Monthly Archives: February 2014

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The Subzone (Role of the Viewer)

 

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Screenshot from Gmod (sandbox game) where a gamemap is glitched due to missing files on the player’s computer.

The viewer is expected to be an active agent, to interact with and to navigate around the virtual subspace. Instead of being led on to do something, the viewer would have full freedom to explore the area of the subspace. The viewer will not be held back from leaving the “gamearea” so to speak, and he or she will be allowed to freeroam to any part of the world map within the virtual environment.

The viewer would be able to intereact with objects and artifacts in this subspace, which may trigger reactions to occur in other parts of the space. The viewer would then become a catalyst for visual changes to occur within the subspace.

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The Subzone (Influences)

“Hole in Space”

Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz created a “portal” in the real world through which people could see and interact with one another even if they were miles apart. It was a 3 day event which attracted many active participants and provided for an entertaining archive footage of the whole affair. For my work, I wish to consider if it is possible to tear open a portal or hole in the third space, to reveal the underbelly of the hidden structures in the virtual game world. If this first stage is possible, I would consider about the possibility of inhabiting this said space.

Jon Cates

Jon Cates creates and also archives his various experiments with glitches. It is interesting to note how he views gifs as “cultural artifacts” and that they are a form of cultural cinema for the next generation. Taking a leaf from his practice, I intend to capture my experiences traversing and discovering hidden subspaces within the third space via gifs. Screenshots would also be a backup.

Robert Overweg

This Dutch photographer archives his explorations in the virtual realm, and I found his particular series of what looks to be building parts floating in space pretty interesting. The series, entitled “Flying and Floating”, consists of screenshots of buildings and architecture within a virtual environment which are cut off in various parts. To get such an effect, the photographer (i.e. Robert) would have to move himself into a position within the virtual landscape where he straddles between the subspace (i.e. between the normal virtual world and the unknown worldspace hidden beyond). By putting himself into such a position, the game becomes “corrupt”, where renderings of the virtual surroundings start cutting off at unpredictable angles and planes start disappearing. Just a simple shift in a physical location is enough to dynamically alter the actual perception of the virtual environment. The fact that this altered perception would be unique only to the photographer (Robert in this case) and that  this perception would be dynamically different for other users, is something I wish to explore in my work.

Some examples from his “Flying and Floating” series:

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Hotel 2011, Robert Overweg, Mafia 2
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The Garage 2011, Robert Overweg, Mafia 2
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jodi.org: The Desolation of Text and the User Interface

In this day and age, the majority of us are familiar with the World Wide Web. We already have a conventional idea of what websites are, how websites are supposed to look like and how they can be navigated. We go through a preset array of motions, scrolling and clicking our way through this digital terrain, as we traverse bytes and data.

Surely nothing new can faze us now right? Have websites become predictable in terms of form and function?

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When a user lands on the homepage of jodi.org, he is greeted with…and therein lies an interesting twist. The homepage is never constant. Never. Visiting www.jodi.org again will result in an entirely different landing page. The URL in the address bar would change by itself, redirecting the user somewhere else even though he typed in the correct url.

What peaked my interest as I continued exploring the site was the complete lack of an attempt to let the visitor know what to do, where to go, what to click on and so forth. There were no instructions, no guides. The only available form of text was butchered and chopped up, mixed together with a healthy dose of symbols and ascii art elements. On the surface, it just looks like one big mess. But perhaps there is something larger at work?

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Sometimes some portions of the text are clickable, leading the user on towards parts unknown. This reminded me of  SURPRISE.SG (one of the many websites which are part of the Web Art Movement initiated by OSS alumni Eugene Soh) where the user is presented with a big red button to click on to move from watching one video to another without being able to know in advance what he is going to watch. The videos which play one after another and their content range from the absurd to the absolute surreal (hence the title, “SURPRISE”)

Extracts from SURPRISE.SG

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Where jodi.org differs from a website like surprise.sg is that it abandons the idea of even making something actually look clickable. Hyperlinks could be hidden virtually anywhere, residing in-between chunks of “nonsensical” text and gibberish, waiting for the user to hover their mouse over them. The conventional notion of web aesthetics and user interface are thrown out the window with wild abandon, resulting in unpredictable user experiences for anyone who visits jodi.org. Clearly it seems as though the creators of the website do not want users to attempt to understand what is going, and they seem to taken great care to ensure that there is no possible trace for visitors to pick up on to even know what is going on.

