Water Text Art: Eavesdripping

Eavesdripping prototype - acrylic basin lit by 26 LEDs

Sascha Pohflepp’s Eavesdripping uses falling drops to write on water - turning a rain puddle into a pixelated lite-brite screen or, alternately, turning rain into a dot-matrix printer.

The concept of “controllable artificial rain” takes the impact of a drop of water on a puddle as its pixel, and builds up a technology to order and time those pixels. A technology demo video shows the prototypes progressing from simpe 4×4 pixel letters, to scrolling 16pt text, to experimentation with video feeds. Along the way a design decision was made to change the background LEDs in the pool to better isolate the moment of impact. This effect further digitizes the boiling waveforms of the pool surface into a grid of impact points which display on-off states.

As an installation, Eavesdripping takes as its theme the physical presence of invisible digital communication.

The metaphor of the installation would be to wash something from the air and make it visible on the ground in front of you. Since the initial presentation took place in the digital media department of UDK where most people are using wireless internet connections to communicate, the idea of visualizing these conversations emerged. For achieving this, the packages were successfully “sniffed” from the air, parsed to readable text, processed for being output in the form of drops and then displayed on the ground for everyone to read.

This setup makes the installation EAVESDRIPPING, which typographically in water shows the contents of data packages on the local wireless-network. It is important that not only the amount of communication is being displayed, but the real contents like messages from instant-messaging-chats or emails and websites….

Although the press material doesn’t discuss the name, “Eavesdripping” is more than just a clever wordplay on “eavesdropping” - it is also an elegant updating of the etymology of the word “eavesdrop” (“to listen secretly to the private conversation of others”) which descends from the Middle English eavesdrop and Old English yfes drype (“place where water falls from the eaves”).

That ancient metaphor comparing knowledge interception to redirected falling water is refreshed and performed by this project. I’m not sure whether the original metaphor “to eavesdrop” and its modern sense of knowledge interception came from the location where a listener would stand (as close to a house as where rain runs from the eaves) or how a listener was behaving (redirecting or intercepting words in the way that rain is deflected and channeled by the eaves). However, if we consider the second metaphor, then we can see how digital technology has displaced water from its original role.

Once, uncontrollable water dropped from the sky, only to vanish on the ground unless caught and redirected by the eaves of a man-made structure. This was a good metaphor for the spoken secret, which dissipated quickly unless words were caught by nearby ears.

“Eavesdripping,” however, is a contemporary installation, exhibited in an era of overt public surveillance after a century of widely available consumer sound recording devices. The very action of rain itself can be controlled by computers. In “Eavesdripping” there are no eaves, because the ‘rain’ has taken on the role as man-made device.

Meanwhile, the free flow of wireless network data has taken on the role of the rain.

[Eavesdripping via we make money not art]

3 Responses to “Water Text Art: Eavesdripping”

  1. 1 lili txt

    hi mi name is lili txt im an artis from colombia im rewserching about virtual comunication in relation of water, i have a proyect abput that im interesting in this proyect please contact me .

  2. 2 Jeremy Douglass

    Hola Lili. ¿Cuál es su pregunta sobre el agua y los nuevos medios? Mi inglés es mucho mejor que mi español, pero ayudaré si puedo.

    I see on your Myspace page that your current project is called “Letras Liquidas,” which sounds interesting, but I’m not sure what it is. Let me know how we can help.

    Buena suerte con su proyecto.

  1. 1 Water Text Art Eavesdripping at WRT Writer Response Theory | Wood TV Stand

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