Re: [-empyre-] multi-perspectival

On 04.06.03 12:19, "Adam Nash" <> wrote:

> Many artists are thinking about this at this juncture in history. I think
> the point that Simon was trying to make (and correct me if i'm wrong), is
> that ultimately even the so-called 3D space that is the subject of this
> month's discussion is the product of the last few hundred years of
> single-point perspective (a feedback loop with arrogant expansionary
> European culture and worldview) and therefore the rendering device
> (including the screen and the vrml, or whatever, browser/rendering
> mechanism and indeed even the idea of computer graphics) is trapped within
> a cartesian space view.
That was more or less my point, although I was seeking to address the
underlying dynamics of the situation rather than the resulting phenomena.

> Simon has evidently researched alternative world view mechanisms: "the
> cultural hegemony of Western notions of space and how this echoes and
> sustains our paradigms of self relative to collective", I would be very
> keen to hear more about what you have found and your thinking on this
> subject, Simon...
Not sure whether one can talk of "research" in the formal sense here.
Perhaps experience is a better term.

I am of course aware of non-Western world models and anything that is
different to what we are familiar with is always interesting, if only to
remind us of the contingency and relative nature of our beliefs.

The thinking behind the piece of mine that is in Web3D goes back quite a few
years - perhaps over a decade or more - and has many threads which converged
with that particular piece...and that only in respect of one of the
thematics of Babel concerning spatial paradigms and visualisation.

The underlying issue for me is that of ontology, how we feel and believe
ourselves to be. Here is an essay I wrote recently which might suggest where
I am coming from...

Multiple Perspectives / Multiple Readings
Originally written for the User_Mode symposium, Tate Modern, London, 2003
by Simon Biggs, 2003


People experience things from their own physical point of view. What they
see is usually a function of where they are and what physical attitude they
adopt relative to the subject. With augmented vision (periscopes, mirrors,
remote cameras, etc) we are able to see things from places where we are not
present. With time-shifting technologies, such as the video recorder, we can
also see things from the past; a time and a place we may never have visited.

In recent artistic work I have been exploring the implications of digital
technology, interactivity and internet connectivity that allow people to not
so much space/time-shift their visual experience of things but rather see
what happens when everybody is simultaneously able to see what everybody
else can see. This is extrapolated through the remote networking of sites
that are actual installation spaces; where the physical movements of viewers
in the space generate multiple perspectives, linked to other similar sites
at remote locations or to other viewers entering the shared data-space
through a web based version of the work.

This presentation explores the processes involved in such a practice and
reflects on related questions regarding the non-singularity of being and the
sense of self as linked to time and place.


We regard the self as singular. We imagine the collective other as composed
of multiple singular selves. Each "self" is seen as occupying a single
moment in time and a single point in space. The notion of the instance of
self is inextricably bound up with this idea of a singular locus in
time/space. It is perhaps this, in correlation with memory, that we
conveniently refer to as consciousness [1].

The geometry of vision we accept as conventional is the inverted triangle,
with the "eye" at the apex of the triangle and the ocular field composed of
that lying within the boundary of this triangle [2]. Such representations of
the visual field typically manifest as single graphical forms with a single
apex, related to the single, even if abstracted, "eye". Such a
representation functions to reinforce our accepted belief that the self is
singular and can only occupy one point in space at any one time. This
paradigm is also evident in the structure of mechanised visualisation and
image recording systems we have developed (camera's, 3D imaging systems,
etc). This dominant mode of "vision" and, by implication, notion of self is
also evident in how we visually represent things, the example of Cartesian
space and its unique vanishing point functioning as a corelate, although
inverse, triangle relative to the geometry of vision outlined above. Thus we
can see how our artifacts, in their very structures, map onto our models of
the human and thus reflect our sense of who we believe ourselves to be.


Over the past two decades my artistic practice has been focused on questions
around identity explored through the use of interactive spaces where the act
of interaction itself functions to foreground issues concerned with being.
The intention of this work has always been artistic. That is, there is no
pretence in any of these projects to a position on psychology or the less
rigid domain of philosophy concerned with ontology. As an artist I have
often been inspired by well thought out and argued theoretical positions but
I have never felt any compulsion to make work with the necessary rigour and
internal coherence that such academic practice demands. Art is not a means
to make an argument nor is it a device to illustrate theoretical concerns.
Rather, art is that human activity which can confound the basic sense we
make of things, such that we are then able to see things in a manner we
might otherwise never have considered. It is in the creation of dis-juncture
between the thing and its representation that we come to see the thing and
its relation to other things, particularly ourselves, anew.

