How things can change! I was made aware by a few people who had tried the early tests of my VR piece that the environment wasn’t necessarily a Church to them. The comparison given was the U.S. Capitol building.
I spent a considerable time focussing on a religious setting after the influence my research paper had had on my practice. From the beginning I focused on the Internet as a physical space and the architecture within it. Hearing the users experience made me feel that the environment is comparable to both a political and religious setting, which, given the nature of the internet, I didn’t dislike. Though, admittedly it wasn’t intended.
I’ve kept what was originally designed as a church / chapel going against what I’d decided a while ago.
I’ve reflected on the Internet as a comparable institute to religion and still believe that its use and ability creates a similar social structure based on live information. For example, stories of discrimination, abuse, or any injustice are shared and commented on. These are seen and read by tens of thousands, creating a collective social view on that injustice. The main issue with this idea is that internet communities are more secluded than I’d originally thought. The stories of injustice I see on my Facebook timeline are personalised to the community I’m a part of. If I lived elsewhere, in another community, it is a different story. (Of course this is a simple and obvious reflection that can be seen in any community online or offline).
This couldn’t have been made more obvious by Brexit. Since Friday, Facebook (and most other social media) has been set alight with emotion both positive and negative. Some of the posts have been horrendous, some very enlightening, however, the best one I read was a friend from Nottingham uni. He wrote:
“……and proof that my newsfeed is a terrible measure of public opinion”
I don’t want to digress to Brexit, but this comment gives the perfect insight into internet communities.
Back to the religious comparison. This idea has made me realise that although the spread of information allows for quick solidarity and reaction to significant events. It is also tailored to you as an individual and therefore doesn’t give you the insight of all points on the spectrum. I’ve always felt that the best way to understand a story or an idea is to read from both ends of the argument. This is in some way lost by the monetization of the net, and its focus on your individual experience (This is mostly true for social medias).
I’ve gone slightly off topic but the idea of Gateway is to highlight the importance of the viewer’s input.
I will post some more recent examples of the VR experience I’m building in due course.
For the Final Symposium of the MA, I had some technical difficulties in the export that meant I couldn’t attend in person. Consequently, the discussion of my work was upsettingly limited in the 5 minutes after the video.
I’d like to give some insight into the questions asked, and if anybody is further interested to discuss, please do get in touch!
Overwhelmingly there was the simple question of “Why Religion?” and “How does it link to your practice.”
The research i’ve undergone has looked into the prospects of the internet as a 3 dimensional environment. Compared to the physical world, we can manipulate and altar the physics and constructs of this man-made space. Religion has been a significant building block for social structure and control for centuries. The internet as we know it, is a global network only 30 years into its popular history. The ability for an individual to openly engage with daily free-flow information about the world around them lessens the effect of the everyday ‘Unknown’. This is an aspect I believe is a core reason for theistic belief. Fear of the ‘Unknown’.
In the UK, it is now the minority of individuals who would identify themselves as Christians. Within the space of one monarchy, British society has gone from a religious, Christian nation to a multi-cultural, pluralist, secular nation with a foundation of Christian values. The single most influential and evolutionary creation of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, has been the internet. (Subject to argument of course).
When talking about ‘the Internet’, its size and scope detracts from the discussions. ‘The Internet’ has become a blurry definition of what was originally a computer network. Technically, yes, it is still a computer network, though no one can doubt its rapid evolution to something unimaginable. (Its worth mentioning at this point that the telephone was invented in the 1890s…) The culture and philosophy surrounding this computer network is still defining itself, and will continue to do so as long as it finds new ways to be a disruptive and progressive force.
Internet culture – another blurry term that is as un-descriptive as saying “religious culture.” Religion , at least to me, is a structure (or a network) of protocols. Each different religion, whether theistic or non-theistic has its own concepts, normalities and expectations etc. The theistic Abrahamic religions show many similarities in these areas, and others such Buddhism or Hinduism do not! Coming from a non-religious person, it would seem to me that its attraction is community and a way to approach The ‘Unkown.’ Just as internet culture varies itself and develops niche communities interested in something similar, so too does religion.
Whats the Unkown? To me this is the feeling of hope, worry, expectation, dread. Essentially its the emotional response to the future. In a time where there is little information about the world outside your community, religion gives a sense of understanding and fulfilment, and most importantly a sense of protection. This future-gazing becomes less fearful when there is an almighty power watching over. The submissive values the worshipper has been taught in the community ensures that he/she believes that the almighty God’s actions are the best possible outcome, no matter the consequence. Perhaps this is best seen in fundamentalists actions rather than the average religious worshipper. I appreciate that many religious people don’t necessarily believe in everything within their religion, but instead find value, identity and community in its structure.
