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The Passage of Mirage -
Illusory Virtual Objects

Featuring works by Jim Campbell, Vuk Cosic, John Gerrard, W. Bradford Paley, Eric Paulos, Wolfgang Staehle, Thomson & Craighead, and Carlo Zanni

September 14 - October 16
Opening reception: Tues, September 14, 6-8 PM
Artist Talk: Thurs., September 30, 7 - 9 PM
Symposium: " Negotiating Realities: New Media Art and the Post-Object"
Sun, Oct. 10, 4-9 PM, Tishman Auditorium, New School University
Exhibition and symposium organized by agent.netart
(joint public programs by Intelligent Agent and the Netart Initiative of the Parsons School of Design)

Curators and symposium co-ordinators:
Christiane Paul (Director, Intelligent Agent; Adjunct Curator of New Media Arts, Whitney Museum)
Zhang Ga (Director, Netart Initiative; Professor, MFA Design and Technology program, Parsons School of Design)
The exhibition and symposium are made possible by funding from THE ROCKEFELLER FOUNDATION

The exhibition The Passage of Mirage explores concepts surrounding the "virtual object" and the issues of representation that have been raised by it. While the coalition of virtual and object seems contradictory at first glance, it dialectically illuminates the complex relationships between the virtual and the real that unfold in new media art. In classical optical theories of the 18th century, the word "virtual" was used to describe the reflected image of an object. Today's digital image does not require a physical object to represent a physical reality; rather than reproducing reality, it encodes data and therefore alludes to an expanded concept of objecthood.

New media art both connects to and expands the dematerialization of the art object that occurred in earlier art movements. The new media object is a process in flux that is potentially interactive, dynamic, participatory and customizable and often oscillates between its inherent ephemeral nature and its material components or people’s desire to objectify it.

The Passage of Mirage features nine projects that address these issues by portraying the virtual object as a process, a data structure (or carrier thereof), or as an encoded reality. The artworks expand notions of the traditional art object, sometimes quite specifically with regard to more established art forms such as photography, film, or painting.

The works of Jim Campbell and Thomson & Craighead, for example, offer different approaches to processing the medium of film. Campbell's Illuminated Average #1 creates an average of all the frames of Htchock's Psycho and collapses the film into one single image; by contrast, the artist's Night Light visualizes Psycho's sound level and the brightness of the image throughout the film. Thomson & Craighead's Short Films about Flying is an edition of unique cinematic works that were generated in real-from existing data found on the World Wide Web: each "movie" (replete with opening titles and end credits) combines a video feed from Logan Airport in Boston with randomly loaded net radio sourced from elsewhere in the world.

John Gerrard's Watchful Portrait and Carlo Zanni's Altarboy both transform a portrait into a "living" process that is networked or responds to haptic sensation; and Wolfgang Staehle's and Vuk Cosic's works present a "live" version of a photograph or painting. In very different ways, the idea of the object as data carrier unfolds both in W. Bradford Paley's Code Profiles and Eric Paulos' Limelight, a sculptural object that doubles as automated threat detection and indication system.

While still informed by the aesthetics of more traditional media, the artworks in the exhibition are media objects that are process-oriented, reactive, or open to (real-time) data processing and intervention.


The Passage of Mirage — Illusory Virtual Objects
Exhibition Projects


Jim Campbell
Accumulating Psycho, 2004

Night Light, 1995/1998
Custom electronics, light bulbs, glass

Jim Campbell's Accumulating Psycho and Night Light each represent a different view of the Alfred Hitchcock classic Psycho. Accumulating Psycho continually collapses the frames of the entire 1 hour, 50 minutes film (while the sound remains intact). By contrast, Night Light (from Campbell's Memory Series) visualizes two different aspects or "memories" of Psycho: the film's sound level and the brightness of the image throughout the film. The two memories are synchronized and used to change the brightness of two light bulbs. Loud scenes are bright on the left-hand bulb and dark scenes are dark on the right-hand bulb.

This way, an electronic record of the collective memory of the film is used to transform an every-day object mounted on the wall. Night Light points to the "hidden" quality of memories, which have to be transformed in order to be represented.


John Gerrard, Watchful Portrait (Caroline), 2004

Medium : 3D model, gaming engine, software
Equipment : PC x 2, LCD screen x 2, custom corian plastic housing, tracking device
Collaborators : Erwin Reitboeck, Werner Poetzelberger, Robert Praxmarer, Ars Electronica Futurelab.
This work was realised with the support of the 2004 Siemens Artist in
Residence Project at the Ars Electronica Futurelab, Austria.

The work consists of two virtual portraits that are tracking the position of the sun and the moon at all times. The precise scientific information as to the movement of these elements is constantly monitored live and the portraits are designed to follow these co-ordinates with their eyes at all times. The portrait (Caroline) opens her eyes at dawn and tracks the sun. At dusk she closes her eyes. At this point, the opposite portrait opens her eyes and tracks the moon all night. The diptych is shown on a shelf with the public being able to turn each panel on a central pivot point. The virtual portrait, however, remains static, allowing the public to look around and behind it, evenually leaving the screens in any way desired.


