining of different experiences from self absorption.


In ILLUSIO I am really interested in the language of color and some have written about the symbol of each color, and so in the case of Illusio, there are 3 modes. With the first mode it’s completely dark, almost lifeless; the structure stays that way until somebody comes in. The visitor triggers two colors: red if they are walking around quickly, or blue if they are taking slow motions. In the structure, the character performs the color, so that is ILLUSIO.


Research begins with interest and maybe you have heard about the experimental cinema of the 1951. One of the films that I am really interested in Maurice Lemaître where audience like you are interested in what is between the screen and the projection; you are a part of the film. The same goes for my system: without the visitor, the work is not complete. It’s about the relationship between the visitor, audience and the work itself. With paintings, for an example, sometimes you look at a painting and you almost have the impression that the painting is looking at you. So that was the idea of Octopus.


Here is the first system where we are using technology. In this case, let’s say you have one drawing on which the character is projected to. The presences of people and the room interact with the piece, or the rhythm of the lines.


The character is making the line on top of the other lines. Sometimes, the lines are not completely on the top of the other one as there are some changes. At the end the character really wants to get out. There’s also the fear about living in your own space. The character is like you meet someone for the first time, you need to ask questions to get to know that person better—that’s what each of my character does. There’s not only one mode of interaction: everyone is different, and the visitors interact at different levels. In this case the character can leave the system, but she really never leaves completely, because you see that it is always there in the drawing. So she will stay until somebody else comes in.


Here is another one about cycle. I was using this sculpture, a terrestrial globe. There are seven steps or positions for the character on the floor. Each position stands for a day. If nobody is in the room, the terrestrial globe turns its spin and keeps its balance. When people come in, the terrestrial globe also changes its position. If you keep its balance in space, then the character will go up and one they will pass. The lines come on her face.

At the end of the cycle of the seven days, her face is covered by lines that you almost can’t see her anymore continuously for an hour. In all my systems, I try to use technology like a tool to link all those area in different concepts.  That’s the way most of my research is.


Here we have two others. This one is in desert of New Mexico in United States. You have the character becoming the screen itself. When visitor is entering the room, he is not only interacting with the video and all those little steps, but also the idea of action and reaction. At the end it will bring a reaction at the bottom. But here for example, this is a completely different technology. I use the sense method for the sound. The character is projected on a little box and it’s fighting for silence. But, as you all know, silence doesn’t really exist. The visitor makes noise by being in the space, the structure pushes the character away.  You can see the volume here. It is on the side, while the character is on the edge of the space.


Here we have Octopus which we will all go together after this talk.  We’ll talk about it later.  And here we have Formica. It is recently presented in Montreal which is controlled by pneumatic - compressed air. So mainly here, this screen is about two times the size of the one of Octopus. The character is looking at the people, but this is completely different because the character is directly connected to the movement of the visitor, so he will follow you and he is always looking at you. And since it is a double screen, the character is able to turn completely to look to the people all around this space. And the character will be ready to communicate so as soon as you come in. The idea is how with your presence, you can create a link visually and conceptually with the character. If you stay longer in the room, the link becomes stronger and stronger. Everyone has different experiences being in this space.

So when there is one connection or link, there’s the multiplication that nobody can control. The idea is that to think about any words: my first word is always apple, because apple brought me so many souvenirs when I was young. Here one word is represented by one link. Each link will multiple altogether like the process of your mind. That’s what I want to express in Formica.  Here, with Formica I can show you the first mode. This is one of the characters looking at the people in the room. We have two links here. That brings tension in the environment of the character. All the links are stretching and then you see how the character reacts with the tension in this place. You can see me over there where we are building the piece. I would like to show you the Formica system video quickly.


Here we have Vita: there are 365 tubings all passing through a bar of glass. When you come in, you have a completely blue structure. The idea here was mainly how you can create an intimacy with a character, a virtual character. And like resistance, there is limitation for everything. Your presence awake the character, so the blue, the structure was lifting up, moving vertically, passing through the bar, and then you have half body in the room of the character. If you stay longer, very close to the character, the blue fades and becomes almost transparent, the character is almost free but it cannot go out of the virtual world or the screen itself. In that case, I was using heat sensor a body sensor, The system was able to detect the heat of the people in the room. 