My intent, when creating works of art that function to disturb the manner by
which we physically see things and thus disturb our accepted notion of self
as evidenced through how we "know" ourselves through our sense of seeing, is
not to author a new theoretical position, nor to reflect an accepted one,
but to destabilise our sense of self as a subjective experience in the hope
of giving cause to doubt, at the subjective and experiential level, this
basic belief in self.

A primary point of differentiation we subjectively employ to maintain our
sense of internal unity and uniqueness is that between the self and the
other [4]. Although it is well established, and numerous arguments have been
made regarding the objective cultural, sociological and psychological
factors involved, the focus of my practice has been in engendering a
subjective "failure" to differentiate, resulting in a process of
de-differentiation of self and thus a re-positing of self as non-singular,
de-centred and distributed.

The intention here is not scientific, nor even theoretical in the
conventional sense of the social sciences, but rather artistic. It is the
contention here that by seeking to justify such practice only on artistic
terms the aims and objectives of the work in establishing dis-juncture and
de-differentiation, will be sustained.


Technology has functioned, for as long as people have developed and applied
it, to extend human ability. One human capability which has been subject to
numerous technological enhancements is vision. Generally these enhancements
have been concerned with either allowing us to see things that we cannot see
due to spatial limitations (they are too far away, too small or obscured by
some other element) or temporal restrictions (things that have happened at
another time). Technologies such as the telescope, microscope and periscope
have been developed to deal with the limitations of space. The camera
fulfils the same role relative to time [5].

However, as we all know from basic physics, time and space are not separate
things but are the dialectical aspects forming the fundamental medium of
being [6]. This has been accepted as conventional scientific knowledge for
most of the Twentieth Century and as an idea has inspired numerous artists,
perhaps most famously Picasso and Braque with the initial development of
what is now known as Analytical Cubism. Modern physics, as best exemplified
by Einstein's theories, has, along with contemporary psychology, been
amongst the most influential of knowledge systems upon Modern artistic

Nevertheless, it would be an error to seek an interpretation of Picasso
within the paradigms of physics for, as already suggested above, it is
unlikely that Picasso's intent would have been in any respect scientific.
More likely, he managed to find something in contemporary scientific theory
that allowed him to further his objective of destabilising the way things
seem to be. His interest was in how we feel, or know, ourselves to be
relative to the subject or other.

Analytical Cubism is typified by its representation of the subject as a
highly fragmented, often incomplete, object within a similarly treated
context. A primary device in achieving this fragmentation is the use of
multiple points of view in establishing the format, angle and placement of
the subject. In such work the multiple points of view are clearly those that
were available to the artist (either in reality or in their imagination) and
although they may become numerous their number is finite.

My own work has taken, to a degree, ideas as represented in work such as
Picasso's as an initial point of departure. I must admit though that
although I am an admirer of his work, and particularly of that period known
as Analytical Cubism, the connections between my own recent practice and
Picasso's work only dawned on me retrospectively (although this does not
mean that his work did not influence mine...just that if it did so it was
not conscious).


When developing the multiple viewpoint model employed in my recent practice,
initially in a work entitled Babel [7], my primary interest had been in ways
by which I could solve the problem of shared three dimensional perception in
shared interactive and immersive three dimensional spaces (what are
typically referred to as responsive environments or virtual reality,
although I find neither of these names satisfactory). That is, I was
concerned with the viewers' viewpoint, not the artist's. It is a fundamental
problem in such work how to represent the "point of view". When there is
only a single inter-actor (as in conventional head-up Virtual Reality
systems) this is not a problem. The system is able to calculate the ocular
origin of the viewer and calculate a three dimensional view around them that
satisfies the requirements for a coherent, convincing and conventional three
dimensional scene.

