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March 4, 2017 by Liat

A project by Zuyu Wang, Pelin Igdebeli, Jaqueline Kein

Highlight is an experience created to make people feel empathetic of the situation wheelchair-users encounter every day: the feeling of being different, of being treated differently, of being in the spotlight unintentionally while craving normality more than anything.
This is not an experience most of us make, at least not to this intensity, in everyday life. Highlight aims to recreate this feeling of being ‘watched’ or in the center of attention.


The idea is to have a normal exhibition room, with Fabrizio’s pictures hung on the walls, looking almost normal and anonymous. The project can be installed in any kind of space. All that is required are three strong spotlights, a few cameras (depending on the space, you will need to choose them such that they can observe every corner of the room), and a bit of programming skills.


Imagine the following scenario. You walk into a room, white walls and large beautiful images hung on the wall. You walk along to get a look at all of them, crossing the room to check out what’s hung on the other side. Suddenly and out of nowhere, the spotlights come on, focussed on you, blinding you, while the rest of the room dims to a soft ambient light. You feel everyone looking at you, turning to see whats happening. Maybe you feel insecure, not sure what to do. Maybe you feel startled, and don’t understand why all of this attention is suddenly on you.


If you’re brave and outgoing, you might enjoy the situation and strike a pose. Or maybe you would try to laugh it off awkwardly. You might try to walk away from the light, flee to the safe shadows, but the spotlights readjust and follow you, all around the room.
Now imagine if you’re one of those people, watching the situation unfold. How do you react? Do you look away, to spare the person in the spotlight the feeling of being stared at? Do you look politely, as if it was a theatre scene that was planned? Are you amused if the person in the spotlight makes a fool out of him- or herself?

The technical aspects behind this experience are very simple. It all adds up to adjustable spotlights, connected to a system of cameras, that pick and identify one person at random in a set time interval. An algorithm identifies the position of the randomly picked person, and sends data to the spotlights, such that they can follow the person around anywhere.

The message we would like people to take away from this experience is just as valid for the person in the spotlight, as it is for the watching crowd.
The picked person will be impacted strongly by being the center of attention, for an uncomfortably long period of time (around 12 to 15 seconds). He or she will realize that being different can mean a burden that you carry around with you, the burden of feeling exposed at all times.


The crowd will be asked to think about their reactions, and how they think they might have impacted the person in the spotlight. What did you do? If the person was uncomfortable, did you ease their situation? Did you take it for granted that the lights came on? Did you encourage the person or laugh about him or her?

How we react to somebody’s difference can have a large impact on this person’s life. What Highlight aims to do is to recreate a strange situation where one person is literally ‘highlighted’, and everyone is asked to think about how this might feel.

Highlight creates empathy, through a strong and deeply emotionally gripping experience, all while using very simple technology.


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This course is held at NABA: Nuova Accademia di belle arti www.naba.it by Chiara Gambarana and Liat Rogel

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