Intangible Interaction – Big Black Chicken

Intangible Interaction – block activities

Week 2: Artistic influences and design practice presentation

In Week 2 presentation I talked about artists Julian Rosefeldt, Bradley G. Munkowitz and Miroslaw Rogala. I also presented my photography, Motion Graphics and AR work.

Video of the presentation

Week 2-5: Processing Software

Below, I included an embedded video of a few Processing sketches I worked on during these weeks. We also explored Makey Makey.

Code and examples of work done during class.

In class we were asked to explore more examples of sketches. I looked at Tickle, Flocking and Pattern sketches. I also explored code for using WSAD keys to add interaction to a sketch below.

Example of a sketch. Rings change size and the speed of rotation when keys WSAD are used.

Intangible Interaction – main project

Project requirements

Location: We were asked to present the Intangible Interaction project on university campus.

Initial location scouting

Due to the location restriction, I had to consider issues like the weather and timing of the project. Some of the explored locations were somewhat secluded and would get little foot traffic. In my initial concepts, I tried to think of the good ways to use the architectural features and the symbolism of university as a place of learning. The four slides below show how I started planning with rudimentary sketches and notes only to realise that my approach was flowed. I was focused on how I should realise the assignment instead of thinking of emotional value of an interactive project.

Intangible Interactions lectures introduced works of theoreticians like Dylan Evans or philosopher Johann Herbart and examples of artists like Katie Paterson or Susan Philipsz, which helped me consider the importance of the emotional value of design and intention.

I looked at the process of apperception, as described by Johan Herbart, as a sum of all experiences and how our brains put them in context. In this case, I needed to consider the site where the project would happen – a university campus built around a historic tower where the university’s patron John Napier was born and lived. What kind of associations and expectations do people have about the place? The potential for an interactive experience could be creating a mismatch and a disruption to bring something to the space, which would cause curiosity and interest.
I associate educational institutions with feelings like ambition, drive, hard work, and curiosity, so I wanted the audience to feel perhaps curious and motivated while invoking the place’s history.

A mind map I created to look at the project from a new perspective

I wanted to introduce a disruption in the environment and thought about projecting an image of John Napier, the university’s patron on the wall of the historic tower.

I imagined that Napier’s eyes would follow passing students. However, after some feedback, I needed to think of an image more relevant to modern viewers and an image that would create more of a mismatch and curiosity.

GIF of John Napier, showing how his eyes would follow people

Enter Big Black Chicken

In a feedback session my lecturer helped me with the concept by recalling a story of Napier’s pet black chicken.

John Napier used to keep a black chicken as a pet and claimed that his chicken had magical powers and was able to detect thieves in Napier’s household. All of that was just a clever ruse on Napier’s part who liked to style himself as an alchemist and a mystical man of learning.

Helen Grant on Twitter: "Black rooster belonging to John Napier of  Merchiston, rumoured to be a wizard (Natl Mus of Scotld). #FolkloreThursday" / Twitter
Stuffed black rooster on display. A similar one can be seen at Merchiston Campus

Project intention: To invoke curiosity
Project media: Projected video of a black chicken
When: Dusk, evening
Where: Various locations around the Merchiston campus
Equipment: Short throw projector, battery pack, laptop

Unfortunately I did not have access to a black rooster because of the time constraints and I purchased a stock video of a chicken. I used Keylight effect in Adobe After Effects to remove the green background and add some other effects like echo, colourful background and looping the footage. I also used free software MapMap that allowed projection mapping.

I spend around 8 hours over three evenings altogether projecting the chicken video across six different locations around Merchiston campus. Each time I had to stop the project due to strong wind and rain. At first I did not realise that the impact of the projection would bring many people around to talk to me and I did not have a professional microphone to record quality sound. In the video below I included snippets of conversations I managed to capture.

Projection in situ
Poster design

What could be improved?
The film has poor sound quality, and the projected image flickers. The noise and grain artefacts of the camera’s high ISO settings are also visible. I shot the video using an older Canon camera and a tripod.
I failed to hide all the projection equipment.
The location was not too busy in October, and the students present easily recognized the video projection was a university project.
Because the campus was pretty empty, I could not avoid interacting with the viewers entirely and often, talking to me was a part of their experience.
People’s presence could trigger the video projection. When there is no one around, the chicken should be still.
I could obtain my original footage of a black chicken. The video currently shows a hen as I could not find stock footage of a rooster.

Reflection about the experience
Initially, I struggled with the concept and too much focus on the technical aspects of the assignment. Fortunately, I managed to refocus and prioritize the emotional value of the project. It was gratifying when people asked the question I wanted them to ask: ‘Why is there a chicken?’. They were curious.
I was glad that the chicken video was inspired by a historical anecdote involving the Merchiston campus. However, there were drawbacks to using the campus as a setting for the project. Some students avoided the projection sites altogether, especially after noticing me nearby with a camera. They were worried about interrupting a university project.
One of the descriptions of ‘interaction’ I found was ‘communication or direct involvement with someone or something.’
I was surprised by how many people approached me to talk and ask questions about the projection and the chicken. I retold Napier’s story many times. I heard a few stories about funny online chicken videos; I met a few people professing fear of chickens, and weirdly, a group of young men made clucking noises at the chicken and me.
The question of whether this project was interactive was one of my worries. I only projected a video of a chicken. I did not include any sensors that would trigger the interaction with the audience, such as proximity sensors. However, the audience talking to me involved plenty of intangible interaction, although it was an unintended and unforeseen part of the experience.


Evans, D. (2001). Emotion: the science of sentiment. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Logic, Psychology, and Apperception: Charles S. Peirce and Johann F. Herbart Author(s): Francesco Bellucci Source: Journal of the History of Ideas , January 2015, Vol. 76, No. 1 (January 2015), pp. 69-91, University of Pennsylvania Press (Stable URL:

Napier’s Chicken story by Mercat Tours –

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