In Sanskrit, the word "mandala" translates to "sacred circle." Though mandalas' significance varies across cultures, these intricate round patterns have been used since the BC era to symbolize harmony and aid in meditative rites.
Enter silly cat photos.
Miraj is a new Apple TV app by Sosolimited that renders custom, animated mandalas into your television from words spoken into your remote. Utter the word "pizza" and a kaleidoscope of pepperoni and cheese will echo through your screen. Proclaim "Crying Jordan!" and watch your screen weep. The app itself scrapes images from the web, then processes them through a graphics engine built from open-source Cinder graphics.
The aesthetics are like a clash of the ancient mystical world and the cynicism-filled Internet—a quasi-intentional result of allowing users to create insta-art from any spoken word.
"Our original intention was to create a beautiful, perpetually changing artwork. We imagine people getting lost in the visuals in a meditative kind of way. The movement, color, and texture have a tendency to draw you in and get you lost in the imagery. It's a way to dive deep into the visual essence of some idea that's on your mind," says Eric Gunther, cofounder of Sosolimited. "That said, in our experience, it almost always takes on a game-like quality when playing with it among friends."
In a social context, Miraj becomes a game of free association. "I kept thinking of that scene in Ghostbusters when Gozer the Destructor says, "Choose . . . !" and Dan Akroyd can’t help but think of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man. And of course, Gozer makes it so," says Gunther. "Once you start playing with Miraj, it’s hard not to think of more things to say."
In that respect, Minaj, which makes your mind wander from one random topic to another, serves the exact opposite purpose of a mandala, which forces you to turn inward. It's the sort of lesson you only learn by actually building an idea out and testing it with real people. "We're eager to see how people use it," says Gunther. "I like the idea of releasing an artwork into the world and watching it evolve as people form different relationships with it."