ISEA2016 Parallel Programme. Venue: Osage Hong Kong
The exhibition Just Dig/It! presents for the first time as large-scale installations, Inside the Tunnel under the Atlantic (1995) and Inside the Paris-New Delhi Tunnel (1997). Presented will also be Tunnel Shots, produced at the Pompidou Center during the exhibition of Tunnel under the Atlantic (1995), never before shown to the public.
The work,Tunnel Under the Atlantic is recognized as the:
· First intercontinental virtual reality installation;
· First virtual reality installation with real time dynamic
· architecture, and;
· First virtual video director;
· First virtual photo reporter;
· First virtual librarian using artificial intelligence;
· First virtual composer;
· First real time video meeting inside a virtual reality environment;
· First user centric content in a virtual reality environment.
New interactive works developed in 2016, titled Border Tunnel and Colors Tunnel will also be exhibited. These new tunnels probe issues surrounding stereotypes and geopolitical movement. In the real world, digging tunnels are a way to reduce distance and go through cultural, political and geographic obstacles. With the virtual tunnels, participants are invited to create a new space for dialogue.
The exhibition Just Dig/It! presents for the first time as large-scale installations, Inside the Tunnel under the Atlantic and Inside the Paris-New Delhi Tunnel (1997). Presented will also be Tunnel Shots, produced at the Pompidou Center during the exhibition of Tunnel under the Atlantic (1995), never before shown to the public. The work, Tunnel Under the Atlantic is recognized as the:
• First intercontinental virtual reality installation;
• First virtual reality installation with real time dynamic architecture, and;
• First virtual video director;
• First virtual photo reporter;
• First virtual librarian using artificial intelligence;
• First virtual composer
• First real time video meeting inside a virtual reality environment;
• First user centric content in a virtual reality environment.
Tunnel Under the Atlantic (ISEA95)
In 1995, when the Web was just emerging, Maurice Benayoun created a virtual underground world using images from the collection of French National Museums and the Museum of Civilizations, Quebec. The work took place simultaneously at the Pompidou Center in Paris and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Montreal – linking the two cities in the world’s first virtual Tunnel Under the Atlantic. Images from the museum collections formed “cultural obstacles” that visitors had to dig through in Paris and Montreal respectively, led by nothing other than sound and music composed by Martin Matalon in order to meet each other.
Unlike the virtual reality technologies prior to this, which worked predominantly with predetermined, fixed virtual environments, the structure of the virtual tunnels are a formless mass of data and uninformed matter until the user makes certain decisions. The users are thus the pioneering navigators of a constellation of information points that shift based on their input. Benayoun had conceived of a society of intelligent virtual agents, each of whom facilitates the user to discover this virtual environment, while also producing artworks within this world. The team consists of:
• The Librarian: a content manager – draws up the images from the museum collections,
anticipating visitors’ desires.
• The Architect: facilitates the digging into these images to form the tunnels
• The Video Director: shoots and edits footage of the entire journey in real time
• The Photo Reporter: captures still shots of the tunnel digging and all the “galleries” created by the participants
• The Composer: composes music and manages the audio mixing in real time
Each agent evolves, improving their skills and changing their topics or their resources, learning alongside the participants.
In his 1995 review of the Tunnel Under the Atlantic published in Le Monde, Jean-Paul Fargier describes the experience of digging as, “indeed entering images. Not only in what they represent, but in their very fabric. Walking, discovering secret channels, curling up in their folds, being lost in their frames, watching them throb, and bouncing from one to the other like playing hopscotch in an infinite curve”.
Colors Tunnel and Borders Tunnel (2016)
The Colors and Borders Tunnels are newly developed in 2016.
Colors Tunnel: Opening up the data set that the virtual environment draws from from museum image collections to the Internet, this new tunnel probes issues surrounding colors. Stemming from the notion of “stereotypes” in the original sense of the word, meaning printing plates used to create the same image, the artist questions how images of colors so often used to represent superficial layers of perception, represent and contribute to our understandings of specific shifts in culture. The images are of Hong Kong, tagged with different colors, and are received at random from the web.
The Borders Tunnel, similarly created in 2016, draws from the internet images related to geopolitical boundaries, questioning their direct impact on peoples’ difficulties to move, meet and live together. In 2016, participants will dig and explore these tunnels using their whole bodies. Motion detection technologies allow the virtual agents to learn from participants’ body language. The virtual space of the tunnels and physical space of the gallery are thus merged. Ultimately, participants are faced with the question of what it truly means to “connect”. Because of the internet, we now have access to an enormous amount of information and the ability to connect across the globe – yet, has this truly helped us foster cross cultural understandings? Are these materials just more cultural obstacles to be dug through? Is there such thing as a “common”, universal body of data? Do these images reflect real tensions, social and political issues? What are the different factors which “color” the information that we see, and filters that which is accessible and prominent in our cycles of attention? And how do these images affect how we view and connect with one another?
The Colors Tunnel and Borders Tunnel reminds us of what “distance” means between people when it is more than a geographic challenge. The tunnels can be a transient method for the creation of a crossboundary, cross-cultural, cross-social and cross-political space for dialogue. Yet, tunnels are not short cuts. The process of carving, and digging through complex and abundant information and the effort that it takes is key. This is the beginning of a deeper investigation to rediscover the true meaning of distance and the real potential of dialogue.
Music for these new tunnels are composed by Jean-Baptiste Barrière. benayoun.com/moben/2016/04/20/just-digit
- Maurice Benayoun (FR/HK), benayoun.com/moben