The absolute highlight of the exhibit, though, is Shadow Monsters, an installation by Philip Worthington. You enter a small room with a very bright light on the wall behind you, and your “shadow” is “cast” on the opposite wall. The shadow, however, is augmented in real-time to suggest how it would be seen in the mind of a child who’s been told to sleep, but can’t stop worrying about monsters under the bed. While your projected shadow grows horns, teeth, scary eyeballs and shaggy hair, the space is activated with growling, grunting, and gargling — the sounds of hungry monsters preparing to devour little children. My favorite moment was when I made an alligator-like shadow puppet with my arms, and it grew large teeth and spat in disgust toward the opposite wall. (There was audio for the spitting, too.)
Not to brag, but that last bit of computationally enhanced performance art drew a brief standing ovation from a crowd of onlookers. You see, with Shadow Monsters, there are the shadows, and there are the people casting the shadows, both of which could be considered performers, since they both contribute something to the space. And then there are the people outside the space looking in, watching the performance.
But, in reality, the onlookers are part of the performance, too. They unwittingly play the part of the little child, peeking out from under the covers, afraid and confused, unable to explain what’s real and what’s not, and unwilling to get out of bed (and into the space) until they can figure out what’s really going on. My theory is that I drew a few claps because I wasn’t afraid to “get out from under the covers” and really explore the system. (I was fairly confident that it would not actually eat me.) I raised my arms, stuck out my legs, made enclosed shadow-spaces (which is how to trigger eyeballs, I discovered), and did a number of other physical actions that would have gotten me kicked out of the museum, had I not been within that installation space. But I didn’t care, because I wanted to know how the algorithm worked, and besides, my attention was on the large projection in front of me, so I wasn’t thinking about how silly I looked until people started clapping.