Hand Gestures Turn into Gifs in this Gripping Art Exhibit

The Creators Project Content Partner, Intel iQ

When certain people get overly-excited, they tend to talk with their hands.

Yet whether it’s “culturally-distinct” Italian hand gestures, or frenetic hand waving, everyone’s kinetic idiosyncrasies are personal and unique (interestingly, my twin brother and I often articulate ourselves with the exact same movements). Therefore, a new installation by artist Pablo Gnecco is a welcomed exploration of the visual language we create with our hands.

Gesture-Gesture, an interactive project for FOREWARD, a group show in Atlanta’s Gallery 72, is an opportunity to both see the specific hand motions of your friends and peers, but also preserve online for the world to see. At the exhibition, visitors place their arms into sleeves that go inside a box, as if it were giving you an x-ray.

Once inside the box, you make a gesture with your hands and custom software will capture three seconds of movement and turns it into a GIF. These get projected on a wall as white hands that make the motion of your choosing. When one GIF is added to the projection, the oldest is removed from the display, but gets archived in a data folder that can be viewed online.

The application was built in openFrameworks by Dan Moore, and using a webcam and OpenCV the system is able to detect motion inside the box.

The Creators Project talked to Gnecco, who explained that the installation’s inspiration came from two observations.

“The first,” he explained, was that “some interactive installations are about machines understanding only specific gestures. These programs only allow us to manipulate an image or change a parameter with an A, B, or C gesture.”

Secondly, the other inspiration stems from his observation that we are communicating more over text, video, and pictures.

“We are losing our voice and—though I’m not a [linguistics] expert—gestures were probably our first form of expression.”

He wanted to create an installation that doesn’t care if you do or do not sync with the machine, but rather it lets you say whatever you choose to say with your hands and archives those messages on the internet so they won’t be forgotten.

We asked Gnecco how gallery-visitors reacted to the installation. He explained that at first many people didn’t understand what was going on so they waved their hands inside and carelessly created a blurry gesture. Then it would click and they would begin to explore the set-up’s possibilities.

Visitors would “end up covering the whole wall with a certain gesture or try to create a certain pattern,” the artist observed.

He added the response was often a mix between something cartoonish and more serious experimentation, with some people just giving the middle finger or making hand puppets, while others tried to figure out what an idea looks like with a single gesture or even used sign language.

Gnecco also told us he’s currently working on a book comprised of polaroids of people making various gestures and their meanings of it.

“My favorite is a guy that did the thumb between your knuckles and called it ’emerge,’ and a girl that gave us the finger and named it ‘love me.'”

When we asked if the artist is an active gesturer, he said he had a tough time with language growing up. He didn’t speak until he was three and even went through a stuttering phase—plus English is his second language.

But today he says “I think I use my hands just as much as most people.”

See Gnecco’s website for more details on the project, as well as a look at his other work.

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