The Vitruvian World
A proposal for Turbulence's MIXED REALITIES 2007 competition.
I. Artistic Context
In the 1st century BC, Roman writer, architect and engineer Vitruvius authored the treatise De Architectura (also known as The Ten Books of Architecture). Within its pages are contained specific formulae for building structures based on the guiding principles of firmitas, utilitas, venustas – strength, utility and beauty. Rediscovered in 1414 by Bracciolini, the work became a major influence on the architecture and art of the renaissance, baroque, neoclassical and beyond.
According to Vitruvius, architecture is intrinsically linked to nature and is an imitation of cosmic order. The most well-known interpretation of this postulate is the Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci in which the human form is depicted in unity with the square and circle – representing material and spiritual existence respectively. Given that this tripart union of human body, material form and spiritual essence maintains relevance within the current climate of distributed presence, mixed realities and internet culture, this proposal seeks to construct an artwork that embodies the principles of Vitruvius within a contemporary context.
II. Artwork Synopsis and Participant Experience
The Vitruvian World will exist in three distinct yet interconnected forms embracing the:
Virtual (Ars Virtua)
In the Ars Virtua gallery located in Second Life (SL), a medium sized translucent sphere will be levitating above an ornate pedestal. Within this perfect globe, visitors to the gallery will see a microcosmic world filled with semi-transparent geometric forms residing in perfect harmony. Amongst these structures a human figure, seemingly made of the same material as the rest of the world, floats within the enclosure. It soon becomes evident that this figure is not an automaton as its actions are neither repetitive nor prescriptive. As this being interacts with the small universe, changes – some subtle, others dramatic – occur. The geometric structures are destroyed and recreated with new configurations, while their textural elements morph in real-time.
Upon closer examination of the sphere and pedestal, visitors to the gallery realize that they can manipulate and alter these two objects. The orb can be slowly set in motion, and with it the orientation and quality of light within the world changes. As the pedestal is touched, images of their manipulations and experiences appear fleetingly on surfaces within the sphere before they disappear and become lost to the senses.
In time both presences become aware of one another. Although touch and speech cannot penetrate the enclosing sphere, understanding and communication are still possible. Each realizes that they are contributors to a greater whole and their dialogue is what instills ‘life’ into the world.
Physical (Huret & Spector Gallery)
The artwork’s physical space component will be an immersive audio/visual system that gives a single user a real-time participatory experience with the work while allowing other visitors in the gallery space the opportunity to spectate. The installation will consist of a hi-specification computer system running the SL client connected to a large scale projection array (using stereoscopic or multi-screen technology), a 5.1 surround sound system and a wireless 3D navigation device.
The participant in the physical space will be controlling the avatar in the miniature world and will be able to view (but not venture) beyond into the surrounding vicinity of SL. The user will be able to navigate through the enclosed virtual space and interact with its structural components. The most dramatic of these interactions (accessed though a set of seven cubic structures at the centre of the world1) will cause the instantaneous destruction and recreation of the microcosm. In the formation of the world’s structures, proportions and element numbers will be defined though one of the seven Vitruvian temple formulae2, while orientation and element type will vary according to the time of day in both SL and Huret & Spector Gallery.
Network (Turbulence)
Within the virtual and physical environments, participants will be given the facility to capture ‘moments’ of their interaction with and experience of the artwork. This will be accomplished by programmatically linking SL’s inbuilt snapshot function to elements of the work - both inside (for the physical participant) and outside (for the virtual participants). As the snapshots are generated from these two distinct viewpoint areas, they will be sent to the Turbulence server and processed into two image libraries – one for each area. Each library will always contain a set of 50 images. As a new image arrives, it will replace the oldest image in the respective set. Several randomly selected images from each library will also be streamed back into the artwork’s SL structure as texture maps. This process will occur each time a participant in the physical space initiates the reformation of the artwork’s SL configuration.
In addition to this reflexive transfer of digital material, visitors to the Turbulence website will be able to view a net art piece that is constructed exclusively from these image libraries. This component of the artwork will be 2D and algorithmic in nature. It could be described as a conceptual framework with formal aesthetics and qualities of real-time documentation3.
