Sally or the Bubble Burst 2.0

A collection of works from students in the Interactive Cinema class during the Fall of 2017.

Sally or the Bubble Burst V2.0

Vivian (Jiexiao) Ying

Presentation ideas

Mathew Elf’s video (see Toni Dove “Sally or the Bubble Burst” in the interactive media archive) last year intrigues our group’s curiosity as he says “the dehumanization of Sally”. The high threshold his team sets pressure me to think about ways of presentation beside a short video. I came up with an interactive PPT, where people could vote for the parts they are interested in or a live performance inspired by the interactive furniture in Sally. But time is limited and our major aim is to show a sense of what Sally feels like, so I design a PPT [click here to see the PPT]in the conversational framework, which is collaborated by all of us and starts with Chen’s video teaser. I really love my passionate and efficient group members, enjoy watching Sally twice together and meet three times to sparkle each other’s ideas.


Chen Gong edited the film; Matthew Alan Lester and I love it!

The interface of DVD-ROM

When I first encountered Sally through the DVD-ROM in the old Mac (Legacy OSX 10.6 iMac), I was quite confused. There are four sections, “Play the program,” “Sally sings,” “Artificial Changelings” and “Spectropia”, but the menu does not show their connections and tell me where to start.

Disoriented as I feel, I am glad that we explored by ourselves before watching the explanatory video. Not acknowledging the standard process, we had to try our own instincts against the artist’s program, and negotiate the unexpected before we deemed it as a technical glitch or an artistic design. When Sally became silent, it could be that she was processing our input, was broken down at the question of “do you like ice-cream”, or maybe silence is one of her expressions.

The technical glitches draw my attention to the interface. Every time I wanted to start a conversation, I had to hold the “ESC” key, which kept reminding us of the boundary between Sally and me. I like Toni’s graceful performance on the stage, where she controlled the speed or perspective of the film with her hand movement detected by the movement sensor as if she was playing an instrument.

The stage version of the transparent interface is Toni’s idea media, where our body in movement, in space and in time is extended into the screen (Dove 65). However, for our easy access, Toni has to make compromises in the preservation of this hybrid form of installation and cinema. The mesmerizing effect of Sally on a huge screen has to be reduced to a limited experience on the computer.

Furniture Talk, Database Cinema, Object-Oriented Philosophy

We love the furniture talk best. We discovered in the second viewing that each time we click on the furniture; they offer different conversations. The chair boasts about the massive production of chairs, but with another click, he anxiously asks “am I unique?” Even though we catch different phrases, any combination won’t fail to describe an economy powered and destroyed by consumerism in the 1920s, or show the life philosophy of Sally. I am convinced that the narration and database can be compatible (Kinder 348), from the forerunner of database cinema, Vertov and Bunuel, to Toni Dove.

The malfunction of voice recognition limits us to interacting through clicking instead of saying the name “chair”, which gives an impression that there is more interaction between the furniture themselves, than the objects and us. Such lack of interactivity is also felt in our conversation with Sally, who has few responses available and ends up telling her story no matter what we choose to say.

Interestingly, the object-oriented philosophy relieves me from my self-centered frustration by offering a new perspective on “activity”: “It is not that ‘user’ merely uses a passive technology; rather the technology and the machine, as the context of interactivity are active. Any moment of the interactive experience…is constituted by the active engagement of the context and its protocols in the object” (Barker 76-77).

Sally, a cyborg?

Having watched humanized machines talking naturally, I wonder why Sally moves and sounds in a jerky way. I owe such mechanic style to the insufficient AI development in 2003, until Toni gives us another reason during her NYU lecture on September 20th.

Toni explained she deliberately broke everything in Sally. Sally’s words were broken down to phonemes to make her look mechanical and funny. Toni said, “If she speaks in a seamless manner, how could users tell the difference between a live performance and a machine?” Besides, the broken-down Sally is adaptive to new settings. Toni and her team can quickly input sentence for Sally to pronounce, instead of filming speeches ahead, thus making Sally more improvisational and independent.

