Zoltán Szegedy-Maszák / Márton Fernezelyi:


Beyond and in-between video mirrors
Networked interactive computer installations for public spaces, 2004

Three identical installations are situated in distant public spaces, consisting of a large video display, a touch screen and a video camera. The individual locations are connected via broadband internet connections which enable the live video images of the busy urban areas to be interchanged.

In the virtual computer space the live video images are positioned on overlapping layers, one on top of the other. At each location the foremost layer shows the local scene, hiding the others from view. By default this layer is opaque, but lines drawn on the touch screen turn the corresponding areas of the video transparent, opening sight to the other live images behind.

The broadcasted live video layers become partially transparent according to the drawings made at the corresponding locations, thus the overlaying stencils result in an endless live video tunnel, one common ”image space” manipulated by users at the remote public spaces.

The project SeeThrough invites regular visitors of public areas to interact and cooperate in the virtual space, using a playful environment. People hanging around in these busy urban areas may draw simple figures on a black and white touch screen, with their drawings erasing their own live video image as is shown on a large video display. This anti-narcissistic situation turns to be a lookout tool, as the erased areas of the local video mirrors become transparent, opening sight to the next remote location. Having discovered the possibility to look through to the remote locations, the users realize that their view depends on each other's activities: the drawings made at the remote locations open the curtains of a circular – thus endless – live video circuit. Any representative vision is dependent upon the differences of the drawings; inasmuch as they overlap, in those areas only empty, endlessly translucent areas will arise.

The touch screen allows the users to draw as if they were using white ink on a black background, interpreting white as completely transparent, and black as completely opaque areas in the video image. As drawings made by the previous users slowly fade in time, the white drawings darken to levels of gray, resulting in intermediate translucent areas in the live video image. This feature leads to the complex, sophisticated video imagery shown on the remote video displays, while the self-explanatory images on the touch screens explain the unusual scenery of the endless, sometimes chaotic video tunnel in a straightforward way.

The very first version of the project had been developed for the EU&YOU exhibition in April 2003. "SeeThrough" has been installed in the waiting halls of three participating railway stations in Wien, Graz and Szombathely. The project became very popular, people - possibly waiting for their train connections - obsessively played with the installations at all locations: the access logs show nearly constant, 24 hours activities.

Besides the further development of the custom made hardware, for the current version of "See-through" the complete software environment has been re-written, resulting much better image quality and higher frame-rate of the video-streams.

Technical specification

Currently the custom made hardware for 3 local installations is available. All these equipments can be transported to new exhibition locations, the only requirement on the exhibition-sides are broadband internet connections to all installations.

Equipment list:

- vandal proof metal structure, 200kgs per installation. The structure is easily transportable, modular, it has to be assembled at the exhibition site by our technitians:

- built in equipments per installation:
  • Special small sized industrial PC
  • Color CCTV camera with wide angle lens
  • AVERTV USB2 video capture device
  • Touch monitor with secure glass surface (3000 Series Elo Entuitive 1547L 15" LCD Rear Mount Touchmonitor - SecureTouch 0.25" (6 mm) Serial C80308-000)
  • Thomson 86cm diam. television set
  • - cables: long VGA to connect TouchScreen LCD, long serial to connect Touch interface, long VGA to connect TV, long RCA to connect video camera, long power cables to LCD, TouchPanel, Camera, TV
  • broadband network connection (has to be provided at the exhibition site)