Carlo Zanni, Oriana, 2004
Sculpture, aluminum case with LCD screen

The Oriana sculpture (part of Carlo Zanni's series Altarboy) consists of a customized, portable aluminum case. The bottom shell sheet of the case contains a little transparent glass box with fresh rose petals, pointing to the ephemeral nature of the object. The sheet itself is also covered by fresh rose petals. Embedded in the top shell is a 17" LCD screen showing a portrait of writer and journalist Oriana Fallaci. The pupils of her eyes consist of images gathered through live search engine queries; the images returned by the query are resized as 1x1 pixels and linked to a thumbnail of the same image (images are being refreshed every 90 seconds). Users remotely interact with the piece and launch the images in the pupils at the website The right pupil of the portrait is filled with images that users gather through queries at the webiste. The left pupil of the portrait is filled with images that are the result of a query for the words "Cu Chi" on the Google search engine. The Cu Chi tunnels were one of the most famous battlegrounds of the Vietnam War and are one of the country's prime tourist attractions today. Fallaci wrote about the Vietnam war, most notably in her Vietnam journal Nothing, and So Be It .Oriana constructs a physical object and portrait as a "living process" that contains a multitude of other possible portraits and takes its shape through the choices of users in a real-time networked process.


Thompson & Craighead, Short Films about Flying, 2003
Installation / projection
/ (beta)

Short Films about Flying is a networked installation and open edition of unique cinematic works which were generated in real-time from existing data found on the World Wide Web. Each "movie" (replete with opening titles and end credits) combines a video feed from Logan Airport in Boston with randomly loaded net radio sourced from elsewhere in the world. As this relatively good quality video stream was taken from an existing commercial website where its visitors are able to remotely control the camera, each "movie" is "shot" and "paced" by its own (albeit unsuspecting) camera person. Additionally, text grabbed from a variety of on-line message boards is periodically inserted, appearing like cinematic inter-titles when viewed in combination with all the other components. The result is a coherent yet evocative combination of elements that produce an endlessly mutating edition of low-tech mini-movies that the artists call Template Cinema.
Courtesy of Mobile Home, London


Wolfgang Staehle, Fernsehturm (TV Tower),2004
Live webcam feed, flat panel screen, dimensions variable

Fernsehturm continues Wolfgang Staehle's exploration of the aesthetic implications of the "live" image. The screen displays a live feed of a view monitoring the TV tower in Berlin -- a painting in motion. Fernsehturm suggests a constantly evolving photographic image that becomes a continuous record of minute changes in light and every aspect of the environment. It is a highly ephemeral, time-based document that cannot and won’t ever be repeated (except as an archived version). Encountering this type of image on the wall of a gallery or museum, constitutes a radical change of context that poses essential questions about representation and the nature of the art object itself. Does the "live" image supersede previous art forms such as photography? What role do the aesthetics of processing and mediation play in our perception of an artwork?


Vuk Cosic, History of Art for the Intelligence Community (Cezanne), 2002
Networked software, projection

History of Art for the Intelligence Community is a front-end / client for Carnivore, a project by the Radical Software Group (RSG) that mimics the FBI's net surveillance software of the same name. The Carnivore project consists of the packet-sniffing software created by RSG that monitors network traffic on a local area network; and the clients that numerous artists have created to visualize the data exchange on the network. In History of Art for the Intelligence Community, Cosic displays the Web-usage data of the network via well-known masterpieces by Cezanne, Van Gogh, and others. Paul Cezanne's Still Life with Plate of Cherries (1885-87) appears as a digital reproduction of the original painting, except for the fact that the numbers of cherries and peaches on the plates in the painting are constantly changing. Cherries indicate the number of incoming mails on the network, and peaches the number of outgoing mails. The project seeks to encourage "old media"-oriented audiences to consider the aesthetic possibilities of networked digital media.


W. Bradford Paley, Code Profiles, 2002
Touchscreen; software commissioned by the Whitney Museum of American Art

Code Profiles is a software that displays its underlying code and comments on itself. The code reads in its own source and displays it in a tiny font. As users move their finger over the touch screen, each line of the code becomes legible. The software moves three points in "code space": the white line traces the code in the order it was written by the artist; the amber line traces the code word by word as someone might read it; the green line shows a sample of how the computer reads the code. The code lines themselves gradually get brighter as they execute more. In a self-reflexive way, Code Profiles unveils a "virtual object" as the algorithms constructing this very object.


Eric Paulos & Chris Myers, Limelight, 2003

Limelight is a sculptural object designed to provide the user with an awareness of the current condition of actual threats that should be of concern. It is an automated, electronic, personal, tactical, threat detection and indication system that identifies, monitors, and interprets the numerous local and global indicators that might signal a threat. Limelight is designed to provide the necessary balance of local measurements and global monitoring to provide an accurate awareness of threats. However, the privilege of obtaining this information and easing the mind of the user is not without its price: the relinquishing of privacy and personal biometric data as well as the profiling of the individual's usage patterns, location, and activities. Standing at around 40 cm and weighing less than 4 kg, Limelight has a variety of local sensing equipment onboard that samples the local environment thousands of times every second. The measurements are carefully compared to "normal parameters" as well as globally changing indicators to watch for any sign signaling a potential threat. The rules used to determine a current threat are also in flux, constantly being updated and reconfigured via the wireless remote network connection to Limelight from the EIU server.