Archive for research
I’ve been the creative director of the Rilao project at Alex McDowell’s World-Building Media Lab at USC this past summer. Rilao is an imaginary city that our team has simulated as a high-resolution, fully explorable space in the game engine Unity and the Occulus Rift virtual reality platform.
The Rilao project also includes multiple individual projects that are meant to function as design fiction artifacts from that world.
The Leviathan Project is another immersive experience developed at the world-building lab, incorporating virtual and augmented reality to flesh out a narrative space.
The sculpture of found objects with tests projections was presented at the Media Arts and Practice division’s annual exhibition, iMappening. The test projections give a good idea of the effect of animation on the very disparate textures of the objects. The bear particularly, with its fluffy, silky coat, was mesmerizing to watch. Reactions were enthusiastic, especially from the youngest visitors! I think it can legitimately qualify as an “attraction”. Adults, more discriminating, would walk around the sculpture to peer at individual configurations of objects, attached together, often in aerodynamic and precarious configurations, through armature wires inserted into chains of objects.
Assistant Dean Michael Renov qualified the 3D collages as surrealist, which actually led me into a whole theoretical investigation for my dissertation over the summer. The sculpture is not quite finished – as you can see, the two by fours that serve as its support structure are still visible and I am currently experimenting with different filler materials such as ping pong balls and styrofoam pellets to created a topologically interesting landscape around the objects.
I also designed the poster, catalogue and postcards for the exhibition – the steampunk/Muybridge unicorn being of course the perfect allegory for the Media Arts and Practice program!
I had to re-blog this post from Colossal. This is a mockumentary by German digital artist Till Nowak about impossible theme park rides built as centrifugal experiments to maximize human intelligence. The architectural renderings are simply mind-blowing – and treated with a hilarious retro 80s filter. I can imagine another life for these designs in some immersive stereoscopic game.
I always have a soft spot in my heart for virtuosity that doesn’t take itself seriously. In the words of the disturbed narrator, “these machines provide total freedom, cutting you off from all connections to the world you live in: communication…responsibility…weight. Everything is on hold while you are being centrifuged.” Well said.
Projection mapping is an evolving artform that so far has been mostly an insider phenomenon within the VJing and electronic festival scene, in spite of roots in the longstanding medium of theatrical design and the growing number of competitions and conferences that are dedicated to it (one the most prestigious being the annual Mapping Festival in Geneva). It is frequently paired with DJ acts or used as a promotional gimmick for slick ad campaigns. The medium achieves aesthetic effects, however, whose innovation and significance have not yet been adequately critically adressed. What is the future of projection mapping’s cultural impact? With its knack for transforming irregular surfaces into surreal architectures, it speaks to a new vision of urbanism and the city, as a polymorphous and playful space justified by its spectacular ambiance as much as by its functional value. If we imagine a daily life framed by these dynamic monumental sculptures, what different kinds of cognitive and emotional sensibilities will we see emerging?
Tony Oursler is a contemporary example of the type of technologist-entertainers art historian Barbara Stafford calls “technomancers”, scientifically informed thaumaturges that use digital effects to produce heightened sensorial experiences that bring the visitor to the brink of the spiritually bizarre. A wonderland of spectral apparitions, Oursler’s work is where garden meets cutting edge projection trickery, using sculpture as an animated surface, thrusting dimensional color in the dark space of the gallery. Under the guise of avant garde multimedia, eminently contemporary, art, Oursler’s work most closely resembles the 18th century phantasmagoria shows of Jean-Gaspard Robertson, who awed post-Revolutionary Paris with his elaborate magic lantern technology, projecting the wispy ghosts of guillotined aristocrats onto mirrors and smoke in the ruins of a convent, showcased by a performance that incorporated newly discovered electrical effects and a “magical” ritual inspired by the ancient Eleusinian Mysteries. Oursler’s installations are less interactive, but demonstrate the same fascination with the spectral transformation and deformation of the human form: bubble heads with giant eyes and mouth, decapitated talking heads, heads wreathed in vapours, flickering lights.
