The accelerated evolution of IT and in particular elements such as digital technology and virtual reality continue to be embraced and explored by the artistic community. However, development of both hardware and software applications continues to be mainly steered by the needs of commerce and industry rather than creative application. In the new area of 3D immersive VR, current facilities are still in relatively early development and only very rarely have they been available for the artistic community. Within the UK such technology is currently available for this research project at the Virtual Reality Centre, University of Teesside. The facility there includes the only Hemispherium in the world. It has a 6 metre hemispherical screen with high-resolution display for a single or group interactive immersive VR experience. It is a centre for excellence with world class technology, expert staff resources, networked nationally and internationally to provide support for research, development and professional training.
In many respects this proposal provides a point of departure from other VR projects in the UK, such as the VR unit at Chelsea College of Art and Design (see “VR and the gallery”. Tate 95. “Towards a future aesthetics”. ICA 96.) and the work of contemporary artists such as Perry Hoberman. (Interface orientated, interaction responsive installation) and Char Davis (creator of Osmose-breath controlled simulated environment in VR). We are interested in developing VR works which are not led by the model of simulation, whose goal is to build the most naturalistic pictorial space. Our work will be orientated towards the following:
- Exploring VR or “pictorial cyberspace, through deconstructing the essence of the medium, taking advantage of its potential to create non-perspectival and non-representational “spaces” which don’t need to conform to the laws of gravity.
- Prioritising the role of the imagination through the exploration of association, rhythm, speed and constant simultaneity of psychic and physical space.
- Blurring the boundaries between senses, memory and the body.
- Developing new approaches to texture mapping by introducing non computer generated source material (ie scanned objects and video).
“The search is still on for a physical space that will allow one person or a group of people the chance to be totally immersed and engaged with a real-time computer generated experience. The Hemispherium at Teeside is a new stepping stone on this journey. It has been described as the next “step change” in group immersive VR” (Hughes. D. 98.) In 1993 Kalawsky defined a virtual environment as a synthetic sensory experience that should include visual, audio and tactile elements. This ability for synthetic worlds to stimulate our senses enables human immersion in an artificially (wholly computer generated in real time) produced virtual environment.( Kalawsky. R. S. 93.)
In much the same way as the Internet creates new physical and psychological boundary transgressions, (A. R. Stone 93.), the “Composite VR project will evolve these kind of effects within a visual/oral realm. As Stone suggests, interaction on the Internet leads to a new complexity of subject position and possibilities for a non pathologized understanding of “multiple identity” within an individual. The Internet challenges and extends subjectivity by unfixing conversational language from location and identified speaker. “Composite VR” will perform much the same role in relation to bodily perception through non language based media. This work will also be an extension of both the creation and understanding of visual art.
It is within this context that the “Composite VR” project will operate taking a further step in the experimentational culture of new media and development in immersive VR. Through the production of artworks which require solutions to the problem of gallery installation, it will offer possibilities for greater access to VR for the artistic community and for the public audience in a gallery context.
Research Questions and Issues
How can the combination of non-linear, VR production, with the insertion of linear moving surfaces and forms i.e. video and sound, create a novel hybrid, seamless, medium? The following questions arise:
- How can any digitizable source material be mapped into immersive VR and effectively combined?
- How can sound be developed into a major tool for navigation?
- How can sound, digital or otherwise be attached or embedded into composite virtual forms to allow multiple interactions (differing speeds and spatial relationalities) create a dynamic within a simulated spatial context?
- How can the assumed properties of movement be displaced. How can movement be changed, accelerated, hindered or randomised?
What are the implications for the gallery when a non-linear, immersive, multi-hemispherical screen experience sits alongside more traditional, pieces of art, such as painting, sculpture and flat screen video and film?
The following questions arise:
- How can VR artworks produced at the Hemispherium be introduced into the gallery context allowing the audience/participants to access, steer and exit the work?
- What kind of interface is needed to enable immersive VR artworks to be introduced into the gallery? How can the Hemispherium’s cinema-like setup be adapted for a standing, randomly moving audience?
The integral project team, that is the artists and the technologists provide an excellent balance of expertise and skills and will work collaboratively on the specific problems identified within the project. An important part of the projects methodology is the function of collaboration itself and the team has been carefully chosen to create a dynamic from creative differences and specialisms. We will work towards building a circuit between us which allows the diversity in the group to be mirrored in the produced work We will not work with a strict dualism between technicianship and artistry, rather the creativity involved in the work will be a product of a collaborative learning process which gives equal weight to the solutions and strategies of all the producers of the work. Methodologically the realisation of the ability to create such “composites” requires the application of a series of tasks, many of which will involve time invested in experimentation. For example, the creation of objects incorporating levels of sensation, which will include moving surfaces and sound, requires the development of an understanding and skills. in the use of specific software applications. The relationship of technicians who already have some understanding of the software, and the artists who have various backgrounds in combined arts, will be a mutually challenging context to work in.
Experimenting with moving texture and sound as “behavioural” attachments will advance the use of the software application “oxygen” and extend the aesthetic choices available to VR practitioners. Early in the project we are assessing the current capabilities for dealing with “composite” VR, embedding photomontage, video montage and sound montage into 3D modelled form/scape. This involves, for instance, assessing the systems capacity to to deal with variable speed in “behavioural attachments”. In some senses we consider the medium we develop to be a form of drawing, rather than, as mentioned before, simulation of naturalistic environment.
