Nadine Valcin


(Un)seen is a video installation about presence/absence that relies on proxemics to trigger 3 different processed video loops. It creates a ghostly presence projected on a screen whose image recedes as the viewer gets closer to it despite constantly trying to engage the viewer through its voice.

As visitors enter the room, they see a barely distinguishable extreme closeup of the ghost’s eyes. As they get closer to the screen, the ghost remains unattainable, visible through progressively wider shots. The last loop plays when visitors are in close proximity to the screen. At that distance the array of squares and circles that are layered over the video giving it texture become very distinct making the image becomes more abstract. The rhythm of the images also changes as short glimpses of the ghosts are seen through the progressively longer black sequences.

The video image is treated live by a custom filter created in Processing to give it a dreamy and painterly look.


In terms of content, my recent work and upcoming thesis project deal with memory, erasure and haunting. I am interested in how unacknowledged ghosts from the past haunt the present. As Avery Gordon (1997, p.7) remarks:

“Haunting is a constituent element of modern social life. It is neither premodern superstition nor individual psychosis; it is a generalizable social phenomenon of great import. To study social life one must confront the ghostly aspects of it. This confrontation requires (or produces) a fundamental change in the way we know and make knowledge, in our mode of production.” (2008, p. 7)

This project was a way for me to investigate through image and sound, how a ghostly presence could be evoked. I also wanted to explore how technology could assist me in doing it in an interactive that differed from the linear media production I normally engage with. The video material for (Un)seen comes from an installation piece entitled Emergence that I produced in 2017. I thought the images were strong and minimalist and provided a good canvas for experimentation.

(Un)seen is heavily inspired by the work of Processing co-creator Casey Reas and his exploration of generative art.  I have been interested in his work as it explores the way in which computing can create new images and manipulate existing ones in ways that are not possible in the analog realm. Over the years, Reas has used various custom-built software to manipulate video and photographic images.


Transference, Source: Casey Reas (http://reas.com/transference/)

Transference (2018) is a video that uses frames from Ingmar Begrman’s black and white film Persona (1966). It deliberately distorts the faces represented rendering them unidentifiable and reflecting on contemporary questions around identity and digital media.


Samarra, Source: Casey Reas (http://reas.com/samarra/)

He applies a similar image treatment in the music video Samarra (2016) and in Even the Greatest Stars Discover Themselves in the Looking Glass, An Allegory of the Cave for Three People (2014), an experience in which three audience members interact, mediated through cameras and projected images. In that piece Reas, once again looks at identity as through a technological lens against the backdrop of surveillance.


Even the Greatest Stars Discover Themselves in the Looking Glass, An Allegory of the Cave for Three People, Source: Casey Reas (http://reas.com/cave/)

KNBC, Source: Casey Reas (http://reas.com/knbc/)

In KNBC (2015), Reas pushes his experimentation further, manipulating images to a level of abstraction where they become unrecognizable in the finished product, breaking their visual link to the original source material. The recorded television footage and accompanying sound are processed them into a colourful, pixelated  generative collage.


Surface X, Source: Arduino Project Hub (https://create.arduino.cc/projecthub/Picaroon/surface-x-811e8c)

From the group project Forget Me Not (assignment 2), I retained the idea of working with an Arduino Uno and a distance sensor, this time to control the video on the screen. I wanted to create a meaningful interaction between the image and the distance that separated it from visitors..

The interactive art installation Surface X by Picaroon was cited in assignment 2 and is still relevant to this project because of its use of proxemics to provoke the closure of the umbrellas, revealing the underlying metal structure and mechanism when visitors approach. Whereas the cretors saw the activation of the umbrellas as a metaphor for the way we constantly prefect and control our digital personas and how they collide with reality upon closer inspection in the moments where all our cracks and flaws are revealed.


Surface X, Source: Arduino Project Hub (https://create.arduino.cc/projecthub/Picaroon/surface-x-811e8c)

In (Unseen), the proxemics are used differently, to signify the refusal of the ghost to visually engage with the visitor, or perhaps, signalling that its presence is not quite what it seems.



