Friday, April 17, 2009

Navigating Virtual Space

“Virtuelle Mauer/ ReConstructing the Wall,” a virtual reality artwork by artists T+T (Tamiko Thiel and Teresa Reuter at the Goethe Institute on April 23 2009 with an artist’s talk at 6 pm. The exhibit will be on view April 24 – May 6, 2009.

Here’s how it will begin: You’ll be standing in a darkened gallery at a podium. In front of you an animated three-dimensional (3-D) world will be glowing, projected onto a nine by twelve foot screen. With your hand on a simple joystick, you’ll navigate. You’ll be wandering in a space fractured by the Berlin Wall sometime between the 1960s and 1980s.

The Berlin Wall, which divided West and East Berlin during the Cold War has become a cultural and political icon. However, its lived experience and daily reality is fading with the distance of time. "Virtuelle Mauer/ReConstructing the Wall," in one respect, is an intervention in this forgetting, a catalyst for understanding and remembrance. Built over years of research and reflection, involving interviews with residents, archival documents and the artists’ own personal experiences of the wall, the artist team T+T (Tamiko Thiel and Teresa Reuter) have reconstructed a one-kilometer (~1/2 mile) area of the neighborhood between the West Berlin district Kreuzberg and the East Berlin district Mitte. You, the viewer, inhabit this space. You may try to overcome the physical obstacle presented by the wall, attempting escape, or you may engage the characters you meet; each interaction will unfold and release other stories that make up the social and political fabric of the space.

What exactly you’ll see and experience is a choice. “I think of the virtual world as a virtual stage set; not in that the audience watches the stage, but that you’re inside of the play. Your movements and actions, your decisions of where to go and what to do are triggering the elements of the plot,” explains Thiel. Without a viewer to look at and engage with the virtual world, the work is incomplete. “The primary idea of the installation,” according to Thiel “is that the user explores it themselves and, with their own kinesthetic and spatial sense, measures the wall in essence, and really deals with the wall as a barrier. ‘How do I get around this? How do I make sense of this world that is split in two by the wall?”

“Virtual reality” (VR) usually suggests donning expensive hardware or entering a specialized studio. Here, T+T are more concerned not with the technology that VR utilizes, but the experience it enables—an immersive and interactive experience of space. Moreover, the technology T+T work with is accessible to as many viewers as possible. “I think interactive 3-D media has so much potential to reach a wide audience,” Thiel says. “And, it’s clear to me that reaching a very wide audience includes people who don’t like games and people who would never touch a computer, reaching not just young people but very old people and people who are handicapped and don’t have the finger dexterity to do keyboard shortcuts.” Thus, the necessary movements for interaction are reduced down to a bare minimum: a joystick which moves right, left, forward and back.

The installation proves to be not only an exploration of the lived experience of the Berlin Wall but also an exploration of the idea of the virtual. How are we transported to new spaces and new ideas by technology? How can we engage the mental and physical spaces of history? T+T’s installation proves to be a fascinating, thought-provoking experience – and surely not to be missed during this year’s festival.

For more information on the exhibit, see the Cyberarts Festival page or the “Virtuelle Mauer/ReConstructing the Wall” project page.

For further reading, an excellent interview about the piece was published last year between Tamiko Thiel and Jonathan Taylor of On Screen Magazine during its US premiere at 911 Seattle Media Arts Center.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Gene Gort on LABOR & the Creative Commons Philosophy

Ken Steen, Gene Gort and Jeffrey Krieger with the Reliquary of Labor logo,
a circle of dancing sparks that symbolizes their collaboration.
Q: Why is transparency of the creative process important to you?

GG: The notion that art is a result of some divine inspiration that drops from the sky into the gallery/museum/concert hall is overrated and mythologized too much. We want people to know that art is a struggle, a process, a dialogue that comes in fits and starts. In short, it is LABOR, hence the title. Our metaphor was like a building progressing over time within plain sight of the neighborhood or the community; it changes subtly and not so subtly every time you pass by. For the idea to work for us, we wanted to de-emphasize the end result - the performance moment - and allow viewers/participants to witness the mistakes, the false starts. We were educated in the 70's and things like process driven art, performance art and the strategies of artists like John Cage have influenced us profoundly.

Q. How can audiences participate in the project?

GG: Well, the project is ongoing. We are open to any and all suggestions. The score is available on request as are all the raw date files. There are podcasts available from the site with a lot of writing and notation. If someone is inspired to take on this material, they can use it and rebuild it themselves. They can also send us remixes for use to incorporate in future iterations. As part of the Creative Commons philosophy, we would like to be credited with the origin of the material if someone undertakes this independently.

Q. What do you hope audiences will discover?

GG: Like any good artwork, the process of discovery itself is important. I, as an artist, am not interested in reaching a mass audience. I am more interested in what is akin to a gentle nudge in the ribs and a whisper, "Did you ever notice this?" That's what good art does to me. If we can allow the audience access to our process of discovery maybe they can arrive at their own moment of discovery on their terms. As we gathered the material over the year or so, our observations blossomed into something transformative to us about work and skill and craft and cooperation of the workers at the site, as well as our own processes. The logo for the project, the circle with dancing sparks, is emblematic of our discovery. A pipe subject to an electric grinder, at the hands of a skilled worker, seen from a particular vantage point, becomes something altogether different and beautiful. This is the area of discovery we hope ROL invites in the viewer.

RELIQUARY OF LABOR, a parallel-media project by Gene Gort + Ken Steen features a solo performance by electronic cellist Jeff Krieger. It is a work-in-progress that incorporates the performing forces of electronic cello, multi-channel computer generated and manipulated sound, video and a variety of web-based components.

More info about at:

Tuesday, 28 Apr, 2009 - 7:30pm Axiom Gallery, 141 Green Street, Jamaica Plain, Boston, MA. Tickets - $10