<< preface

this blog is nina wenhart's collection of resources on the various histories of new media art. it consists mainly of non or very little edited material i found flaneuring on the net, sometimes with my own annotations and comments, sometimes it's also textparts i retyped from books that are out of print.

it is also meant to be an additional resource of information and recommended reading for my students of the prehystories of new media class that i teach at the school of the art institute of chicago in fall 2008.

the focus is on the time period from the beginning of the 20th century up to today.

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>> Jeffrey Shaw, "The Legible City", 1989

from: http://www.jeffrey-shaw.net/html_main/show_work.php3?record_id=83#

"In The Legible City the visitor is able to ride a stationary bicycle through a simulated representation of a city that is constituted by computer-generated three-dimensional letters that form words and sentences along the sides of the streets. Using the ground plans of actual cities - Manhattan, Amsterdam and Karlsruhe - the existing architecture of these cities is completely replaced by textual formations written and compiled by Dirk Groeneveld. Travelling through these cities of words is consequently a journey of reading; choosing the path one takes is a choice of texts as well as their spontaneous juxtapositions and conjunctions of meaning.

The handlebar and pedals of the interface bicycle give the viewer interactive control over direction and speed of travel. The physical effort of cycling in the real world is gratuitously transposed into the virtual environment, affirming a conjunction of the active body in the virtual domain. A video projector is used to project the computer-generated image onto a large screen. Another small monitor screen in front of the bicycle shows a simple ground plan of each city, with an indicator showing the momentary position of the cyclist.

The Manhattan version (1989) of this work comprises eight separate fictional story lines in the form of monologues by ex-Mayor Koch, Frank Lloyd Wright, Donald Trump, a tour guide, a confidence trickster, an ambassador and a taxi-driver. Each story line has a specific letter colour so that the bicyclist can choose one or another to follow the path of a particular narration. In the Amsterdam (1990) and Karlsruhe (1991) versions all the letters are scaled so that they have the same proportion and location as the actual buildings which they replace, resulting in a transformed but exact representation of the actual architectural appearance of these cities. The texts for these two cities are largely derived from archive documents that describe mundane historical events there."

from Ars Electronica (Award of Distinction, interactive Art, 1990):

"In "The Legible City" by Jeffrey Shaw the visitor is able to ride a stationary bicycle through a simulated representation of a city that is constituted by computer-generated three-dimensional letters that form words and sentences along the sides of the streets.

The research and development of various mechanisms and codes of spatial representation has been a major preoccupation throughout the history of Western Art. The application of three dimensional computer imaging technologies in this context has a revolutionary meaning. Instead ofthe traditional activity of art as a representation of reality, the artwork can now become itself a simulation of reality within which the viewer's point of view is located. "The Legible City" is a first example of the possibility of the digital image to evoke a three dimensional virtual space which the spectator can enter and explore.

The spectator is able to use a bicycle to interactively travel in a video projected three dimensional virtual image space. In the first realized version of this work the image space in which the bicyclist can travel is based on the ground plan of part of Manhattan, New York - the area boundaried by 34th and 66thStreet, and Park and 11th Avenue. Using real-time computer graphic technology, the city visualised by solid three dimensional letters that form words and sentences along the sides of the streets. These words and sentences conform tothe actual plan and scale of this city - its particular organisation of streets, avenues, intersections, parks, etc. Thus the actual Manhattan architecture of buildings is completely replaced by a new architecture of text.

Travelling through this city of words is consequently a journey of reading. Choosing direction, choosing where to turn, is a choice of the story lines and the user's position. In this way this city of words is a kind of three dimensional book which can be read in any direction, and where the spectators construct their own conjunction of texts and meanings as they bicycle their chosen path there.

The image of the city is video projected onto a large video screen in front of the bicyclist. The bicycle is fixed on a platform in the installation, but the spectator controls his / her speed and direction of movement in the projected image space by pedalling faster or slower, and by turning the handle bars. The virtual world where the bicyclist is travelling simulates faithfully the experience of bicycling in the real world.

In this work the city is constituted physically by the three dimensional arrangement of words into streets, and the city is constituted psychologically by the meanings these words carry as they are read by the bicyclist travelling through these streets. The texts have been written as eight separate storylines that have a particular relationship to Manhattan - for instance monologues spoken by Mayor Koch, Frank Lloyd Wright, Donald Trump, Noah Webster, a cab driver, a tour guide, an ambassador, etc. Each storyline has a specific location in the city, and each is visually identifiable by the particular colour of its letters.Thus the bicyclist / reader can follow one story line by following its colour, andalso recognise higher shifts from one storyline to another because of the colour changes.

Directly in front of the bicyclist, a small video screen shows a plan of Manhattan, and the actual location of the bicyclist there by means of a flashing dot that represents the position and direction of movement. Electronic devices attached to the steering wheel and pedals of the bicycle measure the rotation of the steering wheel and speed of pedalling. Responding to this formation, the Manhattan database is interactively calculated and displayed by a Silicon Graphics Personal IRIS graphics computer. Video output from this computer goes to a video projector which shows the image on the large screen in front of the bicyclist. Another personal computer handles the small video display of the plan of Manhattan and the indication of the bicyclist's position there.

The authors of this work intend to realise more versions based on the ground plans of other major cities. What is felt to be interesting are the different formal geometries of these cities' plans, which will strongly effect the character of their lettered visualisation. Furthermore, each city's plan and historical identity asks for a different approach to the content and writing of the text.

"The Legible City", as it now has been created, is in a fundamental way determined by the capabilities of state-of-the-art computer graphic visualisation technologies. The ongoing and rapid evolution of these technologies generates new capabilities that are significant to future developments of this work. For instance utilizing NASA's stereoscopic head-mounted display, the bicyclist would experience the work as a totally surrounding three dimensional space of imagery."

from medienkunstnetz:

"Visitors to ‘The Legible City', created at the Institut für Neue Medien in Frankfurt/M., are seated on a stationary bicycle and ‘move' through streets projected onto the surface in front of them. In contrast to those of a normal city, the streets here are literally legible, lined not by buildings but by letters. On their passage through the city, cyclist-visitors can pursue various narrative threads, accumulating their own history of the city. On a small display on the handlebars is a map of the city on which the cyclists can plot their position. Between 1988 and 1991 Jeffrey Shaw created three versions of ‘The Legible City': Manhattan, Amsterdam and Karlsruhe. The Manhattan variant was one of the very first interactive installations, today regarded as a key work of the genre."

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... is a Media Art historian and independent researcher. She is currently writing on "speculative archiving && experimental preservation of Media Art" and graduated from Prof. Oliver Grau's Media Art Histories program at the Danube University in Krems, Austria with a Master Thesis on Descriptive Metadata for Media Arts. For many years, she has been working in the field of archiving/documenting Media Art, recently at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Media.Art.Research and before as the head of the Ars Electronica Futurelab's videostudio, where she created their archives and primarily worked with the archival material. She was teaching the Prehystories of New Media Class at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and in the Media Art Histories program at the Danube University Krems.