Screengrabs from jodi.org

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I attempted to visit jodi.org again for the “n”th time, and sure enough I got redirected to another url (www.wrongbrowser.com). The following below details this particular visit which bore an unexpected present.

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I landed on an almost barren page.

There were no instructions, no popups telling me what to look at or what to follow. I was completely left to my own devices.

On the left were what appeared to be hyperlinks which would bring me to other sites hosted on different domains. In the middle of the site, there were two small squares of black and yellow. Above them, the words “mac osx” and “pc win” were flush aligned against each square. Right at the top, “%WRONG Browser” screamed in bold and above that, a “9.04”.

Even though this just how sparse the layout was on the site, it was enough for me to draw a relationship between the two squares and the words at the top.

It was enough for me to come to the following conclusion: If I was on a Macintosh, I should click the black square. If I was on Windows, I should click on the yellow square. Seemed straight forward enough. I inched my mouse over the black square and clicked it. Immediately, my browser started downloading something. There was no prompt, no warning beforehand. All I saw was the progress bar filling up as my browser downloaded what seemed to be a zip file which was suspiciously titled “COM.zip”.

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Leaving my sense of better judgement behind, I went ahead and unzipped the file (but not before making sure I had saved whatever stuff I was working on in case something terrible unfolded on my computer). The contents of the zip file was only an executable, nothing more. I double-clicked it, as though by some hard wired response.

Nothing happened.

Or so it seemed.

My cursor turned into a spinning beach ball.

My screen went black.

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A few seconds later, my screen was the host to a sea of white, populated by random blocks of blue, green, red, black and yellow.

Lines of text started running on the screen, growing in length, stopping, and starting again.

I had lost control of my computer.

 

Could gibberish be a new form of cryptography? Maybe the various symbols stem from some sort of system grounded in logic? Or maybe they don’t? Perhaps the site pokes fun at security, and the lengths to which one might go to hide their digital footprints in many more subsections of digital footprints scattered across a server. Whatever may be the intent, there is clearly a sense of mischief afoot in the minds of the creators of jodi.org.

When encountering jodi.org, the web visitor is encouraged to be an active participant. Instead of being spoon-fed instructions on how to navigate and what to look at, the unassuming web surfer gets pushed into a system of organized chaos. A system where language, text and usability get subverted, maybe even exploited and abused, leaving behind a long unending trail of web-domains and hyperlinks which link to one another. Even in the wake of such sheer abandon and destruction of conventional forms, a new aesthetic form is being given birth to: a form where the very raw and at times crude visual amalgamation of media and text become visually striking and maybe, even visually unique from anything else we have been exposed to on World Wide Web.

Welcome to the net.art movement.

For more thoughts about jodi.org, check out Nasir’s musings.

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Stelarc: The Man and his Machinations

News of Stelarc’s public lecture came as an unexpected surprise. That too happening right here in Singapore at LASALLE was too good an opportunity to miss going. The whole auditorium was packed and I couldn’t resist taking a few snaps.

I managed to catch a glimpse of the man up close, together with Steve Dixon, who were just one row away from the rest of us there!

It was interesting to actually be there at a talk and see Stelarc in the flesh. It was thrilling to hear him discuss his artistic practices and share his views on a wide range of topics ranging from the Internet to cyborgian to religion. I kept wondering to myself just how rational Stelarc came across in terms of explaining why he does the things he does. He truly sees the body as something more than just flesh, but as a material and medium to push the boundaries of art. Combined together with technology and machines, Stelarc doesn’t seem to be slowing down at all in his pursuits to further experiment and continue experimenting.

I especially enjoyed how he managed to infuse humour into his talk. He erupted into his legendary laugh many times, and I just couldn’t help thinking if he enjoyed grossing his audience out as he proceeded to show video footage from a surgery done on his arm to grow an ear!

Watching people rush to him after the talk to have their photographs taken with him (and his third ear!) was just a little surreal. As he continues to be ever curious and ever aware of new developments to closer connect the Body and Technology, Stelarc has become both an artist and a celebrity.

Stelarc’s publc lecture at LASALLE has been recorded and archived on Livestream, which can be viewed here!

