Broadly speaking, I’m interested in exploring issues surrounding 3d “virtual” space. In terms of personal artistic development, I’ve become increasingly interested in computer generated 3d graphics as a medium for artistic experimentation. To begin with, here’s a brief recap of what I know:
3d virtual space (like all computer software), consists of two components. First, there is data, in this case mathematical descriptions of objects in three-dimensional Cartesian space (usually complex polyhedra with triangular faces, though there are other models). In addition, other objects (such as lights, virtual cameras, physical forces, etc) are represented abstractly and plotted in the same coordinate space. On top of that data are procedures—rules for manipulating these 3d objects and depicting them in a flat image. The traditional set of procedures grew out of mathematics (particularly Euclidean geometry and linear algebra) and were informed both by careful study of real-world optics as well as aesthetic judgements about computer image making.
Historically, the field of 3d computer graphics research emerged primarily as a means to simulate the pictorial space of cinema and photography through a computationally-rigorous application of artistic techniques such as linear perspective. In this context (currently manifest in the ubiquity of CGI in cinema and television), the issues raised by computer-generated 3d space are essentially the same issues of pictorial space already raised by cinema and photography. However, with the real-time processing capabilities of computers, such virtual spaces can now be explored interactively by people and their digital avatars. Rather than merely representational, such spaces now strive to be “immersive”, inviting a new form of spatial analysis.
With virtual 3d spaces, the aim is often some degree of realism. Even when representing worlds of fantasy or abstraction, computer-generated spaces often take for granted much of the organizational logic of “real-world” space. Such spaces attempt to be simulacra of our own space with superficial differences (or without, in the case of projects such as Google Earth). As humanity seems poised to spend increasingly large amounts of time in virtual spaces, a reading of existing spatial practice seems like an important tool for testing the assumptions and affordances of 3d virtual space in the computer.
Some questions come to mind: Given their mathematic foundations, are virtual 3d spaces the ultimate rationalist space (with the corresponding rationalist ideology and politics), or does their artificial nature allow for different geometries? Can virtual spaces be discussed outside of the context of their visual representation? Given that the narrow slice of what the user sees is the only space explicitly rendered, can the remaining environment be said to exist? What is the economic condition of virtual “property”, especially in a video game such as Minecraft where industrial resources are (effectively) infinite? When all information about the virtual world is densely stored in a centralized database, are notions of privacy and surveillance meaningful? What are the politics of a space controlled (and designed) by a single programmer, or a corporate entity? What does occupation or dissent look like in these spaces?
I hope to combine the theory we’ll be discussing in this class with a close “reading” of some of the technological processes underlying 3d graphics engines. The end result will be some sort of virtual space in the web browser (using WebGL) that explores some of these issues. In rough terms, I’m imagining some sort of didactic game—that is, what would an essay about 3-dimensional space look like as an explorable 3-dimensional space.
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