HOMMAGE TO JONATHAN SWIFT
Interactive Augmented Reality Installation by Zoltán Szegedy-Maszák, 2008/9
An installation is placed in the exhibition space, which resembles the photographic apparatus used in photo studios for taking identity card photos. The only difference is that there is a table in front of the model, with a monitor on its top - resembling the usual video-telephoning apparatus of our time. Lying on the table, there are a few A4 size cards with unintelligible geometric patterns.
The visitor receives the following instruction: sit down at the table, and show the cards placed on it to the camera. Settling by the table, the visitor will see her/his own mirror image shown by the video camera that replaces the photo camera. When the visitor lifts the cards and shows them to the camera, s/he will notice something unusual: in addition to the view given by the video camera, there are virtual three-dimensional objects floating in front of the simple black and white patterns. These react to the movement of the cards as if they were real objects. (Please see the video documentation @ vimeo.)
In the mid-17th century, Comeneus - while explaining the role of images in his Orbis pictus - proposed that the most important and most appropriate method of learning is to show the thing itself or its image at least, so that one has a better understanding of words and meanings. Jonathan Swift was more radical in Gulliver's Travels. When looking for the universal language, professors of the linguistic institute of Laputa suggest that instead of using language or speech, the most convenient way to communicate is through the depiction of actual objects. The following explanatory text is displayed at the table along with user instructions:
The title of the installation refers to the following excerpt from Gulliver's Travels:
"We next went to the School of Languages, where three Professors sate in Consultation upon improving that of their own country. The first Project was to shorten Discourse by cutting Polysyllables into one, and leaving out Verbs and Participles, because in reality all things imaginable are but Nouns. The other, was a Scheme for entirely abolishing all Words whatsoever; and this was urged as a great Advantage in Point of Health as well as Brevity. For it is plain, that every Word we speak is in some Degree a Diminution of our Lungs by Corrosion, and consequently contributes to the shortning of our Lives. An Expedient was therefore offered, that since Words are only Names for Things, it would be more convenient for all Men to carry about them, such Things as were necessary to express the particular Business they are to discourse on. And this Invention would certainly have taken Place, to the great Ease as well as Health of the Subject, if the Women in conjunction with the Vulgar and Illiterate had not threatned to raise a Rebellion, unless they might be allowed the Liberty to speak with their Tongues, after the manner of their Ancestors; such constant irreconcilable Enemies to Science are the common People. However, many of the most Learned and Wise adhere to the New Scheme of expressing themselves by Things, which hath only this Inconvenience attending it, that if a Man's Business be very great, and of various kinds, he must be obliged in Proportion to carry a greater bundle of Things upon his Back, unless he can afford one or two strong Servants to attend him. I have often beheld two of those Sages almost sinking under the Weight of their Packs, like Pedlars among us; who, when they met in the Streets, would lay down their Loads, open their Sacks, and hold Conversation for an Hour together; then put up their Implements, help each other to resume their Burthens, and take their Leave.
But for short Conversations a Man may carry Implements in his Pockets and under his Arms, enough to supply him, and in his House he cannot be at a loss: Therefore the Room where Company meet who practise this Art, is full of all Things ready at Hand, requisite to furnish Matter for this kind of artificial Converse.
Another great Advantage proposed by this Invention, was that it would serve as a Universal Language to be understood in all civilized Nations, whose Goods and Utensils are generally of the same kind, or nearly resembling, so that their Uses might easily be comprehended. And thus Embassadors would be qualified to treat with foreign Princes or Ministers of State to whose Tongues they were utter Strangers."
Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift, PART III: A VOYAGE TO LAPUTA, BALNIBARBI, LUGGNAGG, GLUBBDUBDRIB AND JAPAN, CHAPTER V.