Re: [-empyre-] Collective Media, Personal Media

At 1:55 PM -0800 11/1/04, Christina McPhee wrote:
Noah, and others, how would you view the the creative domain of the CAVE as
an arena for critical technical practices, or do you think that its history
promised more than it has been able to deliver? Does the NMR itself have a
role to play in clarifying the philosophical context of the CAVE, by

Perhaps I'll do what I did in answering Jim's email, and start by answering just part of what you've written (hoping to get to more later).

I've actually been working in the Cave myself at Brown for the last couple years. I think the history of new media (particularly work like Krueger's) and work from CTP folks (particularly Simon Penny's Cave work) was important to me in thinking about my work there.

Most Cave work (most VR work) is about creating a stable geographic space and moving over and through it. Krueger's Videoplace was in some ways like the Cave, but it's uses weren't all about flying the participant over an artificial space, and I felt that the Cave's uses didn't have to be either. In fact, I felt that, for the sort of work that interests me, that sort of use probably wouldn't be appropriate.

The Cave project I've been pursuing at Brown is called Screen. (I'm working with Josh Carroll, Robert Coover, Andrew McClain, and Shawn Greenlee.) Rather than try to make the Cave disappear, Screen reinforces the fact that you're standing in a box. The piece begins with text on the walls, just as it would be in a traditional video projection environment. The texts are fictional sketches, working with memory as a virtual experience. Then a word from one of these memories peels from the wall and begins to move around the reader. Then another, and another. The reader can hit a word with her hand, at which point it returns to the wall (if there is an available space that's large enough) or breaks apart. Words may return to their own spaces or others, whatever's available. The words peel faster over time, and when too many are off the walls at once the rest come loose, swirl around the reader, and then collapse.

So we used the Cave not for the exploration of virtual space, but for exploring some new types of relationship with language. (Work like Camille Utterback's has certainly explored bodily interaction with text, but not in the same direct way that the Cave allows ). And the peeling, the hitting, and the scrambled texts that begin to assemble on the walls create types of reading experience that I haven't seen before. I think a lot of my work as an artist deals with language and memory and memory's instability, and I've found Screen a very satisfying project so far. But if I'd been confronted with the Cave before being exposed to work like Krueger's I think I might just have walked away thinking, "What does an environment like this have to offer for work like mine?"

Now, there are definitely larger issues about art and science, and about using perspectives from the arts and humanities to expose (and work through) invisible unhelpful assumptions embedded in existing technical practices. But in my case (with Krueger and the Cave) it was arguably the guy who started us down the path to the technology that also provided the art-oriented undermining of the technology's later dominant use and helped me see the way to the work I wanted to pursue.


PS - In case people are curious, here are a couple (dated) images of Screen:

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