Literary Device

This time of year last year, I was preparing two performance projects for the Art Shanty Projects (ASP). I’d worked with a number of artist friend/collaborator/soulmates on three art shanties for previous years’ projects, and we hadn’t been struck by any particular inspiration for another shanty, but I still wanted to be involved, and saw an opportunity to use some of my skills to create interactive spaces outside the shanties, on what promised to be the most attended Art Shanty Projects year ever.

I applied for two performance projects, one solo, one with fellow collaborators, thinking one of them would get accepted. We were lucky enough to have both selected to participate. This post is about my solo project: Literary Device, a series of signal flags which directed ASP attendees to use their mobile devices to access winter stories and poems by local writers. It also involved going out onto the ice and getting stories from attendees, and adding those stories available by code words on new flags.

Funded by an ASP performing artist fellowship, I purchased neon pink and yellow signal flags, spray paint, spray adhesive, a great big auger drill bit, pens, pencils, notebooks, a table, and supported all the behind-the-scenes tech that ran the phone software. I used Adobe Illustrator and a friend’s Glowforge laser printer to cut the stencils.

The Dirty Details: The code that runs the phone software is two php documents, lots of mp3 recordings of the pieces being read, and some Twilio Markup Language (TwiML) to talk to Twilio’s servers. Twilio hosts the phone number I rented for the project (as well as a test number where I ran the code before going live). It’s a great resource for all sorts of things one might do with human-to-human communications these days. For this project, my needs were pretty low. Twilio would send text message requests to one file and respond to code words from the flags with formatted text versions of the stories and poems. Twilio would use the other file to play audio for callers, based on that same code word.

The project ran daily at the Art Shanty Projects, with a parade of flags lining the walkway to and around the projects. I would sit out at my table in half-hour (sometimes longer) stretches with recording devices and notebooks and engage attendees, encouraging them to tell me stories and memories they had of winter. It was a pleasurable way to engage with attendees, winter, and writing, and the phone number is still active. If you’re so inclined, feel free to check out some of them.

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