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Digital Arts: Virtually Stitching The AIDS Memorial Quilt

The first time one sees the AIDS Memorial Quilt, it’s the sheer size of it that is most striking. Panel after creative panel — each square with a personality and a name.


In its 25-year history, more than 91,000 names have been added.


What began in 1987 as a simple folk art installation to remember those who had died from AIDS, grew into the largest public art display of its kind.


Now, the quilt is being digitized. Images of the quilt panels have been virtually stitched together and displayed on Microsoft Surface – a 60-inch wide interactive table. Viewers can scroll through the large touchscreen tablet and see the quilt in its entirety.


Anne Balsamo, Professor of Interactive Media and Communication and a senior research fellow at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Innovation Lab, led the project.


“The idea is that you use the table not as a substitute for looking at the textile panels. You still look at the physical panels — they’re richer than any digital experience. But what our table will allow you to do is search for a particular one. And also get a sense of the scale,” she said.


The table browser will allow viewers to see the entire 1.3 million square feet of the quilt, or zoom in and get metadata about a single person’s panel. The effort will also offer the opportunity for the public to add their own reflections.


The first version of the table will be on display at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, June 27 – July 8.


On July 20, sections of the physical quilt will be laid out on the National Mall. (At this point, the quilt is so large that the whole thing can not fit on the Mall). When the quilt is displayed, four interactive tables will be placed around the Mall for viewers to use.


Balsamo is also building a mobile application that will offer a map to locate any panel and digital memorial pages, so people can leave messages. “If you walk by a panel that really moves you, you can type in the panel number, go to the digital memorial page, and leave a remembrance,” she said.


“We want to give people a way to get into the stories of the quilt.”



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