Mr. Cartoon’s delicious “Ice-Cream Truck” installation at the Los Angeles MOCA “Art in the Streets” exhibit is a paean to L.A. lowrider culture and the city’s cult of hedonism and entertainment. This exultant spectacle is proudly entrenched in the anti-pristine context of LA.’s mythically degraded urbanism. Mr. Cartoon’s revamped, tricked-out symbology is intoxicating: clown-faced, trench-coated policemen, the billowing, whirling orange smog that evokes ice-cream soda foam, the lowriding cadillacs morphing into dripping banana splits with pin-up bunny-face girls lounging in the back seats, and, most syrupy-caustic of all, the “illegal alien”, a sombrero-ed, mustachoed little green man on a popsicle stick. The truck is decked out with colorful video on lowrider culture and shown in a shallow pool of candy. Rarely has the city’s (or pop culture’s, for that matter) heady cocktail of subculture, politics, and flashy style found such viscerally pleasurable and yet mordant expression in Mr.Cartoon’s graffiti poem of sex, pollution, sugar and violence.
Beijing’s Aquatic Center constructed for the 2008 Olympics, aptly nicknamed the “Water Cube”, is a neo-Baroque folly whose skin consists of inflatable PVC bubbles wired with LEDs. As this video attests, the Water Cube emerges from the cityscape as a glowing, perpetually morphing mirage, casually radiating wonder amidst the more ordinary architecture of streetlights, trees, and apartment buildings. It is a hybrid entity that is both media and urban object – a 3 dimensional LED wall transformed into a building, or a gigantic inflatable light art installation put to public use. The Water Cube also participates in a neon aesthetic that has transformed the nighttime urban landscape from Vegas to Burning Man, to Wong Kar Wai’s movies, returning us to the industrial fascination for artificial lighting, recalling the phantasmagoria of the Electricity Pavillion at the 1900 World Fair. To what future avatar of the city does the Water Cube point to? The city as a topography of dimensional live, reactive, interactive wallpaper? An erasure of shape, the evaporation of mass into glittering, diaphanous texture? What is life in the Water Cube – a dream, a journey into hallucinatory spaces, a fairy tale, a series of sensorial electrocutions, a diversion, a hypnotic well?
Built with WebGL and HTML 5, this interactive animation allows users to create their own 3D objects and landscapes – which the system refers to as “dreams” – to add to the world of the animation. The player/viewer/modeler can also explore different poetic realms in the wake of exploding pixelated flowering animals. Part virtual painting, part modeling software, part music video, and part hallucinatory Second Life experience, Rome, much like Mindcraft, problematizes interactivity, fusing work, play, and poetry in a single experience.
The SOUND club in Phuket, Thailand, features architecture that brings a literal meaning to the term immersive. With nothing but round angles, pod-like seating arrangements, curvy corridors and dreamy, shiny, deep blue surfaces, the club recreates a surreal aquarium atmosphere. One can only imagine the synesthetic possibilities if a DJ were to play minimal dubstep, ambient, or deep house. Club architecture is one of many sites of themed entertainment / art environments where the affective potentialities of space are being experimented with and explored. The hybrid nature of clubs as venues for both social and artistic enjoyment – the two functions brought together in a sensual, hedonistic spirit that transforms both the experience of the art and the experience of others – makes them fascinating grounds for architectural experimentation, bringing us back to a Vidler-like (The Architectural Uncanny) notion of architecture as the design of different kinds of in-habiting, of being in space.
Dive into the world of Baroque Toys…
We know about building imaginary worlds but who are these worldless vinyl characters? Unless they parade their worlds on their splattered, plastic bodies. More than just monsters or aliens, they express some baroque juxtaposition of the object, the animal, the cosmos and the anthropomorphic. Incredibly emotional and responsive, they point to a region of affect beyond the human, to the moods and projections we read into our devices, furniture, urban spaces, and favorite media universes.
Electrocuted Bunnybot Pinball, here scripted and modeled in the game engine Unity and rendered in anaglyph stereoscopy, is a multiplayer game about erratic and exuberant motion and an extreme experience of playful space.
Each player controls a bunny. The bunnies hop around in a prison-environment.
The goal of the game is to make your bunny jump into one of the many holes in the walls/floor/ ceiling of the prison (all have different shapes – you have to see if your bunny fits) and escape.
Plugs are the jail-keepers of the bunnies. Every time a bunny hits a hotspot (shaped like stars) on the floor/ceiling/walls of the prison, it causes one of the plugs to go into an outlet.