Still from unprocessed original footage

I started by going through my original footage selecting all the takes from one of the four participants in the shoot for my installation Emergence. I chose this woman because she had the most evocative facial expressions and dramatic poses. I then created 3 video loops between 30 and 60 seconds in duration. The first loop is comprised of extreme closeups focused around the eyes, where the entire face of the character isn’t seen. The second loop consists of closeups where her entire face was visible. The third loop features shots that are a bit wider, but their duration is shorter and there is a significant amount of black between them.



(Un)seen – loop 1


(Un)seen – loop 2


(Un)seen – loop 3

I originally thought of manipulating the video image through Adobe After Effects, but I encountered a Coding Train video by Shiffman that showed the potential of extracting the colour of pixels from a photograph (much like it is possible to do in Photoshop) to program filters that would change the appearance of images. It seemed interesting, but I didn’t know if it would be possible to apply those same features to a moving image, given the processing capacity necessary to play and render live video.

Some of the original footage was intentionally shot with a very shallow depth of field, leaving parts of the shots out of focus depending on the movement of the subject being filmed. As I started to experiment with textures, I found that images that were slightly out of focus helped blur the outline of the circles and squares that created were part of the video filter. I used the gaussian blur function in Premiere Pro to get the desired texture. It was a trial and error process, manipulating the footage in Premiere Pro, then in Processing through several iterations.



Left: Original source footage, right: blurred footage


Same footage rendered through processing


Left: Original source footage, right: blurred footage


Same footage rendered through processing


I recorded the soundtrack, then edited and mixed it. It consisted of a loop with a woman’s heavy breath on which a selection of 13 different short clips play randomly.


The clips are mostly questions that demonstrate the ghost’s desire to engage with the visitor, but also at times challenges them. Examples include: Who are you? Where do you come from? Can you set me free? Do you want to hear my story?



The technical set-up was rather simple. The Arduino Nano was used to read the distance data from the LV-MaxSonar EZ ultrasonic distance sensor. The video for the idle state (loop 1) loaded automatically and two different thresholds were set to trigger the playback of loops 2 and 3.


The distance sensor gave wildly different distance readings depending on the space and had to be patiently recalibrated several times. Despite the Arduino being set to send readings to Processing at 1500 millis intervals, the liminal distance at the thresholds for the different video loops triggers posed some problems creating rapid  flickering between the different loops. One might say that the system itself was haunted.

The ventilation in the classrooms at OCAD also proved challenging as despite playing at full volume on speakers, the soundtrack wasn’t fully audible except at very close range. The original intent was to have a 360 degree soundscape through a P5.js library to heighten the immersion and feeling of presence. Unfortunately I could not find an equivalent for Processing.





Closeup of image as seen up close, projected on a screen

The Exhibition   

The exhibition was a wonderful opportunity to get members of the OCAD community and of the general public to engage with the work. The fact that (Un)seen was in a separate room was at once an advantage and an inconvenience. Some people missed the piece because they concentrated on the main spaces, but those who ventured into the room focused their entire attention on the installation. Being the sole creator of the piece, left me with all the duties of engaging with visitors and didn’t allow me to visit my colleagues’ pieces, especially those from undergraduates or second year graduate students that I had not seen. I met and spoke with Digital Futures faculty that I hadn’t yet encountered as well as staff and students from other departments. It was a useful and engaging sharing that should happen more often as it created a real sense of community.

People were eager to engage with the piece and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Visitors understood the concept and enjoyed the experience. Because of the issues with the distance sensor, they had to be instructed not to move too quickly and to take the time to pause to minimize false triggerings. The only drawback to the room was the extremely noisy ventilation. Despite the sound playing at maximum volume on the room speakers,  the soundtrack and clips were barely audible. The fact that the door was open to entice people to come into the space only added additional din. It would also have been nice to have a totally dark space to present, but I ended up switching spaces with some of my colleagues in order to accommodate their project.


CODE: https://github.com/nvalcin/Unseen



Correia, Nico. “Bridging the gap between art and code” in UCLA Newsroom, April 25, 2016 http://newsroom.ucla.edu/stories/bridging-the-gap-between-art-and-code. Accessed on December 6, 2019.

Gordon, Avery F. (2008). Ghostly Matters, Haunting and the Sociological Imagination. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Picaroon (2018), Surface X in Arduino Project Hub. https://create.arduino.cc/projecthub/Picaroon/surface-x-811e8c. Accessed on December 6, 2019.

Reas, Casey(2019). Artists website. http://reas.com/ Accessed on December 6, 2019.

Rosenthal, Emerson, “Casey Reas’ Newest Art Is A Coded, Projected ‘Allegory Of The Cave’” in Vice Magazine, March 14, 2014. https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/mgpawn/casey-reas-newest-art-is-a-coded-projected-allegory-of-the-cave-for-thedigital-age  Accessed on December 6, 2019.


Experiment 5 – proposal

by Nadine Valcin


Project description
Much of my work deals with memory and forgotten histories. I am constantly searching for new ways to portray the invisible past that haunts the present. (Un)seen is a video installation about presence/absence that uses proxemics to trigger video and sound. It recreates a ghostly presence appearing on a screen whose voice constantly beckons the viewer to get closer, but whose image recedes into the frame as the viewer tries to engage with it. Ultimately, the viewer is invited to touch the cloth it is projected on, but if they do, the ghost completely disappears from view, leaving an empty black screen.

With permission, I will be using unused footage from a previous project comprised of closeups of a Black woman on a black background and will be recording and mixing a new soudtrack.

Parts / materials / technology list
MacBook Pro
Arduino Nano
Distance sensors (2 or 3) HC-SR04 or KS102 1cm-8M Ultrasonic Sensors
King size bedsheet, hanging from rod
2 speakers (or 4?)

Work plan
22.11.19-24.11.19     Edit 3 video loops
24.11.19-25.11.19     Write ghost dialogue and research sound
26.11.19-27.11.19    Record and edit sound
22.11.19-27.11.19     Program distance sensors and interaction
27.11.19                       Mount bedsheet on rod
28.11.19-02.12.19    Testing and de-bugging
03.12.19-04.12.19    Presentation

Physical installation details
The ideal space for the installation would be Room 118 on the ground floor.
With permission, I will be using footage shot for another project comprised of closeups of a Black women on a Black background. The ideal would be for the image to be projected from the rear onto the sheet. This would require a dark space and enough space behind and in front of the sheet. The mount for the sheet will be kept deliberately light. Metal wire can be used to hang the rod holding the sheet from the ceiling, but would potentially require discrete hooks screwed or attached to the ceiling.

Set-up Option A


Set-up Option B

unseen-setup-option-b1Resource list
Hand drill and other tools TBA
2 (or 4?) speakers
2 pedestals for the sensors (?)
Cables for the speakers
Power bar and electrical extension cords

– Can I have 4 speakers and have the play different sounds in pairs? I.e. the speakers behind the screen wouldn’t play the same sound as the speakers in front of the screen
– Do I actually need 3 distance sensors – 1 behind the screen for the functions triggered by people touching the screen and two mounted (possibly on pedestals) slightly in front of the screen at each side?
– Is it possible to hang things from the ceiling?
– Would a motion sensor also be useful to activate the installation when someone comes into the room?


by Nadine Valcin



Trumpet is a fitting instrument as the starting point for an installation about the world’s most infamous Twitter user. It combines a display of live tweets tagged with @realDonaldTrump with a trumpet that delivers real audio clips from the American president. The piece is meant to be installed at room scale and provide a real-life experience of the social media echo chambers that so many of us confine ourselves to.

The piece constantly emits a low static sound, signalling the distant chatter that is always present on Twitter. A steady stream of tweets from random users, but always tagged with the president’s handle, are displayed on the screen and give a portrait of the many divergent opinions about the current state of the presidency.

