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Hacking The Shit Out Of Everything: Part 3

Hacking The Shit Out Of Everything: Part 3

In Part 1 of Hacking The Shit Out Of Everything, we introduced our installation-based documentary project Empire and laid out our reasons for wanting to adapt the work to the web. In Part 2, we spent the weekend at the POV Hackathon, where we turned a section of Empire into an award-winning digital storytelling prototype. Now it’s time to show you what our team pulled together in the meager hours we had to hack the shit out of Empire.

Screen grab of the Empire: Bakermat prototype: The Instructions.

Our prototype is an adaptation of the video installation Empire: Bakermat, which we shot in and around Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport in early 2012. Bakermat (which means “cradle” in English) consists of two films that share one soundtrack. These two films are projected on opposite sides of a single screen, so audience members can never watch one without missing the other. The piece grapples with the binary nature of life choices: when you choose to do one thing, you are also choosing not to do something else. In the installation, as in life, it’s impossible to be in two places at the same time.

A big reward of exhibiting the original version of Bakermat in Amsterdam was watching people interact with the installation. Some would run around the screens and try to take it all in, while others would hang back to watch one film all the way through, then walk around the screen to do the same thing on the other side. Our central challenge during the hackathon was figuring out how to transpose this unique viewer experience to the 2D world of the web. Given our limited time, our goal wasn’t to craft a polished finished product, but was instead to create a functional, proof-of-concept model that replaced the act of walking around the screens with an equivalent mouse or trackpad action.

Screen grab of the Empire: Bakermat prototype: The Slider.

To do this, our team came up with a slider interface that allows viewers to flip between the two stories. Slide it to the left and you’re inside the airport mortuary, a one-of-a-kind facility that handles bodies in transit into and out of the Netherlands. Slide it to the right and you’re outside, watching planes take off and land with a group of plane spotters.

Empire: Bakermat production still, spotter side.

Empire: Bakermat production still, mortuary side.

The final layer of our prototype’s interface is a tracking system that records how users move the slider as they watch the piece. About 10 seconds after the film ends, these movements are transformed into a data visualization that reflects how much time you spent in each location. The visualization juxtaposes the faces of Bakermat’s two lead characters—one old, one young—into a jagged, bisected portrait representing your viewing choices. The personalized image serves to re-emphasize the interlinked themes of decision-making and loss that run through the two films.

Try the first version of the Empire: Bakermat prototype here.

[NOTE: the current version is optimized for Chrome and Safari, and may not work properly on other browsers, or on mobile devices. Switch browsers to save yourself a headache.]

Big thanks to Clint Beharry, Claire Mitchell, and Sam Bailey for all the work and inspiration, and to POV for their support.

Kel O’Neill and Eline Jongsma are the directors of the Empire project. Follow them @EmpireDoc to find out what kind of shit they’ll be hacking next.