Editorial Review

An exhibit that doesn’t always work
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, April 27, 2012

Technology is cool when it works like magic, not like a machine.

The exhibition "D.O.L.L.: DIWO OPNSRC LMFAO LHOOQ" is a case in point. A collaboration between the Washington Project for the Arts and Artisphere, where it's on view in the Terrace Gallery, the 11-artist showcase of interactive and high-tech art is part of Experimental Media 2012, which also features video screenings and workshops. It runs the gamut from the brilliant to the banal and includes a number of pieces that are just plain balky.

At the brilliant end is Hiroshi Jacobs's "Play It Forward." Resembling a chaise longue that's rearing up in the air at one end, the interactive sculpture has motion sensors that light up its white surface with red LEDs, creating a soft pink glow that follows visitors' movements. (You're meant to wave your arms and move around it. Don't just sit on it, because every time someone interacts with "Play," money is donated to charity. See "The Story Behind the Work.")

It's a beautiful object, and a beautiful idea.

At the banal end of the spectrum is Eric Celarier's "Wasteland: Inscrutable Complexity." Neither terribly inscrutable nor complex -- except to the degree that it touches on consumerism and obsolescence -- it's a crazy-quiltlike wall hanging fashioned from old computer circuit boards.

In between are a lot of artworks with technical difficulties.

Take Patrick Resing's "Hugg #1." The hugging robot -- a wooden box designed to scoot around a patch of flooring, Roombalike, until it encounters your legs and "hugs" them with its tentacles while gurgling like a dirty old man -- was stuck in a corner most of the time. Mark Cooley's "PS4," a violent video game that has been hacked to incorporate actual news footage, had headphones but no sound. And the game controller is so complicated that only a 12-year-old could figure it out.

Christian Benefiel's "Spending It All in One Place" uses a small but noisy fan to periodically inflate and deflate a tube inside a wooden cage the size of a phone booth. Except that the tube, made of Tyvek and jumbled up like a garden hose that has been put away improperly, kept kinking, spoiling the effect. Pete Froslie's "Anxiety" was similarly temperamental. As designed, it's an old-fashioned book that uses a tiny motor and motion sensor to slowly open its cover when no one is nearby. If you approach it, it snaps shut. Some tinkering was required to get it working during my visit, but even then, it seemed pointless. Why exactly would I want to look inside? There's nothing there except hardware. And Blake Fall-Conroy's hand-cranked machine built to spit out pennies at the rate of one every few seconds -- or at minimum wage -- kept jamming.

Steven Silberg's "Pixel-Lapse Photo Booth" is actually cool. It takes your picture one pixel at a time, making you sit patiently for two minutes until it's done. Fidgeting, however, is rewarded. The more you move, the weirder the results. Unfortunately, the printer wasn't working during my visit. Not a big deal. Images are archived at As for K. David Fong's mirrored light boxes, which create the illusion of infinite space, they're rip-offs of Chul Hyun Ahn's work, but less sublime. Unsurprisingly, Fong is Ahn's studio assistant.

A word about the title, which is an acronym for the four "words" in the subtitle. DIWO means "do it with others"; OPNSRC is short for "open source," a kind of computer code; and LMFAO is text-speak for "laughing my [you-know-what] off." LHOOQ is a bit harder to explain. The title of a famous work by Marcel Duchamp, it's a dirty pun. (When read in French, the letters sound like a sexual reference.)

The whole thing is a kind of art-insider joke. Like the show itself, it doesn't entirely work.

The story behind the work
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, April 27, 2012

According to Hiroshi Jacobs, the installation artist who created "Play It Forward" with architects Kashuo Bennett and Jonathan Grinham, the structure features 432 hardware connections, 72 sensors, 288 LEDs and more than 1,000 feet of electrical wiring. The idea behind it, though, is elegant in its simplicity: Altruism should be playful, not painful. You can see how much money your interaction generates by using your smartphone to scan a QR code at the gallery that takes you to a Web site tracking the total amount of cash contributed.

So where does the money come from, and where does it go? Funding for "Play It Forward" originated with a grant from the National Building Museum's 24-Hour City Project, whose focus is the nexus of art, technology and the built environment. The recipient of the charity is KaBOOM!, a pro-fitness group that constructs playgrounds in inner-city and underserved neighborhoods.