Every time a plug goes into an outlet, a random bunny gets “electrocuted” and its bounciness multiplies (10s), making it bounce erratically across the prison. Not only is it then harder for the player to control and to aim for holes, but it also makes it harder for the other players, since the bunny is likely to ricochet not only off the walls but off other bunnies, knocking them off their course.
How does the stereo work with the game mechanics?
The irregular shape of the space and the irrepressible kinetic momentum of the bunnies are the main attraction of the game. The puzzle piece-like holes in the walls of the prison as well as the walls’ irregular curvature, crannies, and recesses all participate in creating an unpredictable and graphically striking environment, where often 3D is the only reliable depth cue, since the texture of the walls is uniform, and multiple different-colored lighting sources are always roving across the environment, changing the shadows and further confusing the topology of the space.
The bouncing bunnies offer the player an extreme experience of the z-axis. They give the space a dynamic aspect and add to stereo’s aesthetic function of enhancing the physicality (shape, material qualities) of the game objects.
Wish Come True, Luminato Festival, Toronto, June 2010
FriendsWithYou is an art collective based in Miami that in addition to creating a wildly successful line of designer vinyl toys, creates large-scale inflatable toy environments. Rainbow City in Miami and Wish Come True in Toronto stand as fairy-tale epitomes of the fantastically cute and adorable, offering extreme experiences in curves and bounciness for buoyant spirits of all ages. Bringing the toy to the realm of the gargantuan, built on the social scale of the city, the art of FriendsWithYou is more than aesthetically overwhelming in its impact, it also acts as a sort of emotional and collective catharsis for the visitors, coercing them into a state of cuddliness and beatific joy. The collective dubs themselves the pioneers of a “happy movement”.
“The individual structures are simple, minimal forms that borrow aesthetics from toy- like geometry and design and tower over guests, as each element’s height ranges from ten to forty feet. By dwarfing the audience, the totemic pieces trigger a sense of reverence, similar to the visual of a monolithic monument. During interaction, the inflated sculptures “embrace” visitors, while repetitive sound elements further enhance the sensory experience.The overall installation creates a surreal landscape of psychedelic scenery intended to simultaneously provoke a religious and childlike awareness.” (friendswithyou.com)
Rainbow City, Miami, November 2010
Examining the spatial strategies at work in Disneyland, Jacques Tati’s Play Time, and David Hildebrand Wilson’s Museum of Jurassic Technology
The relationship between the elements of attraction, the narrative and the overarching theme of a mediated space, whether it be an actual, designed environment/installation or the imaginary space implied by a two dimensional screen, is perhaps most directly tackled by considering the temporal axis on which these concepts might be placed. Tom Gunning says of the attraction, “its temporality is limited to the pure present tense of its appearance”. As a spectacular performance or spectacular invitation to approach and interact with an object, the attraction absorbs the viewer’s attention, seemingly suspending the flow of events and flattening time into a fulgurated impression. According to Gaudreault and Dulac, this perpetual return of the moment, which they link specifically to optical toys from the phenakisticope to the praxinoscope, expresses a specifically mechanical or technological kind of temporality. Like a spinning top, the time of the attraction revolves around itself, defining a singular point: the instant. By comparison, the time of the narrative is progressive, inscribed in a duration that realizes itself through incremental change. Rick Altman’s point that narrative does not always imply a change in character or situation (especially when considering dual-focus stories which end with a reaffirmation of status quo) does not belie the fact that plot is essentially event driven. In its turn, theme has a temporal signature that is neither instant nor progression, but perhaps most closely evokes a platonic notion of Ideas situated outside of time.
Joe Rodhe, the designer of Disney’s theme park Animal Kingdom, speaks to this when he explains the purely deductive process that determines the design of the park, from large-scale rides to ornamental details: starting from a core concept defined by a noun and a value-bearing modifier (i.e. for Animal Kingdom, “the glory of nature”), each design decision automatically reproduces that value across all material signifiers in the park, privileging textured wood over stainless steel or open over enclosed space, for example, thus ensuring that no incongruity disrupts the integrity of the theme. This understanding of the notion of theme, at least in terms of Disney’s design methodology, illuminates much of why themed spaces hold such a powerful utopian or heterotopic appeal, as places preserved from the vicissitudes of time, enduring but not changing, perpetrating an illusion of eternity.
