[-empyre-] intro from tamiko thiel

Hi Y'all -

here's a brief statement of my artistic interests in using VR, and an abstract of the Beyond Manzanar virtual reality installation which is being shown in the Lab3D exhibit at Cornerhouse. The full piece is not available online for various technical and legal reasons, but there are screenshots and some small VRML excerpts (which give you an idea of the stage set, but not the play.)

Yours, Tamiko Thiel

Artistic Statement:

I am interested in social and cultural uses of virtual reality, and in developing VR as a powerful (hyper)narrative medium. With VR we have the capability to visualize metaphors in a 21st century form of Surrealism that expands the dreamscape from an image into an environment. We can build extraordinarily rich, sensitive environments wherein the structure of the virtual space itself and of the user's interations with that space create an intimate dramatic tension between the user and the virtual environment.

Beyond Manzanar abstract:


Beyond Manzanar is an interactive 3D virtual reality environment, a metaphorical landscape that explores media scapegoating of ethnic populations in times of crisis and invokes the human spirit that creates beauty under adverse conditions.

The work is a collaboration between Tamiko Thiel, a Japanese American media artist, and Zara Houshmand, an Iranian American poet and theater director. The mechanisms of scapegoating are universal and can occur in any country, but to focus the universal into the personal the authors have created a visual dialog based on the experiences of their own two ethnic groups. The historic experiences of Japanese Americans in World War II and the more contemporary experiences of Iranian Americans form the basis for a surreal and poetic work contrasting immigrant attempts to achieve the American Dream with mass media demonization of entire groups as the “face of the enemy.”

The genius loci of Manzanar Internment Camp in Eastern California is used to focus the stories of these two diverse groups into a single dialog. Manzanar was the first of over 10 internment camps erected to incarcerate Japanese Americans families during World War II under a false charge of military necessity. In the 1980s the American courts declared this internment to have been “not justified,” but the principle of mass internment of an entire ethnic group on the grounds of military necessity still stands. During the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979 –1980 and with every subsequent fear of middle-eastern terrorism there are verbal, physical and legal attacks on Iranian Americans and calls to intern them “like we interned the Japanese.”

Ironically, Manzanar’s high desert oasis strongly resembles the austere landscapes of Iran. Even the grid-like traces of the army camp evoke the geometric order of Iranian gardens, representations of the cosmic order of paradise. Irony indeed, because the Japanese American internees did in fact build gardens within Manzanar”s barbed wire fence – depictions of the sacred islands and ponds of the Buddhist Western Paradise.

Beyond Manzanar uses the unique spacial characteristics of navigable 3D virtual reality to kinesthetically locate you inside the Manzanar Internment Camp. As you explore the camp your kinesthetic sense is engaged to underscore the emotional impact of confinement. Your eyes see the passes that lead out of the valley, but you stand at the fence and can go no further. Confined within the camp, you have nowhere to go but inwards, into the refuge of memory and fantasy. At the heart of the piece lies a vision of the garden as an ancient form of virtual reality, an image of paradise created as a refuge from the outside world.

An edition of Beyond Manzanar is in the permanent collection of the San Jose Museum of Art, San Jose, CA, USA.

-- ---------------------------------- Tamiko Thiel Media Artist



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