Praiamancy SP
(Webcam Beach Augury)

Will Pappenheimer and FRE
(The Florida Research Ensemble: Gregory L. Ulmer, Barbara Jo Revelle, John Craig Freeman, Will Pappenheimer, and William Tilson)

Artwork and Technology Description:

The installation will consist of a configuration of one data entry computer on a podium, a printer, and three contiguous RGB video projections on a nearby wall. The right hand projection will display the continuous live monitoring of a Sao Paolo beach webcam. The central projection will display a ghost version of the webcam with bright image recognition points superimposed. The third left-handed projection will display the results of textual searches when the system is activated and a final diagrammatic sentence or series of words that represents the users "reading."

The artwork functions as a sequence of automatic computational steps driven by the input of a user collectively named PlayaSoft©. (1) At the computer podium a visitor is asked for input on a simple series of questions relating to their memory and biography. When the information is entered, the user is instructed to think of a question for consultation, to watch the progress of the beach cam, and then to press the return or enter keys at the moment of their choosing which initiates the automated process of the "reading." (2) The return/enter key freezes the momentary image selection of the webcam. (3) This still image is then subjected to the image recognition analysis and appears in a dim version in the central projection with bright image recognition points superimposed. (4) The entry/return action also initiates two textual searches of the Internet. (5) Keywords, dates and numbers from users question responses are filtered out and used as a keyword searches for the WWW. (6) Local and international news articles of the moment, are also retrieved in the search stage of the software. (7) Sentences from information retrieved from these searches are loaded into an unformatted text image defined as the same size as the Web cam image and displayed in the left-hand projection. (8) When the text and imagery have completed their designated processes, the user is prompted to press return/entry again for the final processing step. (9) The image recognition dots, forming the visual impression of a star configuration, are super-imposed on the text image in the far left projection. (10) Wherever the dots are located in this super-imposition designates the words that become the end product word configuration or "reading." (11) This word configuration or "reading" will then be displayed as a moving and stretching lengthwise sentence or network of words, It will be printed for the visitor as her/his particular consultation.
An Internet version of the artwork may also be possible.

middle screen
right screen
left screen

final text resullt screen and printout


Webcam technologies have often suffered from questions of practical use value and problems of global surveillance. In an attempt to identify a new form of meaningful panoptics, Praiamancy SP proposes to employ beach cam technologies to identify a constellation pattern for a contemporary version of a consultation system. This project hopes to detour the foreboding directives of image recognition technology and global tourism in the form of aimless beach culture. "Beach Augury" refers to the ancient practice of setting out a rectangle, often in the sky, and scrutinizing it for a particular period of time to count the number of stars, birds, etc. that pass through. This information was used to read and give advice for the future. In this case we draw a rectangle in a section of a Sao Paulo webcam and watch for beach goers that pass through. We count and account for their attributes. We call this "Praiamancy" from the Portugese”’praia" for beach and the suffix "mancy" for the practice of attempting to foretell events or to discover the disposition of a person. The work will utilize textual input from viewers/users, gathered related information from the World Wide Web and custom image recognition software (PlayaSoft©) applied to a live webcam of a Sao Paolo beach in an attempt to become a source for a contemporary version of a "reading".


The proposed work represents a part of FRE's ongoing interest in exploring electrate consultation systems which hybridize contemporary Western Arts and Letters operations with the wisdom epistemologies of Non-Western traditions. "Consulting" thus refers not only to applied expert knowledge but also divination practices. Divination offers a relay for composing cognitive maps connecting individual existential problems with collective information resources. The switch or pivot between theory and wisdom is the experience and notion of "situation." In Western terms, circumstances transform into a situation through human intention, choice, purpose. In divination, attunement between the individual and the collective is achieved by a personal question to the oracle. In either case, the effect of "situation" is the experience of responsibility.

Specifically, Praiamancy, (translated from a previous project: Playamancy) is inspired by Roland Bathes' critical work, S/Z in which he invokes augury in the exploration of writerly textuality. He proposes a "starred text" in which each lexia or fragment is a "space in which we can observe meanings." Playamancy pairs this hypertextual approach with the potential of the image in Barthes' description of the "punctum" (Camera Lucida) where photographs "...are in effect punctuated, sometimes even speckled with these sensitive points...," a "...sting, speck, cut, little hole- and also a cast of the dice." These sensitive points chart an alternate potential of the image, one that is intimately tied to viewer memory and profoundly tangential to normative pathways of signification. Similarly, William Burroughs suggested, in his advocacy of a montage method of poesy, that a cut up news article, particularly of a public issue, rearranged, can predict the future of the problem.

Florida Research Ensemble (FRE) is an interdisciplinary collaborative group working collectively and individually on the invention of new digital forms and the development of what Greg Ulmer, the group theorist, refers to as electrate thinking in artistic production. Electracy is to information technology what literacy is to alphabetic writing. Over the past eight years the FRE has used Internet collaboration to produce numerous exhibitions, books, articles, CD-ROMs, DVD-Data, videos, lectures, panel discussions and websites. The projects and CVs of its members can be accessed at

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