This article presents an investigation into the ways through which the notion of interruptive site-specificity is manifested and explored in digital art. This investigation is carried out through tracing early influential shifts in how artists have been working with site-specific virtual environments. Myron Krueger’s Glowflow (1969) and Jeffrey Shaw’s Virtual Museum (1991) are discussed as the relevant representative cases.

1.Interruptive site-specificity

Conceived in 1980, Rosalyn Deutsche’s definition of the two key types of site-specificity in art i.e. “assimilative” and “interruptive”, is more than pertinent today for attempting to ‘map’ the categories of site-specificity in art. As contrasted to “assimilative” site-specific art’s useful and decorative role, “interruptive” site-specific art “intervenes” in the built spaces “so as to interrupt rather than secure, the seeming coherence and closure” of space.[1]

In an “interruptive” site-specific artwork, an artist may undermine the functionality and institutional status of a particular site through various ways e.g. challenging not only the functional form and uses of built architecture, but also, the digital and non-digital architectural processes and materials, exploring the contrast between architectural models and built architecture, etc. The article examines whether and how the definition of interruptive site-specificity can be manifested and expanded in virtual-environment artworks.

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2. The site-specificity of virtual environments

As described in the writings of Stephen Wilson, Simon Penny and Margaret Morse, the exploration of the relationship between the ‘material world’ and ‘virtual space’ is a developing area of digital art [2]. Such a development has been enabled primarily through the creation of various original forms of semi-immersive environments by artists, within which, a viewer may equally interact with real and virtual spaces, as contrasted to experiencing a fully immersive VR (as through a Head-Mounted Display, for instance) [3]. It is in those environments that the creative comparison between a physical and a virtual space is enabled, as both spaces are simultaneously visible.

A virtual environment artwork can be related to the physical world, when the use of particular characteristics and elements of the actual place and space forms an important part of the artwork. For instance, the site-specificity of a virtual environment artwork may derive from a creative ‘extraction’ and use of data from the actual space, where the environment is created, and the ‘layering’/mapping of this data back to that space.

In her analysis of semi-immersive virtual environments, Morse explains how artists may attempt to relate a virtual environment to the physical world. She places the emphasis on the types of immersion and the methods of direct visualisation and interaction with the data that are collected from a site through certain devices, as a way of facilitating ‘seamless’ linkages between virtual and real spaces. Morseclassifies virtual environments in terms of the following aspects: the ‘mixtures and links between virtuality and materiality’, the links between telecommunication networks and the types of computer simulations [4]. A virtual environment can be related to the ‘external world’ through those ‘mixtures and links’ [5].

Margaret Morse places the emphasis on the physical integration of ‘digital devices… with… sites’. The characteristics of those environments can be directly transformed by user interaction and the particular environmental conditions of a site. For example, it may be possible to visualise the movement of crowds at that particular site so that the characteristics of the environment can be modified by that movement [6].

The importance of the technical linkage between a virtual environment and the physical world, and the automatic conversion of environmental data into digital displays are foregrounded here. In this case, the type of site-specificity of such a mixed-reality environment depends on how the artist explores locality, environmental conditions and user interactivity.

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The site-specificity of certain artworks depends on artists’ ability to visualise new emerging relationships between a built space and its computer 3D modelling within a semi-immersive virtual environment. Indeed, as Penny observes, visualising the relationship of virtual and real spaces is a developing area in art that creates interactive virtual environments [7]. As Penny describes: … [a] ‘virtual space’ presents and is aligned point by point with the ‘real space’ except for certain digital phenomena [8].

Penny notes that a semi-immersive virtual environment is the suitable means of investigating the difference between virtual and real spaces. In most cases, artists choose to create their own original types of semi-immersive virtual environments, for enabling the simultaneous visibility of a built space and its computer 3D model. It is thus possible to digitallyvisualisethe built space within which the environment is installed, for comparing that space to its digital model in a 1:1 scale.

This article presents an analysis of Myron Krueger’s and Jeffrey Shaw’s work, for exploring how the notion of interruptive site-specificity is manifested and expanded in the creation of different types of ‘realities’.The article focuses on particular artworks that are representative of influential shifts in creatively exploring the relationship between built and virtual spaces for creating site-specific virtual environments.It is worth stressing that both artists reject the use of an HMD in favour of creating their own types of interactive mixed-reality environments, for engaging with built space and enablingusers’ simultaneousinteractionwith the actual space and its virtual configurations.