Supposing that attraction, narrative and theme function as different modes of media-ted space, then visitors in the course of their exploration would experience such spaces as separate, but overlapping, temporal “zones”. With this in mind, the rest of this paper will examine the interplay between these three modalities in three texts whose experiential pivot is what I’d like to call choreographed space, that is, space organized to produce meaning over time,: Disneyland, Jacques Tati’s ballet-like comedy Play Time, and David Hildebrand Wilson’s mock institution and institution-mimicking art installation, the Museum of Jurassic Technology. What becomes clear as we look into these works is that the classical opposition between attraction and narrative tends to resolve itself when we put them in relationship with theme. Meaning, the attraction might not have the experiential effect of being either in excess of narrative or of functioning as a narrative prop (c. f. Henry Jenkins, “is the gag a disruption of the narrative or a unit of the narrative?”) so much as of offering an alternative phenomenological pathway to the conceptual core of the work. Of course, the question then arises as to whether these texts can (or should) be reduced to the one-liners that themes generally are (c.f. “the glory of nature”).
A deflection of that argument is perhaps to draw us away from a semiotic focus on content or meaning and towards an examination of process and experience, in which case the theme, which we might also understand to be the internal logic of the text, does not necessarily constitute the substance of the work; more relevant from a user point of view are the material overtones and resonances that the theme generates in the course of the user’s temporal encounter with the space.
“You have a body, the ride announces, you exist”, writes Scott Bukatman in relation to Disneyland’s appeal as a place that is not only about the possibilities of storytelling but also about new possibilities of embodiment, of materialized subjectivity as a parameter of movement across time and space. Operating via a seamless interface of information, engineering, and animatronics, the visitor is invited to literally “walk into the movie”. Instead of getting a 3rd person point of view of motion (as in film), they can re-visit motion as both an everyday condition of embodiment and an extraordinary or fantasmic potentiality, whether through the speed and acrobatics of roller-coasters and dark ride vehicles (entertaining descendants of railway cars), or, more subtly, but not less impactful in terms of kinetic pleasure, as pedestrians in a “park” whose paths are no less steered than if they were rails. Disneyland space molds the user’s time, sculpting temporal flow and progression, in an architectural tradition that goes back to the Acropolis and earlier; it has been extensively commented that Disneyland is organized “processionally”, meaning that the space unfolds before the visitor’s eyes as a series of views or perspectives. Joe Rodhe would refer to these morphing vignettes as “picturesque”, which is a term that itself goes back to 18th century practices of landscape tourism and its romantic pursuit of the sublime, as well as a principle according to which spatial elements are arranged in an aesthetically and emotionally stimulating composition in order to function as a queue of integrated attractions. Deriving thus from Disneyland’s landscape design is the idea that narrative can emerge from a series of attractions, much in the same way that the diegesis of a film arises from the juxtaposition of pictures, frames, and shots.
However, these attractions play a much more excessive and prominent role than that of a recombinant narrative “unit” – they determine the way in which the narrative is viscerally felt. The life and times of the Pirates of the Carribean would be a very threadbare tale without the warm humid air that circulates around the boats of the visitors, without the smell of mangrove and swampy water, the sound of crickets, or the gusts of wind from the cannons of Tortuga. By soliciting the entire perceptual apparatus and invading, so to speak, the body of the visitor in a flush of sensation, the attraction adds a layer of temporal intensity to the narrative skeleton of the Disneyland paradigm that accounts for much of the experience of quasi-intoxication that differentiates the theme park from other Disney narrative vehicles. The whirling Teacups ride, with their synesthetic marriage of chirpy music and gyrating euphoria, express a complex affective bundle of absurdity, unhinged-ness, whimsy and devil-may-care that the Alice in Wonderland animated film works hard to build up in the course of 75 min. Both the attraction and the narrative, however, are effective in tandem because in they end they boil down to a common theme – or, as we saw in my attempt to distill the Teacups, what might more helpfully be called mood, or tone.