But Sally also displays distinct femininity. She claims to be a bubble dancer in 1920s, and she announces a vivid personality through her constant blow of kisses and roll of eyes, which are short videos restored in her database. Toni reduces the fluidity of the gestures by deleting a few frames and enable them to stay in harmony with her broken speech. As a result, Sally becomes an uncanny combination of human and non-human features.

I suppose Toni does not aim for a perfect human resemblance, but a “cyborg” to reflect on what woman means in the context of new technology since women protagonists prevail all her works. Sally boldly incorporates oppositional characters, a hyper-feminine appearance, and a robotic manner, flirting like a flapper but sometimes irresponsive and making no sense, historically situated in the Great Depression but preserved in a new technology of DVD-ROM. This hybrid “cyborg” woman is born from the history but not burdened by its restriction. She “transgresses the boundaries, potent fusions, and dangerous possibilities” (Haraway 154) and reflects on herself by her rebirth into a robotic body.

In the context of the Spectropia project, which Sally belongs to, the cyborg Sally fits well as the image of a historical ghost summoned to the high-tech future. She is a restored human body in a mechanical container, a product of wonder, demystify and mystify the past at the same time.

Sally in Spectropia from YouTube


Barker, Timothy. “Objects and interaction.” Digital Creativity 22.2 (2011): 65-77.

Dove, Toni. “Swimming in Time: Performing Programmes, Mutable Movies–Notes on a Process in Progress.” Performance and Place. Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2006. 60-74.

Haraway, Donna. Simians, Cyborgs, and Women; The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991.

Kinder, Marsha. “Designing a Database Cinema.” Future cinema: The cinematic imaginary after film (2003): 346-353.

Thoughts on Sally or the Bubble Burst

Chen Gong

Sally or the Bubble Burst is one of Toni Dove’s interactive works. Vivian, Matthew and I had played it several times in order to get more understanding of this work. There are four parts in Sally or the Bubble Burst, Dialogue with Sally, Conversation among Furniture, Sally’s Dance and Sally’s Sing. We can use cursor and sound recognition to interact with the character Sally and other objects in the video.

When we first talked to Sally, we followed her direction and just responded with “yes” or “no” questions, we seem to have a good conversation among daily greeting, the story about her and how the society looked at Sally’s time. The story Sally presented to us seems to fit the Database Cinema’s definition. According to Marsha Kinder, although a database narrative may have no clear-cut beginning or end. no classical structure or even a coherent chain of causality, it still presents a narrative field with story elements arousing a user’s curiosity and desire. We were excited that we could interact with a popular dancer who came from the 1930s and knowing how the society was at that time only through the conversation, especially from what Sally told to us.

What also attracts my attention was Sally’s facial expression. It was great that you can see her happiness, confidence, and impatience through her facial expression. The most impressive one was Sally twisting her tongue with sexy eyes communication. It made me feel that she wanted the audience to treat her as a real human, not the humanoid. Or I can say, she wanted to eliminate the gap between viewer and herself. I considered this as a great interactivity element in the video. However, when I discussed with Matthew, we found that Sally’s flirting behavior is a little bit weird to be considered as an “normal human”. This was because we began to think, what would you do when you first meet someone? You would be cautious and your behavior should be polite. Not just like Sally, building herself into a charming sexy character. This raised my skepticism of the setting on a humanoid in interactive devices. What’s the purpose of making a humanoid? Giving viewer the sense of realness or keeping viewer knowing that they are still talking with a humanoid, not a real human.

屏幕快照 2017-10-03 下午1.51.10

屏幕快照 2017-10-02 下午4.13.56

Apart from the weird facial expression, we found that she could not deal with complex sentences, and sometimes she could not even understand what we are talking about when we tried to give different responses to her question. Sally’s response is predestined. For example, when we responded to her “How are you” question with “we are not good”, she unexpectedly responded by “What makes you feel good?”. It was the same response when we said “good”. The operation was always distracted by her mechanical voice and no diversity response.

