Between the seventies and nineties Myron Krueger,
Jeffrey Shaw and Peter
Weibel realised reactive installations. The installations presented
below react to observer operations 1: A technical system
using cameras or especially designed surfaces as sensors can be provoked
by observers with body movements to react with an output. The computer-aided
systems change their projections of two-(Krueger) and three-dimensional
(Shaw, Weibel) picture worlds in reacting to the input being produced
by observers and registered by sensors. If observers act on or before
an interface with the goal to change the projections then they provoke
questions about the self-orientation mediating between spaces of the projected
images and the real space.
With their operations on an interface in the real space the observers
cause changes in a not walkable virtual space. The navigation in an animated
`space of the image´ (Bildraum) with gravitationless objects is
coordinated by observers on an interface under gravity conditions. Observers
coordinate their actions on the technical interface with the `spaces of
the images´ in recursions: The system´s possibilities can
be reconstructed in cognitive reactions (observing operations) to the
triggered mechanical reactions. For further explorations of these possibilities
observers modify their actions on the interface (observer operations).
These exploring observer operations cause modifications in the cognitive
efforts to reconstruct the system´s possibilities (observing operations).
The question if the system can be reconstructed adequately with the last
reconceptualisation may lead to further observer operations.
Observers can construct a mental plan for the technical functions in
a highly simplified form if it seems to be useful for explorations of
the virtual space presenting the projected animated image on an interface.
Recursions between observing operations (Beobachtungsoperationen) and
observer operations (Beobachteroperationen) are parts of the investigations
exploring the presented programmed animations. Observers can construct
a second plan containing the relations between the technical interface
and cognitive recursions to navigate their explorative behavior.
The artists and programmers did not publish the codes for the technical
functions of the installations explained below. The effects of these functions
can be tested by observers in operating on or before the installations´
technical interfaces and looking on the projections or on screen presentations
of the animations.
In 1971 Myron Krueger´s "Psychic Space" was installed
in the Memorial Union Gallery of the University of Wisconsin. From the
exhibition space an installation space was separated by partition walls.
This space contained 48 black pressure-sensitive base plates and a projection
surface. The longitudinal walls are made of black polyethylene. Observers
were able to move on the base plates between the rear projection on one
narrow side and the other narrow side being coated with phosphorescent
paint. In moving on the plates observers activated a sound program and
an animation program. A minicomputer PDP-11
since 1969) of the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) transmitted the
input of the pressure-sensitive base plates to a Moog
Synthesizer (since 1964) generating sounds. An Adage
AGT-10 Graphic Display Computer supplied the rear-projection with
the ground plan of a labyrinth. Within the labyrinth observers could move
a rhombus by changing their locations on the base plates not without
activating the sound generation.
The sound generation reacted to observers entering and leaving the "sensing
grid" as well as to actions like jumping on the base plates and lifting
legs. The latter two operations of observers suspended the sound generation.
After a `playtime´ used for explorations of the base plates observers
could activate high- and low-pitched sounds on different sides and recognised
this interface functioning like a keyboard of a musical instrument. But
the distribution of pitch levels on the "sensory grid" could
rotate 90 degrees. This could cause irritations.
The Adage graphics system´s monitor was recorded
by a camera and the rear projection presented its images in the environment.
When observers entered the enviroment then they saw the rear projection
of a square. Via pressures on the base plates observers could move the
rhombus to the square. With the approximation of the rhombus and the square
the projection of the labyrinth started. The projection of this configuration
was dissolved if observers didn´t move the rhombus within the limits
of the labyrinth. The observers could easier be successful in directing
the rhombus to the goal because the projected obstacles contained target-oriented
barriers. But the labyrinth was dissolved before observers could reach
its innermost part. 2
Krueger, Myron: Videoplace, since 1974, film, studio
in the Museum of Natural History, Vernon/Connecticut 1988.
from 1974 to the nineties. 3 "Videoplace" takes
up the closed-circuit video installation prefigured in 1969 in Nam June
Paik´s "Participation TV II" 4 and modifies
it: In Paik´s installation observers could use a control panel to
manipulate video images recorded by video cameras and projected on monitors.
