Monday, July 17, 2006

augmented aquarium description - New visions Commission

the augmented aquarium - description


A small glass tank filled with water on a table in a room, glowing softly. Within the tank, a minature aquarium full of pond life, familiar from childhood - tadpoles, larvae and vaious microorganisms - swimming, wriggling, feeding and growing.

On a wall nearby is a silohetted moving image, a projected shadow-copy of the contents of this small tank. The shadows appear to be generated by a light passing through the tank, and the resulting image has been magnified by the tank's glass and water acting as a lens, resulting in a giant silouetted world of the wriggling life within the tank, projected onto the wall.

However, the silouhetted aquarium on the wall seems to consist of more life, more motion, and some unusual behaviours. Strange underwater plants blow and sway in the underwater currents and are occasionaly snatching at the larvae wriggling through the water; small, finely detailed creatures, with lifelike movement but impossible appendages, are swimming erratically to avoid contact with the tadpoles....

The sound that is heard when standing in the vacinity of the small tank and the projection relates to, and is syncronised with, the motions of the generated elements - the strange creatures that swim by and around, and the predatory plants that snatch and flow.

The audience interacts with this work by relating, comparing, and being played apon by the two worlds. The contents of the small tank, when explored as an object, are illuminated and engaging - a bundle of wriggling life. However the projected world is fascinating in a different way, as the generated elements interact with the tank life in real time. As both the tank and the projection are visible together, the experience is intended to be one of discovery, but also re-discovery, as the magnified real-time life of the tank are just as alien to wonder at and observe as the generated forms in the projected world.


the central aim of this study is to explore the membranes of visual perception between the organic and the simulated. How can organic life co-exist and even overlap with simulated, animated elements to form a single cohesive environment? What are the implications of this co-existence with regard to the boundaries between the organic and the simulated?

In a silouhette world, form, behaviour and scale define what it is that we believe we are viewing. In this way, silouhetted life simplifies existance down to more basic components, and in response, the viewer of a silouhetted world attatches assumptions and interpretations to simpler form and movement. This study plans to utilize this shift in perception in order to creat an augmented world of silouhettes, comprised of both the real and the simulated, interacting in real time.

Change of scale is a primary cause of fascination when observing organisms. When the very small becomes large, the peculiarities of the everyday environment for such organisms appears other-worldly. Subject to very different perameters of scale, and therefore gravity, air and water pressure, it is easy to see why such organisms such as the common fly, spiders and larvae are often referenced when creating creatures of fantasy (geiger's aliens, 'the fly' dude). This piece seeks to subtly use magnification of the organic as a way of further blurring the perception between the real and the simulated, as the contents of a small, viewable aquarium are processed and augmented by simulated 'aquatic' elements, resulting in a silouhette world - an 'augmented aquarium', which is viewable in the same space as the aquarium, but on a magnified scale.

To this end, the study will attempt to combine an aquatic world of plants and organisms with a simulated world which appears to interact with the organic elements in real time. This will be achieved by compositing a live video stream of the aquatic environment with layers of simulated plants and organisms, which will react to the contents of video stream (ie the organic life) via video analysis. The appearance, lighting and motion of the organic life will be closely studied in order for the simulated elements to be aesthetically complimentary to the point where, in the final result, discernment between what is real and what is simulated is minimal. The composited image resulting from this combination will be displayed (probably via projection) near to and in concert with the actual aquatic environment.

The presentation of the source aquarium as an aquatic world in 'minature' functions both as a reference to the purely organic, and as an exquisite object, an aquatic world in a small tank of glass. The presentation of the 'augmented aquarium' within the same space, projected onto a screen or wall positioned parallel to the source aquarium, creates the illusion of being a shadow thrown from the source aquarium in silouhette, magnified by the glass tank and the water to creat an image which reveals the neaunces of the organic life within the tank. This playful illusion draws the viewer in to then observe the projected image as an overlapping world of the real and the simulated, co-existing and merging. This study is centrally interested in the implications of what it means for this 'augmented aquarium' image to read as a percievably cohesive visual world, given the knowledge (in the form of the source aquarium) that the 'augmented aquarium' is a blending of organic and simulated elements.

The work takes as its aesthetic point of departure the childhood fishtank, 'sea-monkeys', and the myriad of 'science fun' pre-fabricated terrarium kits (send coupon away and recieve free frogs-eggs within a week!) that have been available since the 1960s. Toy companies like 'Wham-O', the makers of the hula-hoop and the frisbee, even trialled a product called 'Instant Fish!", which consisted of a small block of faux mud in which rested killifish eggs, just waiting for a jar of water to spring into life. The killifish eggs, like sea-monkey eggs, display a behaviour known as cryptobiosis - a natural form of suspended animation - until immersed in water. Life in a sachet, environment in a jam jar. The aquarium has long been an environment associated with packaged life, with instant nature, available to everyone.

this augmented aquarium is composed of both the real and the unnatural, joining together in a projected environment within which the real and the simulated are fused into a single world.

However, this aquarium is different. Augmented realities merge and interact - the aquarium plays with itself. Opposing versions of the one environment in the same room - the aquarium plays with the audience.

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