[-empyre-] Lab 3D - Curator's introduction

Dear Empyrean readers,

I feel it?s time to add in a few words about Lab3D, some background on the exhibition at Cornerhouse and the Web3D Art juried on-line exhibition, which is (as Roya has observed) a motivation for this discussion. Sorry that these comments became so long. I normally don?t ramble on so much. I also apologize for diverting the conversation, which has been revolving around "oeil complex" (this work is not in the Cornerhouse exhibition) and other related streams of consciousness that 3D inspires so well. Let me continue...

First of all, the venue: Cornerhouse. Cornerhouse is Manchester?s center for contemporary art, film and moving image. We have three galleries on three levels (total of 4,000 sq. feet), three cinemas that show first run and independent films, a bookshop, on-line publication distribution, and a very popular café/bar on two levels, where the artistic community of Manchester frequently meet up. Cornerhouse was established in 1985, in the first wave of the UK?s re-purposing for art unused commercial spaces. It has led the contemporary arts in England?s North West, with its programme of internationally significant and challenging exhibitions, events and film screenings. Cornerhouse has hosted a number of media and new media exhibitions over the past years, most recently Perry Hoberman?s ?System Maintenance? in 1998, and Jenny Markatou?s ?Taystee?s Room? in 2001. But it?s important to keep in mind that Cornerhouse is not a media art center, has no permanent technical team, and has no special focus or mandate for New Media, or 3D in particular. As these practical methods of artists working with technology began to play a significant role in contemporary art, they will, whenever appropriate be featured as New Media in our exhibition programme.

Next, the curator: Lab3D is an initiative that I brought to Cornerhouse (along with other exhibition plans) when I began the post last May, of Director of Visual Arts. Although it has taken only one year to realize (quite short for an exhibition), it follows a long interest in the connection between the real and the virtual. My brief was to give a wide view (a survey) of 3D artworks that are realized best in the gallery, and that are widely representative of artistic directions in the field. As in all exhibitions, a focus and limit was necessary to observe. Works selected include a live data stream navigation (Klima); literary/documentary/socially concerned historic work (Thiel/Houshmand); identity, intervention & gaming (Feng Mengbo); classic 3D investigation of virtual space, multi-user and avatars (Rackham); and the crossover investigation of sound and visuals in 3D space (Squidsoup & Icarus) with a work that was commissioned by Cornerhouse. Web3D Art 2003 is featured in Gallery One, with 25 new projects from 13 countries, with a link to all previous years (with more than 125 projects) to show a kind of context and complexity to the topic (btw: gallery visitors are spending serious amounts of time in this space). The show is terrific, Web3D Art is installed with all the appropriate plugins and software, and the audience is enjoying it tremendously. A new audience is appearing and taking a new look at a broader definition of contemporary art. The net connectivity has been robust and except for occasional re-booting of some pieces it works very well! The Gallery Supervisor and all the gallery invidulators are trained in the operation of each work, and are urged to assist the public when they look lost. They can also reboot and reset works when necessary. The audience spends a great deal longer in the gallery with this show than they have in other exhibitions, and they engage in the work with no hesitation.

The exhibition also includes a lot of important collaboration, which was essential to the realization of the show. The Media Centre Huddersfield co-produced the work Q4U by Feng Mengbo, and their technical team built-up a dedicated game server especially for the piece. They also provided a stable and dedicated net connection for it. Several venues around the UK, Australia and Macedonia have joined in to show Web3D Art (the on-line version) simultaneously and to enter this discussion. We?ll have another opportunity on June 19 to interact with Adam Nash?s multi-user version of Memory Plains Returning (stay tuned for more information).

Since we are looking at individual pieces and in the field of 3D in depth, I can say that as an organization, we failed to raise significant exhibition funds to enable the show to travel and to create a catalogue (comments from various funding agencies were mainly along the lines that they could not see the reason to put virtual work in a physical space, and that the ?art? was not significant enough. We have also failed to gain interest from the art critics who usually review exhibitions like this, it is not enough ?sound? to rate a review in WIRE, and maybe the consistent game reference in many of the works has put off art writers. Anyway, this is one of the remaining issues that I?ll attempt to solve before the end of the show on June 22. The marketing department at Cornerhouse approaches a standard list of press contacts. We did not get new links to new writers or technical journals that might like to see this show and comment upon it.

We were successful to find a sponsor for the numerous data projectors in the exhibition, and for the education programme which included panel discussions, master classes, and a series of workshops for young people. Support to bring artists from Beijing, Tokyo, New York, Germany and London to Manchester was successful. We also put together a very good technical team, who came up with innovative solutions to working in an old building. Cornerhouse upgraded it?s ADSL connection (to 1 meg down and 500K up), and we worked with our ISP provider to insure we would have ports on our server to allow for interactive works to function (outside the firewall). We have utilized wireless WiFi for the ?Lab? area, to enable a flexible and mobile grouping of computer terminals, where we broke-in and tested three new Pentium IV computers, recently purchased for our education programme.

