T_Visionarium is an art installation by Neil Brown, Dennis Del Favero, Jeffrey Shaw and Peter Weibel developed through the iCinema Centre for Interactive Cinema Research at The University of New South Wales in co-operation with ZKM Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe.
In contrast to conventional cinema, where viewers passively watch a singular linear story unfold on a flat screen, T_Visionarium allows viewers to explore and edit a multitude of stories, in 3 dimensions, on a 360-degree fully surrounding screen.
T_Visionarium takes two forms. The first version, T_Visionarium I (2003), is set within an inflatable dome, named EVE or the Extended Virtual Environment, 12 metres wide and 9 metres high. This immersive environment was invented by Shaw in 1993. Once inside EVE viewers wear a head mounted position tracking device and headphones and step onto a control platform in the middle of the dome. This interface device enables the viewer's head movements to control the movement of the projection system. By moving the direction of their head, and hence their gaze, viewers navigate around the images projected onto the interior of the dome.
The second version, T_Visionarium II (2008), is set within AVIE, or the Advanced Visualisation and Interaction Environment. AVIE is the world's first 360 degree stereoscopic projection cinema 1. AVIE is a 120-square metre circular screen that surrounds the audience and provides the environment for a wholly immersive three-dimensional cinematic experience. AVIE allows audiences to wander at will through the projection space without having to sit in a fixed location as in a conventional cinema or to stand on a control platform as in T_Visionarium I, interacting with the projected information as if they are really there 2.
Viewers wearing three-dimensional glasses step inside a cylindrical cinema screen measuring four metres high and 10 metres in diameter. Twelve digital projectors create a high-resolution stereoscopic 3D image on this screen, and the audio is spatially enhanced via a 24- channel surround sound system.
The Director of the Centre is Dennis Del Favero. It was founded in 2002 by Jeffrey Shaw, Dennis Del Favero and Neil Brown and is a unique multi-disciplinary joint venture of the College for Fine Arts, the Faculty of Engineering and the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at The University of New South Wales. The iCinema Centre comprises over 20 research staff and 16 research students working together across the disciplines of new media, aesthetics, experimental art, film theory, multimedia design, computer science, artificial intelligence and software and hardware engineering.
The iCinema research program focuses on research into digital interactivity for benchmark applications across the arts, culture and industry. This includes research into:
- Interactive Narrative Systems, involving the theoretical and experimental investigation of the differentiated structures of narrative brought about by the digital;
- Immersive Visualisation Systems, involving the research and development of mixed reality environments;
- Distributed Interface Systems, involving the integration of distributed multi-user environment within networked systems; and
- Theories of Interactive Narrative Systems, involving the inquiry into digital systems in the context of the contemporary world.
T_Visionarium I was premiered at EuroLille, Lille, France, as part of the 2004 European Cultural Capital Lille Festival. Since then the work has been exhibited at Casa Dell'Architettura, Rome, Italy, as part of the 2006 La Rivoluzione Algorithmica exhibition. T_Visionarium II was premiered at the iCinema Scientia Facility at The University of New South Wales in January 2008 as part of the Sydney Festival. In November 2009, T_Visionarium was exhibited in Amsterdam, at the Zuiderkerk.
T_Visionarium I and T_Visionarium II
For the T_Visionarium I project researchers at iCinema captured 24 hours of European television, for T_Visionarium II 28 hours of digital free to air Australian television, both over a period of one week. This footage was segmented and converted into a massive database, in the latter case containing over 20,000 video clips.
Each video clip was then tagged with descriptors known as metadata, which define the properties of the clip. Information can be encoded such as the gender of the actors, the dominant emotions they are expressing, the pace of the scene, and specific actions such as standing up, lying down, or telephoning. Having the video data segmented in this way deconstructs the television's original linear narrative into components that then become building blocks that the viewer can associate and re-assemble in an infinite number of ways 3.
