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Art+Com
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.

NASA’s Ames Research Center

In 1991, NASA’s 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 Ray

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

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

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. Antoni’s work constantly addresses the difficulties of establishing a feminine identity in a world in which the traditional patterns of women’s roles are undergoing profound transformations. Here then are three examples of Antoni’s 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

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. Latham’s 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 gardener".

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 Latham’s 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 Latham’s 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 Decostere’s 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 user’s 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, L’Homme aux cent trucs, Marc Caro’s 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: Carla’s 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 viewer’s 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. Carla’s 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.