Sally or the Bubble Burst-Vivian

Interactive Cinema

Presentation ideas

Mathew’s video last year intrigues our group’s curiosity as he says “the dehumanization of Sally”. The high threshold his team sets pressures me to think about ways of presentation beside a short video. I came up with an interactive PPT, where people could vote for the parts they are interested in or a live performance inspired by the interactive furniture in Sally. But time is limited and our major aim is to show a sense of what Sally feels like, so I design a PPT in the conversational framework, which is collaborated by all of us and starts with Chen’s video teaser. I really love my passionate and efficient group members, enjoy watching Sally twice together and meet three times to sparkle each other’s ideas.

Chen Gong edited the film; Matthew Alan Lester and I love it!

The interface of DVD-ROM

When I first encountered Sally through the DVD-ROM in the old Mac (Legacy OSX 10.6 iMac), I was quite confused. There are four sections, “Play the program,” “Sally sings,” “Artificial Changelings” and “Spectropia”, but the menu does not show their connections and tell me where to start.

Disoriented as I feel, I am glad that we explored by ourselves before watching the explanatory video. Not acknowledging the standard process, we had to try our own instincts against the artist’s program, and negotiate the unexpected before we deemed it as a technical glitch or an artistic design. When Sally became silent, it could be that she was processing our input, was broken down at the question of “do you like ice-cream”, or maybe silence is one of her expressions.

The technical glitches draw my attention to the interface. Every time I wanted to start a conversation, I had to hold the “ESC” key, which kept reminding us of the boundary between Sally and me. I like Toni’s graceful performance on the stage, where she controlled the speed or perspective of the film with her hand movement detected by the movement sensor as if she was playing an instrument.

The stage version of the transparent interface is Toni’s idea media, where our body in movement, in space and in time is extended into the screen (Dove 65). However, for our easy access, Toni has to make compromises in the preservation of this hybrid form of installation and cinema. The mesmerizing effect of Sally on a huge screen has to be reduced to a video-game experience on the computer.

Furniture Talk, Database Cinema, Object-Oriented Philosophy

We love the furniture talk best. We discovered in the second viewing that each time we click on the furniture; they offer different conversations. The chair boasts about the massive production of chairs, but with another click, he anxiously asks “am I unique?” Even though we catch different phrases, any combination won’t fail to describe an economy powered and destroyed by consumerism in the 1920s, or show the life philosophy of Sally. I am convinced that the narration and database can be compatible (Kinder 348), from the forerunner of database cinema, Vertov and Bunuel, to Toni Dove.

The malfunction of voice recognition limits us to interacting through clicking instead of saying the name “chair”, which gives an impression that there is more interaction between the furniture themselves, than the objects and us. Such lack of interactivity is also felt in our conversation with Sally, who has few responses available and ends up telling her story no matter what we choose to say.

Interestingly, the object-oriented philosophy relieves me from my self-centered frustration by offering a new perspective on “activity”: “It is not that ‘user’ merely uses a passive technology; rather the technology and the machine, as the context of interactivity are active. Any moment of the interactive experience…is constituted by the active engagement of the context and its protocols in the object” (Barker 76-77).


Sally, a cyborg?

Having watched humanized machines talking naturally, I wonder why Sally moves and sounds in a jerky way. I owe such mechanic style to the insufficient AI development in 2003, until Toni gives us another reason during her NYU lecture on September 20th.

Toni explained she deliberately broke everything in Sally. Sally’s words were broken down to phonemes to make her look mechanical and funny. Toni said, “If she speaks in a seamless manner, how could users tell the difference between a live performance and a machine?” Besides, the broken-down Sally is adaptive to new settings. Toni and her team can quickly input sentence for Sally to pronounce, instead of filming speeches ahead, thus making Sally more improvisational and independent.

But Sally also displays distinct femininity. She claims to be a bubble dancer in 1920s, and she announces a vivid personality through her constant blow of kisses and roll of eyes, which are short videos restored in her database. Toni reduces the fluidity of the gestures by deleting a few frames and enable them to stay in harmony with her broken speech. As a result, Sally becomes an uncanny combination of human and non-human features.

I suppose Toni does not aim for a perfect human resemblance, but a “cyborg” to reflect on what woman means in the context of new technology since women protagonists prevail all her works. Sally boldly incorporates oppositional characters, a hyper-feminine appearance, and a robotic manner, flirting like a flapper but sometimes irresponsive and making no sense, historically situated in the Great Depression but preserved in a new technology of DVD-ROM. This hybrid “cyborg” woman is born from the history but not burdened by its restriction. She “transgresses the boundaries, potent fusions, and dangerous possibilities” (Haraway 154) and reflects on herself by her rebirth into a robotic body.

In the context of the Spectropia project, which Sally belongs to, the cyborg Sally fits well as the image of a historical ghost summoned to the high-tech future. She is a restored human body in a mechanical container, a product of wonder, demystify and mystify the past at the same time.

Sally in Spectropia


Barker, Timothy. “Objects and interaction.” Digital Creativity 22.2 (2011): 65-77.

Dove, Toni. “Swimming in Time: Performing Programmes, Mutable Movies–Notes on a Process in Progress.” Performance and Place. Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2006. 60-74.

Haraway, Donna. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women; The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991.

Kinder, Marsha. “Designing a Database Cinema.” Future cinema: The cinematic imaginary after film (2003): 346-353.



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