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Bokani Tshidzu- 'We were never meant to survive'


Lately in my studio practice I have been exploring different drawing techniques. My practice is clearly led by use of and response to colour. In this project I wanted to explore abstraction as I have done with my drawings as well as how I have been influenced by the ‘Computer works’ series by Michael Craig Martin. I wanted a ghostly treatment of a video of a poetry reading.

Concept and background

Originally I wanted to re-imagine the work of Michael Craig Martin. I love the use of colour in his ‘Computer work’ series. I have made my own abstracted drawings which leave only the fewest details into posters and graphics. I am also interested in using neon for example by Tracey Emin and Glenn Ligon. Glenn Ligon’s work was recently featured in an exhibition I read about called ‘Grief and Grievance’. This connected to an idea for work I made earlier in the masters program called ‘Sorry for your Loss’. The poem, 'A Litany of Survival', by Audre Lorde,  speaks about the resilience of the survivor and the response to racism. I wanted to handle skin colour without specifically referring to it, so anyone using the sketch has the same treatment. I also wanted to hint at erasure.  

we were never meant to survive (3)we were never meant to survive (3)

Bringing these two ideas together, I wanted to create a poetry recital in a new way. The idea being that new poetry recitals could be staged with this video processing. Rather than seeing people’s homes as we have done in recent months, there can be a sense of privacy from the background extraction, but a similar, consistent stage for each performer. 

I had initially thought to use my phone and Touch OSC but could not receive any signal from my phone to my laptop. I had hoped to use movement (data from the gyroscope)  to change the colours of the drawing. In my studio I have been making abstracted drawings in a similar style and wanted to achieve this abstraction using the contour finder in the openframeworks openCV addon. 

I wanted to achieve an animated drawing, that drew ‘live’, generating what looked like a new sketch every frame. 


Initially used the Image Processing example to better understand the background subtraction. Even with several iterations and tests including bright lights, I could not get a clean drawing which picked up the details of my face. I therefore tried to use the Haar finder, then remove the rectangle and instead colour the ‘face’ blobs, but this also proved unsuccessful. 

I attempted working with my kinect and again found this to not produce the drawing I was looking for. I could not tell if this was because I was not using a green screen. 

Eventually the best example I could find used my webcam, the videoGrabber function and frame differencing (Week 12 - Computer Vision (part 1)-code examples frameDifferencing). I do not think that this was particularly expensive in terms of computing power but the visual effect was ethereal and haunting. This allowed for the reading of the poem to achieve different nuances, for example the way the movement colours only those aspects of the image that changed position mean that the disappearance implied by the poem was visible. There is something liminal and ephemeral about the sketch, which suited this poem. 

Changing the drawing from a black and white drawing to one in colour, which changed smoothly over time (I used a sin algorithm) made the effect more engaging. 


Ultimately I was happy with this effect, the way the movement of the camera drew the room, the way stillness caused the performer to disappear was pleasing to me. I think this made for a more interesting sketch than the one I had originally planned. The sense of depth was certainly more engaging to other viewers. 

Future development 

I think it would be great to have different people reciting different poems over time. Perhaps some well known faces. I would also like to change the background so that it also changed colour in contrast to the colours drawing the frame differencing. I also think this would look best projected in a cinematic way, perhaps with the words from the poem being drawn into the image. The change in the colour was smooth, and only just noticeable which is key for me. 


Frame differencing: IS71014B: Workshops In Creative Coding 1 (2020-21)

Week 12 - Computer Vision (part 1)-code examples frameDifferencing 

Smooth colour change:

Image processing and contour finder: 

Michael Craig Martin - Computer works 

Tracey Emin:

Glenn Ligon - Neon works 

Poem: ‘A Litany for Survival’ by Audre Lorde 

Music: ‘Soft Piano’ by Oak Studio