In Play Time, Tati invites the audience to explore another kind of theme park. According to Thompson, “the whole structuring of the film around a group of tourists (who come specifically to look at and listen to Paris) plays up the act of paying attention to appearances and sound”. In effect, here too diegesis is stitched together as a compendium of attractions, or rather, the attraction that is the entire film is introduced by a diegetic conceit, the introduction of visitors (doppelgangers of the audience) and the space to be visited. Like in a Bruegel painting, the viewer’s eye is forced to hop around the frame in search of potential gags, pausing for a second on a punch line before resuming the feverish search for situations amongst the interweaving threads of interaction. Tati’s 60s modernist Paris, with its retro-future aesthetic, its excessive use of algorithmically compartmentalized space and lack of differentiation between humans and gadgets, operates as an animatron of gargantuan proportions, in which each gag is a kinetic act that sets the machine in motion.
Bukatman’s remarks on Disneyland’s resemblance to a cybernetic system could also equally apply to Tati’s world, although Play Time is more clearly dominated by the bodily mechanics of the gag – to which all human-technological and inter-human interactions are progressively assimilated in the course of the film – , thus perhaps evoking more of a steampunk than a cyberpunk logic. Speaking of the excess generated by the gag by principle of its status as an attraction (and experientially in Play Time, by the total surfeit of gags), Thompson reminds us that “our experience as (film) viewers is not aimed simply at a constant interpretation of all elements in terms of the meaning they create”. In other words, even in a narrative medium such as film (not including strictly avant-garde or abstract film), narrative content need not correspond to the viewer’s most prominent or memorable experience of the movie. Although Play Time is, undeniably, one thing happening after another – in fact, one might argue that it is just one thing happening after another, which is why it is so primally pleasurable – it does not resolve into a narrative, precisely because it does not assign meaning to individual gags.
On a thematic level, however, the logic or rule set of Tati’s universe pervades each sequence of the movie, endowing the whole with a sharp phenomenological coherence. One might call this principle exponential anarchization or accelerating entropy, a drift towards détournement that results from a policy, on the part of each agent within the frame, to misuse the space and its objects. Again we return to theme as a principle of valuation – to go back to Rodhe’s design methodology – in other words, a modifer or epithet that orders what exists and what happens in the space: Tati systematically chooses the disorderly over the orderly. As we saw in the case of Disneyland, this concept of the modifier is also closely related to tone. Although a more in depth analysis is beyond the scope of this paper, the commonalties between theme and tone and, in turn, the relationship between tone, the attraction, and narrative, are intriguing.
The logic of The Museum of Jurassic Technology is more obscure than either that of Disneyland or Play Time. A first look will tell us that it derails (and gently derides) the institution of the museum by putting on solemn display – to the point of being funerary – relics of past lore and memorabilia that lie far outside the cannon of knowledge artifacts of accepted historical significance. The Museum of Jurassic Technology turns the traditional idea of the museum – bits and shards from the world lying encased in glass coffins while a male voice pontificates on their genealogy – back to its exhibitionistic roots, the 19th century freak show and the 18th century cabinet of curiosities, when judgments about knowledge and worthiness of display were more openly a matter of personal taste. However, the experience of the Museum is not ironic, but playful and sublime. Atmospheric dioramas of trailer parks, floating radiographs of dead flowers, “rotting” dice, a theory of time and space conducted via ancient photographs, missing jars, and a recorded telephone message interface, amongst many other storytelling bric à brac, are hybrid artifacts. They are attractions in their primary quality of arousing the visitor’s curiosity, first of all through the ensconcement and dispersal of exhibits in the folds of the Museum maze, always in partially obscured juxtaposition, often losing the visitor in diverging paths or hidden recesses, as well as through the use of effects such as stereoscopy on glass projection, music, dim lighting, reflective surfaces and puzzles as exhibit interfaces to entice the visitor and absorb her in a state of hypnagogic wonder. They are also more often then not bearers of very complex narratives that testify to the secret presence of fabulation in all “informational” texts, many exhibits following a protagonist throughout his whole life (the Athanasius Kircher, The Unique World of Microminiatures of Hagop Sandaljian, the Sonnabend exhibits) and culminating in a philosophical, scientific, or artistic resolution/explanation that irrupts in a quasi-cathartic moment while the visitor is watching a stereo movie in a curtained cabinet or listening to a voice-over. Even when the visitors are not called upon to follow in the traces of some character, the artifacts are furiously labeled, schematized, and cross-referenced, asking them to play detective, setting them on an epistemological trail that can prove exhausting in its intensity (No One May Ever Have the Same Knowledge Again: Letters to Mt. Wilson Observatory, Tell the Bees: Belief, Knowledge, and Hypersymbolic Cognition).
