Hong Kong Artist Records Daily Life, Builds Trippy Interpretation of Memories


bad trip

I recently had a chance to watch ‘Bad Trip,’ a short video from 22-year-old media artist and filmmaker Alan Kwan. The clip is a glimpse at an epic project that has been ongoing for about a year now. In short, Alan has been wearing a camera on his eye-glasses, recording the moments of his daily life and archiving them into a visual database. Throw in some stylized dreamscapes, and the result is indeed very much like a bad trip.

Check out the video clip on the right for a better idea of how it looks. And then see my Q&A with Alan below. It’s a pretty fascinating idea.

How did this project get started? Where did the idea come from?

This project got started about a year ago, in November 2011. I purchased a cheap HD camera from eBay and modified it a bit so that it could be easily rigged to any glasses as a lifelogging video camera. Since then I have started lifelogging, recording what I’ve seen and heard everyday, on a 10-hour-a-day basis.

About a month later I started to think about ways of archiving this huge amount of video files. But I certainly don’t want to build just a Total Recall software, I then come out with an idea of storing these virtual memories spatially in a 3D virtual world. Therefore I started to build the software Memory Palace, which is something like SimCity plus iPhoto, in which users could build their own virtual world to store their personal memories, or in other words, they become the architect of their virtual mind. After I finished the software I used the same engine to develop Bad Trip, in which I act as the architect to design my virtual mind, and other people are invited to navigate inside.

There’s a tree with legs in the video. What’s going on there? (pictured below)

In the virtual world of Bad Trip I do not only store my memories, but also some of my dreams. Sometimes if I remember anything from a dream, I would do quick 3D modeling and texturing to create the scenes in my dream, and put them inside Bad Trip. I am always trying to create a digital clone of my mind in this project.

Besides recording, how much time went into building this? And who else worked on it?

I spent four months developing the Memory Palace software, and then three weeks making Bad Trip. The virtual world of Bad Trip is perpetually evolving as I upload my fresh virtual memories every night. And this is a solo project.

Can you tell me a little about the camera? Did you really record every moment in a day? How was it stored?

In fact I don’t really record every moment in a day, as I mentioned above, I record around 10 hours a day. However as each battery lasts only for 3-hours (I tried batteries with larger capacities but they’re too heavy to be attached to glasses), there would be some “lost moments” when I change batteries. The video files are stored on a 32GB micro-sd card. I am investigating whether the files could be real-time wirelessly transmitted to the virtual world.

Are there any practical applications of archiving video/memories in such a way? You mentioned a database. Are they catalogued with any metadata besides time?

Alan wearing his eye-glasses camera

Alan wearing his eye-glasses camera

In fact right now I do all that in a rather low-tech way. I do have some basic video editing functions in Bad Trip that enable me to extract memories from long video clips. But they don’t have any metadata besides time, I did try to combine the video files with my GPS logging data but personally I don’t think that is very useful. To me the faces and the emotions are much more important. I am researching about integrating Bad Trip or Memory Palace with facial recognition algorithm.

Do you have any thoughts to take this project further?

Yes. I will release Bad Trip as a free download in the coming January, so that people from all over the world would be able to literally navigate my mind through the internet. I am also planning to develop the next version of Bad Trip which would be an online open world in which every lifeloggers could build their own virtual mind. There will also be some experimental features, for example, a Memory Market where people could sell and buy virtual memories. Users could also navigate someone’s mind and remove/modify some of his memories.

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