Our proposal compares constructed interfaces in historic and contemporary perceptual experiences. It explores the potential of digital languages and new creative technologies in constructions and extensions of reality, and draws on similarities between virtual experiences and the less complex projection systems of our ancestors. Our project conflates site-specificity, performance, installation, digital interfaces, and new creative technologies in two interactive installations. Further, through interpretation, translation, and simulacrum, our project reflects on the potential for authenticity and navigates apparent losses and gains in diverse perceptual experiences.
In the first phase of our proposal, we’ll utilize the natural environment provided by a local cave as our primary setting for a performance installation. Thereafter, we’ll utilize the unique faculties of ICAT’s Cube studio, to reconstruct that cave’s internal environment via a sculptural and digital interactive installation. These two proposed installations reflect diverse perceptual and material parallels. We envision these installations in dialog, and predict each will elicit a poetic transformation on the other. Moreover, we predict that echoes between the two sites will provide novel insight to our realizations with both.
Caves have provided the basis for diverse associations related to our perception of reality and constructed reality since prehistoric times. Caves informed our evolutionary survival as primitive shelters. As archeological sites, they preserved our early technologies and tools, as well as early records of symbolic indexical marks, complex metaphorical languages, and our propensity towards remembrance. Through allegories such as Plato’s Caves, and Pliny the Elder’s Origins of Painting and Sculpture, we understand the cave as fundamental in recognizing our first ‘projection systems.’ Cave walls, illuminated by cave entrances, lanterns, and fire, were early screens upon which we interpreted and constructed our reality.
Through interpretation, translation, and simulacrum, we reflect on the cave as a site of inception, from which contemporary creative technologies emerged and evolved. Through juxtaposition and succession of our two proposed installations, preconceptions which separate authentic and virtual encounters are explored and also, perhaps, dissolved.
- Introduce a phenomenal and remote environment, Tawney Cave, through the language systems of creative technologies to a wider audience than the actual cave can accommodate.
- Compare the screens and projection apparatuses of reality construction in both primal and contemporary/futuristic environments and encounters.
- Conduct inquiry of defining features of authenticity in virtual extensions or translations of 3D and 4D experiences.
- Integrate diverse participants in creative and inclusive interpretations, processes, and outcomes.
The first installation is a light and sound performance in Tawney Cave, of Giles County, VA. This installation involves site-specific performance, through choreographed and minimalist gestures of light (focused lighting, mostly powerful flashlights and underwater lights, operated by hand and light-stand, possibly with infusions of color and/or refracted prisms or filters) and sound (the cave’s own sounds, projected soundscapes of the internal body, singing bowls and chimes). These gestures (via placement, motion, and interaction) elucidate and accentuate the cave’s unique environment through projections, cast shadows, reflections, reverberations, and echoes. In the cave’s strangely severe atmosphere, minimal gestures of light and sound heighten and transform our perception of the cave’s expansive formal and conceivably spiritual topographies. These gestures are in juxtaposition to the cave’s native state, yet, their admission exposes a livingness, a pulsating animation projecting over an artifact of geologic time. Reflections bouncing off subterranean streams, project brilliant buzzing patterns similar to vibrating screens woven with static and glitch. These reflections illuminate and transpose the idiosyncratic textures and exceptional surfaces of the cave’s architecture and ceilings. Cast shadows wax and wane in relation to the angles of introduced light beams, and further inform interpolation and mapping of the cave’s complex matrix of enclosures and protuberances. The cave also imposes a novel sense of self-awareness on the individual; it amplifies the body’s internal sounds, and dismisses conventions of familiarity that bodies assume within their surroundings (i.e., balance, relative position and proportion, scale and relevance in time and space). Through deprivation of familiar stimuli, the tranquil atmosphere enhances the shape of even the most minute discernments. Through alteration of perspective and horizon—a zooming deep-below and inside-out—a tiny splash produced by a small drop of falling condensation is an event of monumental significance. Here we think of John Cage’s iconic quote: “There is no such thing as an empty space or an empty time. There is always something to see, something to hear…” We envision our proposed performance bridging non-sequential points, illuminating both the cave and the cave’s hyperspace, and inviting in participants and spectatorship hyper-acuity. Finally, the natural cave, though primordial, seems to convey an otherworldly encounter, one suggestive of futuristic constructions of experience; to pioneer it’s dark frontier is like existing inside the song of a bell.
The cave performance/installation is intimate and involves a very small audience. This is necessary to protect and preserve the delicate ecology and environment. As the cave is private, limited in daily entrance capacity, and precarious in many regards, the Cave Installation is only attended by our team and a small cohort of 3-5 people. This cohort is comprised of peers with diverse backgrounds. This cohort may also participate in prior navigation of the environment, contribute their knowledge of earth sciences or caving, and/or support development of performance and documentation facets. Leading up to the installation, over a timeline of roughly 2-3 months, we plan to gather insights through cave navigation, to practice and explore the potential of our materials and performative elements, and also to experiment with effective documentation processes.
Creative, high-quality, and comprehensive documentation of this installation is integral to the success of the second installation and our project as a whole. Documentation of the Installation utilizes 360 degree cameras, a low-light camera, go-pro cameras, a 3D scanner, and audio recorders. We’ll also document our processes, corollary experiences, and on-going developments and reflections and publish these in a public online format. Potentially, a live-stream of the final cave performance could actualize a digital engagement with the event for a more inclusive audience. Such a live-stream might be packaged as a digital exhibit’s Opening.
In Phase One, we’ll also strive to notice similarities between the environment and the media/language we’ll re-construct that environment with. For example, the cave’s rhyzomatic tunnels and arms resemble mapped internet forms, and calcite deposits glistening with condensation emit reflections of focused geometric light; geologic pixels. Stalactites and stalagmites (common geological formations in lime-stone caves), articulate a natural expression of binary phenomena (as drop by drop, through immense stretches of time, these residual conical presences have been carved from above by dripping condensation, leaving below their reverse conical absences), perhaps planting in our primitive imaginations a model for binary code. Through such associations, we plan to both acknowledge and trace potential prototypes and origins of our new media tools, materials, and languages. We’ll explore how best to convey the magnitude and wonder of geologic time in an ephemeral, hardly physical, reconstruction.
The second installation is a reconstruction of the cave environment in the Cube Studio. Here, projection, video, and audio mediums (comprising documentation of the first installation and cave environment), are woven over sculptural and tactile forms, gossamer and solid scrims, and engulfed by the Cyclorama. This installation aims to integrate a wider audience, and introduce the less accessible environment of the actual cave through translation and simulation. Reconstructions through both digital and material tapestry and constellation aim to simulate the experience of the cave through large-scale visual and aural projections and physical constructions. They also aim to suggest the figure’s physical disorientation, and wonderment, or the quasi-spiritual influence of the magnificent monolithic caverns.
The Cube installation employs curiosity and explores meaning-making present in the comparison and synergies between the two enacted sites. A few driving questions include: If the futuristic cave and prehistoric cave are distinct, what structures of perception are employed in recognizing and naming those distinctions? How do we differentiate simulacrum from reality-construction, and where do those entities begin to blur, dovetail, or disintegrate? Can a futuristic cave also innovate viable prototypes for primitive dwellings on Mars, in virtual or actualized expeditions—or, more broadly questioning, what are the non-art applications for this fashion of Translation?
As we move forward with Phase Two, we expect to further develop facets comprising outreach, education, and interaction. For example, engagement with the environment’s interface may also occur through tagging or signage, through new media approaches, such as a graffiti phone application. Another area for development, includes community involvement in the form of a Cave Workshop, wherein we collaborate on larger scale, tactile, sculptural components of the installation, (for example, through invitation, with local High School/University/or community art/new media/or outdoors clubs). The Cave Workshop will provide guidance, while encouraging creative translation, efficient reconstruction, and inventive processes and use of materials. The Cave Workshop may also be paired with an initial field trip to Tawney Cave, as an experiential component. And further, it may integrate guided dialogue, wherein students are invited to reflect on the nature of authentic experiences, simulacrum, and reality construction, especially in the context of projection systems and screens. Such outreach would also introduce new audiences to our final installation—and integrate a wider and more diverse cohort of contributing artists. A similar invitation and reciprocal relationship will employ outreach to the VA Tech Caving Grotto. While their community is a valuable and knowledgeable resource, they may also wish to participate in a satellite exhibition, for example, showcasing their ‘cave notebooks,’ highlighting their visual and textual notations and maps, and giving further dimension to the languages and layers of language through which the cave can be encountered. This possibility would integrate a more diverse cohort of contributing artists, expand the depth of our proposal’s potential, and invite a wider audience to the final exhibition.