If Disneyland offers a narrative procession of attractive moments subsumed under psychogeographic, themed “Lands” , and Play Time builds its narrative progression on gags that are not serially but spatially distributed across a deep focus frame, The Museum of Jurassic Technology functions as a telescope, collapsing vast narratives into the instant of the artefact, and inversely, extending the visitor’s present to touch the times of other places. In the Museum, attraction and narrative fuse to create a remarkable effect of temporal tunneling, which makes it perhaps one of the most experimental and innovative of themed spaces.
Bukatman, Scott, Matters of Gravity: Special effects and Supermen in the 20th Century, Duke University Press 2003
Bukatman, Scott , Spectacle, Attractions, and Visual Pleasure in The Cinema of Attractions Reloaded, ed. Wanda, Strauven, Amsterdam University Press 2006
Dulac, Nicolas, and Gaudreault, André, Circularity and Repition at the Heart of the Attraction: Optical toys and the Emergence of a New Cultural Series in The Cinema of Attractions Reloaded, ed. Wanda, Strauven, Amsterdam University Press 2006
Thompson, Kristin, Breaking the glass armor: neoformalist film analysis, Princeton University Press, 1988
My Umbrella Music Box on display. When you open the umbrella, a windy, tinkling, chimey tune starts to play somewhere above the umbrella holder’s ears, only faintly discernible to others.
Materials used: hacked circuit of a Saw III audio-recording toy, a salvaged speaker, LED cocktail ice-cube, synthetic fur, taffeta, netting, nylon and a common umbrella. Special thanks to Jerry Serafin for his electronics expertise!
from Sianne Ngai’s “The Cuteness of the Avant-Garde “To use an everyday, ready-at-hand object as an example of commercially produced cuteness, this small and compact knickknack, a frog-shaped bath sponge (figs. 1a and 1b), shows how much the aesthetic depends on a softness that invites physical touching—or, to use a more provocative verb, fondling. It also demonstrates the centrality of anthropomorphism to cuteness. Yet while the object has been given a face and exaggerated gaze, what is striking is how stylistically simplified and even unformed its face is, as if cuteness were a sort of primitivism in its own right. Realist verisimilitude and precision are excluded in the making of cute objects, which have simple contours and little or no ornamentation or detail. The smaller and less formally articulated or more bloblike the object, the cuter it becomes—in part because smallness and blobbishness suggest greater malleability and thus a greater capacity for being handled. The bath sponge makes this especially clear because its purpose is explicitly to be pressed against the body and squished.
From here it is only a short step to see how the formal properties associated with cuteness — smallness, compactness, softness, simplicity, and pliancy— call forth specific affects: helplessness, pitifulness, and even despondency. There is thus a sense in which the minor taste concept of cuteness might be said to get at the process by which all taste concepts are formed and thus at the aesthetic relation all of them capture. For in addition to being a minor aesthetic concept that is fundamentally about minorness (in a way that, for instance, the concept of the glamorous is not), it is crucial to cuteness that its diminutive object has some sort of imposed-upon aspect or mien—that is, that it bears the look of an object not only formed but all too easily de-formed under the pressure of the subject’s feeling or attitude towards it. Though a glamorous object must not have this mien at all (in fact, the meta-aspect of looking as if its aspect were subjectively imposed would immediately break the Schein of glamour), the subject’s awareness, as she gazes at her little object, that shemaybe willfully imposing its cuteness upon it, is more likely to augment rather than detract from the aesthetic illusion, calling attention to an unusual degree of synonymy between objectification and cutification
We can thus start to see how cuteness might provoke ugly or aggressive feelings, as well as the expected tender or maternal ones. For in its exaggerated passivity and vulnerability, the cute object is as often intended to excite a consumer’s sadistic desires for mastery and control as much as his or her desire to cuddle.
original concept art for Disney’s Tomorrowland
Scott Bukatman’s argument about Disneyland’s cyborg relationship to technology echoes Ndalianis’ discussion of the (neo)baroque aesthetic of spatial interaction, in the sense that both join in a phenomenological regime where the subject fuses with an exterior, with an object – whether the animatronic interface of Disneyland or a painted bas-relief that tricks the viewer into seeing it as an extruded surface – in a overflow of “kinetic, sensory pleasure” (Bukatman).