When I say that the Internet is comparable to Religion, I’m not trying to come across as some nugget with a grandiose philosophical theory. I simply mean that there’s a clear correlation with increasing global transparency, communication and information and the decline of religious worship. Alongside this, the way that we as the users interact with this network is comparable to the addictive and spiritual routine of some religions. How often do you read the news or check your social media on a daily basis? It’s not praying but its a vital part of understanding the community around you.
The idea of the ‘self’ is still a relatively young concept. The internet endorses originality and self-interest. Social Media is the most obvious offender in this area. As McLuhan argues, man will reflect himself in any technology that is created. Perhaps in the next century, historians and theorists will look at the way millennials used the internet as selfish and primitive, with no sense of global community. Its incredible to think that something like The Ice Bucket Challenge managed to raise close to a quarter of a billion dollars for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. It was such a simple concept and it made a huge difference, whilst being a lot of fun. It bought a global social media community together, and since then there have been a number of trends that have done the same. One of the most interesting and questionable of these examples was the ability to change your profile photo to a French flag after the Bataclan attacks last year. Whilst being an overwhelming and uplifting show of support to those killed in the attacks, the weeks and months after such a show of solidarity from the world, gave a glimpse on the difference in interest. The Western world dominate the Internet in this sense. Which unfortunately means that there is an imbalanced representation for others, which can feed a negative outlook. Turkey has experienced significant attacks in recent months, yet there is a clear difference in online response which can only harm the bonds between these communities.
Anyway, I’m dragging on. I’ve looked at religion for these reasons as well as the effect religious art had on its viewers throughout history. I’m particularly inspired by the early and high Renaissance. The romantic storytelling and dramatic idealism of stained glass windows, cathedral reliefs and paintings continue to be a strong source of inspiration.
Another question that was asked – “What do you mean by the imbalance between the physical and digital?”
This is different for everyone. Perhaps I’m alone in thinking that I’m increasingly reliant on the internet and its services for more and more daily tasks. As more objects and services are linked to the internet, more of our control is given to our devices. A great example would be Hive, letting you control your heating from your phone. Or iZettle, a card machine for small businesses that links to your smartphone or tablet and works with Paypal. Or the Fitbit, that lets you calculate the precise number of steps you take each day as well as keeping a daily log of your heart activity. There are so many examples. Perhaps the imbalance I talk about is just the emergence of the internet of things.
I believe there’s a significant imbalance in friendships online and offline. There are many people who I’d love to see more regularly however have only had recent contact through social media. Many of these people live locally, yet the interaction is digital.
I’m not sure how best to describe this as an imbalance as it’s different for each person. Many people who don’t use internet services on a regular basis may not see this as an issue. However, watching television is a great example. There is an addictive quality.
Along this MA I’ve been investigating the 3dimensional internet and the addictive and spiritual aspects that the net consumer displays. We are creatures of habit, and many of those habits are reflected online. Whilst working on the research paper for Unit 1, I noticed the importance of religion in my artistic interests. I’ve been highly influenced by the old masters and specifically religious subject matter. The effects these works had on its audiences reflected their spiritual narratives.
Propaganda is rarely used positively, but I’d argue that each and every religion has created a prolonged style of propaganda throughout history. The difference between this subject matter and that of more infamous examples of propaganda is its ability to shape the minds of individuals and the running of societies in positive directions. Clearly this is very debatable and one could argue that Christianity, Islam, and Judaism have in fact spread as much hate and violence as they have peace and serenity….
Anyhow… delving too deep into the make up of popular religions is dangerous territory, and I don’t particularly mean to cause offence so I’ll stop there.
My interim piece last year ‘Congregation’ has pushed me to look further into the internet user as religious practitioner. The piece I’m developing for the final show has been focused on the idea of the device as a gateway into a data-driven spirituality that connects global societies with media and live information. These connections overlook the barriers of religion and belief and with the inclusion of so many users, allow each person to access, engage and manipulate the media and information they want. Throughout the masters I’ve looked at the spectrum of a users internet habits and the potential extremities. Like in anything, there are extremists, this is true to say for any religion, belief or spirituality. I’m having a change of heart as I try to iron out my thoughts with this final piece. I’ve focused on creating a Chapel or Church most likely based on my own background in Christianity, however, this was an error.
My research isn’t about religion and therefore I shouldn’t have focused so hard on this setting. As I focused on the Church, I began to expand on the idea with specific references to Christianity. Since my initial project proposal my interest has been in the prospects of Virtual Space and Digital Identity. I looked at architecture, addiction, anatomy, consumer electronics, propaganda and the imbalance between physical and digital. After the Research Paper, I began focusing on spirituality as a prime example of the way an identity can interact with the internet. Somewhere between this research I became fixated on the idea of a religious setting for my final piece. I have now changed this aspect to reflect a more abstract approach to what constitutes spirituality and what better reflects the practice I’ve developed over the past 2 years.
