I’ve been following comments under Slovenian web news items for quite some time. The commenters there are well known for their animosity towards anyone who disagrees with their political worldview. Reading the comment section usually means immersing yourself in verbal filth, depravity and all imaginable kinds of hate speech.
Some time ago I wrote software for scraping comments off these websites and have been since then storing them in a database. They are useful for a number of things. For example, I’ve had some success with stylometry (identifying commenters by their writing style, even when they post under different name), but this is a matter of another post. I also helped SAZU compiling a list of new slang words for the new Dictionary of Slovene Language.
So here’s a lighter project for people who don’t read these comments, neither they want to. If you want to see it all, just click the image below and behold the auto-generated stream for a minute or two.
Note that these are not real comments. The text is generated from two Markov chains, which have been initialized with texts of left-wing and right-wing commenters. The comments used are approximately a year old, lest someone accuses me of participating in election campaign of some kind. The web page simply generates a few sentences from one, then from the other, and so it continues ad nauseam infinitum.
I think it’s a fitting commentary of Slovenian mentality. Slovenian-speaking visitors will notice that, even if the texts are probabilistically computer-generated, there’s still ample hurling of insults based on the outcome of the last World War. There’s quite a lot of that.
Also, even though both sides pack serious vitriol, the right wingers use more classic hate speech, and they write comparatively worse.
Technically, it was a breeze to make. First I pulled entire corpora of selected commenters from the database in text form, then I used RiTA, a generative text tool, for initializing the two models and generating sentences. The code is very short, most of it has to do with displaying and scrolling.
Do you like to dance? I do. So, one morning in Berlin, after a long partying night, I was going back home with a friend, and a morbid theme came up: why do we have to be buried or cremated after death, and not taxidermied, implanted with an robotic skeleton, animated with your own previously movements, and let to dance the eternity away?
Turns out there are some good and some strange reasons why the state won’t let you get taxidermied, even if you specifically requested it. Vsauce has a very good video about it on Youtube. Plus the idea of someone remodelled into a robotic puppet and then sold, resold, stored in an attic by embarrassed grandchildren, or even uploaded with a new animation, can soon get uncomfortable.
Nevertheless, we set out to create a foundation to do just that, if only to exist as an art project. The first phase is a system to capture motion of a visitor with a computer, store it in an accessible format, an visualize the whole thing as a big dancefloor, where the subject can dance with recordings of previous visitors. We’ll decide on following phases as we go, maybe Google will release a low-cost robotic skeleton someday. We can use it to convert ourselves and launch into space to dance eternally on Noordung‘s space station.
Some screen footage (sorry for low resolution, shot with a phone):
It’s essentially a motion-capture program that visualizes dancers’ motion on a virtual dancefloor and stores 3D-data for later use. For motion capture we used one Kinect, for 3D animation Processing, and for rendering the excellent OpenGL library GLGraphics. Captured data is stored in a SOLR index to be searchable by dancer’s name.
The whole procedure goes like this: the visitor comes into Kinect’s field of view and is instantly recognized without need to strike any pose. Countdown to recording starts, and after ten seconds a ten-second clip of visitor’s movement is recorded, while the visitor can watch his movements on screen and synchronize movements with previously recorded dancers. It’s more fun to dance in company after all. Here’s the whole “workflow” in video. It’s choppy, but it’ll do.
The installation was premiered on Maribor Electronica Days in Maribor, Slovenia, on February 15th, 2013, sponsored by Kibla. Shown through house videographer’s lenses it looked like that:
video: Matej Kristovič, shown at: Festival MED in Maribor organized by ACE KIBLA.
The project in original form was shortlisted for Robots and Avatars last year, but we unfortunately didn’t win. The name was a little bit more convoluted, I think Eternal Danceflooors is better than 1st Stage Preparations for a Taxidermic Afterlife Party, as it was then titled.
There was a lot of big talk in project documentation. Read this if you can:
‘1st Stage Preparations for a Taxidermic Afterlife Party’ is a part of a planned wider ‘Taxidermic Afterlife Party’ project, which is firstly addressing the problem of the disappearing intergenerational solidarity through the creation of taxidermic dancing afterlife avatars.
As a conceptual starting-point we take the present situation, where society’s mechanisms are less and less able to provide for it’s older – i.e., “non-functional” – members. As a response to this phenomenon we strive to establish an absurd dystopian vision of a situation that has gone out of hands, where we have got real physical avatars with no reasonable purpose, but they do not want to go away (are present after individual’s life) and on top of this also need to be up kept (because we deal with real prepared human bodies – containing a dance mechanism – that need to go dancing / clubbing, as they function on the basis of the Tamagotchi principle).
The artists themselves are of course submitting their bodies to this artistic project as an act of social comment.
Because of the fact that in our society you have got only three options of what can be done with your body (burial, cremation or liquefaction), one of the aims of this 1st stage is the assertion of the right to get prepared after death. Individuals that are taking part in this project are also signers of this claim (although you can take part and not sign the claim and vice versa). This whole vision might be dystopian in its core, but there is also something romantic in dancing just a little bit longer …
In the history of human kind, dance is one of the oldest forms of expression, social interaction and establishment of collective identity; it was a part of first rituals, also meant to change each individual neural activity in order to reach this state of collective identity. Vanishing of this phenomenon or its limitation to club environment in today’s society on one hand, and flourishing use of social networks on the other, makes it interesting to put this ”primitive praxis” (dance) in the context of new technologies (virtual environment).
Stages of the whole lifelong and afterlife project:
– 1st: establishment of the dance moves database with visualization and interaction platform and functionality for asserting the right to get prepared after life via a petition
– 2nd: getting in touch with competent and/or suitable institutions (e. g., cyborg foundations) resulting in actual preparation
– 3rd: taxidermic afterlife party: embodiment of recorded database by actualization in a robotic platform
– 4th (“sad-but-true” future vision): you / your avatar will probably get sold on eBay, stored in some dusty garage, your dance moves are going to be hacked to sadly entertain the owner’s drunken friends … But no one is saying that the first exemplar is not going to end up in Guggenheim.
We have a process here where the dancing human body is substituted by a digital representation (caught with motion capture) and later on the digital representation gets substituted again by the real body (prepared body with an implanted robotic mechanism). The whole project is resulting then in reversing the process where we establish an avatar through the omission of the real body and make our own personality avatar’s content – now this at one point “abandoned” dimension (i.e., the real body) becomes the avatar …
The 1st stage of the project includes an interactive installation, where individuals record their dance moves through the usage of motion capture, and the development of an online virtual environment. This interauthorship (individuals contributing to the database of dance moves) can be seen as an investment into individual’s future presence and also as a contribution to the future presence of others, as the project is based on the creative commons principle. The database can be understood as a prospect for your own and others’ afterlife presence, but also as a part of the responsive environment, in which individuals enroll and take an active part in it in this lifetime. People would be called to get their digital dancing avatars through announcements / appeals in mass media.
The 1st stage can be interpreted as a project in itself with following outputs:
– (world’s largest) database of freestyle party dance moves, including moves by professional dancers and supporters of the project
– online virtual environment, i.e., visualization and interaction platform for recorded dance moves
– a base of exclusive music sets contributed by well-known artists
– a formal claim for a right to get prepared after death.