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Micro-Project 04: Media Addiction

Adopting a persona is the name of the game for this project, as all of us attempted to create a constant interactive virtual dialogue through the use of the Twitter platform. The #ossntu hashtag helped in unifying all of our tweets in one big stream. The final form reads like a script from a play, with characters either choosing to contribute to an idea at hand or butting in and aggressively attempting to divert the conversation to something else.

I decided to adopt the persona of a poet, and exaggerate my online persona through the use of excessive rhyming (a sort of poor man’s poetry if you will) by attempting to respond to most tweets in this manner. I saw this persona as another extension of my social persona, and something which I was interested in exploring through this micro-theater project.

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Looks like @whalebiologist_ hasn’t quite left seriousville just yet. Maybe he/she was having a bad day with…citations? (DUH!) Just from the tone in the tweet, one could infer that @whalebiologist_ was someone who probably enjoyed having control and who religiously abides by the “it’s my way or the highway” code of conduct. Perhaps that explains why nobody gave him/her the citations he/she was looking for.

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tweet_06An emoticon with hashtags used as mini sentences to express oneself.

Especially on the Internet, choice of words can play a big difference in how others perceive someone via the virtual self. Things like sarcasm and jokes are harder to detect online in such conversations unless they are punctuated with hastags, like #jking or #kidding, just to name a few. Emoticons also play a big part in this, helping to convey emotions online effectively. Even so, nothing quite beats having a face to face conversation with someone or with a group of friends. With that in mind, having a virtual conversation with a stranger or an acquaintance could be the first step to establish a connection in real-life later on.

Click here to read more about how people get addicted to their online personas!

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The Virtual Identity in Second Life: “You vent, You release, You repeat”

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Source: www.impawards.com

“Life 2.0” sheds light on a group of individuals who closely identify themselves with their virtual avatars. While Second Life might seem like any ordinary social game on the surface, it ends up meaning so much more for these everyday people.

The action-reaction relationship works both ways, where their actions in the virtual world could at times result in reactive effects in the real world. An example of this can be best seen in one of the individuals shown in the film who goes by the name “Ayya Aabye” in Second Life. What is unique about this particular example, is how the individual (a guy) adopts a female persona in the virtual world as way of trying to “explore another side of himself”. This persona becomes a virtual outlet for his fantasy and emotions, while his symbiotic relationship with his virtual avatar grows even stronger.

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“It’s like another part of me”

He mentions this many times when trying to explain his actions in the virtual space to his partner, but she sees this as something that is straining their real-life relationship. Their failure to see eye to eye on what is happening pushes them apart from one another, leading her to leave him eventually.

What seems interesting in the development of this scenario is that we eventually learn that this man was sexually abused at a young age. He says that perhaps this could have been a possible catalyst for his obsession with his female alter ego online. Could this manifestation in the virtual realm could have been a form of therapeutic release for his pent up emotions which he is unable to share with anyone else ?

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Plugged into the virtual, with no sense of fleeting time and the Real.

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The virtual identity becomes a virtual output: a release system for an individual to express himself without worry of causing any real physical harm to others. Ayya Aabye’s rampage of destruction as “she” tried to get herself banned from the servers is one example, where if something like this happened in the real world, the consequences would be devastating. Within the virtual realm, limits are imposed and things are kept in check. If citizens in Second Life step out of line, the admins would ban them or freeze their accounts for a set period of time or forever.

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In Ayya Aabye’s case, he was disappointed that he was banned for only a day as he was hoping to get his character banned for the long term so that he can force himself to “unplug” and go back to the real world. As such, he becomes stuck in a seemingly endless cycle of plugging into the virtual space, letting go of himself fully into his alter ego and enjoying this temporal release before having to find the need to go back in again. This endlessness is further cemented with his return to the virtual realm with a new avatar as a young boy after having terminated his “Ayya Aabye” persona a week ago. Such is the strength of the addiction to fueling the virtual fantasy escapades of the other Self.

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Image credit: Eran Cantrell Grabbed via www.gizmag.com

This brings to mind the subject of supernormal stimulus, and in this case, the heightened exaggeration of this fantasy reality of meeting new friends, new avatars while staying in character as a young girl, becomes favored over reality and his real-life partner. In such extreme cases, one has to practice due discretion and above all else, moderation. Otherwise, we become controlled by such forms of supernormal stimuli when instead we should be able to clearly reason and think for ourselves as to what the physical and the very real consequences of such reckless behavior hold in the real world.