When people get closer, the character changes slowly and communicates with them. It’s the step where the structure is going up.


Excuse me, the temperature of the room or the temperature of …


The change of the People’s temperature. If you touch it with your hand, depending on if it’s warm or cold, if you’re starts the process of liberation, it speeds up the process of the character turning transparent. Your touch changes the rhythm of this process.


So you mean you put the sensors on that tube?



The visitor is free, but here’s something I’m doing: I am looking to make a piece with 15 different systems and make them communicate together with each other and with the visitor as a whole. Each system has different dramatic effects and is of different objects.

[The Question]

In these projects sometimes I put the sensor in the structure or in the room, depending on what kind of communication I want to achieve. There are almost in all the systems. You have the sounds, the movement of the structure, the visitor and the video. With the presence of the visitor or the room, the activities are already in place: it may be the sound, or the video, or the movement. What I’m using is Max MSP progromme.  The detector is a very easy program to use. You just have to link up the items.


I am here for two months. This is my first week in Hong Kong and I will be giving three workshops. The first one is about basic electronics, how to use conceptual electronics in your artwork. It can be very simple, like manual input or output from the visitor. The second is about robotics, a very simple mechanism with which you can handle with movement. The third is about control, which may be interesting to you if you want to integrate it into your work. It’s a short introduction about microcontroller. Here we have the equipment: fixable sensor, heat sensor, turn sensor. This third workshop is also about basic step in Max MSP programme. Do you have a question?


Yes, I am curious about every single image that you made. It works only with one sound?


In all those systems there is sound of the character, which is the link to the image, but there is also the sound of the background that the visitors influence with their presence. Sometimes, say with the second mode it’s silent. And it becomes different again when the character reacts to the sounds of visitors’ movements, which affect directly the sound of the video as well. That’s because different characters are different ways of communicating.


Let’s go to the exhibit.

Can you see it in the face? This is when the sensor in the room captures your presence.

So this is the first mood, we don’t see the eyes of the character and she doesn’t see us. If there’re more people walking and movement in this place and you are affecting the rhythm and speed.


The eyes are the only way through which the character can see us. Now we can create the communication. We test with two types of sensor: the infra-red, and the Polaroid sensor. Between the first time and the second time there’s already a change. There’re six degrees of movement.


You see character is building her own space and it’s very fragile. The environment—the screen—is also fragile. People can pass through it. When the character reacts— character as a symbol of the system—the environment is moving as well as the six different possibilities of motion related to the people in the room. You can mix the image pixels to make sure the character is almost same color as the background. There is no division between them. There’s also the wait; the idea is about multiple observation. Is the character looking at you or are you really looking at the character?


Your question about the color...My idea was not a black and white. You can see there is a little black and a little green, then a little green and blue. It’s not white or black, not a different culture ...Do you see if the character is a women or a man? Male or female?



Female. I think. I always this question because when I showed this piece in Brazil, and then a lot of people came to me and thought this was spider. They saw the spider with the web. And once in Brazil, a little girl came to see the piece, the first thing she thought was that it was a spider making the web. She came and there was a reaction from the system. Then she came to me and said she was thinking; may be 15 minutes later, she came to me and said I understood everything, I am sure I am understood everything. She was very cute because she thought that she was the drop of water running to the web and made the reaction of the spider. This is what I think it is about, the importance of each other, because of all kinds of reactions.


Well, we have three mode of communications. , the first one is the construction where nobody is in the room and that will take an hour that is to build its pace. Because we are all people here, mainly just your presence using infra- red sensor. The system detects people’s reaction and changes the rhythm. The second is the waiting period for communication. If nobody is here, she will stay like this forever until somebody is coming in.


Also, I don’t know whether you want to know but in this case we have sensor, and the motor is using a microcontroller. The motor, the sensor the sound and everything are connected to the computer so it can receive the values sent by the sensor and create different sequences, speed, movement and sound as well.

Is it OK to show where you hide the sensor?

Ah huh, the secret.

It was a Secret?

That was a secret! No, the sensors are mainly on the wall and also in the black box.



Thank you everyone, and it will be a pleasure if you have any question about the customized project. And also, please feel free to come to the workshop.