— Editors' Introduction —

Evolving Languages in Art and Technology

Mads Haahr
Department of Computer Science
Trinity College, Dublin

Elizabeth Drew
School of English
Trinity College, Dublin

This issue of Crossings features an extraordinarily ambitous and (literally) far-reaching artistic endeavour. Anna Hill's work-in-progress statement describes an interactive art installation, part of which will reside on Earth, and part of which (a free-floating sculpture designed for zero gravity) will reside on the International Space Station from 2007. This work is intended to extend to humans on Earth the profound experience of human space travel. This ‘art system’ incorporates a variety of different platforms (e.g., an interactive space sculpture but also conventional websites and solar-powered trucks) in an attempt to bring the new perspectives afforded by the experience of space travel to humans in remote or deprived areas and at the same time bring the diversity of Earth to space.

Jim Bizzocchi explores the likely impact of the increasing availability of large flat-screen displays on the visual language of video. He argues that the widespread presence of this display format will lead to content that is more cinematic and pictorial in style than current video content. The use of such displays in ambient settings is likely to result in a slower mode of visual storytelling than the one that is popular with the traditional TV set – a surprising development in an era where the accelerative effects of technology are taken for granted. While ambient HDTV seems better adapted for the distracted viewing habits of TV audiences, the cinematic format of the HDTV screen is also ideal for the immersive experience associated with more focused viewing.

Petra Gemeinböck is concerned with the visual language of an even more immersive medium: abstract Virtual Reality (VR). In her paper, she presents two VR installations and discusses representational and performative aspects of the medium. Gemeinböck's work distinguishes itself from many other VR efforts in that her installations do not attempt to reproduce the real naturalistically, but are abstract. Her objective is to expand and explore the boundary of the self by creating a dynamic and responsive space in-between the real and the virtual. The two artworks and Gemeinböck's paper constitute a dramatic exploration of the language of abstract VR. This is a medium in which the interplay of shape, colour, movement and interaction forms a language that is still far from well understood. The language is based in intuition rather than preexisting conventions. The rules are obscure and unfamiliar, and as a result, the participant must explore and negotiate the language through engagement with the works.

Sam Ball and Kathryn Farley recount their experiences with a technologically augmented, media-rich stage design. Like Gemeinböck, Ball and Farley use a practical application (an educational theatre performance) as their starting point for analysis. Their DuSable Project uses nonlinear storytelling and interactive imagery to teach history as human explanations based in interpretation and multiple perspectives, rather than uncomplicated fact. An important part of the play's visual language is the addition and subtraction of layers of projected images in a spontaneous and modular fashion. These dynamically constructed, layered collages illustrate the story as well as enact the fluid process of historical interpretation and the iterative process of constructing meaning. The plot structure also draws attention to multiple interpretations of history, allowing audience members to choose among several possible plotlines.

The Weird View project presented by Valentina Nisi and Mads Haahr uses nonlinear narrative techniques to relay oral history. The multimedia application depicts a small community through a hyperlinked collage of stories collected from the community members themselves. The audience navigates the story space by choosing spatial and thematic links to construct their own narrative path. Like the DuSable Project, Weird View uses nonlinear structures to create a sense of multiple perspectives, dispersing the author's central authority and control among many sources and the audience themselves. In order for the authors to relegate their control in this manner, they have to take on an even more challenging (but perhaps more powerful) role as architect of reading possibilities. The challenge of meta-design for interactive art leads Candy and Edmonds (in Crossings 2.1) to suggest thinking terms of ‘art systems’ rather than artworks. The artist engineers the code through which the participant creates and, in the case of narrative, tells the story.

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