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ν (nu) descending
Documentation. A 3D, Interactive Cinema-painting cum Kinect Hack © 2012



ν (nu) descending In 1912, Marcel Duchamp painted what had become one of the most prominent artworks of the 20th century, 'Nu descendant un escalier n° 2'. Influenced by the first experiments in stop-motion photography by Marey and Muybridge, this painting portrays the dynamics and rhythms of an abstracted moving figure using visual techniques that anticipated the possibilities of cinematic effects common today.

100 years after the original’s controversial debut, 'ν (nu) descending' is an homage to this influential painting, an interactive, stereoscopic 3D, video installation that “hacks” the depth detection capabilities of the Microsoft Kinect, combined with custom software, to depict passersby descending (or ascending) a staircase.

The Greek letter ν (nu) is used to represent variables of motion in various branches of the sciences. For example, in physics, it represents the spatial frequency of a wave. In astronomy, it represents the angle of a body in orbit. Building upon Duchamp’s original intentions of portraying dynamics through abstraction, this centennial nu descending adds real-time motion and space to the image.

Installed in a public stairwell, the 'ν (nu) descending' system captures figures in space via the Kinect. The custom software, stereoKinect, written in MaxMSP, translates the Kinect’s depth information into a three-dimensional array of locations, viewable in configurable, stereoscopic 3D. The points in the depth array are dynamically replaced with abstract geometric forms that orbit within the body as it moves along the stairs. The figure is further echoed and delayed digitally as it passes through space. Because the system is stereoscopic, a virtual, dynamic time-sculpture of the moving figure is created. The cinema-painting reconfigures itself with each passerby. The public becomes the subject, participants in a seminal work of art.

The demo video is produced using anaglyphic 3D. Red-blue glasses will enhance the effect of the documentation.


iMappening, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, USA

This work was created with support from iMAP at the University of Southern California and Microsoft

© Clea T. Waite 2012