Computer Art Image of the Month - May 2011

May 2011

  Vermillion Lake (thumb)

Click the image to enlarge

Screenshot from Vermilion Lake by Gibson & Martelli (igloo), 2011

Computer installation with sound

Copyright the artists, reproduced with permission

A Metaphysical World

This month’s image is a still from Vermilion Lake, an interactive artwork comprising 3-D computer graphics inspired by the artists’ travels to the snow-driven mountains of the Canadian Rockies and developed following research at The Banff Arts Centre.

This newly-commissioned installation with monochromatic graphics is by London based artist duo Ruth Gibson and Bruno Martelli, who work under the moniker igloo. Ruth and Bruno have collaborated on experimental multimedia projects since 1995 using as materials aspects of video, the Internet, performance and installation art. 

With Bruno’s graphic and visual art background and Ruth’s dance and choreography experience the duo became interested in the application of 3-D motion capture technology and game engines. Because of these interests their work is often informed by contemporary dance practice with the body a central component that drives the effects of the technologies they use.

Igloo’s projects are interdisciplinary; they gather together and lead a team of specialists to assist in the creation of their immersive environments which are based on a combination of the real world and invented panoramas.

Vermilion Lake comprises a full-scale replica of a trapper’s cabin (constructed in wood) housing half a wooden rowing boat complete with oars, in which we sit and steer through the virtual environment (the other half of the boat appears on screen).

Bruno explains “the virtual environment is approx 7km square, based on the Canadian Rocky Mountains, made from NASA heightmap data. You navigate by rowing the boat around which gives force feedback, that is to say it’s hard to move the oars when they are in the ‘water’. The environment is made in the UDK, we worked with a programmer to get the software boat to work and a small team to create the ‘real’ boat interface.”

In common with several of their previous works, Vermilion Lake continues igloo’s investigation into the relationship between the natural and the artificial and invites us to explore a metaphysical world. An interactive work such as this one takes the viewer away from mere contemplation into an active role of participant and performer in his or her own story and encourages us to investigate the role of the body in the landscape and the nature of being. 

We are free to roam this environment - a hauntingly beautiful landscape of forests and reflective water whilst overhead a big sky full of stars and snowflakes dazzles us. The dreamlike effect seems to be enhanced by the many gradations of black and white, such that we fail to notice the lack of colour. The topography is ambiguous - are there malevolent or friendly forces at play here?

The artists’ use of UDK Unreal, a professional game engine containing tools for the creation of games, advanced visualizations and detailed 3D simulations to drive the animation, perhaps suggests a classification under the genre of ‘game art’. Although it uses the tools of videogames, igloo’s art is so much more than a game in that it is the realisation of emotional, physiological and psychological themes as manipulated by the artists.

This virtual world is created simply for people to explore and interact with and is less about achieving a specific goal and more about exploring emotional responses in the viewer.  As an artwork its primary aesthetic resides in the unique quality of the viewer’s interaction with the spaces that inspires curiosity and a sense of wonder.

Ruth and Bruno state “our methodologies for combining creative art forms bring theatrical experiences to new audiences. Artistic processes are being reinvented all around us, as the use of digital media is now widespread, we want to create new methods of interaction. Developing ways of blurring the boundaries between spectator and participator both passively and actively, we view ‘interactivity’ as a new kind of audience engagement.”

What final form does the art take?  What is left at the end to commemorate the event or help provide a legacy for the work? Perhaps it is the memories of the experience we take away with us.

Vermilion Lake is the latest work in Gibson and Martelli’s SwanQuake series and forms part of the VISITOR touring exhibition. VISITOR was first shown at the Apthorp Gallery, artsdepot, London before touring to the Djanogly Gallery, Lakeside Arts Centre, Nottingham (until 2 May).  

The tour continues into Spring 2012, please check the igloo website for further details. VISITOR is a touring exhibition in association with artsdepot and commissioned by the Henry Moore Foundation and Arts Council England and supported by the Banff Centre, Canada.

Catherine Mason is the author of A Computer in the Art Room: the origins of British computer arts 1950-80, published in 2008.

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