Healy & Phillips: "Cross-Talk" Back to Installations page

Cross-Talk, an interactive multimedia installation, was created for the 1999 International Computer Music Association’s annual conference held for the first time in Beijing, People’s Republic of China. Carolyn Healy, who made the sculpture and designed the lighting for the installation, used materials relating to the history of global communication, including a collection of call cards from the days of ham radio and fabric panels silkscreened with patterns of Morse code. The lines of dots and dashes resemble the binary computer code of today and carry a quotation addressing the issue of freedom, as countries open up (or not) through the Internet.

John Phillips used digital technology to develop a computer-based soundscape based on the oldest known form of communication: human and animal sounds. These he processed electronically to produce an ever shifting environment that also reacted to inputs from sensors built into several of the sculptural objects. The aural experience changed continuously as visitors dropped balls in water-filled pans, struck a mallet against a funnel / gong, or spoke into microphones veiled within light boxes resembling large rectangular lanterns. Whenever the gong was struck a small TV switched on across the room , displaying the hissing static of a mistuned channel. In addition, the illuminated lanterns “talked” to each other by blinking long and short pulses, while a lighted tube in the form of a wave slowly changed brightness on the floor. Light reflecting off mirrors in the “ponds” caused rippling effects on the back wall whenever the water was disturbed, adding to the theme of thoughts as traveling signals.
We were challenged (within some shipping constraints!) to develop an interactive encounter that would be intriguing to people of all ages and could be experienced without explanation as we cannot speak Chinese. It worked well for 2000+ visitors who had not been exposed to work like ours before; the use of technology was of automatic interest in a society that is modernizing rapidly, and the opportunity to interact with the piece helped people overcome awkwardness about what to do in an unfamiliar situation. It became clear that the purely impractical nature of our exhibition was perplexing to some, but there was such pleasure taken in the sensations and such curiosity and eagerness to understand our artistic meaning that the whole exchange was very satisfying to us.