My choice of artists for the exhibition follows my long interest in 3D and virtual worlds, and as a curator my broad definition of the topic. Lab3D is by no means the definitive list, but for me it represents really good works by artists who have been successful to create significant works. How does one make these choices? My curiosity started way back in the early 80s. Then, as a young curator at the Long Beach Museum of Art, through artists, I became aware of artistic work being made on or influenced by computers. This resulted in an exhibition in 1983 called ?the artist and the computer.? At the non-technical Museum in Long Beach, it was the first exhibition of it?s kind on the West Coast.. In order to bring artists, the collaboration of universities and other venues provided a weekly series of discussions, demonstrations, screenings and special projects. I was not able to convince my director at the time of the significance of the topic, and received no significant funding from the core budget of the museum for the show. It was only possible by artists coming together with the computer community, especially the local chapter of SIGGRAPH, who advised, provided equipment and promoted the exhibition. People actually lined up outside the museum to come and see the exhibition!

Later, when I lived in Boston, as curator/producer at The ICA, I was able to follow technical developments which artists were engaged with there. Especially in association with artists at MIT, I could follow the developments of interactive laser disc, and what was later to become CD ROM. The SIGGRAPH conference was held in Boston in 1989, and that year Jaron Lanier introduced his spectacular (it was new information to the field) presentation on Virtual Reality. I went out to San Francisco later on, met Jaron at his studio, and experienced the new ?virtual? phenomena myself (and became very physically affected from my vigorous test session). Although a different technology than VRML, which came later, it brought the reality of connectivity in 3D space into a clear focus for me.

During the Internet and net_art developments of the mid-90s, I was lucky to be living Vienna, where there was tremendous support for artist servers, and projects in Net environments. Working with a group of young artists, HILUS, I was able to plunge into the internet and my normal day would include 10 hours of on-line research. Having worked closely with Van Gogh TV (a team member for their amazing project Piazza Virtuale at the 1992 documenta), I was able to follow their development, and stay in contact during the project ?World?s Within? an online 3D communication space which VGTV built for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, as an officially supported project of the arts festival. At that time, 3D and interactive works were beginning to be introduced at various media festivals around Europe especially in Linz at Ars Electronica, in Rotterdam at V2?s D.E.A.F. festival; and at Osnabruck?s EMAF festival, for starters. In 1995, Telepolis a huge exhibition and series of events in Luxembourg, featured 3D environments and navigable worlds.

Before moving to New York to teach at R.P.I., I attended my first Web3d Symposium, held in Monterey, California (in 1997). I was amazed by the fact that it was primarily a huge technical geek-meet, and an area called ?art show? had a couple of computers but nothing was ever turned on. Once I got to R.P.I., and leaarned that there was a great deal of 3D work being created by both faculty and students, I received department support to organise the first Web3D Art on-line art show, in collaboration with Karel Dudesek, who was then Professor of Media Art at the University of Angewandte Kunst, Vienna. Under the Van Gogh TV brand, we proposed our concept to the Web3D Symposium (an ACM/ SIGGRAPH conference) in Paderborn, Germany, 1999. As the official Art Show of that conference, this exhibition drew a number of artists together from around the world, and was voted the most successful programme of the3 day symposium. Web3D Art 1999 has positioned us to facilitate the further understanding of 3D work by artists, enabled us to bring it beyond the isolated realm of the technical community, and to make new connections for 3D work to be shown widely. Since 1998, we have looked at more than 250 works from around the world, noting how it has changed significantly, has developed amazing levels of content, and has become technically sophisticated and intricate.

Having this background, having researched works in the field in dozens of countries, and having taken into account the theoretical issues of 3D (largely through the writings and works of artists and programmers) I proceeded with my desire to put together an exhibition called: Lab3D. As part of that show, of course, Web3D Art 2003 is included as a gallery installation to bring these additional on-line works and artists into context, and for the further reference into the variety of styles, content, and origin of works in this amazing field.

I hope this introduction gives you all a kind of understanding of my interest in 3D and virtual worlds, and my long curatorial journey to arrive at the exhibition. I am not extremely technical myself nor do I code (but I have owned 8 different computers with all the accompanying work of installing, archiving and etc.) and I enjoy working with artists, and with talented technical people who share and contribute to artistic vision.

That?s enough for now, I?m reading your posts, and I?ll try to contribute again. I may not answer your questions immediately, as I will be traveling June 11 15 to the Venice Biennial.

Finally, I want to thank all the artists who made the work in the show, and for their trust and collaboration to install and participate in all these events. Without them, none of this would be possible!

Warmly, Kathy

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