Krueger replaces Paik´s interface (control panel and cameras) by
a series of programmes transforming the recordings of a black/white-surveillance
camera. The camera mounted underneath the projection surface records observers
and their operations "against a brightly backlit sheet of translucent
plastic". On a computer with parallel active "specialized processors"
the software gathers the camera´s input as a "binary image"
transforming the observers´ contours in a field with ones and zeros
for recognised/non recognised observer operations. The software registers
motions of heads, hands, fingers, legs and feet. 5 These
data are used by programmes transforming and colouring the observers´
contours in different manners. If obervers leave the camera´s range
of vision then the system switches to another animation programme. 6
"Videoplace´s" switching system and programmes replace
Paik´s control panel and the functions of the video synthesizer.
Krueger, Myron: Videoplace, since 1974, presentation
of programmes in 1985.
The programme "Individual Medley" (since
1976 in b/w, since 1979/80 in colour) was developed for "Videoplace"
and uses overlaps of eight contours recorded successively ("sampling-rate")
and stored them for the animation programmes´ different kinds of
colourising and sound generations. Observers have to move, if they want
to activate the programmes for animations and to keep them running:
...a participant creates feedback for himself only as long as he keeps moving. 7
"Critter" offers observers
to act with their contours with and against a sign figure constituted
by a circle as its head with two little circles as eyes
and four lines as legs: A dialogue develops between the machine creature
and the observer on the part of the observer based on the body
language, without control panel or manual. 8 "Individual
Medley" and "Critter" are only two of fourteen examples
presented in 1991 by Krueger in his book "Artificial Reality II".
In 1975 Krueger installed "Videoplace"
for the first time in the Milwaukee Art Museum: Two installations with
camera-computer-projector units were located in two rooms in 300 feet
distance. In each room the contours of the persons were projected who
acted before the cameras of both installations. Observers looked at their
own contours and at the contours of observers of the other installation:
Observers in both rooms communicated with each other via the projections.
Krueger, Myron: Videoplace, since 1974, with videodesk,
Presentation of programmes.
In 1987 Krueger realised "Videodesk" for an "operator"
being familiar with the "Videoplace" system. If "Videodesk"
is combined with "Videoplace" then the operator is enabled to
provoke the observers in "Videoplace" to interactions in various
The "Videodesk" operator sits on a table. On a monitor behind
the table he sees the contours of his hands recorded by a camera hanging
from above the table. This input is transmitted to the "Videoplace"
system. Some programmes are developed for the interactions between the
observers´ contours in "Videoplace" and the recordings
of the operator´s hands in "Videodesk".
In "Man-Ipulate" the
observer´s silhouette falls over after being tossed on its upper
body by the operator´s hand, meanwhile in "Telecision"
observers can divide the contour of the operator´s arm as if they
can separate his hand from his body. 11 In "Artwheels"
observers move their contours between the operator´s hands. 12
Since 1983 Jeffrey Shaw develops reactive installations
with image projections. 13 The observers´ coordinations
between the orientations in real spaces and spaces of images are provoked
City" (variants for Manhattan, Amsterdam and Karlsruhe, 1989-91)
and in "The
Virtual Museum" (1991) to be organized in multi-layered ways:
Observers are prompted to activate and control mutations of the space
of the image by body motions (observer operations) on the interface. Navigating
in the virtual space with its three-dimensional `gravitationless´
elements is made possible in realising body motions under the conditions
Shaw, Jeffrey: The Legible City, reactive installation,
In "Legible City" the
houses of a city´s simulation are replaced by letters. (In the variants
for Amsterdam and Karlsruhe) the letters possess the height of the replaced
houses and are parts of a text describing the urban situations reconstructed
by the simulation. Before the projection wall a bicycle is mounted on
the floor allowing to turn the handlebars and to pedal. A potentiometer
at the handlebars measures the steering angle. A rear wheel tachometer
gauges the speed.