the Grand Opening of Fantasyland, 1955
Both the baroque object/ornament and the theme park (which might be thought of as a baroque effect multiplied by technology) allow “the body (to) penetrate impossible spaces” (Bukatman), or in Ndalianis’ words, to create “co-extensive space – a space that illusionistically connects with and infinitely extends from our own”. This process of fusion between the internal space of the subject and the inanimate exteriority of the technological or architectural apparatus is read by both Bukatman and Ndalianis as a kind of sensual and affective jouissance, a pleasure that derives from the subject exceeding the boundaries of the “normal” body to find a new kind of virtual embodiment in a multiplicity of outside spaces. In a movement that molds itself to the machinery of the baroque aesthetic, the baroque subject is transformed, disarticulated and dispersed alongside forking paths of attention and absorption, the sense of self “becoming a system of a labyrinth, which, by means of mobile synthesis, stretches itself out in a realm of glittering movement and color” (to re-contextualize Focillon’s beautiful phrase).
Blade Runner…a cyberpunk icon
It is interesting that this same effect proper to the baroque also seems to apply to Bukatman’s interpretation of cyberpunk as an ocular regime governed by a sense of ambiguity as to whether the eye is subjective or objective/inanimate/machine. Not surprisingly, the intimate pervasiveness characteristic of cyberpunk technology (and of our own contemporary technological experience) can be witnessed to correspond with a resurgence in a taste for and consumption of the baroque, if one is to judge by the popularity of theme parks and themed urbanity – the baroque might be the missing puzzle piece in understanding contemporary audiences relationship to technology and the (ongoing?) process of cyborgification whereby individuality or consciousness becomes transmediated across different platforms.
18th century artist Giovanni Piranesi’s baroque rendition of Rome...
This liquification of the self into a riot of sensation, to go back to Focillon’s analysis of the baroque, also arguably applies to our experience of the attraction (and the amusement parks from which Disneyland is descended). Though it is common to think about attractions in terms of theme parks, and of seeing Disneyland as a kind of terminal incarnation of the principle of the attraction, Disneyland’s totalizing space and monolithically integrated design actually differs significantly from other historical experiences of attractions, such as amusement parks, pleasure gardens, fairs, etc…In which case Margaret King’s idealistic description of the theme park as a “stage based on architectural symbols for stylized, romanticized human interaction” might be read proscriptively or nostalgically…
and more virtuoso inventiveness using Rollercoaster Tycoon 3 as a theme park 3D modeling environment!
How does Bolter and Gruisin’s (Remediation) argument that all media pursue a teleological course of both transparency and “hypermediacy” apply to Dulac’s and Gaudreaul’s (The Cinema of Attractions) concept of the attraction? Bolter and Gruisin interpret both transparency, the desire for a total and faithful reproduction of reality, and hypermediacy, the multiplication of media presence that establishes mediation as the primary reality, as expressions of temporality. In both cases, the goal is to submerge the viewer/player in a new (and, ideally, more enriching) present: “hypermedia and transparent media are opposite manifestations of the same desire: the desire to get past the limits of representations and achieve the real. They are not striving for the real in a metaphysical sense. Instead, the real is defined in terms of the viewer experience: it is that which evokes an immediate (and therefore authentic) viewer response.”contemporary interpretations of the zooetrope by a Burning Man artist
Perhaps a point that Bolter and Gruisin do leave out is that this yearning for a more satisfying or exciting present, for a feeling of visceral and striking immediacy which media seems to cater to is a particularly modern phenomenon. Mary Ann Doane (The Emergence of Cinematic Time) traces a genealogy of this craving for the contingent and yet significant moment from Benjamin to Baudelaire and the advent of modern modes of transportation such as the train, which broke up earlier experiences of time through a new logic of speed, shock, and destination, as opposed to what we might (ideally) think of as a Bergsonian or Proustian duration. According to Doane, the replacement temporality that constituted cinematic time catered to this new modern consciousness by both enveloping the viewer in a surfeit of emotional immediacy, taping into the viewer’s addiction to the jolt of the “instant”, and, through its technological apparatus, fulfilling dreams of immortal or resurrected time, the time which had been lost in the transition to a modern age that emphasized the present over other modes of temporality.evolution of the optical toy into cinema: Reynauld’s “optical theatre”, based on the cyclical praxinoscope
Dulac’s and Gaudreault’s discussion of the phenakisticope and the zoetrope as forms of media that privileged metamorphosis, reproducibility of action, “brevity” and temporal circularity over the narration, duration, structured and linear time that would characterize later cinema, seems particularly pertinent in this context. Here, referring back to Doane, we might interpret these optical attractions as exemplary expressions of the emerging modern temporality of their era. In manipulating and enjoying these attractions, the viewer/player experienced a form of “mechanical” as opposed to human time, a kind of emotional and cognitive immersion in the apparatus that, according to Dulac and Gaudreault, belongs both to the logic of digital games (and, although they don’t mention it, of amusement park rides) as well as to the logic of cinema.
