Re: [-empyre-] web 3dart 2003 (part 1)

Babel, by Simon Biggs, 2001.

Babel is not strictly a 3D piece as it was coded in 2.5 D. That is, the code
that allows the visualisation of the data-space that Babel is composed of
was written by the artist and whilst manipulation of the visual field
produces a 3D effect the data itself is 2D, mapped relative to a pseudo-3D
camera/eye. Then again, when is a synthetic image every really 3D in that
the 3D is a subjective sensory aspect of how time/space manifests its

One of my primary concerns in making Babel was to escape the cultural
hegemony of Western notions of space and how this echoes and sustains our
paradigms of self relative to collective. In computer graphics it is hard to
think of a way of creating spatially and temporally dynamic data without
using a system based on either Cartesian or Polar coordinate systems, where
the primacy of the individual visual point of view is constant. In Babel
everybody's point of view is given equal weight in the visualisation of its
data-space in an attempt to move away from the Western dualism that
conventional 3D visualisation systems are founded on. In Babel the visual
field, as an instance of time/space, is created through the interaction of
multiple viewers.

Babel is a multiuser data-browser commissioned by Focal Point Gallery, UK,
and Essex Libraries, UK. Funded by the Arts Council of England, East England
Arts and Essex Libraries. Server-client communications software engineered
by Julian Baker @ Flatearth. All other code and data by the artist Copyright
2001. Shockwave plugin is required.

The following is the artists' statement from the Babel website.

Babel is a site specific work for a non-site. The context of the work is
non-physical. The site is an abstract thing...information space and the
taxonomy of knowledge that all libraries represent...which the Internet,
where the project is realised, is.

The Dewey Decimal numbering system, used in the cataloguing of library
contents, is the key metaphor, visualised in a three dimensional multi-user
space that is itself a metaphor for the infinite nature of information.

In Babel the Dewey Decimal system is used as a mapping and navigation
technique. The structure of the library is re-mapped into the hyper-spatial
that constitutes the Web. The Dewey numbering system is employed as a means
to navigate the internet itself, the taxonomy inherent in the numerical
codes mapping onto web-sites that conform with the defined subjects.

The Dewey Decimal system is based on two concepts; firstly that each area of
knowledge can be defined as a number and that the space between each
numbered area is infinitely divisible. This allows the cataloguing system to
be both navigable in its subject headings whilst able to contain an infinite
number of potential entries in the catalogue. As such it is a simultaneously
finite macrocosmic and infinite microcosmic system.

In Babel viewers logged onto the site are confronted with a 3D visualisation
of an abstract data space mapped as arrays and grids of Dewey Decimal
numbers. As they move the mouse around the screen they are able to navigate
this 3D environment. All the viewers are able to see what all the other
viewers, who are simultaneously logged onto the site, are seeing. The
multiple 3D views of the data-space are montaged together into a single
shared image, where the actions of any one viewer effects what all the other
viewers see. If a large number of viewers are logged on together the
information displayed becomes so complex and dense that it breaks down into
a meaningless abstract space.

Viewers are able to generate specific Dewey Decimal numbers, a dynamic
interface keeping them informed of web-site addresses that conform with the
subjects thus defined. Viewers can select any site with a simple point and
click of the mouse, opening the site in a new window.



Simon Biggs

Research Professor
Art and Design Research Centre
Sheffield Hallam University, UK

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