at Montalvo Arts Center

18 May 2009 | by | In process

So we are today at Montalvo Arts Center in Saratoga California, for day 1 of our 12 day residency. After meeting everyone and getting settled we began work with a discussion of a handful of ideas we had each been kicking around but hadn’t yet seemed to have the time to sit down and work through. We talked about:

  • Philip Zimbardo and his book The Lucifer Effect, which talks about how people’s context radically changes how they relate to each other, and is interesting to think about in light of some dynamics that will likely play out in the installation version of the project.
  • In reflecting on the results of our workshop, we discussed Koyaanisqatsi, the 1982 film by Godfrey Reggio with music by Philip Glass.  In a way, the film shows many different aspects of city life juxtaposed together — rather like we will be trying to do with avatars. This also reminded me of Baraka and of course Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera. It was interesting to learn that Baraka was actually made by Ron Fricke in 1992, 10 years after he was the cinematographer on Koyaanisqatsi.
  • But mostly we talked about My Dinner with Andre. A film which is mostly about experimental theater and Polish theater director Jerzy Grotowski, but touches on such metaphysical ideas as “the nature of reality”. Really I think it’s a film about the society of the spectacle in a way — how we perceive, and how our lives play into a broader mediated societal structure.
  • Discussion of that led in many different directions. Most interestingly probably was thinking about a part of the film that addresses the habitual and what that means. Habit as a way of masking death. A character in the film tries to counter this human condition by doing something different everyday, starting from the moment he gets out of bed. This made me think about Tricia Rose’s Black Noise and how we use sampling in music as kind of a way of controlling and defying time. Walter Benjamin talks about architecture and how we as humans experience it only through the habitual, through living or being in a space — ie, architecture as a kind of extended time-based medium. A possible counterpoint to this might be Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception and thinking about understanding spaces instead as extensions of our bodies. Think about how both of these ideas relate to avatars. Our piece engages this idea by assigning an architectural structure to each user as an avatar, and making that structure new and different each time they enter. Thus they will perceive the world differently each time. Hopefully each time a user experiences the piece it will be a new and challenging experience.
  • I am also interested in Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori’s idea of “the Uncanny Valley”, (see illustration) which talks about how as robots get increasingly anthropomorphic, we have an increasingly positive and familiar response to them, until at some point they get very human-like and we find them repulsive. The same could be said about “virtual reality” — or perhaps, “technologically mediated experiences”. As software becomes more “lifelike”, we find it more pleasing. Think of like a command-line interface, versus a windows-based OS or an intuitive Flash interface. But at some point (think like Second Life) the experience becomes very life-like in a way, and at this point most people seem to find this very alienating and repulsive. As the simulation encroaches on realism to the point where we feel it might be “threatening the real”, we have an instinctual and cynical critical reaction.

© Walczak & Solomon


login