Spiritual Telegraph

2011
Computer, two channel video projection, custom software, Kinect

This project is part of a series of virtual reality environments and new media installations that explore facets of the telegraph using contemporary technology.

Beyond its practical uses, the telegraph introduced the idea of utopian electronic space and the idea of changing human consciousness through electronic technology. In this way it again prefigured McLuhan’s “global village,” the visionary claims for virtual reality in the 1990’s, the utopian rhetoric of the early Web, and the seductive limitless possibilities of Second Life.

This idea of an almost mystical power to the technology was perhaps most pronounced in the telegraph’s connection to the Spiritualist movement. Spiritualism combined religion, science (or pseudo-science), and progressive politics. It included prominent figures such as Harriet Beecher Stowe and Thomas Edison, and was involved in the Abolitionist movement, womens’ suffrage, and other activist causes. Spiritualism used the telegraph as a model for communication with other realms: if the technology could be used to communicate with distant places, something similar should be possible to communicate with the spirit world.

Spirit photographs were another important scientific / technological component to spiritualism. These images are records of ghostly manifestations, often invisible to the naked eye but revealed by the photographic process. Ectoplasm was believed to be a paranormal, gauzy substance excreted by mediums during a trance, which spirits could use to give themselves physical form. Both of these spiritualist practices relied on the figure of the Medium, who, like the telegraph operator, provided the human conduit into the system.

This project explores the spiritualist side of the telegraph.  The piece uses interactive stereoscopic 3D projection, with the Kinect as the interface.  Viewers are “summoned” as spirits and ectoplasmic entities by the medium with the telegraph.

The Kinect provides camera-based tracking of the user’s motions in three dimensions.  The motion of the body and hands control the spiritual manifestations in the virtual environment.  Here, your avatar is a ghost and a cloud of ectoplasmic tentacles.