A personal computer digitises these informations and transmits them to
Graphics Personal IRIS 4D/20TG Workstation (since 1988). The workstation
calculates the location in the virtual urban space in accordance with
the observers´ operations on the bicycle. 14 Meanwhile
observers with local knowledge pedal to move themselves in the simulation
and try to imagine the real street views they are supported by city maps
in their efforts to identify the real urban spaces. These maps are presented
by a liquid crystal display mounted on the handlebars: The display presents
the biker´s location as a wandering point. 15
Shaw, Jeffrey: The Virtual Museum, reactive installation,
1991, presentation by the artist at the Francisco Carolinum, Linz 1992.
This self localisation of the observer at an installation-external place
is substituted in "The Virtual Museum" by a self localisation
within the installation´s space.
An observer sits on a chair in front of a monitor. If the observer sitting
on the chair moves his body then he activates the monitor projection and
a rotable base. On this base the chair and the monitor is mounted. Sensors
react to rotations of the chair and movements of its seat-back caused
by observer operations. To the sensors´ data in turn react the image
projection and the base.
In 1992 all walls of an exhibition space in the Oberösterreichisches
Landesmuseum Francisco Carolinum (Linz) were painted with a black horizontal
stripe situated circa one meter above the floor. The first virtual space
represents this stripe and the rotable base. If the observer uses the
chair to navigate himself in the virtual space onto the stripe then it
is usable as an interface to four virtual spaces. Three of these spaces
refer to art media like painting, sculpture and cinema, meanwhile a fourth
space thematises characteristics of computer animated environments via
signs ("A", "2", "Z") floating and moving
without aim. The floating and jigging signs illuminate the virtual space.
If an observer takes place on the chair-as-interface
of the "Virtual Museum" then he looks at the first virtual space
as a simulation of the exhibition space including the rotable base with
chair and monitor, but without observer. If an observer directs himself
in the virtual exhibition space to the black stripe then he recognises
it as a switch to further virtual spaces integrating simulations of the
exhibition space without the rotable base. For the observer navigating
within the virtual space the black horizontal stripe is `readable´
as an indication of a switch function.
Within a sequence of spaces this switch function is a connecting part
being only possible in virtuality because it allows to enter a digitally
animated space and it is repeated in it as an entrance to other simulated
spaces iterating the stripe-as-switch, too: With the switch across the
black stripe into the next virtual space the observer is led from the
actual virtual space to the next virtual space. Nevertheless this interface
within the animation offers no floor plan relating the simulations spatially
to each other. The simulated passages represent the passages (doors, wall-openings)
in the exhibition space of the Francisco Carolinum to adjacent rooms but
the simulations of these architectural elements have no functions in the
Shaw writes on the availability of an arbitrarily expandable sequence
of simulated spaces:
My installation of `The Virtual Museum´
embodies the idea of a single-room museum whose quantity of the virtual
exhibition rooms can be infinitely extended. 16
The installation reduces the arbitrarily continuable
sequence of virtual spaces to simulations of spaces reconstructing characteristics
of `old´ media. With this "remediation" 17
in three virtual spaces Shaw facilitates himself to expose characteristics
of 3D simulations in the fourth virtual space. The four spaces are only
a few parts within an arbitrarily expandable sequence of virtual spaces.
These parts are enfoldings of a partially unfolded and potentially further
unfoldable media development.
At the Institut für Neue Kunst of the Städelschule in Frankfurt
the installation "On
Justifying the Hypothetical Nature of Art and the Non-Identicality within
the Object World" was realised under the supervision of Peter
Weibel. The artwork combines four visual worlds conceptualised and programmed
by staff members of the Institut für Neue Kunst. When in 1992 the
Cologne gallery Tanja Grunert presented the installation an observer walked
along a dark corridor to enter a room. It was illuminated by a reactive
computer-aided image projection as soon as the floor sensors were activated.
Contact mats are set into a floor area of 5 x 5 meters. The incoming visitor
has just activated the projection when he is able to recognise the 32
pressure-sensitive elements in the floor and their relations to the programmes
of the visual worlds. The observer can activate four coloured floor sensors
to select the letters´ projection of the "text world"
(Constanze Ruhm/Bob OKane), an "architecture" respectivley "space
world" (Dieter Beck/Christian Möller), an "object world"
(Akke Wagenaar) or the "gas world" (Gideon May/Laurent Mignonneau).
