5 ’til 12, RFID-enhanced narration

In Knifeandfork‘s immersive installation, 5 ’til 12, visitors are invited to watch four characters, on four monitors, as they recount the tragic circumstances of the exhibition’s opening night. The experience is unique for each visitor, as each story has most likely never been heard before… and won’t ever be heard again.


The premise is derived from Akira Kurosawa‘s masterpiece Rashomon, in which four eyewitness accounts of a murder are presented to the viewer, who serves the role of a magistrate. The stories are contradicting and it is unclear who is lying. Each story holds a valid reality of its own. 5 ’til 12 adds another layer: the individual’s story changes with each new telling.

The process is inspired by Raymond Queneau‘s One Hundred Thousand Billion Sonnets, in which ‘potential’ literature emerges when lines of words are spliced and recombined.

Stories are selected from the possibilities in rounds, using a variation on the Prisoner’s Dilemma, a model from game theory where individuals choose to cooperate or not to maximize their personal advantage. A character who appears blameless while illustrating everyone else’s faults will “score” the highest. However, in the following round, s/he can expect revenge and must eventually make amends. The strategy of each character is adapted using an algorithm according to its effectiveness in each round.

The installation uses RFID cards to identify individual visitors. When each new visitor swipes a card, a new story is selected, and the visitor is recognized as he or she explores the narrative space.

In the last few minutes of the final hour, anything is possible.


By Sue Huang and Brian House.

The exhibition “5 ’til 12” opening on January 17th at the Beall Center for Art + Technology, University of California, Irvine.

Other RFID-enhanced story tellings: The Living Room, Negone, Tagged!
A few years ago, i also tested a bar code narration system at a museum uìin Ypres: In Flanders Fields. At the entrance you receive a ticket bearing a name, a bar code and a grainy photograph of someone in the war. The swipe the card in video kiosks along the exhibition and get personal background, wartime experiences and fate at war’s end of the individual (could be a soldier, a sculptor, young Hitler, etc).