Matthew Kaney at ITP

Final Project Research and Proposal


Project Research

As I’ve previously discussed, I’m interested in an exploration of computer-generated 3d virtual space—the space of much of contemporary cinema, as well as video games and Second Life. Drawing from the content of our class readings so far, I’ve been following two main threads:

Materiality of Digital Space

Clement Valla has been doing some interesting work in the intersection of virtual and realistic space. His project Postcards from Google Earth finds places where the geography of the Earth conflicts with the geography of Google Earth, leaving trees flattened and bridges draped across hill topologies. Meanwhile, this video made with A.E. Benenson describes how the spatial/representational logic of 3d space (in particular, 3d spaces captured from digital photogrammetry differ from the spatial logic of human perception, and how “glitches” in the capture process illustrate these disconnects.

In a similar vein is the project Farm (Pryor Creek, Oklahoma) by John Gerrard where he photographed a Google data center by helicopter and created a highly detailed 3d model of the building and its infrastructure. Data centers like this one (located less than an hour from where I grew up) offer one insight into the material structure of the Internet. Representations of the Internet as a purely dematerialized space—a “cloud” in current jargon—ignore the physical realities of buildings like these, and the substantial natural resources they consume.

Other levels of the materiality of virtual space are explored in a couple of books:

Mechanisms by Matthew Kirschenbaum, which describes how the forensic aspects of computers (i.e. the physical process of rewriting memory, the spatial layout of digital data on a disk, the persistence of supposedly “deleted” data, and other factors) exist as physical traces of virtual spatial production and action.

Software Takes Command by Lev Manovich, describes how the structure of software determines the types of operations that are available in the creation of digital media. He discusses Photoshop and After Effects as case studies, analyzing them in terms that are also applicable to video games, 3d modeling programs, and so on.

To this, I would add the mathematical foundations of 3d graphics. This is a wide domain, with a vast amount of scholarship. I’m only passingly familiar with the basics, but there is a lot of future potential in critique of the structures and assumptions of this mathematic approach to space.

Virtual Performance and Intervention

Joseph DeLappe has done a series of performances in online first-person shooter games, where participants on a game server use the game’s chat system to perform an episode of Friends in Quake III or the Bush/Kerry presidential debates across three different thematically-related games. The strongest performance is probably his project Dead in Iraq, where he typed the names, ages and ranks of all American soldiers killed in the Iraq war in games of America’s Army a first-person shooter developed in conjunction with the US Military as a simultaneous game and recruitment/training tool. DeLappe’s work continues the process of spatial intervention in to virtual game space, while also invoking Games as a site for theatre.

A couple of related readings:
Computers as theatre by Brenda Laurel

Also, “Games as Art” by Celia Pearce, published in Visible Language traces various ways in which artists have used the structure of the game, with roots in Fluxus practice. She discusses the artistic production of game “mods”, which seems quite appropriate here.

Description of Work

At the moment, my idea for the work is still pretty hazy. I’m interested in the question of what an essay or documentary would look like in the terms of a video game. The subject will be an exploration of the representational limits of these virtual spaces. The “narrative” will be reasonably linear, structured as a series of interactive spaces that are each explorable, but that lead directly from one idea to another.

Possible subjects include: a history of virtual space, and it’s applications in cinema, video gaming, architecture, warfare, etc; or a set of tools that one can use for critical playing of video games.

I’ll be working with WebGL, allowing the space to be accessible by anyone with a modern web browser. So far this semester, I’ve been familiarizing myself with the Three.js javascript library for creating WebGL environments, and I’m interested in building work on this platform.

Timeline and Production Schedule

Central question or questions posed by the work

Where is a virtual space located? When we are in a virtual space, where are we? One answer is that we’re stored in a database or computer disk somewhere, our location rendered as virtual coordinates, accessible to a software system in ways that have nothing to do with the virtual space we allegedly must travel. How does this accessibility determine our relationship to the space? What ramifications does it have in a culture of mass surveillance?


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