Visitors can manipulate a trumpet that triggers audio. A sample of the Call to the Post trumpet melody played at the start of horse races can be heard when the trumpet is picked up. The three trumpet valves, when activated, in turn play short clips (verbal equivalent of tweets) from the president himself. Metaphorically, Trump is in dialogue with the tweets being displayed on the screen in the enclosed ecosystem. The repeated clips create a real live sonic echo chamber physically recreating what happens virtually online.


My initial ideas were centered on the fabrication of a virtual version of a real object: a virtual bubble blower that would create bubble patterns on a screen and virtual kaleidoscope. I then flipped that idea and moved to the idea of using a common object as a controller, giving it a new life and hacking it in some way to give it novel functionalities. Those functionalities would have to be close the original use for the object yet be surprising in some way. The ideal object would have a strong tactile quality. Musical instruments soon came to mind. T

hey are designed to be constantly handled, have iconic shapes and are generally well-made and feature natural materials such as metal and wood.

Image from Cihuapapalutzin

In parallel, I developed the idea of using data in the piece. I had recently attended the Toronto Biennial of Art and was fascinated by Fernando Palma Rodriguez’s piece Cihuapapalutzin that integrated 104 robotic monarch butterflies in various states of motion. They were built to respond to seismic frequencies in Mexico. Every day, a new data file is sent from that country to Toronto and uploaded to control the movement of the butterflies. The piece is meant to bring attention to the plight of the unique species that migrates between the two countries. The artwork led me to see the potential for using data visualisation to make impactful statements about the world.

Image from Just Landed

I then made the connection to an example we had seen in class. Just Landed by Jer Thorp shows real time air travel patterns of Twitter users through a live map. The Canadian artist, now based in New York, used Processing, Twitter and MetaCarta to extract longitude & latitude information from a query on Twitter data to create this work.

Image from Listen and Repeat

Another inspiration was Listen and Repeat by American artist Rachel Knoll, a piece featuring a modified megaphone installed in a forest that used text to speech software to enunciate tweets labeled with the hashtag “nobody listens”.

As I wanted to make a project that was closer to my artistic practice which is politically-engaged, Twitter seemed a promising way to obtain live data that could then be presented on a screen. Of course, that immediately brought to mind one of the most prolific and definitely the most infamous Twitter user: Donald Trump. The trumpet then seemed to be a fitting controller, both semantically and its nature as a brash and bold instrument.


Step 1: Getting the Twitter data

Determining how to get the Twitter data required quite a bit of research. I found the Twitter 4J library for Processing and downloaded it, but still needed more information on how to use it. I happened upon a tutorial on British company Coda Sign’s blog about Searching Twitter for Tweets. It gave an outline of the necessary steps along with the code. I then created a Twitter developer account and got the required keys to use their API in order to access the data.

Once I had access to the Twitter API, I adjusted the parameters in the code from the Coda Sign website, modifying it to suit my needs. I set up a search for “@realDonaldTrump”, not knowing how much data it would yield and was pleasantly surprised when it resulted in a steady stream of Tweets.

Step 2: Programming the interaction

Now that the code was running on Processing, I set up the code to get data from the Arduino. I programmed 3 switches, one for each valve of the trumpet and also used Nick’s code to send the gyroscope and accelerator data to Processing in order to determine which data was the most pertinent and what the thresholds should be for each parameter. The idea was that the gyroscope data would trigger some sounds when the trumpet was moved and the 3 trumpet valves would manipulate the tweets on the screen with various effects on the font of the text.

I soon hit a snag as it at first seemed like Processing wasn’t getting any information from the Arduino. Looking at the code, I noticed that there were several delay commands at various points in the code. I remembered Nick’s warning about the delay command and how it was problematic and realized that this, unfortunately, was a great example of it.

I knew the solution was to program the intervals using the millis function. I spent a day and a half attempting to find a solution but failed and required Kate Hartman’s assistance solving the issue. I has also discovered that the Twitter API would disconnect me if I ran the program for too long. I had to test in fits and starts and often found myself unable to get any Twitter data sometimes for close to an hour.

