[ISEA2002] Artist Statement: Melinda Rackham – Empyrean: soft skinned space

Artist Statement

Empyrean is a soft space constructed on the internet in Virtual Reality Modelling Language, a universe parallel to the hard spaces we inhabit each day. It contains seven unique and intertwined immersive e-scapes – order, truth, beauty, strangeness, charm, chaos, and void, each scape revealing additional layers of theoretical and poetic text, and imagery drawn from both the microscopic and macroscopic The work is an investigation of the colonization of the virtual – addressing the pioneering metaphor that has infested 3D on the web as many try to remake online virtual space as a poor imitation of their everyday life. Empyrean deliberately destabilises the viewer by omitting the familiar horizon line … the space moves, it is soft, there is no defined place to anchor oneself against. Each viewer is encouraged to transverse the otherworldly yet oddly familiar domains, not by clicking to follow pre-scripted pathways, but by sensory awareness with infinite navigational options thorough the joystick interface. Once inside the Empyrean we are transparently and softly embodied, interacting as Avatars – cellular and/or electronic constructions that have no human characteristics whatsoever. These Avatars may communicate with each other by sound and gesture, for example they may squeak, squawk, blink, gurgle, giggle, blush, or go opaque, or perhaps even disappear, as well as via a more traditional text interface developed under the worlds Open Source V-net Sewer. The soundscape designed by Mitchell Whitelaw is an integral part of the immersion within the space. The spatialised sound is attached to each etheric object, which have their own momentum and trajectory, so once inside the world the distinctive sound of each zone is constantly shifting around the viewer’s Avatar. By using VRML to explore the three-dimensional spatiality of the internet I am constructing something other, a place that is sensory in an electronic way, a space that is both external and Internal. Here each viewer is the center of their own machine constructed reality, while their avatars are consumed to become part of the larger art work. The purpose of Empyrean is to remind us that we are the creators of our own simultaneously subjective and objective viewpoint.

Empyrean has been produced by the efforts of many people, most importantly Sound Design by Dr Mitchell Whitelaw, with additional scripting and modelling by Horst Kiechle. Empyrean is supported by the Australia Council for the Arts, Vislab Sydney, Banff Center for the Arts, Canada, and The College of Fine Arts, UNSW, Australia.

  • Melinda Rackham is a net artist and writer based in Australia who has been consuming online time since the mid 1990’s at her domain subtle.net, authoring net.art sites, constructing sensual hypertextual narratives and theoretical texts which have investigated online identity, locality, sexuality and community; viral symbiosis and trans-species relations; and the nature and construction of multi-user 3D Virtual Space. Her Award-winning sites are shown in major International Museums and Festivals, and she is currently completing a PhD in Virtual Media at College of Fine Arts, UNSW, Australia. Rackham is also the producer of -empyre- media arts mailing list.