When we manipulated “Sally Sings”, we could use a keyboard to make the sound. The sound was different each time when you clicked the same key. However, her jarring broken sound and mechanical physical motions seemed intolerable to me. The voice and her mouth were asynchronous. I felt like she is really a robot when we choose to make her sing a complete song. The song seems to be built word by word, which also made me feel that the computer was broken. Although Toni Dove herself explained that she intended to make Sally’s voice mechanical because it helps the viewer to distinguish the robot and real performer.

In the Conversation among Furniture part, we could see the mouth on chair, bubble, television. These objects can talk when we clicked the cursor. This part is the least interactive part from my point of view. A viewer just clicks the cursor and then sit in front of the computer to hear the conversation between the objects. I think audience do not immerse in the interactivity in the work.

Sally dancing with the bubble should be considered as the most interactive part in this video. I found that when I put the cursor close to her, she turned around fluently. When I put the cursor far from her, she danced in a very slow speed. In addition, when you put the cursor on the top of the screen, you could see a close shot of Sally. When you put the cursor at the bottom of the screen, you could see the entire stage and the whole body of her. We could also use our voice to control her movement. It seemed that I was controlling her life! I think the interactive setting is made to eradicate hierarchies between artist and viewer. (Gregory Zinman). Viewer no longer just stay and watches the performance in front of the screen, they create the performance they want to see by manipulating the character through interactive devices.

What also interested me by experiencing Sally or the Bubble Burst was that I found, female is always the main character in Toni Dove’s work. Such as Spectropia, Artificial Changelings, and Archeology of a Mother Tongue. In addition, Siri, Android also use a female voice. And in some science fiction films, the artificial intelligence (AI) also uses a female voice. For example, in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, the Voice Print Identification system uses in the spaceship is also a female. Even navigation system’s default setting in China also uses a female voice. 

“One reason for the glut of female AI and androids may be that these machines tend to perform jobs that have traditionally been associated with women. For example, many robots are designed to function as maids, personal assistants or museum guides”, MacDorman, a computer scientist and expert in human-computer interaction at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis said to the Live Science (Tanya Lewis, Live Science). He and his colleagues also did a study to test the preference of voice. Woman implicitly prefer female voice while men reported preferring a female voice with no implicit preference.

Inserting female characteristics to AI may seem innocuous, but it may have some implications, for example, raises the problem of gender stereotypes:  As I have mentioned above, one popular navigation system in China is famous for its “navigation voice”. The voice is presented by a Chinese actress, Lin Chi-Ling, who is charming and beautiful. Male always praise her as a “goddess”. Does designer intend to use the female voice to satisfy their sexual desire? Do People consider female voice more gentle and easier to tolerate rather than a male voice? All these problems need to be taken into consideration as a gender stereotypes implication.  

What’s more, as what I mentioned in the presentation, Toni Dove’s works sometimes implicate ghostly characters. The light shines down from almost directly above Sally’s face, the light on Sally’s body makes her looks like carrying the light from the heaven! And also, in the furniture’s conversation part, Toni dove put the mouth on the objects, She made the furniture begin to talk. It makes us feel that the objects have a soul and we are watching a science fiction films when we look at them.

屏幕快照 2017-10-03 上午11.41.40

When I edited our video and watched our clips at home, I found that it was not easy for the viewer to navigate it in the first time. And only when you play it more than once, you could find the hidden story inside the work. For example, I found that there is a conversation between the furniture only after I kept clicking the same button in my second navigation of this video. In a word, Sally or the Bubble Burst is an innovative interactive cinema with some glitches, from my point of view.



Kinder, Marsha, “Designing a Database Cinema,” in |. Shaw & P. Weibels (eds.) Future Cinema: The Cinematic Imaginary After Film (pp. 346-353) Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2003 , pp. 348-49.