However, as soon as more than one inter-actor is involved in such a system a
problem emerges as the technology is required to still construct a coherent
three dimensional view determined by the point of view of the participants.
Two typical solutions to the problem are usually employed. Firstly, to
assign one the inter-actors a lead role (this might be dynamically assigned
and reassignable) in the definition of the point of view and therefore the
construction of the ocular field. This role is usually assigned to the
inter-actor who is also in control of the interactive "levers" of the work
[8], although in some works the roles are kept separate such that a
communications dynamic is formed between the "one that can see" and the "one
that can act" [9]. A second approach to the problem is to calculate a
generic view, usually through some sort of median sampling of inter-actor
positional data and activity. By this latter method a single point of view
is calculated that is in some manner the mean average generated by the total
number of view points and their relative positional data. This results in a
generic view that relates equally to all the views but does not necessarily
map onto any single one. In this solution any attempt at a sensuous
representation of three dimensional space built around the subjective eye of
the viewer is abandoned [10].

Neither of these approaches have ever seemed satisfactory to me and thus
have functioned to deter me from employing three dimensional visualisation
techniques in my practice. My primary interest in all my work is the
interaction of people with other people (not people with machines) and how
through the manifestation of this interaction new experiences can be
generated that allow us to further reflect on what it is to be "us". Due to
this all my interactive artworks have been, by necessity, multi-user. Thus
it was clear I would always have concerns with three dimensional
visualisation as the problem of the point of view would always be there to
confound and compromise the (inter-personal) intent of the work.

The commissioning brief to design and build Babel was clear; that the work
had to be concerned with libraries, that it must exist on the internet and
that it must in some fashion involve the notion of navigation. My immediate
response to this was to imagine a navigable virtual space that people could
explore where the contents of a library could be navigated in some manner.
The idea evolved to the point that it was clear that this space should be
multi-user and that the various "users" would be explicitly aware of one
another. It was a small step from there to decide that the visualisation of
all this should be such that the navigational system and the data to be
navigated should be the same thing. Then the problem emerged. How would the
issue of "point of view" be addressed? After looking at the alternative
solutions to the problem, as outlined above, I decided to use neither of
them and to use instead the usual convention of each viewer having their own
point of view, but to simply have them all visualised simultaneously,
rendering them in real-time into a single multi-layered representation of
space. This allowed people to be immediately aware of other participants, to
render the entire scene as a product of this multiple view point ocular
space and to fold the various components of data, interface, user modelling
(user presence) and visualisation into a single graphical model. It also
satisfied my poetic need to create a work that in some fashion caused a
dis-juncture between each of these components.

Since the completion of Babel I have continued to develop some of the
emergent key themes of the work through pieces such as Precession of the
Equinoxes [11], Parallax [12] and Tristero [13]. [14] The works Precession
of the Equinoxes and Tristero exist as primarily online works. Parallax
exists as primarily an installation but with an online component.

When Babel was first produced the intention was that it would be an online
project however, as work progressed, it became clear there was a compelling
case that it could also become an architectural scale site specific
installation. Thus it came to be that when the work went live on the
internet this was complemented by three installation versions of the work at
the three main libraries comprising the commissioning agent (Essex
Libraries, UK). This involved large scale interactive projections of the
work onto the three buildings, each in a different town, either inside or
outside, of Babel, with all of these projections linked to the internet such
that inter-actors, whether at one of the three locations or at any location
on the net, would be able to participate in the collective process of
visualisation that the work is primarily composed from.

Parallax sustains this approach, although the work has been designed from
conception to employ and exploit this device, whereas with Babel this arose
through an evolutionary iterative artistic process and was not the initial
intention. In Babel the content was concerned with the taxonomies of
knowledge that determine how we create our libraries and how to navigate
this ever burgeoning data-space (with implicit reference to the now
potentially uncatalogueable scale of the internet through the re-mapping of
Dewey Decimal numbering onto URL's of similar taxonomical value). By
contrast Parallax is a determinedly formalist work where the focus of the
piece is on the process of visualisation itself. That is to say, the work
could be considered a structuralist exercise in that the choice of the
visual elements was primarily determined by the form of the visualisation
rather than a desire to visualise certain content.

