Third Woman Project – interview

Submitted by Camille Baker on Sat, 06/16/2012 - 12:00

Can you describe your Digital Art Practice and how it led to The Third Woman?

Martin Rieser: My past work in interactive installations has centered on narrative scenarios, in situations where the audience’s mobility has become a crucial aspect of the interaction. These have included The Street (RMIT Gallery Melbourne 2008/ISEA Belfast 2009) where by walking and pausing in front of a giant panoramic projection of a suburban Australian street, houses would burn away to reveal a new poetic reality. I am currently developing new mobile artworks for Dublin and Athens based on especially developed mobile software to create crowd-sourced digital palimpsests of city histories, and a public installation for the new Digital Media Centre - Phoenix Square -in Leicester, exploring augmented reality worlds intersecting with our own. Placed on this trajectory, The Third Woman is part of a continuous exploration of audience interaction with co-dependent and multi-layered narratives, including a strong emphasis on proactive physical engagement with the work.

Anna Dumitriu: My work blurs the boundaries between art and science. I create installations, interventions and performances, which use a range of digital, biological and traditional media including live bacteria, robotics, interactive media, and textiles. I’d previously made an earlier locative media work in 2006 called Bio-tracking which used a geotagging software called Socialight to create a trail of images, text messages and sound works which linked the satellites overhead with the microbial life at our feet. The Bio-tracking piece involved a kind of performance walk and map to guide participants. My main contributions to the Third Woman were in terms of developing improvised performances and working with local communities of artists internationally, as well as providing the microbiological concepts to the project.

What was the Project background, your collaborators and the emobilart initiative?

MR: The EU–funded eMobilArt workshop programme started in Athens where thirty-three digital media artists from a Euro-centric, but worldwide selection to elaborated the theme “Passage” into new digital artworks. We formed the Vienna Underground Group around the Austrian artist Nita Tandon’s idea to create a cinematic project for the Viennese U-Bahn spaces. Anna Dumitriu (UK), Cliona Harmey (Eire), Margarete Jahrmann (Switzerland), Martin Rieser (UK), Barry Roshto (US/Germany), Pia Tikka (Finland), and Nina Yankowitz (USA) joined Tandon’s proposal. These artists later involved individuals from their own networks in the process, including film professionals, scientific and technical experts. Inspired by the Vienna-based film noir The Third Man (dir. Carol Reed 1949), the Vienna Underground project soon evolved under my conceptual guidance a multifaceted interactive mobile film-game The Third Woman. The project combined a central film multi-stranded narrative augmented by performance and game elements, the principle interaction being via QR codes and mobile phones.

AD: The European Mobile Lab for Interactive Art or e-MobiLArt project was an EU funded Lab for artists and scientists who worked or wanted to work with interactive media. The aim was for us to get into groups and make collaborative artworks for exhibition and in many ways it could be seen as an investigation of collaborative art practice. Some models fairing better than others. The Third Woman involved quite a large group so in a way was quite modularised unlike the other two projects I made via e-MobiLArt. Nita Tandon had formed a relationship with the Karlsplatz Underground station and we wanted to work with that. I also worked most closely with Margarete Jahrmann, Cliona Harmey and Barry Roshto; Pia Tikka, Martin and Nina Yankowitz created the film (Tikka is a highly respected film director); Rasmus Vuori developed the technological framework; Nita Tandon created installation works for the Karlsplatz space and in the exhibitions. There are lots of complex layers to the work, some of which are not so easy to find out about.

What are the viewing possibilities on internet or phone?

MR: The codes would trigger the next film sequence to be displayed either on the mobile phones, or alternatively, on large installation screens. This was implemented by means of the Wi-Fi network set up at the particular venue. With a smartphone, the visitor could display the next film scene via the number codes, or in camera mode, to read the datamatrix codes. The Third Woman Film-game is extensively documented on thirdwoman.com

AD: annadumitriu.co.uk links to my personal site on the project, which shows more of the performance art/bioart sides of the project.

