Boisterous Sea of Liberty

Charlottesville, VA | 2009

The Boisterous Sea is an interactive narrative installation about Thomas Jefferson’s ideas on Liberty and the history through which they developed. A collage of twenty one high definition flat panels are arranged along a curve in layered fashion, at certain times and locations functioning as one big continuous display, and at other times as individual screens on which content is contained. The organizational scheme of both the physical screens and content was designed to support two types of viewing: a passive watching of the large scale narrative from the far side of the room and a more interactive up close viewing of the details near the touchscreens.

Organized into roughly thirteen chapters and four sections, high resolution paintings, documents, illustrations and quotations from Jefferson and his contemporaries float and settle onto the upper screens. Each chapter and section is ushered in by the stroke of Jefferson’s pen, which unravels to release a rich collection of images and words. Each chapter contains a set of approximately twenty ‘droplets’, short autonomous pieces of text and images meant to fill in the details of the upper narrative. As the big pictures plays out on top, bits of typography rain steadily down, forming concise titles shortly after appearing on the lower screens. Visitors are invited to touch any of these droplets. Doing so produces a small explosion of letters, which mechanically arrange themselves onto a white panel, and are joined by a supporting image.

The presentation includes a three-channel soundtrack of music and environmental sounds commissioned for the piece. The music is instrumental in telling the story of the Boisterous Sea, underscoring the historical mood in each chapter and guiding visitors through the overall progression. Each touchscreen also has an associated speaker that plays back sound effects tied to the interactions.