In T_Visionarium I, the viewer is able to search this database of television recordings via a touch screen menu using a keyword search. The software then reassembles these clips over the entire projection surface of EVE, generating relationships between clips based on the viewer's keyword search.
In T_Visionarium II over three hundred video clips are simultaneously displayed and distributed around AVIE's circular screen. Using a specially designed interface, the viewer can trigger and reassemble clips from the database by selecting a particular video clip from those displayed. The archive of video clips then reassembles themselves within the 3D immersive space of AVIE based on their relationship to this selection. Those clips with the strongest relationship to the selection are triggered from the archive and cluster around the particular clip, whilst those with weaker relationships shift away from the clip 4.
Rather than the keyword search of T_Visionarium I, T_Visionarium II allows for associative and affective searches. This latter search is based on the visual or emotional characteristics of the clip selected, rather than based on semantic information.
The decontextualisation of the television clips fractures the medium's imaging of the world. Rather than the definite representation of the world proposed by television's linear narrative logic, in T_Visionarium, the viewer is confronted with a world represented as a complex of data, of emergent narrative events, rather than mediated as a prefabricated linear narrative 5.
The T_Visionarium project is framed by the concept of aesthetic transcription, that is, the way new meaning can be produced is based on how content moves from one expressive medium to another 6. This is seen throughout art history where an artist recreates motifs from another artist's work (for an instance of this one can cite the apparent evolution from the goddess figure, say Venus, in archaic Greek sculpture to its conception in the classical period through to its appearance in renaissance oil painting). The concept of aesthetic transcription treats each adoption of techniques or cultural data as differentiated in itself, as something new, rather than as an imitation of what went before 7. In T_Visionarium, the digital allows the transcription of televisual data, decontextualising the original data, and reconstituting it within a new artifact. In other words, the archiving abilities of the digital allow data to be changed from its original conception as firstly, new narrative relationships generated between the multitudes of archived data and secondly, as meaningful narrative events that emerge as a result of viewer interaction.
Following Roland Barthes' famous essay "The Death of the Author", this work, rather than being the product of a single author, allows aesthetic negotiations to occur between audience and text. It enables an emergent bond between artist, audience, and the work. In this way, T_Visionarium provides not just a recognition of the artist and the audience's part in the formation of art, but also the constitutive role of the particular media 8. In T_Visionarium, the artist sets the initial conditions for interaction and the viewer and the technology are responsible for the formation of the art event.
The T_Visionarium project also proposes a re-evaluation of narrative in the digital. Del Favero, Brown, Shaw and Weibel have explained that traditionally narrative is conceptualized as mono-temporal and linear whereas interactive narrative is commonly understood as non-linear. In contrast to this, in T_Visionarium narrative is to be understood as "multi-temporal", a concept that alleviates the sharp distinction between linear and non-linear narratives 9. They explain this concept as the mingling of virtual time and real time. This occurs in T_Visionarium as the viewer searches the televisual database in virtual time and experiences the consequences of this navigation in real time. Tim Barker builds on this description to situate the "multi-temporal" in T_Visionarium as the consequence of the viewer's ability to access multiple temporal episodes simultaneously. As each television clip represents different time periods, the result of accessing these all at once is what he refers to as a "multi-temporal duration", a duration of time that is made up of multiple and differentiated representations of time 10. In this model of interaction, the viewer and the database form "…a digital ecology able to generate unprecedented aesthetic and social meanings" 11. In other words, the viewer and the database of T_Visionarium collaborate to generate the narrative events that constitute T_Visionarium.
The unique way that T_Visionarium uses AVIE to navigate and articulate vast amounts of audiovisual data is significant for the cultural, entertainment, education and industrial sectors 12. Particular examples of this are the licensing of AVIE systems to Mines Rescue Pty Ltd as a mines safety training device 13.
The software system for T_Visionarium was developed by a team of engineers led by Matthew McGinity and include Balint Seeber, Jared Berghold, Ardrian Hardjono, Tim Kreger, Thi Thanh Nga Nguyen, Gunawan Herman, Multimedia and Video Communication Research Group (Dr Jack Yu), NICTA and Volker Kuchelmeister.