This allows for a form of drawing in 3D and subsequent projection of the eventual composite form in 3D. Further such drawings or potential “composites” can incorporate photomontage, video montage and sound montage.
There will be a focus on available technology and software although new software development may be considered in later stages of the project and the need for development in systems for gallery installations also may emerge.
In July 00. (We) five artists and two senior VR developers from the VR Centre, Teesside, engaged in an intensive workshop over a period of three days. A new VR artwork was created during this workshop. Alongside, the developers fed the prepared work into software applications for VR programming, which was adjusted and refined through continual flat-screen projection. The new “artwork” was then transferred onto the Hemispherium computers for full immersive VR projection. This demonstrated a range of possibilities for creating new VR artworks, with gallery interface.
Building on the proven effectiveness of this workshop and through discussion and consultation with the VR centre, a three year development plan and structured program of research could be put in place.
Aims and Objectives
Working in partnership with the VR centre and with specific use of its unique Hemispherium structure in order to explore and develop a new type of screen based experience, constructed from digitised composites.
To produce a series of “Virtual Reality Artworks” (Composites) using current and new technology, and to explore the interface or interfaces necessary to put these works into a gallery context.
This will involve:
- Developing a dynamic, creative partnership between the artists and the senior VR developers, with a collective input into the research.
- Radically exploring and questioning the consequences of a non-linear medium.
- Using current and new software in order to “map” all source material (this will include both digital and non-computer generated) into the immersive VR world.
- Developing and extending the use of electronic sound and mixed, live sound through “attachment” onto virtual composite forms.
- Creating multi-dimensional narratives.
- Exploring the potential for creating virtual sculptures through VR projection.
Year 1. July 2001-2002
It was decided that five, three day intensive workshops with the artists and senior developers working together along with five, two day technology transfer and development days, during a twelve month period would form the central, collaborative input into the first year of the project.
The artists would have a continuous work program during the first year, creating narrative, developing software application skills, preparing analogue and digital video samples, sound samples, and modelling new 3D forms. Electronic communication will also be used as a “collaborative medium” between the team of researchers.
A further two, half-days would be needed to transfer the new programs onto the Hemispherium computers for full immersive VR projection. Two half-day conferences for the media/artistic community would be arranged at the end of the first year.
Year 2. July 2002-2003
The second year of the project would be structured with a similar structure/input as year one. There would be more transfer time in the Hemispherium with two more conferences at the VR centre.
Year 3. July 2003-2004
During the third year of the project the emphasis will be on further program development, technology transfer and gallery interface. There would be additional technical support for events taking place away from the VR centre i.e. gallery installations. Provision is also made for two full-day conferences at the VR centre.
Through consultation with the VR centre we feel confident that this is a realistic timetable to complete this three-year research program and intended outcomes. Throughout this research program the researchers will have access to world class technology with expert staff resources at the VR centre at a highly reduced, consultancy rate of costs. Normally the costs for commercial VR development would be considerably more.
It is also proposed to have a small steering group attached to the project, which would be made up of eminent VR specialists, who would review the work on a yearly basis. It is also proposed to make connections to two galleries who would have an interest in the project, with a view to exhibiting the composite VR artworks.
Research Outcomes. Year 1
- Creation of 2/3 new composite VR art programs that will be ready for an audience viewing at the Hemispherium, VR centre, Teesside, allowing access to the artistic community.
- 1/2 papers, on the exploration and developments during the first year of the project, to be ready for presentation at the 2 half- day conferences at the VR centre, followed by publication.
- An Internet site produced for the project.
- DVD’s produced of the artworks
- 2/3 more composite VR art programs produced that will be ready for audience viewing at the Hemispherium.
- 2 papers on the exploration and development during the second year of the project, to be ready for presentation at two half-day conferences at the VR centre, followed by publication.
- Up-dates of the web site.
- DVD’s produced of the artworks.
- Completed development of the gallery interface in order to put the composite VR artworks into the gallery context.
- Further papers on the exploration and development of the third year of the project to be ready for presentation at two full-day conferences at the VR centre, followed by publication.
- 1 gallery installation of the composite VR artworks.
- A substantial document produced and published of the project to date, including visual reproduction.
- Up dates of the web site.
Roles of the members of the research team
David Seaton. Project leader, who will co-ordinate the project through consultation with all the project team.
Sculptor, object maker, working on modelling, VR sculptures, spatial contexts and sound.
Gavin Lockhart. Artist, filmmaker working with D.V. analogue video and sound. Improvisation specialist, dada influence, inflatables, site-specific installation, land artist.
Orphan Drift (collaborative group)
Ranu Mukherjee. Co applicant. Artist, working with digital technology, digital video and non-linear narrative. Influenced by science fiction and surrealism, rhythm and time manipulation, voice embedded video.
Suzi Karakashian. Artist, working with D.V. specialist in D.V. software and D.V. production. Real-time editing skills, installation specialist in architectural distortion, aesthetics of trickery and seduction in visual art.
Maggie Roberts. Collaged object maker working with D.V. modelling, VR sculptures, non-linear visual narrative, myth and ritual deconstruction, fluid space,audio and texture.
Plus the senior VR developers Alison and John.
All the artists have a well-established history and proven record of working collectively dating back to 1995.