Weibel, Peter u.a.: On Justifying the Hypothetical
Nature of Art and the Non-Identicality within the Object World, reactive
installation, 1992. Oberösterreichisches Landesmuseum Francisco Carolinum,
When an observer enters the installation room then
he activates one of the floor coloured sensors located next to the entrance
and starts one of the four visual worlds. The observer sees each of these
virtual worlds unmodified until he activates further grey sensors. 25
sensors offer to the observers possibilities to coordinate scaling, proportion
and rotation. Further three sensors allow to control twirl, twist and
wave functions. 18
Observers can use the floor sensors to influence
the virtual worlds in different ways. Especially the "gas world"
has a highly developed life of its own and is a specific variant of "artificial
life" in Evolutionary Art (see chap. IV.3.1-IV.3.2). Weibel designates
the "variability" of self-unfolding virtual worlds as "viability".
If observers want to switch between the virtual worlds or to modify one
of them then they have to change their distances to the image projection:
The activation of the sensors and the observer´s location are coupled
to one another. In operating on the technical interface the observer´s
attention switches between the body coordination in the real space and
the projected space of the image and vice versa.
Weibel, Peter a.o.: On Justifying the Hypothetical
Nature of Art and the Non-Identicality within the Object World, reactive
installation, Gallery Tanja Grunert, Cologne 1992 (Schuler: Weibel 1997,
In front of Barnett Newman´s big lengthwise
rectangular paintings with monochrome planes and vertical stripes an observer´s
attention switches between the self localisation in the real space (image
space) and the space of the image: In displacing himself in the real space
the observer tries to find out the best position for a switch into the
space of the image. In turning their attention to the space of the image
observers switch from a cognitive-corporeal self orientation in the real
space with a peripheral visual perception of the picture as an object
on a wall to the orientation within the depth effects provoked by the
concentration on the visual perception of the colour field with an ongoing
peripheral self orientation within the real space. This transition marks
the interface between observations of the real space and spaces of the
Barnett Newman and female observer in front of "Cathedra"
(oil and magna on canvas, 244 x 541 cm, 1951) in Newman´s Front
Street Studio, New York. Photo: Peter A. Juley and Son. Smithsonian
American Art Museum, Washington D.C.
(Anfam: Abstract Expressionism 1990, p.147, fig.110).
The technical interface of the installation "On
Justifying..." takes up this switch between the image space (Raumbild)
and the space of the image (Bildraum). The technical interface provokes
observers to refocusings and reconceptualisations by exploratory motions
between the sensors in the real space and focusings of the attention to
the spaces of images. The image space/space of the image (Raumbild/Bildraum)
switch is the cognitive correlate to the technical interface.
In their efforts to find out which sensors offer to activate which kind
of image transforming functions observers switch from a self orientation
primary focussed on the real space to a self orientation primary oriented
to the space of the image, from an image space/space of the image orientation
to a space of the image/image space orientation. If observers construct
a cognitive interface for their explorations on the technical interface
between real space and the space of the image then it presupposes an inside/outside
switch in the relationing of the image space and the space of the image:
from the observer´s self orientation within the space of the image
as `the inside´ and the orientation within the real space as `the
outside´ to the body coordination to activate the sensors within
the real space (`the inside´) with an observation of the produced
changes within the space of the image (`the outside´), and vice
versa. After changing over from one virtual world to another one observers
can repeat explorative sequences of actions with refocusings on the image
space and the space of the image via inside/outside switch.
The installation "On Justifying..."
focuses the attention of observers to the inside/outside switch in a "duo-pluriversum"
confronting the observers´ image space with several successively
changeable spaces of the image. A model for "world observation"
is put on by the operative relation between the technical and the cognitive
interface. 21 Weibel bases this model theoretically
on an "exo/endo interface" of the observer to the world refering
to Otto Eberhard Rössler´s "endophysics" and their
concept of an "explicit internal observer":
The virtual worlds are...a special case of endophysics." 22
Dr. Thomas Dreher
D-80339 München. Homepage with numerous articles
on art history since the sixties, a. o. on Concept Art and Intermedia
Do you want to send us your opinion or a tip? Then send us an e-mail.