I attempted to program some effects to visually manipulate the tweets that would be triggered by the activation of the valves. I had difficulty affecting only one tweet as the effects would affect all subsequent tweets. Also, given that the controller was a musical instrument, it felt like sound was a more suited effect than a visual. At first, I loaded cheers and boos from a crowd that users could trigger in reaction to what was on screen, but finally settled on some Trump clips as it seemed natural to have his very distinctive voice. It was suitable because he takes to Twitter to make official declarations and because of the horn’s long history as an instrument to announce the arrival of royalty and other VIPs.

As the clock was ticking, I decided to work on the trumpet and return to working on the interaction when the controller was functional.

Step 3: Hacking the trumpet

Trumpet partly disassembled

I was fortunate to have someone lend me a trumpet. I disassembled all the parts to see if I could make a switch that would be activated by the piston valves. I soon discovered that angle from the slides to the piston valves is close to 90 degrees and given the small aperture connecting the two, it would be nearly impossible.

Trumpet parts
Trumpet valve and piston
Trumpet top of valve assembly without piston

The solution I found was taking apart the valve piston while keeping the top of the valve and replacing the piston with a piece of cut Styrofoam. The wires could then come out the bottom casing caps and connect to the Arduino.



I soldered wires to 3 switches and then carefully wrapped the joints in electrical tape.

Arduino wiring


A cardboard box was chosen to house a small breadboard. Holes were made so that the bottom of the valves could be threaded through and the lid of the box could be secured to the trumpet by using the bottom casing caps. Cardboard was chosen in order to keep the instrument light and as close to possible to its normal weight and the balance.

Finished trumpet/controller

Step 5: Programming the interaction part 2

The acceleration in the Y axis was chosen as a trigger for the trumpet sound to play. But given the imbalance in the trumpet weight, it tended to trigger a rapid succession of the trumpet sound before stopping. Raising the threshold didn’t help. With little time left, I then programmed the valves/switches to trigger some short Trump clips. I would have loved to accompany them with a visual distortion but the clock ran out before I could find something appropriate and satisfactory.


My ideation process is slow and was definitely a hindrance in this project. I attempted to do something more complex than I had originally anticipated and the bugs I encountered along the way made it really difficult. One of the things that I struggle with when coding is not knowing when to persevere and when to stop. I spent numerous hours trying to debug at the expense of sleep and in hindsight, it wasn’t useful.  It also feels like the end result isn’t representative of the time I spent on the project.

I do think though that the idea has some potential and given the opportunity would revisit it to make it a more compelling experience. Modifications I would make include:

  • Adding a number of Trump audio clips and randomize their triggering by the valves
  • Building a sturdier box to house the Arduino so that the trumpet could possibly rest on it and contemplate having it attached to some kind of stand that would control its movements somewhat
  • Have video as a background to the Tweets on the screen or a series of changing photographs and make them react to the triggering of the valve.

Link to code on Github:  https://github.com/nvalcin/CCassignment3


Knoll, Rachel. “Listen and Repeat.” Rachel Knoll – Minneapolis Filmmaker, rachelknoll.com/portfolio/listen-and-repeat. Accessed October 31, 2019

Thorp, Jer. “Just Landed: Processing, Twitter, MetaCarta & Hidden Data.” Blprnt.blg, May 11, 2009. blog.blprnt.com/blog/blprnt/just-landed-processing-twitter-metacarta-hidden-data. Accessed October25, 2019

“Fernando Palma Rodríguez at 259 Lake Shore Blvd E”. Toronto Biennial of Art. torontobiennial.org/work/fernando-palma-rodriguez-at-259-lake-shore/ Accessed October 24, 2019

“Processing and Twitter”. CodaSign, October 1, 2014. www.codasign.com/processing-and-twitter/. Accessed October 24, 2019.

“Trumpet Parts”. All Musical Instruments, 2019. www.simbaproducts.com/parts/drawings/TR200_parts_list.jpg. Accessed November 2, 2019