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Some artists imagine a throng of adoring patrons standing awestruck before their masterwork.  Communications Studies professor Joyce Rudinsky would be disappointed with this reaction to her latest media installation, “Spectacular Justice.”

For one thing, Rudinsky does not expect her patrons to stand still.  She does not see her work as a static creation, nor does she consider it a singular enterprise.  “Spectacular Justice” is a collaborative work in the extreme, designed by a team of artists and programmers, and then recreated by each person who visits it.   Midway through this project, Rudinsky “joined the conversation” as an IAH Fellow and found yet another opportunity to gather collaborators.

During her semester at the Institute, Rudinsky completed this multi-media art project which allows visitors to experience their own responses to the death penalty.  Rudinsky says she received valuable input from her fellows group, particularly since her work concerned capital punishment, the focus issue for a year-long UNC campus-wide arts project, “Criminal/Justice” (

Rudinsky’s approach to the issue supplanted the usual political framing.  She set out to examine constructs “underneath the political argument concerning race, class, guilt or innocence.”   This pointed her toward human emotion and what she sees as “natural, personal conflicts.”  To Rudinsky, it is this visceral response—to the crime, the victim, the accused, and to execution itself—that fuels the actions of the community.   One way to think of the death penalty, she says, is as “a purging ritual, where societal fears are attached to an ‘evil’ individual, who is then eliminated from the community.”

To explore these ideas, Rudinsky did not attempt to retell the stories related to the death penalty, but gathered instead sensory artifacts of capital punishment in North Carolina and presented them in the dynamic and stunning media experience now installed at the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI).

“Spectacular Justice” did not emerge from a traditional art studio, but from the joint efforts of Rudinsky and a group of RENCI engineers and programmers.   The team, she says, “needed to develop a new kind of practice, a collaboration that could produce a project with more voices and more layers.”

Through this interdisciplinary process, Rudinsky and the RENCI team members were able to meld photographs, documents, graphics, archival and original video, media clips, and audio recordings.  The final form is a multimedia installation housed in RENCI’s new 24’ by 24’ “Social Computing” room.  The content is delivered by 14 projectors, five speakers, and multiple screens—all coordinated with a custom-designed computer program.   Visitors enter the installation wearing a sensor, which records their movements within the room.

The installation is both beautiful and unnerving.  Rudinsky’s collected images shift across walls and holographic panels while muted voices and other sounds beckon from alternating portions of the room—all of this forming a highly textured, dimensioned collage.  Most viewers begin by simply standing and absorbing the space.  Then, as they approach the images, follow the sounds, and mingle with other visitors, they might sense that their movements influence the composition of the installation.  Eventually, Rudinsky hopes they recognize that the installation responds not from the action of a single viewer, but from the interaction of the entire group of people inside the installation.

It is this societal mechanism that interests Rudinsky.  Technology has allowed increased interactivity, particularly in forms of entertainment, she says.  Those who have grown up with Gameboys and podcasts expect addressable media.  Rudinsky’s work is to extend that requirement to art.  To that end, Rudinsky used part of her IAH fellowship semester developing a course on interactive media which will allow students to create content for the evolving mixture of technology available at RENCI and similar facilities.  In this “new practice,” a holographic screen may be the new canvas, and visualization labs, the new ateliers.   Rudinsky and her students, through this new collaboration, may well expand both the reach and the diversity of the artistic experience.

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