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.

No comments: