Maria Lantin | Research
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Epic Walk Sep 3 (gatherings)

Epic Walk Diaries (September 3)

moby moby x2 maybe
not sure how much got in
science is constrained creativity
  art bounces off people
  science bounces off the universe

fear 
i can't do this
no truer words
  don't worry, it'll come back
  then you die again

 none of this is ours
   or theirs damnit
   be bold
peasant grass
  you let yourself go
designer grass
   tight weave
upscale private grass
    small bred patterns
   even your color says good dna
 look where you get to be
cartoon rich

the sound of peasant grass
  crickets and walking feet

rose petal feast
  mom, her jam and pastry

pineapple plant
  it does smell like pineapple!
    keith loved it

discarded fragments
  more fragments
   pattern! source!
a nut? a flower
   yes with seeds
     opened in quarters
       two quartered seeds
     look at the ground

  not so good with transitions
    sprint!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
      run to the finish line and jump
   no no ritual endings

-----

[
  Start 5:26pm
  End 9:00pm
  Through kits beach, pool, sunset point
  brambles, rich road, Jericho, Spanish Banks,
  concession, and back.
]
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Epic Walk gathering (detail)

Epic Walk Diaries (August 26)

no emergency
   i wait
   the whole world should be like this

emergent conflict
motivation
   why did they do that?
 why did we?
     how do we stay light? dance in the storm.

  what is a good life?

look a pine cone
    what are those red berries? (go fish)
searching
 too many cooks
 surprise! celebrity chef

remnants of an old woman
  but it's a baby feather!

        you're not a beach bunny!
    groomed wild
  let's bring the scanner on our walks
   scan in the wild
     like nico and her microphone

log going to rusty red dust
   flow embedded in captured time
   a method to the destruction

  hawthorn, the thorn part is important

that's a lot of leaves
   so many
     natural or not? groomed? maple?
   tagged! Holly's project!
     someone else liked this tree
maybe many someones. what to email a bushy tree?

butterfly bush
  my nose is happy
    you were always there
   a few feet away
flow and temporality
  does a few hours matter
    to us? to the plants?
 when is integrity called into question

 dusty thoughts
don't worry, I'll put them in water

---
[ 
  Start 6:45pm at Eagle Tree
  End   9:45pm parting on Creelman
  Through Vanier, Elsje's point, 
    Kitsilano Beach, rich man's road,
    Jericho Beach, rabbit land,
    and back.
]
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Being With Picture

I don’t remember exactly when but at some point in my earlier years I started imagining myself entering the pictures in my picture books. Someone would be reading to me and I would zone into the picture and wish I could step in. I would look at every detail and wonder what else there was. Franfreluche, a clown storyteller from a children’s tv show, did exactly that and I would watch her enviously. I wanted those giant storybooks that I could step into.

This curiosity about “being with” picture still animates me. To be clear I didn’t want to have an interactive picture world. I wasn’t interested in a game. I was interested in the sense of space, the colours, the world the characters were in. I wanted to see them do their thing while fully sensing their environment. A modest wish. Theatre and other live performances do this to a degree. We share a space and it is partially determining the performance. A crucial dimension to the pleasure of liveness is that we feel entangled with the performers through a shared space. Still with theatre there is a conceptual distance imposed by the stage. The characters’ world is not wholly accessible. In a way, films and books do a better job of immersion because they specifically ask us to dim some senses in order to merge on others. With live performance, our senses are awake and the merge or resonance happens through a more physical entanglement.

What I seek then is something in between theatre and movie, or between theatre and book. I want the merge/resonance of a book with the feeling of physical entanglement with all my senses awake. I do want to lose myself in the story. But I want to do so as a fully engaged observer.

Enter VR. The promise of the merge. In all its incarnations, we talked about immersion, like sinking into water, being surrounded by our imagination. And yet…not quite. Something is missing. The worlds are empty somehow, happening “out there” even as they surround us. We have readily adapted the gaming paradigm to the current VR platforms but so far have largely stayed away from the book or the theatre. But I have recently encountered two examples that are steering towards a “being with” picture. They have both made me happy, like discovering a new land that just feels interesting and that I always knew existed.

