The sequence realized in 1990 and 1991 by Art+Com, a visit of the subway
and city of Berlin, offers a good example of how time and space may be
hybridized in virtual worlds. The visitor can travel around in a simulated
model of the Berlin subway as, and where, he or she pleases. Because of
the time needed for the calculations, some elements, such as the train
arriving in a station, have nonetheless been taken from reality. But the
user can also pass through walls, soar up into the sky and, by moving
a cursor over a map of the city, obtain the corresponding image from a
virtual model of the city. And the user may start the visit again, indefinitely.
NASAs Ames Research Center
In 1991, NASAs Ames Research Center developed The Virtual Wind Tunnel.
Using a three-dimensional cursor, it is possible to move the wind flows
in real time and also to make soundings and analyses of what is happening
inside the whirls and eddies, without disturbing them. At the University
of North Carolina, an operator can see and touch the inside of certain
molecules without upsetting their arrangement. He can take hold of them
and study their resistance and the phenomena of attraction or repulsion
by means of their force feedback. It needs to be underlined how digital
experimentation of this sort represents a real revolution in our hitherto
Galilean approach to natural phenomena. Particularly in the realms of
mathematics and physics, it is now possible to make discoveries without
even touching reality.
ACROE and force feedback research
At Grenoble, the ACROE team is carrying out research into retroactive
gestural transducers. The principle is extremely simple: a bow is used
to play on original, virtual musical instruments which in turn produce
certain effects on sound objects which are also virtual. The player can
hear the sounds and, through the feedback of the force of the bow, evaluate
the reaction of the instrument. Note, however, that this research only
concerns work on the instrument and not on musical composition.
Jeff Koons and Cindy Sherman
With his works Rabbit, Self-portrait, Ushering in Banality and Michael
Jackson and Bubbles, Jeff Koons creates a kind of conceptual world, making
no attempt to reproduce real creatures or to reconstitute life in the
studio. His images are largely inspired by fragments of popular culture
which he reorganizes in his own way. But it is also striking to see how
his art is underpinned by a conceptual art of the self-portrait. The rabbit
is in fact the artist himself, as is the idealized bust in marble. Indeed,
Koons universe gives the impression that the whole world is a kind
of Disneyland, clear and perfect on the surface but with violence bubbling
just beneath this surface. Behind all his works one senses a strong nostalgia
for childhood, its harmony and its simple emotions. Cindy Sherman is a
past mistress in the art of interchangeable identities. In her early works,
she took photographs of herself in a series of imaginary roles. Then her
new identities became progressively more terrifying, the pretty dreams
of the little girl gradually invaded by surrounding violence, and sexual
violence in particular.
Paul McCarthy, Mike Kelley and Charles
Paul McCarthy, the creator of Twin Skunks and Cultural Gothic, and Mike
Kelley, who produced Orgone Shed, Brown Star, # Arena 10 (dogs) and Ahh
Youth, both live in the semi-artificial world of Los Angeles where the
American dream seems to have become reality and to have started disintegrating.
McCarthy worked for several years as a set builder for the cinema and
is concerned, in his works, with the representation of the difficulties
of the interface between the human and the artificial. Kelley works on
strange devices which can account for the potential evolution of California
man. The marvellous years of early childhood are presented as the psychological
cauldron that they have indeed become for many children today. Charles
Ray makes conceptual post-human portraits. His photographs of a self-portrait
realized in fibreglass presents a result far removed from the real model
unless, that is, we see it as a representation of reality itself.
Matthew Barney is undoubtedly one of the artists who has ventured furthest
in the post-human world. He was a student of medicine before becoming
a well-known athlete and then a famous fashion model. Today he is not
content merely to produce images of total novelty; he is also concerned
to redefine the very role of the artist. His aim is not to create works
that may be exhibited in a museum, but rather to create artistic events
which, like the Olympic Games, are capable of capturing the attention
of millions. His most recent works, mingling sports, performance, painting
and sculpture, are recorded on video to be exported or to be shown on
television. In some of his creations, Barney integrates moving combinations
of generic role inversions, medical experiments and sports practices.
