This past Friday, we had our final performance for Drawing on Everything with Shantell Martin at the Museum of Moving Image. Most people chose to do live, projection-based performances, mixing analog and digital media. I wanted to pursue a physical, analog drawing object where people could collaboratively draw together. The form was going to be a rectangular wooden box, where hidden motorized rollers scrolled paper across the smooth box surface. 15′ of paper would wind on one end, then reverse and scroll to the opposite roller multiple times to ensure people would get a chance to draw and fill the canvas.
Motor-controlled rubber wheel spinning an industrial aluminum roller.
Birch wood box. Hand-made, with CNC-routed slots for the paper.
Underside of box, showing roller placement. Motors sat on top of rollers.
After prototyping the basic movement I wanted, wheels spinning rollers as seen above, I constructed the housing. The rectangular box measured 5′ x 2′ x 5″, with two 22″ slots where the paper would come in and out of. Once the housing was built, I began setting the pieces in place to iron out the mechanics. This, of course, began taking place on Thursday night, with the hope it would be smoothly wrapped up on Friday morning in time for our 6:30pm performance. Naturally, that didn’t work out. Timing malfunctions, motor speed and placement experiments, and paper rolling issues led to an extremely frustrating and stressful day. I brought the project to the Museum with the hopes of wrapping up a few issues before things kicked off.
As people were beginning to come into the space, I realized I knew how to fix my problems, but it was realistically going to take me 30-40 minutes. I had to make the decision to abandon my plan and improvise. Thankfully Rodrigo, who was doing a large wall drawing, had some extra pieces of thick paper cut, which I was able to use. I taped a large piece to the floor and started drawing, and left a bunch of markers out to still encourage the collaboration I was originally looking for. Sharang jumped in early before his performance, but pretty soon the space got overrun with all the little kids who came, including Gal and Alon’s children.
The impromptu performance actually worked out really well. All the kids had a great time getting to draw, and a lot of other older people and fellow students came to draw for a few minutes. Being able to talk to everyone and see their different drawing styles was a nice way to decompress after the stress of having my original project fail. I put a lot of time, money, and effort into the box, and it was pretty disappointing to see it fail. But the resulting performance was not only really enjoyable and fulfilling in its own right, but it forced me to completely rethink the interaction for my original box. This drawing worked out significantly better than the box would have, and if I want to finish and use the box (which I d0), I’ll need to put a good deal of work into rethinking its design, interaction, and purpose. None of that would have been possible without experiencing the failure of that first plan.