Krueger’s Glowflow is an early type of a site-specific computer-controlled intervention thatvisuallytransforms the built space through users’ spontaneous real-time interaction. Shaw’s Virtual Museum is representative of the artist’s attempt to create a ‘televirtual’ museum, the site-specificity of which, stems from an interactive visual ‘dialogue’ between the actual interior space of amuseum and its computer 3D model, through the creation of a semi-immersive environment, by exploring the modes of its digital visualisation renderings [9].

Shaw’s and Krueger’s artworks are analysed primarily in terms of the role of built space, the use of computer 3D modelling for visualising and distorting built space, the artists’ exploration of the relationship of the particular built space to its virtual configurations, and the visualisation of that relationship with the aid of the particular virtual environments.

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3.Myron Krueger’s Artificial Reality

3.1. Background

Various kinds of real-time user interaction with computer 3D graphics in actual space are developed in Myron Krueger‘s pioneering work in the field of computer-controlled intervention.The site-specificity of Krueger’s mixed-reality environments stems primarily from users’ interaction with the artwork, the physical inseparability of the artwork from the particular physical space and in some cases, from the visual distortion of the built space as a whole. As Tom Corby describes, Krueger has ‘epitomised site-specific virtual environments’ in his early experiments with ‘responsive environments’ and “internet sited artworks”. Krueger creates imaginary spaces as ‘substitutes’ for the material world [10].

His work is based on his concept of ‘artificial reality’, based on which, a virtual environment should not be used to replicate reality but to present ‘fantasies’.Krueger creates imaginary ‘worlds’ that do not have a material precedent and cannot be materialised [11]. Users interact with the digital visualisation of imaginary spaces as if those spaces were real. As Krueger describes: “..the full body participation in computer events that were so compelling that they would be accepted as real experience…[12].

Glowflow and Paintingthetown, are two artworks that are representative of how Krueger has used built space and architectural visualisations for creating his site-specific mixed-reality interventions. The following sections analyse how the site-specificity of those artworks has been affected by Krueger’s concept of ‘artificial reality’, as the artist places the emphasis on increasing and enriching user interactivity with imaginary spaces.

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3.2. Computer 3D modelling

Exploring and adapting modes of digital visualisation from other disciplines, is an important part of creating certain types of interactive virtual environments that are site-specific. Krueger creates such interactive mixed-reality interventions in some of his artworks in which he foregrounds the exploration of user interaction. In this case, he focuses on the rendering modes of computer 3D modelling as used in architecture.

The standard type of architecturalpreview is challenged as being too static and realistic and thus, inappropriate for creating real-time interactive displays of unrealistic spaces that can be modified by users’ movements.

Krueger challenges the realistic and static renderings of architectural previews, through creating interactive renderings of an imaginary city and giving users the opportunity to directly transform this ‘city’ with their movements [13]. In those artworks,Krueger invents a “new aesthetic option” for creating interactive displays, in order to develop a highly immersive ‘artificial reality’that can be’activated’ by users’ movement.

A user is able to view the superimposition of the abstract shape of his or her figure onto the digital display of Painting-the-Town in full scale. Krueger therefore, creates an immersive virtual environment that relates to the physical world through its transformation by users’ actions.

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3.3. Virtual environment

In a different type of site-specific artwork, which is more environmental as it is not limited to a flat display surface, Krueger creates an alternative environment to the physical one, through visually distorting a built room. Krueger describes Glowflow as being a “computer-controlled light-sound environment… responding to the people within it” [14].

Glowflow is an interactive environment that consists of computer-controlled light tubes that are installed on the walls of a built space. Those tubes automatically light up, when they are triggered by users’ movement within that built space. The shape of a built space plays a fundamental role for the conception of such environments, as ‘shape would determine [the] content [of the artwork]’ [15]. At the same time, the environment also affects users’ perception of the built space.

In Glowflow, the position of each light tubedoes not fully coincide withthe edges and columns of the built space. The light tubes are installed on a different level from the floor and ceiling and the horizontal tubes are not straight. The light tubes are the only visible element of Krueger’s environment, as the room is darkened [16].