Janine Antoni also has links with medical practice: her father was a plastic
surgeon and she spent much time watching his operations. In her works,
which may be seen as in-depth explorations of the mechanisms of self-construction
or self-reconstruction, she is particularly interested in psychological
and physiological manifestations, in neurotic obsessions with cleanliness,
in the excesses of romantic fixations and in sleeping and eating disorders.
Antonis work constantly addresses the difficulties of establishing
a feminine identity in a world in which the traditional patterns of womens
roles are undergoing profound transformations. Here then are three examples
of Antonis works: a piece of lard which she has chewed and then
spat out to make a stick of lipstick; a bust made of chocolate which she
licked for months to eliminate all the elements she considered disharmonious
she has tried the same thing with soap ; a blanket which
she weaves each morning, the design of which follows the waves of her
sleep patterns, as recorded during the night.
Kiki Smith is an artist of great stature who works in the tragic mode.
She does not present the world as post-human, as a world of creatures
lacking in all the normal emotions. On the contrary, she tries to emphasize
the human dimension of this world. Through her tortured and flayed figures,
which cling to what is left of their humanity in the face of the attacks
of dehumanisation, she bears witness and gives us warning, stating, in
her work, that whatever the future may hold in store in terms of cloning
or artificial intelligence, the core of human emotions will always refuse
to be entirely eradicated.
Larry Cuba: Calculated Movements
Larry Cuba, a student and assistant of John Whitney, won the Ars Electronica
prize in 1987 for Calculated Movements. In his approach, the work tends
to become indistinguishable from the programme. His films develop out
of experiments based on mathematical structures animated by the computer.
He does not prepare any story-boards in advance, explaining that "it
is the results that guide me for the next experiment; in this way I explore
a region of pure geometrical forms." His work is partly inspired
by the research carried out by Oskar Fischinger and Norman McLaren.
Genetic art: William Latham
The programmes used by William Latham allow for the production and development
of complex three-dimensional forms. The software he worked on at the IBM
research centre was conceived initially for industrial design and molecular
synthesis. With Stephen Todd, Latham subsequently developed the Mutator
programme, inspired by Biomorph, a scientific programme used by the zoologist
Richard Dawkins in his researches into evolution. Mutator is based on
genetic algorithms which make it possible to produce artificial life forms.
Lathams realizations, like those of Karl Sims or Yoichiro Kawaguchi
have been labelled genetic art, an expression, like the virtual, that
is not without its own magic appeal. The organic forms created do not
imitate known, existing objects but rather a pure life principle. What
is simulated here is generation. "What I am trying to do," Latham
explains, "is to produce my own vision of the natural world, defining
its rules, altering its genes and building its structures". He also
describes his creative processes as "natural selection, controlled
by the artist", and defines himself not as an artist but as a "creative
William Latham: Mutations
Mutations uses the structure of the Mutator programme for the random creation
of new generations, originating out of the variations on nine primitive
images. The artist chooses one of these images and this in turn is transformed
into nine further random images, and so on, allowing the artist to explore
a space of multidimensional parameters. This evolutionist approach is
not new in William Lathams work, since he has already done manual
drawings based on iteration, recursion and rotation, all founded on a
set of simple rules which produced an arborescent evolution of forms.
The forms involved in this creation of a synthetic nature are not really
abstract: they are artificial forms of remarkable realism. This is the
great achievement of Lathams art. By producing a composite programme
which puts fractals to work to generate recursive forms and software capable
of adding textures and shadows, along with realistic techniques such as
raytracing to obtain certain qualities for the surfaces, Latham produces
the photograph of an object which does not exist but which nonetheless
has physical qualities which appear only too real.
