Aquarius Girls

A rather odd kinetic video art project

by Andrew Looney
Starring Lori Ann Denn
And Gina Mai Denn

What's Aquarius Girls?

Aquarius Girls is rather difficult to explain. It's kind of a Peter Max Headroom-ish simulation thing, of the Denn sisters, Gina and Lori. It's a sort of animated painting, with a computerized personality, like a screen-saver for your TV set.

To be more direct, Aquarius Girls is a 2 hour video, broken up into 10 minute sequences, in which Gina and Lori gaze out at you from the TV screen and fill your living room with a minimalistic version of their personalities. They blink, look around at different parts of the room, and occasionally make rather odd, out-of-the-blue remarks, each from a pool of more than a dozen silly catch phrases (you know, like a doll with a pull string (like Woody in Toy Story) who says something different each time, but only for the first few times). Lori and Gina appear against a total of 6 different animated, psychedelic backgrounds. The five vehicles from Aquarius also occasionally travel by in the background.

Aquarius Girls is not the sort of video you sit down to actually watch; instead, it's more of an art project, in an emerging medium which we call Neutral Television.

What's Neutral Television?

Neutral Television is any attempt to use a TV screen as more of a canvas for artwork than a vortex for the brain.

My search for Neutral Television began when we starting hosting a weekly gaming night, and we didn't like the way people would just stare at the TV instead of socializing whenever the TV was on. The obvious solution was to turn the TV off (or even get rid of it all together), but in today's TV-oriented world, these are not easy solutions. A TV that's off always begs to be on, and guys like me get bored at parties and turn the TV on when there's no one looking.

So if the TV must be on, then at least let's park it on a channel that isn't too captivating. The best choice for this used to be MTV, back in the days when they showed videos instead of game shows, real-life dramas, cartoons, and audience talk shows, but even then this wasn't optimal... leave the room and someone will find the remote and the next thing you know everyone's watching a movie that won't be over for an hour and a half and the evening's basically shot.

To make TV less interesting, I decided to override the audio with music from the stereo. I find this works well with the Cartoon Network, since the worst part about most cartoons is the audio. Without it, it's delightfully surreal... although it's still too easy to get distracted and drawn into the talking picture box's powerful trance. Sadly, most other stations are either too boring and unattractive, like the preview and weather channels, or are too interesting, which just leads to those annoying but inevitable words: "Hey, turn that up!"

All of which is why I started making endless loop tapes. I went looking for neat 5 second sequences, things like Homer Simpson eating brownies or the Starship Enterprise firing phasers, something that could be repeated over and over to create an infinite moment, and then I'd copy those 5 seconds over and over again, building up to a ten minute videotape of a figure skater spinning, or twinkies moving along a production line, or the castaways operating one of the Professor's bamboo machines, and I'd put a tape of these things on during our gatherings. And they're just the thing. They turn the TV into an ever changing wall painting. People will look at it for a little while, but since it doesn't hold one's attention, they'll soon turn back to the conversation. But later, when they look again, it's different!

But without the high-end video editing equipment I'd need to get perfect transitions, this system was flawed. So, I began messing about on my 3DO development system. Back in 1995, I had programmed the videogame Icebreaker using this equipment; later, when Magnet Interactive Studios was shutting down their games division, I was able to acquire the development equipment from them, and I've continued to occasionally do 3DO programming ever since. I'd venture to say I'm the last active 3DO programmer in the world.

Using my development station, I made a wide range of kinetic video art works, like a giant eyeball, a Ouija board that constantly spouts random messages, and a sliding tunnel made using scans of some of my favorite tie-dyed shirts.

Then, as we were getting ready for Origins '98 and trying to think of something interesting to put on a TV in the booth (like we had the previous year with the Televised Eye), we hit upon the idea of updating the Virtual Paul concept and combining it with these other "eye candy" projects I'd been experimenting with. So I shot photos of the girls, recorded a bunch of their wacky remarks, programmed like a madman for a couple of weeks, and created this thing called Aquarius Girls.

If you'd like a copy, you can buy one in our gift shop for $10. Each copy is digitally mastered directly from my 3DO development station, and since random numbers control the girls' behavior, each copy is unique.

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