I’ve focused on the simple idea of representing the internet in 3D space. After changing the environment dramatically from previous test shots, I’ve had a lot more success with my VR environment. I decided to look back at my previous works, most notably the ‘Signals’ and ‘Streams’ works I’ve developed. I took this aesthetic and dedicated my time to re-creating it in VR. Below is a small screen recording of the environment. My overall dream of texturising each line with live media has unfortunately been dampened for the final show, but I will continue to work on this after I finish the MA.
There is a lot of work to be done, but this better represents where I hoped the digital side of my piece would be at this stage.
I’ve been making some big changes to the VR side of my final piece. I’ve (just about) got over the fact that incorporating live news media won’t be possible s0 I’m having to go down other routes. If I’m honest, It’s a real blow. I wonder if I’d continued more ruthlessly with three.js at the end of last year rather than getting interested in Unity whether the outcome would have been different, but time is running out and I can’t afford to keep experimenting without a certain outcome. At least I know that with funding I can do it. Whether that funding went towards hiring a programmer to create a unity script using CEFGlue and scraping browser data, or just buying Coherent UI.
Anyway, I’m over it, and going with Plan B.
I’m going to create video collages of browser screen grabs and news recordings. This does allow more flexibility with the narrative on misinformation and religious technology and media usage.
I’ve been trying to design the chapel for the piece, and have decided to give Cycles render a rest for the design process. Blender Render gives a simple model-like finish. These are the native models without any texturing. I want to complete the basic infrastructure of the level before focussing too much on detail. These details will include altars, figures, pews, satellites and monitors. I hope to begin the texturing at the beginning of May.
I should mention that I’m unsure about the presentation when in VR. Part of me wants to put all the focus on the interior. I’ll decide when its more complete. Conceptually it makes more sense to stay inside the Chapel, but aesthetically, its nice to be outside…. A lot to think about.
The model is far from done, but these are the Blender Renders as of lunchtime today:
Actually…. I have made a change this then…. i added a window.
I’ve placed the new model in Unity and here are a few screenshots of it in action. (Lots of work to do). As explained before these are process photos, so theres currently no textures or lighting other than the smokescreen.
Having looked at the prospect of the internet as a physical environment, I’ve come to think, what better way of showing that, than to create an element of classical architecture. It’s perhaps all a little too literal and like something out of Stargate, but it does the job.
I magically came across the mantelpiece of a fireplace. It was sitting by the bins outside Coldharbour Studios. It seems unloved, and I knew instantly that it was something I’d want to play with. Having hauled the stash into the studio, it remained there for some time with no purpose. Initial thoughts were to place a screen in it, but having reviewed and reflected on some of my previous work, I saw an opportunity to realise my hopes for the Ultrasonic circuit.
The majority of my research has considered the importance of the device and how it acts as our access to new information. My interim piece last year ‘Congregation’ considered it as the gateway to the internet. Here, I hope to take that concept further, and more literally. (As mentioned before in the Stargate reference.)
Back to how this came about….. After staring at this pointless, hollow fireplace taking up half of my space, I realised it was perfect for the frame of a classical doorway such as the one used here:
So I got to work transforming a fireplace into a door….
Here’s how I’ve got on so far.
It’s very primitive at the moment but it gives an impression of what will be done. Alongside this, I’ve been working on the Digital side of the doorway:
The main chapel is in tact. There is a lot of detailing and texturing to do, before getting it into Unity. When in Unity, I’ll be focussing on the different strands of media presented in the main hall of the Chapel.
Best to say this now, I’ve never noticed more of a difference between the digital and physical work process since approaching this piece. Whether they come together well is yet to be seen, but I’m positive that something will come out of it.
Only large bump in the road so far is displaying live news in unity. I was almost successful with a plugin from Coherent Labs, BUT they only gave me a 30 day free trial for it, and it costs £3000…. So unless I can convince them to offer me another 30 free day trial during the exhibition, I’m going to have to re-think embedding live news channels in the chapel. Another option is to stream it from webcams facing live screens. This will require multiple news channels to be on multiple screens at some other location for the duration of the final show…. Doesn’t seem feasible. I’ve been playing around with CEFGlue but again, no luck. The only other way I can think may be feasible is screen casting onto a plane in Unity. Surely if its possible to display the webcams output, its possible to display the screen.
This is my current snag, hopefully it’ll be solved, but I’m beginning to think of a contingency, mainly by using video clips rather than live news (which is tragic!!)