Composite works: Travelogue, Le Topologue
The new work is composite and multiple, splintered on the one hand and
heterogeneous on the other. The image becomes the place of this entanglement
and contamination of fragments from different sources, taken from diverse
levels of representation. Stefaan Decosteres Travelogue offers a
good illustration of this. The work is made up of three ten-minute pieces.
Alchimie bruxelloise gives visible form to the metaphor of the city as
a human body. Like an itinerary for travellers, it functions as a users
guide to television and the media through the accumulation of information.
It is a voyage between images and systems, between types of experience
at the frontiers of reality and the imaginary, the idea of the city as
a museum, an exhibition space or a theatre. Inspired by a scenario written
by Méliès but never filmed, LHomme aux cent trucs,
Marc Caros Le Topologue, mixes two-dimensionnal and three-dimensionnal
techniques, digital video images and other synthetic forms to create a
fictional universe where dimensions are the principal theme.
Interactive images: Carlas Island
The interactive device is one form of the open work. What distinguishes
virtual environments from video installations is precisely their digital
and interactive aspects. More than the implication of the viewers
gaze, as in paintings for example, and more than present-day types of
participation, the interactivity introduced by the new technologies engages
the spectator in a constant activity of transformation of the work. Each
external intervention gives rise to a simulated response which requires
relatively complex processing procedures. Carlas Island may be cited
here as a good example, a work realized by Nelson Max in 1981 at the Lawrence
Livermore Laboratory and presented at the exhibition Electra in 1983.
By acting on certain parameters the position of the sun or the
moon, colours, speeds , the spectator could see the whole scene
being transformed, passing from day to night or from clear weather to
a storm. This was probably one of the first interactive works to combine
realism and poetry to such a remarkable degree.
Jeffrey Shaw: The Legible City,
The Virtual Museum
Since 1983, Jeffrey Shaw has been creating interactive sculptures and
installations using computer-generated images and video. These include
The Virtual Museum and The Legible City, from 1989. In the latter work,
the spectator uses a bicycle to move around the virtual, three-dimensional
space of a city Manhattan, Amsterdam or Karlsruhe , projected
onto a screen in front of him. Facing the handlebars, a small monitor
shows a map of the city on which the user may pinpoint his or her position.
Letters form words and sentences, replacing buildings and as large as
them and transforming the city into "three-dimensional books which
may be read in all directions". "Cycling, explains Jeffrey Shaw,
becomes a reading activity". But, after all, is not reading one of
the favoured means of exploring virtual worlds, and language the very
basis of the synthesis of images? Roy Ascott: network works
Amongst all the works using the new technologies, there are some which
advance without seeking the limelight and which are unassuming in their
claims to creativity. They may be the works of artists using modest systems
or others who are more involved in conceptual and critical approaches
which have little of the spectacular appeal of computer-generated imaging.
The research carried out by Roy Ascott is an example of this attitude.
He is concerned with the exploration of networks, another state of virtuality
which cannot be seen or exhibited. The image here is only one pole amongst
many other possibilities in a system of communications and relations,
a passage towards other issues which are situated in other spheres.
In Jeffrey Shaw’s The Virtual Museum, the visitor moves around simply
by pressure on the armchair in which he or she is seated.
Architecture Machine Group
The Architecture Machine Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
has carried out several research programs on stereoscopic display and
interactive virtual environments. The best known project, the Aspen Movie
Map, was realized at the end of the 1970s. Over a period of several years
the streets and buildings of the city of Aspen, Colorado, were filmed
from every conceivable angle. The images were then selected and stored
in order to create an environment in which the user can explore and move
about in the city at will, simply by using a specially designed computer
and monitor. A second research project led to the creation of a system
allowing for drawing in true stereoscopic three dimensions, using various
colors. The user could create his or her own virtual objects within a
limited virtual space. Another research project created a virtual space
by photographing different perspectives of an actual scene, storing them
on a videodisk and then displaying them in real time in such a way that
the user could move around in the environment and see this virtual object
from all angles. As a result, the frame of the monitor became a window
into a three-dimensional virtual space.