an interactive video installation about technology and visual literacy


Cleanse is an interactive video installation addressing issues of technological and visual literacy. Literacy is fundamental to the shape and form of human communication, as our ability to construct, organize, and understand symbols determines our existence and successful participation in a community. Being able to decode the messages, rules, and laws of a society is necessary for inclusion in its social life. In today's age of digital communication, the most essential form of literacy for membership in or exclusion from a community is technological literacy. The technological tools are the users voice and language; without the current materials one cannot be easily heard nor understood.

Within this new form of literacy the technological and the visual intercept, as technology is constructing a new culture of literacy that is predominantly visual. Language expression is rapidly moving away from the written text and narrative and into the realm of the image -even the text as image. Knowledge, meaning, emotion, value, and custom, traditionally expressed textually, are now conveyed through images; a culture of iconolatry shapes our social literacy in the electronic age. Cleanse attempts to provide a critical view on the iconolatry of modern visual and technological literacy, through the metaphorical cleansing, or purification, of an eye. The focal point of the project proposes that we examine critically the advents of technology and how it alters the way we see, think and communicate.

description of the physical installation


12" monitor
a cylindrical structure made of cement with a metal lid, 30 1/2" height x 26" diameter
a smaller cylindrical structure made of cement, 22 1/2" height x 18" diameter
black sand
black pebbles
a porcelain mortar
a glass eye-dropper
tap water

Both cylindrical structures were property of the University of Illinois and used all over the campus as a garbage bin and a cigarette bud bin respectively. They were borrowed by permission from the University for the duration of the exhibition.

cleanse eye cleanse

The two cement cylindrical structures were placed in a dark corner of the gallery. The larger one of the two structures resembled a well. Bending over to look inside it, one sees that the bottom of the well consists of a video screen (7 1/8" x 9 3/8") displaying imagery of an eye in extreme close-up. In the image, the eye looks tired and overwhelmed by visual overload. An eye dropper appears periodically to cleanse the eye by dropping liquid into it. The sound of a drop falling in a puddle is then heard. This imagery covers the bottom surface of the well and repeats itself constantly. Above the screen (between the viewer and the bottom of the well), a cylindrical transparent glass container holds water, whose level reaches the tip of the well and contributes to the reflection, distortion, and diffusion of the image below.

The viewer of the installation is able to observe the eye through the water and may participate in the cleansing process by using the long glass eye dropper, which is placed on the mortar nearby. The white porcelain mortar is filled with water and sits on a bed of shiny black pebbles on the second cylindrical structure. A pin spotlight shines a dramatic circle of light to the center of the mortar, drawing attention to the minimal yet slick and somewhat sterile setting.


The water is also sensitive to movement in the surrounding environment, The cylindrical glass container holding the water is sensitive to movement as it is flexibly attached to the structure, thus provoking light movement to the water. The drops also create ripples in the water, contributing to further distortion of the image, in addition to adding to the water volume of the "well".

One would expect the video imagery to be responsive to the actions of the viewer who bends over to drop water in the eye with the eye-dropper. Contrary to this expectation, the viewer does not affect the world of the eye. The eye continues to blink and to become flooded by the liquid poured into it, regardless of the viewer's attempts to cleanse it.


    Umberto Eco, Apocalypse Postponed, Indiana University Press & The British Film Institute, 1994.
    Lectures and Writings by John Cage, Silence, Wesleyan University Press, 1961.
    Maria Roussos, Modern Utopias, unpublished essay, 1997.

thank you ...

    Jim Costigan
    Karen Indeck
    Inigo Manglano-Ovalle
    Alan Millman
    Dana Plepys
    Katie Roussos

project description project information