Describe your intentions for this work in terms of the audience reception or interaction.

MR: Spatial annotation story-telling projects allow for new social and cultural readings of space, allowing private narratives to become public and subject to reinterpretation. Satnav systems tend to reduce our world to roads between A and B. The specific tagging potential of the locative can certainly overlay this reductive idea of space with all the richness of personal experience, but that depends on the framework provided and the context set by the artist. Cities are increasingly “sorted” through the software and networking, point up a related political question about the embedding of previous relations of power, class and ownership in the new infrastructures and whether this perpetuates ancient divisions or raises further questions related to the potential for community and individual empowerment.

In order to enhance, meaning and engagement, The Third Woman intentionally included a direct relationship between dramatic narrative and personal interaction. Audiences choose a path through multi-stranded versions of the same scenes, not altering the plot, but changing the dramatic look and feel of the work within a huge range of possibilities. The game element determined how they find and select scenes, but tied into the diegesis of the work, since the QR codes were interwoven with costumes and artifacts related directly to the film world.

AD: I thought the interaction with the mobile phones, the use of semacodes to go to web pages, was very easy to understand, so I suggested that we create a performance side and collaborate with local performance artists to improvise works which would be culturally specific. I had a great response from the Viennese performers and one of them continues to work with me.

The performance was intended to bring in some of the aspects of the work the film part had left out. The “sniffers’ created by Barry Roshto and Cliona Harmey, which sonified electro-magnetic fields, became devices to find ‘safe routes’ through Vienna and were used by the performers. Margarete Jahrmann’s SemaCode Fashions were a big inspiration for the project and the performers wore her clothes, we all discussed ideas. Karlsplatz was Vienna’s most risky underground stations with drug problems etc., so our piece aimed to intervene in that. I also worked with Margarete again to create an improvised performance in Xi’an, China.

Why/how was mobile media essential? How/why was it performative and was it essential for this work to be successful?

MR: The audience was invited to engage in the game using personal mobiles as interaction devices. The game framework was designed so that the user, by inference from obscure text messages received in their mobiles or revealed within the film sequences, could detect the codes embedded in the environment or on costumed amateurs. The Finnish software architect Rasmus Vuori implemented software that managed the film-game, installation projection screens and the mobile communications. Already aiming at future incarnations, the film-game software was designed to allow the enactment (emotion driven interaction) of the participants in the movie experience. In practice this would mean developing an enactive media system, in which, for instance, data from the mobile phone’s accelerometer could be interpreted in terms of psychophysiology- based emotion theories and allowed to control the narrative flow using one of three differently nuanced versions of each scene. In its present form, text options allow the audience to make similar choices.

Margarete Jahrmann’s Semacode costumes of the Game Fashion series were used both in the film, and in the costumed live performances in Vienna (2009), China (2010) and New York (2011). The costumed performances, coordinated by Anna in Vienna and with Jahrmann in China, and by Nina Yankowitz in New York, which had two goals: to guide the film-game participants into interaction with the environmentally embedded codes (e.g. QR tags attached to bio-waste sacks or costumes and graphics in the game location) and consequently the selected film narrative on the screens or personal mobiles, and to play out the theme of Miasma contagion for the audience in group events.

We interpreted the initial e-MobiLArt theme “Passage” theme liberally and decided to use The Third Man as a "template" for our common work around multiple components, including a game, installations, text mutation, readable garments, hertzian space detection, soundworks and bio-art and performance. Vienna was interpreted as a place of transmission, which in the particular context of The Third Man referred to illegal underground activities.

