“EAT – A Virtual Dining Environment” by Naimark

  • ©Michael Naimark



    EAT - A Virtual Dining Environment

Program Title:

    Demonstrations and Displays

Presenter(s): Presenter(s):


Project Affiliation:

    Naimark & Company


    EAT is an art installation about consumption. It was produced as a class project for Michael Naimark’s “Virtual Environments” class in 1989 at the San Francisco Art Institute, where it received an SFAI Spring Show Gold Award. The project began with a $500 budget, an equipment loan from the Apple Multimedia Lab (a Macintosh, a Pioneer videodisc player, and a Kodak LCD video projector), and a 50 percent discount on videodisc pressing from Crawford Communications. The next step was to establish a concept within which each student could do independent work, which took several months of wrangling. One month was required to decide that the installation would involve a horizontal flat surface, another month to agree on a food-related theme, and a third month to decide on live performance. At the end of the fourth month, the video was shot (where most of the class budget went for food from the local Safeway store). Virtual “dishes” were created by shooting food action from a camera pointed straight down from the ceiling of the studio. Additional footage (some, but not all, directly food-related) was added during editing. HyperCard was used to program the Macintosh. The Mac was also used to produce the menu and guest checks (which list the credits on one side and provide space on the other side for a personalized message from the waiter, e.g., “Have a nice day – Hank”). The final two weeks of the project were devoted to installation set-up. A table was built with a hole in it for video projection. The result: a short, single-user experience, in which the participant sits alone at a formal dining arrangement and orders food from a live waiter with a menu. The waiter then lifts the plate cover, revealing the requested “food”, projected on the dinner plate. Also on the table: a large red button labeled “EAT”, which may be pressed during the course of a menu item, resulting in various actions.  

    Fine Cheap Virtual Food “Art is always content-driven. In-deed, when art appears to be something else, such as form-driven, we say that ‘becomes’ the content. Traditionally, the arts community doesn’t like it when art is primarily an exhibition of new technology and nothing else. “For several years, I had asked my art students for examples in a medium that were both for-mall innovative and good art. Some works were cited repeatedly: ‘Les Demoiselles D’Avignon.’ “Trip to the Moon.’ ‘Rites of Spring’ Napoleon,’ ‘Tommy,’ Running Fence.’ to name the more popular ones. There’s no reason to believe the two are mutually exclusive. “But something has changed, over the past decade or two. Instead of exploring them, many in the arts community have been alienated by cutting-edge technologies. In part, this is because most high technology we see today is used for flash more than substance. Look at TV: packaging rules. “My perception of the San Francisco Art Institute is as a most intense example of such sentiment. You’re there to learn and to make art. If your art is a little rough around the edges, well, too bad. No one is going to add high-tech polish just to patronize a media-numbed public. “EAT was produced with high-tech but convivial tools: a videodisc player for under $1000, videodisc mastering for under $300 and software like HyperCard that doesn’t require an advanced degree to use. It’s not much, but it’s a start. “Don’t get me wrong. I like multi-million-dollar projects, too, where research is equally needed. But having directed videodisc projects with budgets of more than million dollars and others with budgets of less than a thousand dollars, I cannot say that the payoff has been proportional.”

Other Information:

    Hardware: Macintosh II, Pioneer videodisc player, Kodak LCD video projector, custom input

    Software: HyperCard, custom

    Application: Art

    Type of System: Player, single-user

    Interaction Class: Immersive, inclusive


    Chief Chef: Charles Lassiter

    Head Waiter: Erik Slavin

    Maitre d’: Peter Streitman

    Thanks to Steve Gano, Steve Lambright, Sharon Grace, Apple Computer, Inc., Pioneer LaserDisc Corpora-tion, Crawford Communications, Bay Area Video Coalition, San Francisco Art Institute

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