Memento Mori Parlor Wall

When I imagine the future it doesn’t look great. My main motivation as I pursue my MFA is to think about how to design a future that is - realistically, at best - less dystopian. My already really practical and pessimistic nature results in my spending a lot more time thinking about dystopia than utopia, which I tend to dismiss as too lofty an aspiration for my lifetime. That being, the task of representing my vision of the future, rather than representing in response to my vision of the future, poses kind of a tricky challenge for me. If I illustrate a utopia then I’m not really honoring my actual perspective; if I illustrate a dystopian future, a.) I’m bummed, and b.) I’m not really at the service of my vocational objectives.

The most utopian notion of the future I’m ever really willing to entertain is one in which the singularity has resulted in the following domino effect:

  1. labor is no longer necessary

  2. money is no longer necessary

  3. social status is rendered obsolete

  4. conflict ceases to exist

  5. people of all different sorts merge together into one cohesive, truly global society

  6. (at the expense of emotional sensibility as we know it now)

This is the future I chose to depict: one that is admittedly quite fantastic but probably best resembles what the future would look like if it were up to me.

I like to imagine that in a post-singularity utopia a big part of day-to-day human activity is just remembering, consuming memories and records. People might spend their time exploring archived content through the internet of things like a giant, omnipresent museum of human history. In this vein I was reminded of the “parlor wall,” a science fiction trope first conceived of by Ray Bradbury in Fahrenheit 451 but since used pervasively throughout the genre. Normally parlor walls serve as a kind of rhetorical indicator that everyday folks are unwittingly enslaved by media-wielding plutocratic overlords - but I’m all for them! I think if/when the species renders the planet insufferably disfigured and/or largely uninhabitable, a parlor wall sounds like a gangbusters way to cheat some earthly delight back into human consciousness.

Mine is a Memento Mori Parlor Wall. It enables users to virtually exhibit the lives of their deceased loved ones like works of fine art or museum artifacts. In a post-emotional paradigm, it incorporates as features of architecture:

  • celebration/acceptance of mortality

  • objectification of reality (and maybe therefore de-fictionalization of it, to some degree)

  • liberation from the burden of preserving the physical materials we inherit from our dead

The MMPW accesses an archive of cloud-based content relating to a particular (dead) individual of the user’s choosing. The user lights a candle at an altar display to activate the flow of content across the parlor wall. I liked the idea that in this highly sterile distant future people might still ritually engage with sentimentality by activating a piece of everyday technology in such an archaic manner (i.e. with fire). In my prototype a photoresistor interprets the candlelight to retrieve the materials via cloud, although I think a heat sensor would have been both more practical for reading data and in a sense more romantic (which has to be in the top five dorkiest opinions I’ve ever held). The prototype also only involves one sensor, but in my imagination the altar-place has a grid of candles and sensors to represent multiple biographical archives, like a switchboard.

Materials Used:

  • Arduino Uno with photoresistor

  • Netlab Toolkit

  • Javascript


  • Adafruit IO

  • Adobe AfterEffects

  • Adobe Photoshop

Project Brief:

Build and present a conceptually provocative working system that connects tangible and screen-based interactions through the cloud. Create a specific future work activity or scenario as the context for this exploration. Challenge current ways of working, and imagine how the combination of tangible and virtual systems could transform how we work - for the better or the worse.

This project combines the skills you’ve learned this fall by integrating Javascript programming, tangible interaction, and screen based technologies. The project should explore the affordances and limitations of tangible and screen interactions, where the project uses both for what they each do best.

The project must implement real interaction, so be careful about planning what you can practically implement in the time available. In other words, keep it fairly simple. You can describe the more complex aspects of the project in a presentation, video, wizard-of-ozing, or any other approach that sets the context for the working project.

The project must include these technical features:

  • A designed and built tangible system that involves one or more of the following: sensors, motors, lights, etc.

  • A connection of the tangible system to the cloud, which can be sending, receiving, or both

  • A separate screen-based interaction, in a different physical location, that uses a webpage that connects to the same cloud system

  • There must be a connection between the tangible system and the screen so that in some way, their interactions affect one another. The interactions can tangible -> screen, screen-> tangible, or both.