The work, Tunnel Under the Atlantic is recognized as the:
–First intercontinental virtual reality installation
–First virtual reality installation with real time dynamic architecture
–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
In 1995, when the internet was just emerging, Maurice Benayoun created a virtual underground world using images from the collections of the 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.
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.”
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. Participants will dig and explore these tunnels using their bodies. 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”. 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? 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 tunnels remind us of what “distance” means between people when it is more than a geographic challenge. They can be a transient method for the creation of a cross-boundary, cross-cultural, cross-social and cross-political space. Yet, tunnels are not short cuts. This is the beginning of a deeper investigation to rediscover the true meaning of distance and the real potential of dialogue.
Maurice Benayoun AKA MoBen, is a pioneer of Open Media Art and a Golden Nica awardee from Ars Electronica. MoBen’ s highly diverse work explores all the artistic fields of expression, using various media from photography and video to urban large-scale installations. Benayoun is a contributor to the vibrancy and activation of Hong Kong’s new media arts scene and is also currently Professor at the School of Creative Media, City University of Hong Kong.