The city of Vienna that Graham Green’s script had assigned as a totemic post-war space between the East and the West now reflected the manifold tensions of globalisation. In The Third Man, the “underground” trade in penicillin by the Harry Lime character caused the death of innocent people, in The Third Woman the practice of the modern healer Lara Line, includes when she accidentally releases the smuggled contagious biomaterial, called Miasma. The word ‘Miasma’ refers to the mythic phenomenon of ‘bad air’, which in the historical city of Vienna was blamed for causing the plague. Along with Miasma, ubiquitous microbiological Code and its cultural parallels became a key theme, woven into The Third Woman film-game and its viewer participation.

This was also reflected at the project launch venue, as the Vienna Kunsthalle happened to be located on top of the world’s first modern sewer system, the site of the original The Third Man, as well as The Third Woman film. Embedded in an era of multi-cultural communities, conflicts, and fear of terrorism, the project relates to issues such as illegal migration and the black economy, familiar to the “underground” worlds of modern cities. In The Third Woman film game, the Viennese underground system symbolises these invisible worlds, and it will be similarly “mapped” as a conceptual layer onto each future exhibition location, determining the spatial distribution of the game elements in any city.

The performance element embeds a poetic interpretation of these themes into the audience and augments their participation in the game, where choices are made on the basis of texts and text messages received during the progress of the experience. In the last incarnation in New York at the Galapagos Arts Centre 2011, models wearing QR-Coded costumes mingled with the audience and were scanned by mobiles, allowing for an invisible voting system which determined which emotionally nuanced version of a scene was played on a large screen.

AD: Mobile media was the starting point that brought me to the project. I find it interesting as it enables networked performance and wanted to work with others, and hopefully, learn more about that. The game interaction side for ‘players’ was effective and robust but the networked performance was not developed. The performance became a way of putting back in the rich layers that were discussed in the project but forgotten in the making of the film. They were important to individual group members. I wanted to bring together all the diverse concerns of the larger group and make something that the audience could directly relate to.

What future potential do you see for the mobile media platform for making art and in terms of your practice specifically?

MR: Two other recent projects using mobile technology were Riverains, which was originally commissioned by the B’tween festival and was shown in Shoreditch in 2010 as part of the Illumine festival and created a trail of eyewitness characters unearthing the area’s past ranging from Shakespeare to Jack the Ripper. Codes of Disobedience 2011 was a mobile trail created through the centre of Athens using videos made by workshop participants to recreate the stories behind street graffiti using new intonations. In both cases, QR codes on posters and stickers were the chief means of interaction.

I am at present developing works, which use augmented reality as their chief expressive medium. Secret Garden is the first mobile opera, created with Andrew Hugill as composer. The work gives glimpses into the world of the Garden of Eden, rehearsing the story of the Fall through 11 scenes based on the Sephirot of Jewish Mystical thought. The two protagonists inhabit a richly drawn virtual reality, which can be viewed through iPads or iPhones and is enacted through their singing 3D avatars representing Adam and Eve. I know it sounds a bizarre concept, but it explores the burden of adult choice in a serious but I think rather beautiful way. Parallel to that I have been creating another piece using AR and motion capture technologies, where a generic female “Prisoner” interacts in the round with an audience, through the emotional tone of the audience’s interjections. A 3D avatar viewed through iPads or mobiles will retreat, supplicate or run through any of 42 emotions expressed through body language. For all these projects The Third Woman has been both an inspiration and an example.

AD: I worked with Tom Keene and Alex May to create the Biosensing and Networked Performance workshop at ISEA this year, there is a paper coming out via ISEA Istanbul 2011 on that and Tom published a paper at EVA conference. See annadumitriu.co.uk and go to the link for Biosensing and Networked Performance on the top for more details. I like to create situations for performers to drive the types of interaction or for members of the wider public to become performers in a particular setting. See links above and normalflora.co.uk as well as unnecessaryresearch.org for more background.


Rieser M, Tikka P, Dumitiru A, Yankowitz N. 2010. "The Third Woman, a collaborative project in eMobiLArt." Reprinted from Leonardo Transactions online journal (submitted Jan 22). Leonardo 43(5): 494 – 495.

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