The display of light tubes is changing as different light tubes are automatically lighted depending on viewers’ position within the built space. Krueger describes the varying shapes of Glowflow as follows: It was possible to light all the tubes coming out of a single column, a single tube as it came out of every column, or a random combination of tubes and columns [17].

In that way, the display of light tubes visually distorts the built space. For example, the built space appears to become wider in the middle [18]. Consequently, the site-specificity of Glowflow stems mainly from Krueger’s creative engagement with the interior shape of the built space, the physical inseparability of the artwork and the built space, and users’ spatial interaction with the environment.

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4. Jeffrey Shaw’s “Site-specific Virtuality”

4.1. Background

Essentially, the site-specificity of Jeffrey Shaw’s virtual environments stems from developing his concept of “site-specific virtuality”. As described in his writings, Shaw aims to develop ‘site-specific virtuality’ for exploring the ‘mechanisms of [the] visual representation’ of the physical world, through using digital visualisation tools for simulating the physical space within which his work is situated [19].

According to Shaw, such an exploration can be achieved by using digital technology for facilitating the direct visual comparison of the virtual and actual spaces [20]. Shaw attempts to achieve this comparison through developing an original kind of semi-immersive virtual environment that would enable the simultaneous visibility of real space and its digital 3D renderings [21]. As Anne-Marie Duguet explains: ” …. [Shaw] examines the modalities of coexistence of the heterogeneous space-times’ by “underscoring similarities in order to pinpoint differences [22].

Virtual Museum is a representative case of how Shaw attempts to visualise the relationship of real and virtual spaces through exploring the boundaries of the different orders of simulation at the confluence of these spaces [23]. In his writings on Virtual Museum, the artist describes:…different orders of simulation are located in a meta-dimensional structure that mirrors a confluence of the real and the fictional. This location of the virtual space in a contiguous relationship with the real space establishes a discourse in that fine zone between the virtual and the actual which resembles what Duchamp called ‘the “nframince’. It is here that I believe the most interesting and challenging opportunities for artistic formulations exist [24].

Virtual Museum exemplifies how, this ‘confluence’ is not only a technical but also a conceptual issue that the artist attempts to address by creatively challenging the status of the institutional space of the museum through selectiveinteractive visual mapping and mixed-reality layering. The artist uses computer 3D modelling for simulating the pre-existing interior space of the museum and gradually introduces differences between the physical space and its simulation.

This artwork can be analysed in terms of how Shaw visualises the interior of the museum, what he perceives to be the analogy and contrast between the physical space and its simulation, andhow the apparatus of his virtual environment enables the comparison between reality and VR.

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4.2. Computer 3D modelling

The comparison of built space to its computer 3D model with the aid of virtual environments has been a key aspect for Jeffrey Shaw, as a way of realising his concept of ‘site-specific virtuality’. As Anne-Marie Duguet observes, Shaw attempts to create ‘site-specific virtuality’ through replicating certain views of the pre-existing built space by using computer 3D modelling. As she explains, Shaw uses computer 3D modelling in order “… to produce sufficient analogy [between virtual and built spaces] to test the differences between two samenesses” [25].

Shawfocuses onthe comparison between the built space and its computer 3D modelling on the degree of realism of his simulation of that space. An ‘analogy’ between the built space and its digital 3D model seems to be almost fully established when a realistically rendered computer 3D model of that space appears within the virtual environment. Consequently, Shaw’s ‘analogy’ between the actual space and its model stems mainly from the degree of resemblance of the digital renderings to the built space.

The computer 3D model of Virtual Museum becomes unrealistic gradually, as Shaw introduces imaginary rooms and exhibits. Shaw now starts to foreground the difference between the presentations of realistic and imaginary spaces through a creative layering of reality and virtuality.A viewer is able to consecutively ‘enter’ the rooms of a computer 3D model through their ‘permeable walls’ [26].

Imaginary exhibits appear when a viewer ‘enters’ the fifth digital room. Those exhibits include three moving signs ‘A’, ‘2’ and ‘Z’ of red, green and blue lights [27]. In this way, a viewer is entering an increasingly unrealistic space [28]. Shaw’s approach to the relationship between virtual and real space is focused on varying degrees of realism and their interactive mapping onto the view of the museum interior.