My research has focussed on two elements. Digital Beings….. and the Virtual Space they inhabit….. The way I have attempted to represent these ideas has been highly experimental, and the hearty balance of media I wished for at the beginning of the course has yet to reach fruition. The act of researching the alternative to a real being in physical space from the point of view of a physical person naturally promotes a level of balance between the two but practically, in some cases, I’ve found more comfort in digital process over physical. My desire to physically paint has hopelessly diminished over the past 6 months, and instead an interest in combining physical drawings with 3D animation and processing has evolved.
A mixed media approach has always been my direction, however, their integration with one another is crucial. I feel my successes in the previous year have been in one medium, never the integration of many. For both the mini workshop and the Interim show, I’ve produced physical canvases, one oils, one inks (and wool)… the concepts behind these works have differed, “Society of Spectacle” visualised the ‘meta-city’ and its disconnected inhabitants, constantly missing the spectacles in front of their eyes whilst focussing on endless handheld distractions. “Congregation” is a composition of red-blooded empty shells of people each captivated by their own individualised sermon being read to the them by their personal devices. These works have focused on information addiction, which maybe goes hand in hand when trying to decipher the definition of Digital Identity, but then again, each individual represents identity differently, and its definitely a horribly broad umbrella term. After spending most of first year looking at the definition of digital identity in a very singular way, towards the end, I began to realise my interest in the representation of religion. I’m not a religious person, but I’m fascinated by religious art. In my eyes, nothing more important could have happened to humanity than the invention of religion. The ethics, arts and evolutions that have come from it are unrivalled. There are of course some very nasty moments in history where religion can be blamed, but I’m looking at it positively. Many of the worlds treasures would not have been created without a belief in God, and in simpler times, the question of the Unknown may have been a much more frightening prospect.
These thoughts about the online individual, his offline counterpart, how these individuals bunch up together to make communities and their eradication of traditions over facts, have then often been placed in images attempting to visualise the complexity of internet traffic?… The results have been aesthetically complex but conceptually very simplistic. I’ve spread my focus across a number of keen interests, and need to find more depth. Maybe thats the definition of quantitive over qualitative. But do these ideas not all come hand in hand? If we are to look at the stained glass windows of church interiors, the likelihood is the vast glass areas display what appear to be very complex aesthetics, but the stories behind them are intentionally made to be accessible to the masses. Or in fact maybe its the importance of an ethical question made simple to connect with the masses. Either way, trying to present overly complex ideas only promotes exclusivity, which has been, in my mind, the worst aspect of the contemporary art world in the past century. Then again, overly inclusive themes and concepts can be deemed ‘pop’ and sellable in an increasingly financial art world. As with anything, either side of the spectrum is extreme. I read an interesting article by Guardian art critic Jonathan Jones on Ikeda’s ‘Supersymmetry’ and how he believes that although the work was an impressive spectacle, the perceived complexity of it only strengthened Jones’s belief that Ikeda had no idea what was going on in CERN. Particle physics is complex, and therefore Ikeda represented it with aesthetic complexity…. but unlike Ikeda’s work… the complexity of CERN’s research actually means something. This has brought me back to my own work, and visualising internet traffic… Obviously the internet is a busy place, but empty lines can’t represent its manic behaviour, whats its made up of? what times and when is it used? The lines must be textured with media, or better yet, represent actual data.
My work with reactive sensors came to a halt over my sheer lack of experience in the area, yet had I successfully completed my aims with the project, I would not have considered the conceptual significance behind the ability to “turn on” a painting with your presence. At first. I felt the crucial aspect was to reflect the necessity for the individual to make an active choice to interact with their tech, and the internet. Now, its about why they want to. There was an interesting sets of stats released in the news about a week ago claiming that collectively people in the UK use their smartphones 1.1 billion times a day…. the average being around 40/50, and some extremists as high as 1000 times a day. What used to be an extension of communication has become an integral part to the way we think about everyday actions. But what are these interactions? Emails? News? Social Media? etc etc… Another approach is the Angler fish, and its use of light to attract its prey. This may be a route I take a little further. Going forward with the light – distance project, I’d love to create physical versions, however for the time being, and the recent success I’ve had with Leap Motion, I’m going to create it digitally. The narratives of these works will be an intersection of anatomy and architecture, fact over faith, the growth of global communications and the rise of narcissism in the online world.
Digital Architecture – Another vague term I’ve been using… At the start this was to me the information that makes up the web, and the forms they create when moving. This is still the case, however, I want my work to be more accommodating for people, rather than just residing amongst floating bits of spaghetti….
Its the beginning of 2nd Year, and quite worryingly, I’m beginning to think about my final piece. There a elements of it appearing in some of the work I’ve produced, but the equilibrium is yet to be established both in concept and process. I’m excited to get going, if only I could get into the building! Oh well… More self-obsessed dribble to follow.