An installation about word pictures, the gaze, and cure

About Talking Cure

Talking Cure is an installation that includes live video processing, speech recognition, and a dynamically composed sound environment. It is about seeing, writing, and speaking — about word pictures, the gaze, and cure. It works with the story of Anna O, the patient of Joseph Breuer's who gave to him and Freud the concept of the "talking cure" as well as the word pictures to substantiate it. The reader enters a space with a projection surface at one end and a high-backed chair, facing it, at another. In front of the chair are a video camera and microphone. The video camera's image of the person in the chair is displayed, as text, on the screen. This "word picture" display is formed by reducing the live image to three colors, and then using these colors to determine the mixture between three color-coded layers of text. One of these layers is from Joseph Breuer's case study of Anna O. Another layer of text consists of the words "to torment" repeated — one of the few direct quotations attributed to Anna in the case study. The third layer of text, which becomes visible only when a person is in the chair, reworks Anna's snake hallucinations through the story of the Gorgon Medusa, reconfiguring the analytic gaze. Speaking into the microphone triggers a speech-to-text engine that replaces Anna's words with what it (mis)understands the participant to have said. What is said into the microphone is also recorded, and becomes part of a sound environment that includes recordings of Breuer's words, Anna's words, our words, and all that has been spoken over the length of the installation. Others in the space observe the person in the chair through word pictures on the screen. Readers move their bodies at first to create visual effects, and then to achieve textual ones, creating new reading experiences for themselves and others in the room. Movements range from slowly moving an extended arm in order to recreate left-to-right reading, to head or hand rotation seeking evocative neologisms at the mobile textual borders within the image. The video processing technique was created by Utterback, and has been exhibited separately as Written Forms. The sound environment was designed and implemented by Castiglia, and Nathan Wardrip-Fruin implemented the speech-to-text. Talking Cure was first presented at the 2002 Electronic Literature Organization symposium at UCLA. I have also presented it as a performance/reading, cycling verbally between the layers of text while my image is projected as a different textual mixture on a screen.

Noah Wardrip-Fruin