Cave is a piece showcased at SIGGRAPH 2018, by NYU’s Future Reality Lab (FRL). In this piece an audience of 30 people is positioned in two seated groups of fifteen pointed towards a front centre “stage” area. Each audience member dons a headset with headphones (or specialized Bose personal speakers). As soon as I put mine on I could see the other audience members as a virtual audience, their heads and bodies moving. We are not the usual avatars. We are semi-transparent, with large skeletal masks on our heads. The audience heads are tracked to their physical movements so I can look at my neighbour and if they are looking at me I would know to start a conversation. There was enough time before the show that I could do this, and I could also observe the world in which we had all been plunged: a prehistoric cave 12,000 years ago in Northern Europe. A young girl is illuminating the cave wall as (presumably) her mother is drawing on the wall. A soft humming song plays. It feels dim. It doesn’t feel cold though I suppose it must have been. I feel like there is a warm glow of a fire. It feels good to know that I am experiencing this shared space with others and that I can see them looking at different details of the cave. A few minutes later, the characters in the scene fade, and the show starts. The girl comes down from a ladder into the cave. She lights a fire and explains that her people are in grave danger and that they need a new shaman. Her mother was the last great shaman and she doubts if she possesses the same powers. As the story proceeds she transitions from doubt to confidence and activates her abilities to imagine and animate cave paintings. Along the way there is a magical mammoth, a visit from her mother, and handfuls of fairy dust. There were no cuts.

I saw Cave twice and the first time I was analyzing it from the perspective of someone who had just discovered a place where anything could happen. I looked around, I looked at the other people, I observed people as the “play” started, I looked for the intricacies of the movements of the characters, the voice, the sound quality. I wanted to sense the world I was in. How much detail was there? How many times could I watch this and still be enthralled? Why was I even asking these questions? The container was interesting and it was separate but wholly entangled with the story unfolding in front of me. Like theatre. But also like film. And like comic book. Not like a game. fascinating. The second time I saw Cave I decided to focus on the story. Could I be with the story and feel like we had been transported to her world as ghost witnesses? It turns out that the answer to that is “sometimes but not always”, and I think this is because it borrowed a bit too much from theatre at times, and a bit too much from film at others. There were amazing moments like a hug that was so well animated you could almost feel the brush of the hands against cloth and the gentle envelop of an embrace. We had time to linger and appreciate. In general, the timing of the piece was of theatre, with a slower more deliberate delivery (in fact the dialogue followed a Shakespearean iambic pentameter). It could have been even slower given the capacity of the space to speak for itself. I would have liked more detail in the movement or more expressiveness. It felt a little too much like theatre in the seating configuration. I wish I had been cross-legged on the cave floor with others strewn around me also seated on the ground. Though I recognize the desire to match physical situation (seated on a chair) with the virtual representation. I felt taken out of the moment when the music became too orchestral, too Disney-like. In a film, the music would have been appropriate for the moment but in this context it overwhelmed the space which was already providing many emotional cues. In that moment, focusing on complex environmental sounds might have served the same purpose as big orchestral sound in film. Still there were moments where tropes from film were very well integrated including magical visual effects. I think I could watch it a third time and still find something interesting. This is the first time I have felt this way about a VR piece.

To me, Cave is about “being with” picture. And yet it’s not moving pictures, it’s dancing space. I can see so many ways forward to explore the story space that FRL has opened. Many questions come to mind. What exactly is essential to what they created? Co-located audience? How many people before it’s too few or too many? Could some of the audience be less physically present (networked in)? Could the audience be moving around?  The possibilities for the space are also interesting. The audience could disappear. There could be cuts into different spaces including internal conceptual spaces. Once a world is created, it could be re-used for a number of stories, details filled in, characters introduced. This then starts to feel more like a comic book world: episodic and vast. I can also see the possibility of this kind of theatre/film/comic book mix in Mixed Reality. The questions then centre around how site-specific the story becomes, how much “liveness” is introduced into the story either through AI or other performative means.