1 Observer operations (physical level: body movements)
and observing operations (cognitive level: perceptual schemata, plans
for the coordination of actions, self orientation): Dreher: Performance
2001, p.20-23 with ann.12 and 14. back
4 Paik, Nam June: Participation TV II, video-closed-circuit,
three cameras combined with a Paik/Abe synthesizer and four monitors,
Galleria Bonino, New York 1971: Davis: Experiment 1975, p.189; Decker:
Paik 1988, p.65s.,151; Kacunko: Circuit 2004, p.187s. back
6 "The hardware of Videoplace": "...the
system consists of two general-purpose computers and a number of highly
specialized processors including one that executes forty million instructions
per second." (Krueger: Videoplace 1985, p.147)
Most parts of the software were written in C (Dinkla: Pioniere 1997, p.80;
Oelinger: Sinn 1999, chap.
I: Aktion und Reaktion). back
7 Krueger: Reality 1991, p.48. Cf. Dinkla: Pioniere 1997,
p.81; Heim: Realism 1998, p.103; Krueger: Videoplace 1985, p.149; Krueger:
Videoplace 1989, p.210,213; Popper: Art 1993, p.113 with ill.190s. back
8 Krueger: Videoplace 1985, p.148s.: "There are
approximately 100 states that determine CRITTER behavior...Synthesized
sound communicates the personality of the creature." Cf. Dinkla:
Pioniere 1997, p.84-87; Kacunko: Circuit 2004, p.235; Krueger: Reality
1991, p.46s.; Krueger: Videoplace 1989, p.210s.; Oelinger: Sinn 1999,
I: Aktion und Reaktion. back
15 Cooperation of Jeffrey Shaw and Dirk Groeneveld.
Software written in C for Silicon Graphics Computer: Gideon May. Software
for a personal computer: Lothar Schmidt. Hardware: analog-digital interface:
Charly Jungbauer. Conversion of the bicycle: version for Manhattan: Tatje
van Vark; versions for Amsterdam and Karlsruhe: Huib Nelissen (Colpaert/Shaw:
Legible City 1990, unpaginated). Lit.: Dinkla: Pioniere 1997, p.114-123;
Klotz/Weibel: Shaw 1997, p.126-129,169; Manovich: Language 2001, p.260s.;
Paul: Digital Art 2003, p.6s.,72s.; Popper: Art 1993, p.110s., ill.180-182;
Shaw: Modalitäten 1989, p.209. back
16 Shaw: Home 1994.
Graphics 4D/310VGX. Software: Gideon May. Hardware: Huib Nelissen,
Bas Bossinade. Lit.: Dinkla: Pioniere 1997, p.126s.; Dreher: Kunst 1994,
p.101ss.; Klotz/Weibel: Shaw 1997, p.132s.,171; Shaw: Museum 1992. back
18 The explanation of "On Justifying the Hypothetical
Nature of Art and the Non-Identicality within the Object World" is
taken over almost verbatim from: Dreher: Beobachter 1996, p.418.
Architecture of the installation: Christian Möller.
The floor sensors are connected by a "circuit board" with the
32 switchers of a "button box": Bob O´Kane.
Coordination of the virtual worlds with the "button box": Gideon
Graphics 4D/320 VGX.
(Craemer: Rechtfertigung 1992, p.6s.; Möller: Architektur 1994, p.28ss.;
Schuler: Weibel 1997, p.288). back
19 Weibel: Welt 1994, p.46,51; Weibel: Kunst 1997.
Cf. Hünnekens: Betrachter 1997, p.60ss. back
20 See Dreher: Weibel 1997, p.52s. with ann.62 on Barnett
Newman´s explanation of the relation image space ("environment")
and space of the image ("sense of space"). back
21 "Duo-pluriversum": Dreher: Weibel 1997,
"World observation": Dreher: Performance 2001, p.27 with ann.24,
22 Weibel: Welt 1992, p.10. Cf. Dreher: Weibel 1997,
p.48ss. and Rössler: Endophysik 1992 (Editor: Peter Weibel). back