To read more about the issue of dissociative identity in relation to this, check out Interactive Media, Death and Taxes.

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The Subzone (Introduction)

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Exploring the idea of the subspace within the third space.

An example would be in games where areas are closed off and characters are supposed to only roam within a restricted space. In some instances, venturing off from the restricted space creates penalties for the playaer (e.g. timelimit warning to return back to the “safe zone”, death).  Other times, constant attempts to access the subspace within the third space in the games may cause corruption of data, unintended glitching and sometimes even crashing the game client. Can a player in the third space truly inhabit this space which is hidden from the naked eye? If so, at what cost to the other players or the game? How would this conflict with the intentions of the game itself?

Covered walkway linking to an overhead bridge facing the Pan Island Expressway.

Micro-Project 03: Virtual Soundscape

Covered walkway linking to an overhead bridge facing the Pan Island Expressway.
Covered walkway linking to an overhead bridge facing the Pan Island Expressway.

Not once did i think
That I would come across all of these…
These mobile factories.
Like bits in the datastream,
They keep coming and going
From left to right,
And from left to right.
Perhaps this is the sound of the infinite,
Not much a void,
But a chasm of noise.
Unceasing, unending
Overpowering even.

I make it back.
I make it back to Earth.
And I look up.

*Audio recording done on 04/02/14, at 7.20pm at Kallang Bahru.

Stelarc performing "Ping Body"

Stelarc’s “Ping Body”

For Stelarc, the human body is something that is just beyond the conventional image of being a passive entity. The body becomes much more than just a passive agent of flesh and blood. In his array of performance works, the human body takes on an active role of being a malleable medium and “Ping Body” is no exception to this. What seems so striking about this work, is just how readily Stelarc gives up control of his body to anonymous users over the Internet. It is as though the artist acknowledges that one cannot have full control over the self, and embraces this vulnerability with open arms.

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Shrouded in darkness amidst blinking monitors and noises from machine interfaces, Stelarc’s body convulses, twists and turns. One gets the impression of how the body is unsure of what it is doing, or rather, that the body is no longer under the control of the artist. Arms, legs and hands flail about with the accompaniment of noises from the machine interfaces, painting a picture of some sort of reanimation being underway. It is as though Stelarc is creating a space for both the body and technology to become aware of one another.

Perhaps it is this vulnerability of the human body that becomes readily apparent as Man continues onward to further mesh himself with Machine. Stelarc is literally wired up to a live system, which continually dictates his every movement, action and reaction via electrical signals. In this day and age, these signals are very much like the stimuli we receive everyday via media (i.e. smartphones,  computers, television, iPods, etc).  The physical tethers (ie. the wires, cables) seen in Stelarc’s “Ping Body” are still very much real today in our daily lives(i.e. chargers for electronic devies, head/earpieces, underground fibre cables for Internet connections). Even as we march onwards towards wireless systems, we are in fact more closely wired to the very machines we make use of.

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A body held in stasis, waiting for input.

Who are you? Who slips into my robot body and whispers to my ghost?

– tagline from “Ghost in the Shell” (1995)

It is interesting to note how this idea of the body being a host to an external device or influence is reflected in mainstream cinema today. Mamoru Oshii’s “Ghost in the Shell” and the Wachowski Brothers’ “The Matrix” come to mind as being effective in putting across this idea of Man being the servant to Machine, and the notion of a society where Man and Machine continually compete for dominance and power.

Source: collider.com
Source: collider.com
Screengrab from "The Matrix"
Screengrab from “The Matrix

Stelarc’s “Ping Body” thus becomes a poetry piece for our generation and the next. The body becomes the puppet, and technology becomes the puppeteer. The body turns into a host to serve the whims of it’s master. A frightening thought, yet the possibilities of what can be accomplished with a fusion of Man and Machine remain relatively endless. With the speed at which technological advancements are being today in this day and age, one cannot entirely rule out the creation of living and breathing cyborgs just yet.

Interested in reading more about Stelarc’s “Ping Body”? Check out Dazedream for more!