The other piece that has changed the way I look at VR and space is Dami And Falian, a VR graphic novel being created by Edward Madojemu in the Basically Good Media Lab at Emily Carr University of Art + Design. Edward is creating a completely hand-drawn virtual world (drawn in AnimVR and Quill) where the world progresses in slices of time like a graphic novel. There are speech bubbles and portals in space and time. Within a slice of time you can explore the world, walk around. In that sense it feels a bit like Myst. There remains many questions to answer with regards to the design of a VR graphic novel including when a speech bubble appears/disappears, the orientation of speech bubbles, the use of sounds, the integration of object interaction. Yet the feeling of entering a world which exists regardless of the actions being enacted within it, is strong and interesting much like Cave. Edward has chosen to also integrate networked and social elements to Dami And Falien. You can leave notes in the environment and explore with someone else. This work is nascent and it’s unclear where it will land in the mix of theatre, film, comic, and game. Edward is in Generation Z. I am curious to see where his vision takes him and us.

As Dr. Ken Perlin of the Future Reality Lab reminded me in conversation, our generation has been heavily influenced by film and it is hard to see how much of what we do is driven by those tropes and visual conventions. I see Cave as an integration of past cultural loves and Dami And Falian as an integration of niche media, towards the creation of truly immersive spaces.

 

Links:

Future Reality Lab (their blog has followed the development of Cave as seen through the eyes of the production team)
Cave XR
Dami and Falian
Basically Good Media Lab

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Memory and Space

The Basically Good Media Lab (BGML) has acquired a Hololens. This has been a long time coming, partially because I was waiting for the technology to come down in price. I have a loose rule that if I can’t buy at least two of something comfortably, I don’t think it’s social enough to have it. Being together in reality (*R?) is one of the tenets of the BGML.

I broke the rule because AR is seeping into the mainstream with ARKit and it seemed like experiencing what is currently the state of the art in AR would be a good thing. I want to have a feel for AR in the same way that I have a feel for VR.

Last weekend, I brought the Hololens home and spent some time with it, about an hour and a half. When I went back to my iPhone, it felt like ancient technology. More than ever I am convinced that AR is the future. Besides playing around with putting 3D models and animations in my kitchen (totally magical!), I experimented with the games that came pre-installed in the Hololens. There was a game that had silverfish-like robots coming out of the walls, which required artful dodging and shooting. I loved how much it induced movement and how I was not afraid to move since this was my own kitchen and I knew exactly where I was at any moment (unlike VR…where there’s always some mystery even with motion capture).

But then I tried a game called Fragments. When it starts, a man appears in my kitchen. This is not a man I would necessarily invite into my kitchen. I’m creeped out and take off the headset. A friend who is in the kitchen with me is curious about me being creeped out and puts the headset on. He continues the game. He then gets creeped out and takes it off. I get curious and put the headset back on. I turn and to my horror I see a young boy kneeling with a gun to his head. I immediately take the headset off. Now here’s the interesting thing. I now have a memory of this boy with a gun to his head in my kitchen. It’s a spatial memory and I can’t seem to shake it. There is something about an embedded virtual spatial narrative into my known physical space that caused a memory to be viscerally recorded in a way that a narrative on a 2D screen (or even VR) is not.

This brings up a lot of issues including ethics of representation in VR and AR, and informed consent in some cases. Jordon Wolfson’s “Real Violence” shocked me in a similar way at the Whitney Biennale. But even that piece didn’t stick in my memory in the same way. It may be that over time, I would become used to the idea of virtual characters and stories in my personal spaces and they would no longer impact me in that visceral way. But for now, I am pondering the role of spatial memory in emotional impact. I am used to being emotionally affected and sometimes shocked by screened movies but the memory of those narratives lives somewhere a lot more abstracted than this little boy with a gun to his head, in my kitchen.

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I Am Afraid

For the last 5 months or so, I’ve been working on a new networked social VR application called I Am Afraid. This application brings together ideas that have been on my mind for over a year, perhaps longer. Ideas around voice, poetry, sculpture, and performance. Many people asked where the idea for IAA came from and I am surprised that I can’t remember the moment, or a moment, when I decided I wanted to see words and play with sounds in VR. I do know there have been lots of inspirations along the way, including the work I did with Greg Judelman in flowergarden, voice work with my friend Matthew Spears, clowning, theatre, friendly poets (Andrew Klobucar, Glen Lowry), sound artists (Simon Overstall, Julie Andreyev, prOphecy Sun), etc.