It was clear that the work would be composed of multiple over-layed three
dimensional views so the imagery required would have to be simple, without
backgrounds or multiple related components, to avoid confusion and aid
perception of the implied and critically important multiple view points.
Secondly, unlike Babel which was a primarily online work requiring low-band
solutions (e.g.: text instead of image) Parallax, as a primarily
installation based work, could be high-band and thus use photographic
quality moving imagery (as is the case with most of my installations).
Thirdly, most of the movement in Parallax would be the result of the
parallax effect itself caused by the multiple movements in the installation
space of the various inter-actors. However, to aid in the formation of the
strongest three dimensional illusion as possible it was obvious that the
objects that would come to compose the three dimensional views would also
have to be moving but, rather than moving through the virtual space relative
to one another and the overall spatial envelope of the ocular field, which
would have functioned to confuse the parallax effect that the three
dimensional illusion relied on, they would have to move around their own
axis', this in turn heightening the three dimensional effect as the viewers
gain sight of all aspects of each object.

Thus, the selection of the imagery was dictated by a set of very stringent
criteria. To satisfy the needs of the piece I had to select imagery which I
could digitally video record in a highly controlled studio environment, with
the usual array of systems available to me, which was singular, isolated,
visually simple, rotating around its own axis (and thus of a vertical
characteristic, opposed to the naturally horizontal spatial movement that is
the parallax effect) and yet visually rich and subtle with clear three
dimensional characteristics. The immediate solution was the human figure and
thus it was determined that three appropriate figures that by their nature
spin around their own axis' could (arbitrarily) be Sufi dervishes, ballet
dancers and children's spinning toys. Any reading that might be made of
this, and I, as well as others, have come up with many, might be rewarding
but ultimately arbitrary. I leave it to the individuals imagination as to
what it all might mean as this reflects again upon the inter-dynamics of the
work as represented in its central motif, the multiple point of view.

The reasoning for the use of three screens was similarly determined by a
simple factor; that together, and arranged as they are, they create an
easily constructed and self-supporting structure that in its floor plan
models the ocular field that the work is based on - the triangle.


As first stated, the intention here has not been to justify practice through
theory, nor to illuminate theory through practice. It has been the intention
to employ resources available in theoretical discourse and artistic practice
to evoke and further explore a number of artworks that concern themselves
with the relationship between perception and the notion of self. To some
degree the convergence of disciplines here is not only intended to see how
they might inform one another but also search for their limits through a
possible confounding of the intentions of this particular instance of


1. The subject of Consciousness Studies is explicitly converging with the
study of the creative arts, as exemplified by developments at the University
of Wales, Newport and the associated CaiiA Star centre for post-graduate

2. Lacan, Jacques; The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-analysis ,
London, Hogarth Press: Institute of Psycho-analysis, 1977.

3. Huizinga, Johan; Homo Ludens, Beacon Press, July 1986.

4. Theories concerning the definition of the self relative to the other have
become received knowledge in contemporary culture, although there is
actually a field of theories, many of which are exclusive of one another.
There is no intention here to engage with any of these theories other than
to simply identify that they are there, they are commonplace and all have
some relevance to the subject in hand.

5. Cubbitt, Sean; Timeshift: On Video Culture, Comedia/Routledge, London and
New York, 1991.

6. Russell, Bertrand; The ABC of Relativity, Routledge, ISBN:    0045210012

7. commissioned by Essex Libraries, UK 2001

8. This is the conventional CAVE (Collaboratively Actuated Virtual
Environment) model, as exemplified by Dan Sandin's (Illinois University,
Chicago) permanent work at the Ars Electronica Centre, Linz, Austria.

9. Some works of Char Davies (
are an example here.

10. Barron, Stephan; Day and Night, 1996 (

11. 2001

12. 2002

13. Commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella, London, 2002, found at site along with other commissions for the same

14. A new work, Stream, that exists equally as a multi-user interactive
immersive environment and as a multi-user web based piece, where each of
these aspects function simultaneously and to equal effect, is in the late
stages of development and will be premiered as an installation at the FILE
festival in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in August 2003 and then be shown as part of
the Poesis exhibition organised by the Litteraturwerkstatt of Berlin at the
Kulturforum, Berlin from October, 2003.

Copyright Simon Biggs, 2003 London UK



Simon Biggs

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

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