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4.3. Virtual environment

As Penny observes, Jeffrey Shaw’s site-specific artworks are representative of how ‘monitors or projection screens’ can be used for enabling the direct comparison of a built space to its digital simulation [29]. In contrast to Krueger’s highly immersive environments, Shawcreates a rotatingsemi-immersive display through which it is possible to view simultaneously the built space and its computer 3D model, for enabling users’ direct visual comparison of the virtual and real spaces. As Weibel observes, Shaw focuses on ‘architecture and space’ and he does not perceive “… the [computer 3D] image as autonomous world… but mainly as a component of architecture and three-dimensional space” [30].

Virtual Museum consists of the rotating platform onto which a large ‘video projection monitor’ and a chair are installed [31]. The computer 3Dmodel is superimposed and aligned point by point to the view of the built space. Consequently, a viewer is able to see the superimposed views of the built space and its computer 3D model by looking through that monitor, even when the platform with the viewer and monitor is rotating. In this way, Shaw achieves an interesting kind of conjunction between the view of the built space and its model, as users are not entirely immersed within the computer 3D model.

5. Conclusion

Interruptive site-specificity is manifested and expanded in digital art in many ways, as artists are increasingly interested in creating various original types of site-specific interventions, essentially through visualising the relationship between reality and virtuality. The creation of mixed-realities has allowed an increasing level of creativity and freedom, as it enabled artists to surpass the limitations of the physical manipulation of spaces and the traditional modes of spectatorship. As we have seen, Krueger’s and Shaw’s works have provided influential cases of how artists may create a new dimension of site-specific intervention through ‘interrupting’ the ordinary reality.

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These cases range from users’ spatial interaction with alternative realities, perceptual distortions of built space, unexpected visual ‘insertions’ of virtuality and heterogeneous space-times through interactive visual mapping and mixed-reality layering. Most importantly, the relationship between virtuality and reality is not only a technical but also, a conceptual and creative challenge. The impact of such developments can be traced in various fields of contemporary art and design, such as, audiovisual installations, interactive video art, 3D projection–based public art,mixed and augmented reality art and others.


References:

[1] Deutsche, Rosalyn, Evictions: art and spatial politics, Cambridge, Massachusetts, London: MIT Press, 1996, pp. xvi, 261, 61,[68], Kwon, Miwon, “One place after another: notes on site-specificity”, in Suderburg, E, ed, Space site intervention: situating installation art, Minneapolis, London: University of Minnesota, Press, 2000, p.58.

[2] Wilson, Stephen. Information arts: intersections of art, science and technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, London: MIT Press 2002, p.694, Morse Margaret in Moser, Mary, A. and D. MacLeod, eds, Immersed in technology: art and virtual environments, Cambridge, Massachusetts, London : MIT Press, 1996, p. 203, Penny, Simon, ‘From A to D and back again: the emerging aesthetics of interactive art, in Harris, Craig & R.Malina, Leonardo Electronic Almanac, 4 (4), April 1996, http://mitpress2.mit.edu/e-journals/LEA/ARTICLES/A_TO_D.html, accessed:11/2/05

[3] Ibid

[4] Morse Margaret in Moser, Mary, A. and D. MacLeod, eds, Immersed in technology: art and virtual environments, Cambridge, Massachusetts, London : MIT Press, 1996, pp.201-203.

[5] Ibid.p.201.

[6] Morse Margaret in Moser, Mary, A. and D. MacLeod, eds, Immersed in technology: art and virtual environments, Cambridge, Massachusetts, London: MIT Press, 1996, pp.201-203, 43.

[7] Penny, Simon, “From A to D and back again: the emerging aesthetics of interactive art”, in Harris, Craig & R.Malina, Leonardo Electronic Almanac, 4 (4), April 1996, http://mitpress2.mit.edu/e-journals/LEA/ARTICLES/A_TO_D.html, accessed:11/2/05.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Shaw, Jeffrey, “At Home with Jeffrey Shaw”, Doors of perception 2 (conference proceedings), Netherlands Design Institute, 1994, http://museum.doorsofperception.com/doors2/transcripts/shaw.html, accessed: 17/2/05.

