Lileks: Embodying our moods … with precipitation

  • Article by: JAMES LILEKS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 13, 2013 - 9:27 PM

In the old days, public sculpture was a fairly easy proposition.

You had your man on a horse. You had your city leader with his hand in his jacket, looking nobly to the future, holding a document to indicate he was the Father of the Sanitary Horsemeat Act or some such thing. You had an abstract virtue like Charity or Wisdom in female form, marble hand to stony sternum, gazing out with serenity; sometimes she looked as if she was crying for our loss of virtue, but that was usually pigeon stuff.

It’s different now. From the description of the sculpture known as MIMMI that will rise by the new Vikings stadium:

By aggregating the positivity and negativity of tweets in real time, MIMMI transmits the abstracted emotion of the city to a series of Wi-Fi-enabled LED bulbs and integrated misting system.

Translation, if you need one: It’s a big floating thing that’s connected to the Internet, reads local tweets, determines the overall mood and turns them into colors.

There is also a dancing component. The more people dance near the sculpture, the more mist it will produce. You can find relief on a hot day, providing you are willing to Frug in public or execute some sort of modified Watusi. It may not recognize the Twist as a dance; it may interpret that as a vigorous attempt to grind out a cigarette butt. It depends on how relaxed the definition of “dance” is, and I suspect the program accepts any sustained spasmodic thrashing and mists accordingly.

This is where the classic Met Stadium-era Vikings fan looks at the paper, imagines a bunch of hippies waving their arms in the rain in front of a stadium dedicated to football, and thinks, “OK, I’m done with this world. Next.”

Since MIMMI bases its changing color on tweets, that means its view of local emotions will come only from those on Twitter. Minneapolis is 32nd in the world when it comes to people who put the city name in their tweets, according to Twitter Grader, although this hardly means they represent the city’s mood. It’s establishing the city’s mood based on the faces of people on the bus.

But this is great. Oh, it could be more historic and local; you could have a giant statue of Bud Grant in the arms of the Pillsbury Doughboy, but no one makes sculptures like that anymore. You could put up an enormous block of marble and let people hack at it for a few decades, just to see what we make when we put our collective minds to it. But you know somehow that eventually it would be turned into a giant wedge of cheese by prankster Packers fans.

No, this isn’t just interesting. It’s a piece of public art people will actually make a point of seeing, like the Spoonbridge.

Additional thoughts:

I guarantee you it’ll be manipulated the first week it’s in operation. There will be a concerted effort to tweet certain words to influence the algorithm.

We’ll all tweet “happy” and “fun” and “beautiful” for an hour straight, and the thing will glow and mist, and then we’ll tweet “horror” and “angry” and “evil,” only to discover that the thing throbs red and mists sulfuric acid. The best hack will be a series of conflicting emotions that run the spectrum of human experience, resulting in the thing going full plaid, then exploding.

But why just tweets? Why not Facebook updates? The lights could flash quickly to indicate people quickly scrolling down their feed and not reading anything — OK… baby… baby school… concert… picnic… blurry concert picture… whatev… You could get a real-time feed of how much sharing people are ignoring.

MIMMI stands for Minneapolis Interactive Macro-Mood Installation, but what if it stood for the Moderately Intrusive Minnesota-Multiphasic Installation? That’s the famous test that determines your mental state. It has questions like:

I sometimes think someone is reading my mail. (How would you answer that one these days anyway?) Sometimes people talk about me when I’m not around. (What newspaper columnist would say “no”?) I think people are following me. (I’m on Twitter. I hope they’re following me.)

And so on. Regardless of how people answered, it would provide additional input besides the narrow range of passive-aggressive snark Twitter users deal out 10 times an hour.

How do you communicate Passive-Aggressive Minnesota behavior with color, anyway? Lots of gray with occasional flashes of red? A wan yellow that never fades and never brightens? We’ll find out.

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