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Text Rain: A Poem That Rains on the Body


The artist Camille Utterback has closed the gap between human interaction and technology, between the body and the digital world, with a poem that “rains” on its participants.

In 1999, the artist Camille Utterback conceived an interactive installation to bring people together rather than isolate them and so that the observers would “feel” technology in their bodies and take into account their physical presence and that of the other; the installation is called Text Rain and is perhaps one of the most beautiful manifestations of digital art that has ever been staged. The observers stand in front of a large screen where their silhouettes are projected in black while hundreds of letters fall onto them.

Like the rain, or perhaps more like snow, which falls more slowly, the letters respond to the movements of the participants, who are able to trap them with their bodies, lift them up and then let them drop. Sometimes, with their arms stretched out or using an object that creates a shadow, they can even ‘catch’ a complete word or even a phrase. But what falls like rain is not a random text, but a poem by Evan Zimroth called “Talk, You,” and which talks about language and the body.

I like talking with you,

simply that: conversing,

a turning-with or -around,

as in your turning around

to face me suddenly …

At your turning, each part

of my body turns to verb.

We are the opposite

of tongue-tied, if there

were such an antonym;

We are synonyms

for limbs’ loosening

of syntax,

and yet turn to nothing:

It’s just talk

In Text Rain, reading becomes a physical act that requires effort and creativity to bring pieces of meaning together along with semantic surprises. It could easily have been the futurist dream of an ee cummings playing at breaking up language to make it dance. Or the digital dream of any poet who has spent time trying to touch with their hands, to clasp with their fingers, the letters that make up the world. The logic of the installation was more of a dream than of art. Utterback achieved the elimination, for a moment, of the distance between the individual and technology, and between one person and the person beside them. And, once more, poetry was the weather report.

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