It is difficult to pin down attractions to either a teleology of hypermediacy or transparency, because they don’t seem to properly engage in a process of representation of reality. It might be more useful to think of them as intensifying factors, instruments for the crystallization of time; in Tom Gunning’s words, “the temporality of the attraction itself is limited to the pure present tense of its appearance”.
Thinking about “Public Interactives” implies thinking about interactivity as an activity that occurs preeminently in space, and more specifically, in a locale.
Ludologists tend to understand interactivity as a product of systems, an interlocking mechanism of a series of actions performed by the player in response to a set of rules, whether these are the implicit logic of a game of tag or the constraints built into the virtual environment of World of Warcraft. Rules constitute both allowances and boundaries. They channel a flow of movement that keeps the game in motion, but that also demarcates possible actions from impossible ones. This flow has been characterized as the feeling of irrepressible rightness that sometimes accompanies the accomplishment of procedure (Salen and Zimmerman, 2004); “ludos”, to reprise Roger Caillois’s term for this type of rule-based play, is always spatially and temporally choreographed.
Interactive systems also seem to work best when they strike a sort of golden mean with the player: neither too difficult (which would lead to frustration) nor too predictable (which would lead to boredom). Interestingly, frustration and boredom are emotions that express stasis: they are stoppers of flow, they end the interaction. Emotional momentum, on the other hand, sustains play, and expresses itself in a feeling of elation, control, expectation, curiosity.
Not coincidentally, many games, including digital ones, place momentum at the core of their gameplay – whether kicking a ball across a field in soccer or sliding down a series of icy chutes in Mario. The emotional consequences of physical or virtual movement initiate a feedback loop that is self-sustaining, while the player’s struggle for control gives a shape or a purpose to this experience of free motion, thus prolonging it. In this perspective, the systems-oriented view of games is already a view that places kinetics – the study of “bodies in motion” – at the center of the definition of interactivity.
Kinetics is about ambulation: movement through space. Systems and spaces are surprisingly symmetrical concepts that allow different kinds of metaphorical transformations into each other; the popularity of using architectural terms to define software structure testifies to this.
Systems are defined by an operational terrain constituted by logical connectors that set up the permissibility of certain actions as opposed to others. Actions are open or closed depending on coextensive conditions articulated in discrete statements. In a similar way, spaces are built out of jointed negative and positive spaces that permit or restrict passage. Space has its own logical statements in connectors such as corridors, bridges, paths, conditional spaces such as balconies, mezzanines and rooftops, logic gates such as doors and windows. This makes the kinetics of a system and the kinetics of space strikingly similar.
Moreover, for the player / ambulator, navigation requires a certain prescience or foreknowledge about the system or space’s hidden topology. In negotiating a system a player struggles to acquire a degree of foresight in order to map out subsequent moves and plan ahead; correspondingly, the visitor of a space finds the view equally revealed and obstructed by her own singular perspective. Game studies scholar and designer Steffen P. Walz points to the interactivity inherent in spatial experience – an experience of point of view and obscured typology – in his discussion of architectural kinetics: “The way we move through a designed environment is responsible for our expectations of that environment. Thanks to material and immaterial emphases and the ordering of interior and exterior space, movement affects, shocks or surprises us, reveals secrets, and most importantly, asks us to actively participate in a space intellectually, physically, and relationally” (Walz 2010:30).