Interactive Work-table and Escritoire is a work by artist and designer-maker Jason Cleverly. It has been developed in collaboration with Tim Shear, programmer and technologist at iRes Research in Network Art at University College Falmouth, and developers from Celtic Internet.

This contemporary interactive installation is a collaborative research project between artists, academics an technologists at University College Falmouth, Kings College London and Celtic Internet.

The technology underpinning the installation combines the commercial Digital Pen & Paper solution from Celtic Internet, based on Anoto functionality, and open source content management system Drupal customised by Tim Shear. Pacer CNC router and Trotec digital laser engraver, situated in the Design Centre at UCF and supported by Andrew Harbert and the Autonomatic research group at UCF, were used for cutting the wood and detailed etching. To read more about technology visit the technology section.

Dr Johnson is largely remembered for his dictionary, which was compiled and written on a large table at Gough Square. The process of developing this work relied on gathering together etymological information from a range of sources, much of which was carried out with the help of a number of clerks. The dictionary was completed in about nine years and contained 42,773 words together with innovative definitions and illustrative quotations. This was a fantastic feat of mental endurance, considering Johnson?s other distractions, social and otherwise.

The process of creating a work of such importance and lasting impact by Johnson contrasts and compares with a number of contemporary projects:

- online search engines and databases notably Wikipedia and particularly perhaps its sister project Wiktionary, which rely on contributions from the online community to shape and edit the contents.

- the notion that language is evolving and expanding continuously, and relies on an ever increasing series of subjective definitions emerging from popular culture, the ?street?, new technology and so on.

- the perceived decline of paper and pen as a medium.

The project is a playful recreation of a version of Johnson?s writing desk, updated with technology. Anoto system used in developing this project offers an attractive combination of using traditional media (pen and paper) with digital and Internet based technology.The pen is able to read tiny watermarked dots on special paper, which enables the capture of drawings and writing via a USB Inkwell. The pen has related software that can translate handwriting into text based data which is transmitted to a database and then available to view via Internet. The special paper has been customised to create a proforma, allowing different tasks to be performed when certain areas are written on. The visitor is encouraged to add words of their own devising or to write idiosyncratic definitions of words to add to a collaborative online dictionary.

Some of the laser-etched details are from Johnson?s own hand*, which Cleverly found visually attractive and placed them to evoke the collation of words. Other surface details are developed to emulate contemporaneous drawing style. Special thanks to Andrew Harbert, MA Design Course Leader at University College Falmouth, for his invaluable help and advice.

*(reproduced by kind permission of the Yale University Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)

all images courtesy of Jason Cleverly