Zinman, G. (2013). NAM JUNE PAIKS TV CROWN AND INTERVENTIONIST, PARTICIPATORY MEDIA ART. Millennium Film Journal, (58), 88-93.

Tanya Lewis. “Rise of the Fembots: Why Artificial Intelligence Is Often Female”. Live Science, 2015. Retrieved from

Toni Dove: Sally or the Bubble BurstDVD-ROM, 2003, Bustlelamp Productions


Toni’s Dove’s Bubble Burst and Sally

By Matthew Alan Lester

Toni Dove is a fascinating artist that investigates the boundaries of what it means to be human or machine and whether there is a real line between the two states of being.  While considering our existence as possible machines, she, additionally, contemplates definitions of the body, both inside and outside of the physical, finding experiences of telepresence through technologically determined interface systems that utilize action and response frameworks.  Toni Dove argues strongly with her body of work that our edges are, in fact, blurry, not distinct and that more overlap between states of being exists than we normally accept.  In her pieces Bubble Burst and Sally, we have the opportunity to consider some of the questions that her body of work seeks to posit, like “our mutating constructions of identity and the limitations of being human” (Dove, pg. 208).  “Where does consciousness begin […] Is not everything interwoven with everything?”  These are complicated questions that are woven into interactive interfaces that exist amidst the paranormal and supernatural genres where stories involving psychics, witchcraft, second sight, possession and time travel use virtual spaces and digital special effects.


Shot of Furniture Talk

Existing in the digital, Sally, a human face looks back at me, but she is deconstructed and crafted into the form of an automaton interaction.  This disassembled face and voice calls itself Sally and I mark her as non-human, yet I wonder why I already think of Sally as her?  After all, if I have assigned Sally with a gender, what does that say about my interaction with Sally?  Sally does not exist, not truly, but the experience of interacting with Sally does exist and because of this, Sally takes on life, at least from my perspective as I view her and interact with her.  Sally becomes an entity from which I expect a response, though I do not always get the response I desire.  I interact with Sally, but it is an interaction that lacks total control and thus is limited, or seems so.  The experience I have of speaking with Sally falls apart quickly, my voice or the words I choose do not convey what Sally expects to hear, just as a human interaction might dissipate, both speakers becoming bored with each other, for the interaction, unless developed into some new experience becomes a series of the same hellos, goodbyes and how is the weather today?  Like so many in our fast-paced society of today, Sally lacks the ability to form cohesive conversation, she speaks in a truncated pidgeon tweet and expects a similar response.  

At first glance, Sally appears to be a lovely person with whom a pleasant conversation might be possible, but as I so speak to her, the manifested illusion falls apart and even the most imaginative of minds might experience difficulty attributing human-like interaction to the automaton Sally.  Yet, despite Sally’s shortcomings, as the conversation unfolds, my own suspension of disbelief increases and I allow myself to become convinced of the ghost within Sally, convinced that perhaps, there is a spirit within the machine before me and her name is Sally.  She is a fractured being that also happens to be interactive and by being interactive she evokes from within the excitement that comes from communicating with the non-bodied ethereal.  The collage of faces that form an interaction with Sally seems to jerk by intention reminding us that she is an automaton yet asking us to believe in her existence, an example of the utilization of databases in creating a cinematic experience (Kinder).  Interaction with Sally is bound to encourage thoughts about our own treatment of non-physical entities, by design, made to serve at our pleasure on command.  Sally is a puppet and the viewer is a puppetmaster, to some extent, yet Sally’s own shortcomings bring into question who is the puppet and who is puppetmaster, and the one who believes they are in control works toward fitting within Sally’s space of response.


Works Cited

Dove, Toni. “Swimming in Time: Performing Programmes, Mutable Movies–Notes on a Process in Progress.” Performance and Place. Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2006. 60-74.

Kinder, Marsha. “Designing a Database Cinema.” Future cinema: The cinematic imaginary after film (2003): 346-353.