The basic idea is to build sound compositions and sculptures using textual and abstract objects that have embedded recorded sounds. When you are in the environment, you can speak words and have them appear as textual objects, and utter sounds that appear as abstract objects. Both kinds of objects contain the sound of your voice and can be replayed in a variety of ways. By intersecting with the objects, the sounds can be played back. The textual objects can be played in parts and at any speed/direction, using granular synthesis. The abstract sounds can be looped. Paths can be recorded through the objects and looped. In this way layered soundscapes can be created. The objects can also be interacted with in different ways like shaking and moving which alters the sound quality. Other actions are also planned, fleshing out a longstanding idea around a sonification engine based on the physicality of interaction with words.

I am often asked why the application is called I Am Afraid. As I was starting work on the application in January, I could sense an escalation of fear in the world, in my surroundings. I have been exploring fear for the last 17 years through different paths including meditation and art. One of the features of fear is that when we feel it, when it grips us, we start talking to ourselves. This is a bit a trap because we get more and more removed from what is actually going on. One of the goals of IAA is to externalize the discursiveness and be playful with the words and sounds. It can be a way to lighten up and see things more clearly, shift the internal dialogue. And it’s fun.

I used the application during my TEDxECUAD talk last March, which is about fear and technology. I’ve also used it in a performance at AR in Action, a conference at NYU at the beginning of June. It’s a great environment for performance (solo or group), exploration, and composition. I’ll be working on it for some time to come, adding features and (hopefully soon) porting it to Augmented Reality.

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ObjectACTs Residency : Day 5

On Day 5 we did a two more takes of the multiview object performance. A stronger and bigger paper structure was built, the lighting was changed slightly, and the performance of the camera was quite a bit longer. One of the things I didn’t mention in my last post is that the 360 camera image is upside down because the camera is attached onto the rig from the bottom and hung by four wires from the ceiling. When we viewed the footage from the Thursday test on the GearVR (upside down) it was surprisingly interesting and not as disturbing as you would think. The camera shake was interesting too, helping to enter into the perspective of the observing, scrutinizing camera. Still we will be reversing the camera footage to properly assess the differences between the two views.

In some ways the takes on Thursday were a bit better because the lighter paper structure had a more of an even fight with the camera, which made the camera a little less shaky. In Thursday’s takes we also had less of an integration with the bystanders and the object actors. Two unexpected things happened during Friday’s takes. During take 1, the 360 camera fell one of the lights, and duing take 2, the camera itself became detached from the rig and fell (only from about 2 inches off the ground, thankfully).

Here are a few pics and a video from the performance.

Paper Structure

Paper Structure

Paper Structure

Paper Structure

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ObjectACTs Residency : Day 4

multiview performance - still documentation

multiview performance – still documentation

Today we worked on an experimental coordinated multi-view performance between objects. A Gear360 camera circles around an improvised paper structure, enters it, and eventually topples it. A GoPro camera captures the view from inside the paper structure. A third camera captures the whole scene unfolding as a slow inevitable drama. I have not had time to edit all the video sources together. But here is one of the three videos from the performance.

 

Tomorrow we will be integrating projection and augmented reality.

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ObjectACTs Residency : Day 2

On day two we spent some time discussing how we might create a performance that would include the perspective of multiple actors, including those non-human and non-personified.

Situation Rooms by Rimini Protokoll

Situation Rooms by Rimini Protokoll

The example of The Situation Rooms from Rimini Protokoll came up. In this theatre work, participants (~20) wearing headphones and carrying ipads are directed to perform specific actions on a set made of several different rooms. The participants are separated and their actions are synchronized to sometimes interact with one another. The topic of the story is arms dealing. A detailed description of the rooms can be found in the Ruhr Triennale catalogue.

 

Kim showed us some of the environments she created using Roller Coaster Tycoon editor.