III. Technical Aspects
Ars Virtua
The SL component of the artwork will utilize a combination of prims, textures, LSL scripts and an avatar. As the spatial dimensionality of the work in SL is miniature in nature and will be constructed with fundamental geometric forms it will easily fit within the 2000 m2 space of the gallery and will not require the use of more than 500 prims. In terms of texturing, a combination of standard in-world and external4 elements will be utilized. LSL scripts will be designed by the project team and be implemented in consultation with our existing SL collaborators5. Many of the required LSL scripts6 have already been developed for other current projects and can be repurposed for use in this artwork. The custom avatar used in the project will be created with the standard SL toolset and Poser7.
Huret & Spector Gallery
All of the equipment8 required for the installation of the physical gallery space component is already owned and maintained by the project team. As both the visual and sound systems are modular by nature, the artwork will conform easily to an allocated space within Art Interactive - the single requirement will be a low-light environment to maximize the effectiveness of the projection system. The only element of the setup to be custom built for the installation will be the projection screens. The screen system will be designed once an area of the gallery is allocated for the artwork, and can be either wall mounted or ceiling suspended. In terms of networking facilities, the installation will require a standard broadband internet connection.
All Hardware, software, network, and physical components of the installation at Art Interactive will be done by the project team. The project team has undertaken 50+ technical installations of this nature and would anticipate a set-up time of less than a working week. Because the project team is based in the UK, all installation materials will be shipped to the gallery prior to the set-up dates or will be brought personally by the team members.
The network aspect of this proposal will require a unique email address on the Turbulence server and a combination of server-side (Java) and client-side (Flash 8+ and xhtml 1.0 transitional) code sets. The image files sent from SL to the Turbulence server via email attachments9 will be isolated, processed, and stored as a dataset by a Java application that is set to execute every ten minutes. Once this processing is finished, the emails will be deleted from the system. To ensure that only legitimate images are added to the dataset (e.g. not images attached to spam emails) the email address will not be made public and will be an address10 that is unlikely to be targeted by spammers. Additionally, the attached image screenshots will be set to a specific resolution and file type11 and the Java program will be instructed to only process images that exactly conform to these parameters.
The networked component of the artwork hosted on the Turbulence website will be constructed using xhtml and Flash, and viewing it will only require a low-specification computer system with an internet browser and the Flash 8+ plug-in12. There will be no excessive bandwidth requirements placed upon the Turbulence server as no large streaming data elements will be used in the project.
It should be noted that although this project will be originally constructed for simultaneous exhibition at Ars Virtua, Art Interactive and Turbulence, it can be easily adapted for exhibition in other SL, physical, and networked locales.
IV. Project Team
Michael Takeo Magruder (project lead)
[ concept, aesthetics, programming and technology design ]
Intermedia Artist and Researcher (U.S.A./U.K.)
King’s Visualisation Lab, Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King’s College London
bio . cv . email: . website:
Drew Baker
[ academic research, 3D modeling and avatar animation ]
Senior Research Fellow (U.K.)
King’s Visualisation Lab, Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King’s College London
bio . cv . email: . website:
David Steele
[ programming and technology design ]
Technical Director (U.S.A.)
Engage Reason, Inc.
bio . cv . email: . website:
V. Budget
Due to the complexity of creating an artwork for the three interconnected spaces of Ars Virtua, Art Interactive and Turbulence, the $5000 commission budget will be used entirely for the actual creation and exhibition of the artwork - not for artist fees. As all members of the project team are in full-time employment, this is a realistic option.
$1000   SL consultation (LSL scripting and avatar design assistance)
$0500   Huret & Spector Gallery installation materials (projection screen(s), etc.)
$3000   Huret & Spector Gallery logistics (project team and artwork transportation)
$0500   10% Contingency
$5000   Total
If this project is selected, additional funding will be sought from UK organizations such as Arts Council England and British Council. The securement of additional funding will allow the project team to increase the complexity of the proposed artwork, but is not required for the successful realization of the project as described in this proposal.
VI. Previous Works
1. Monolith[s]
[ VRML, Flash and Java : by Michael Takeo Magruder with assistance from Drew Baker and David Steele ]
2. World[s]
[ VRML and Flash : by Michael Takeo Magruder with assistance from Drew Baker ]
3. Continuum...
[ Flash and Java : by Michael Takeo Magruder with assistance from David Steele ]
4. Vitruvian Ideal Temple
[ VRML : by Drew Baker ]
5. Theatron
[ VRML and HTML: by Drew Baker and Martin Blazeby ]