[10] Corby, T, J.P. , The disappearing frame: a practice-based investigation into the composition of virtual environment artworks, PhD thesis, UK: Chelsea College of Art & Design/Open University, 2001, p.39.

[11] Krueger, Myron, W, Artificial Reality II, Addison Wesley, 1990, pp.xiv, 216-217.

[12] Ibid, p.xiii.

[13] Krueger, Myron in Bertol, Daniela, Designing Digital Space: an architect’s guide to virtual reality, Architectural Design, New York: Wiley, 1997, pp. 274, 283.

[14] Krueger, Myron, W, Artificial Reality II, Addison Wesley, 1990, pp.14,12.

[15] Ibid, pp.97,12.

[16] Ibid, p.12.

[17] Ibid, p.14.

[18] Ibid, p.12

[19] Shaw, Jeffrey, “At Home with Jeffrey Shaw”, Doors of perception 2 (conference proceedings), Netherlands Design Institute, 1994,http://museum.doorsofperception.com/doors2/transcripts/shaw.html, accessed: 17/2/05. Shaw, Jeffrey, A user’s manual: from expanded cinema to virtual reality, Germany: ZKM /Cantz,1997, pp.151-152.

[20] Ibid, p.151. “VR world voyage 1990”, extract from an interview with Dorothy Hirokawa, BT Binutsu Techno, vol42, no 622, April 1990, pp.117-131.

[21] Shaw, Jeffrey, “At Home with Jeffrey Shaw”, Doors of perception 2 (conference proceedings), Netherlands Design Institute, 1994, http://museum.doorsofperception.com/doors2/transcripts/shaw.html, accessed: 17/2/05.

[22] Ibid. Duguet, Anne-Marie in Shaw, Jeffrey, A user’s manual: from expanded cinema to virtual reality, Germany: ZKM /Cantz, 1997,p.44 [see also Qvortrup, Lars, ” Digital poetics: the poetical potentials of projection and interaction”, in Liestol, Gunnar et al, eds, Digital Media revisited: theoretical and conceptual innovations in digital domains, Cambridge, Massachusetts, London: MIT Press: 2003,p.253].

[23] Shaw, Jeffrey, “At Home with Jeffrey Shaw”, Doors of perception 2 (conference proceedings), Netherlands Design Institute, 1994, http://museum.doorsofperception.com/doors2/transcripts/shaw.html, accessed: 17/2/05.

[24] Shaw, Jeffrey, “Modalities of Interactivity and Virtuality”, 1992, http://www.jeffrey-shaw.net/html_writings/writings_by_2.php, accessed: 15/10/2010 (Extract from a lecture at XXVIII. International Conference on Art History, Berlin, July 1992; published in: Artistic Exchange, Ed. Thomas W. Gaehtgens, Berlin, 1993, pp. 295-300).

[25] Duguet, Anne-Marie in Shaw, Jeffrey, A user’s manual: from expanded cinema to virtual reality, Germany: ZKM /Cantz, 1997, p.44.

[26] Shaw, Jeffrey, “At Home with Jeffrey Shaw”, Doors of perception 2 (conference proceedings), Netherlands Design Institute, 1994, http://museum.doorsofperception.com/doors2/transcripts/shaw.html, accessed: 17/2/05.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid

[29] Penny, Simon, “From A to D and back again: the emerging aesthetics of interactive art”, in Harris, Craig & R.Malina, Leonardo Electronic Almanac, 4 (4), April 1996, http://mitpress2.mit.edu/e-journals/LEA/ARTICLES/A_TO_D.html, accessed:11/2/05.

[30] Weibel, Peter in ibid,p.11[see also Qvortrup, Lars, ” Digital poetics: the poetical potentials of projection and interaction”, in Liestol, Gunnar et al, eds, Digital Media revisited: theoretical and conceptual innovations in digital domains, Cambridge, Massachusetts, London: MIT Press: 2003,p.253].

[31] Shaw, Jeffrey, “At Home with Jeffrey Shaw”, Doors of perception 2 (conference proceedings), Netherlands Design Institute, 1994, http://museum.doorsofperception.com/doors2/transcripts/shaw.html, accessed: 17/2/05.

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