- 1. Jill Bennett. (2007). T_Visionarium: A User's Guide. Sydney/Karlsruhe: UNSW Press/ZKM. p. 10
- 2. Dale Paget. (2006) "Minority Report style television developed at UNSW," National Nine News, August 30, 2006. 
- 3. Bennett. (2007). Ibid. p. 20
- 4. Tim Barker. (May 2007). "Adapting a Model of Duration: The Multitemporality of T_Visionarium II," M/C Journal, 10(2). <http://journal.media-culture.org.au/0705/14-barker.php>.
- 5. Barker. Ibid.
- 6. Dennis Del Favero, Neil Brown, Jeffrey Shaw & Peter Weibel, (2007). "Experimental Aesthetics and Interactive Narrative" ACUADS conference, UNSW, September 27, 2007.
- 7. Del Favero et al. (2007). Ibid.
- 8. Del Favero et al. (2007). Ibid
- 9. Dennis Del Favero, Neil Brown, Jeffrey Shaw & Peter Weibel. (2005a). "Towards a Dialogic Concept of Digital Narrative" in G. Flachbart & P. Weibel (Ed). Disappearing Architecture: From Real to Virtual to Quantum (pp. 144– 151). Basel: Birkhauser Verlag. p. 148
- 10. Barker. Ibid.
- 11. Dennis Del Favero, Neil Brown, Jeffrey Shaw & Peter Weibel. (2005b). "T_Visionarium: The Aesthetic Transcription of Televisual Databases" in U. Frohne & M. Schieren (Eds). Present, Continuous, Past (pp. 132–141). Springer: New York. p. 133
- 12. Bennett. Ibid. p 15
- 13. Conrad Walters. (2007) "Virtual reality cinema trains miners for danger," The Sydney Morning Herald, 10 August 2007, p. 11
- Barker, T. (May 2007). "Adapting a Model of Duration: The Multitemporality of T_Visionarium II," M/C Journal, 10(2). <http://journal.media-culture.org.au/0705/14-barker.php>.
- Bennett, J. (2007). T_Visionarium: A User's Guide. Sydney/Karlsruhe: UNSW Press/ZKM.
- Del Favero, D., Brown, N., Shaw, J. & Weibel, P. (2007). "Experimental Aesthetics and Interactive Narrative" ACUADS conference, UNSW, September 27, 2007.
- Del Favero, D., Brown, N., Shaw, J. & Weibel, P. (2005a). "Towards a Dialogic Concept of Digital Narrative" in G. Flachbart & P. Weibel (Ed). Disappearing Architecture: From Real to Virtual to Quantum (pp. 144– 151). Basel: Birkhauser Verlag.
- Del Favero, D., Brown, N., Shaw, J. & Weibel, P. (2005b). "T_Visionarium: The Aesthetic Transcription of Televisual Databases" in U. Frohne & M. Schieren (Eds). Present, Continuous, Past (pp. 132–141). Springer: New York.
- Del Favero, D., Brown, N., Shaw, J. & Weibel, P. (2003) "Interactive Narrative as a Multi-Temporal Agency" in J. Shaw & P. Weibel (Eds). Future Cinema, The Cinematic Imaginary after Film. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
- McGinity, M., Shaw, J., Kuchelmeister, V., Hardjono, A. & Del Favero, D. (2007) "AVIE: a versatile multi-user stereo 360° interactive VR theatre" in Proceedings of the 2007 Workshop on Emerging Displays Technologies: Images and Beyond: the Future of Displays and interaction (San Diego, California, August 4 - 04, 2007). EDT '07, vol. 252. ACM, New York, NY.
- Pagent, D. (2006) "Minority Report style television developed at UNSW," National Nine News, August 30, 2006. 
- Walters, C. (2007) "Virtual reality cinema trains miners for danger," The Sydney Morning Herald, 10 August 2007, p. 11