Image made with RCT

Image made with RCT

She explained the modelling of the terrain as “scooping up dirt” which had a really nice resonance with the object clumps we had been discussing. I love the floating islands and wondered if we could somehow fit the concept of roller coaster in the project to get around the fact that we can’t export from the RCT editor.

We also tested the Structure Sensor to see if we could get workable scans of some of heart trinkets that Catherine brought to Vancouver. It turns out the objects were hard to scan because of their small size and material properties (too reflective and transparent). Still one of the scans ended up intriguing enough that we may use it as a prototype or stand-in.

Here is the first working scan we got of a small rock heart. If you are viewing this on an iPhone and you want to use Google cardboard, use this link.

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ObjectACTs Residency: Day 1

Today was the first day of the ObjectACTs residency which will continue until the end of the week. We took the morning to introduce everyone and share our thoughts on objects and agency. I took some notes and they are somewhat disjointed but at the very least I thought I would share some themes that arose during the discussion and a few things that particularly caught my attention.

James Luna - We Become Them

James Luna – From “We Become Them”

Richard Hill talked about coming across Jimmie Durham’s work which became the subject of his PhD dissertation. He talked of the deeply contextual nature of objects and our mutual co-creation. Within this discussion emerged the work of James Luna, We Become Them, where he embodies masks of different indigenous cultures as they are projected on slides. This struck me as quite interesting in the context of performance and getting at the question that Ian Bogost poses “What does it feel like to be a thing?” It also reminded me the first ten seconds of the Charlie Chaplin Dictator speech. In that ten seconds, which I could watch over and over, he settles into his body and grounds the work of rising. The very essence of becoming, embodied.

Mimi Gellman talked about the design of The Exploding Archive, a traveling structure which contains and activates maps and teaching bundles. This work has not yet been fabricated but forms the basis of a discussion of how sacred or ritualistic objects can travel with their own contexts. She talked of the Archive as being empowered to carry these objects that she herself is not empowered to carry. She also talked of the power of an object being enacted by its parts being joined (a pipe, for example). Even though she did not discuss it as much this morning, the maps that she has collected for the Archive are varied and are themselves of guides or paths to enactment.

At some point the question “do objects talk back?” arose and Mimi recounted an experience of seeing a mask in a museum which related to her so directly that she did not know that it was in an acrylic case until she asked for a photo of it. I talked of my Amazon Echo which quite literally speaks to me and has become an agent, a kind of person in my life. Alexa is real until she bumps up against the implicit expectations of conversation (see the post on virtuality). Richard pointed out it becomes even more strange when you know that through legislation Amazon is considered a person in the USA.  Alexa is the distributed avatar of Amazon. He also spoke of Daniel Dennett’s concept of the Intentional Stance.

Catherine Richards - I can't let go of them

Catherine Richards – I can’t let go of them

Catherine Richards spoke of her work with heart transplant recipients who have a complicated relationship with their donated heart. She spoke of the trauma always present in that moment where a heart goes from one being to another and how the “intruder” heart is always evading an immune system on alert for what is “not me.” In her work, I can’t let go of them, heart trinkets given to a cardiologist by heart transplant patients are represented in stereoscopic layers. She spoke of the deep meaning that these objects have for the cardiologist who could remember each one (and there are dozens, perhaps hundreds).

I spoke about my curiosity about the representation of objects in virtual environments, as familiar or more abstract entities. Is there a way to design an environment where objects have a kind of life force, that is not fully knowable and is alluring? I also spoke of my recent fascination with Karen Barad‘s work “Meeting the Universe Halfway” where she speaks of Agential Realism which posits that objects come in and out of existence as a function of relations. Catherine spoke of her encounter with a physicist who emphasized that we “cannot look without touching.” This surely relates to virtual environments, though, as Richard points out, we are always venturing somewhere between the “factual and poetic register” when it comes to language. Quantum physics is a good example.

We spent the afternoon experiencing VR apps in the HTC Vive and the GearVR. Kim Parker was our able guide on the Vive. I’ll be posting more about experiments in VR during the week.

A Zotero list has been started to host the references brought up during the residency.

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