Virtual Concrete 1995 (Personal Project)

Silicon shapes our realities through implants in our bodies, the chips that drive computer technologies, the concrete we walk and drive on, and the elements of nature we preserve. In this article, the author provides a narrative account of the research involved in building two large-scale installations created during the years 1992-1995. Another Day in Paradise addressed the artificiality of planned communities; Virtual Concrete modified the common perception that there is a dichotomy between the material and the immaterial.

Sometimes permanent (i.e., energy conserving) transitions are called real transitions, to distinguish them from the so-called virtual transitions, which do not conserve energy and which must therefore reverse before they have gone too far. The terminology is unfortunate, because it implies that virtual transitions have no real effects. On the contrary, they are often of the greatest importance., for the, great many physical processes are the result of these so called virtual transitions.

A large earthquake, more destructive than any other in the modern history of Los Angeles, struck on 17 January 1994 at 4:31 a.m. Officially, the earthquake lasted only 10 seconds. Eleven highway structures at eight locations in Southern California were destroyed, closing 14 roads. Residents and remote television audiences alike were horrified as freeways collapsed into large pieces of concrete within seconds. Communication moved into the virtual realm with analog lines down, as the Internet and cell phones became the established connections to the world.

Around this time, much talk in the media was circulating around censorship on the Internet and how related technologies may affect communication and relationships between people. Virtual communication technologies, as planned by the military, were built to withstand both natural and manufactured disasters, providing an unparalleled opportunity to leave traces of ourselves. The concrete object, which was perceived to survive the test of time, returns to dust in the face of major destruction, while the intangible remains. If we are represented by the information uploaded on the Internet, what happens to our data bodies written into such space? Do the personalities and the relationships that develop out of these extensions of ourselves survive us as well?

I started visualizing how I might create a piece that connects the virtual and the concrete, and I searched for a definition of habeas corpus that to me held the philosophical key to the debate about cyberspace and censorship. Habeas corpus signifies the need for physical evidence in order to have a case; when activities are transferred into an intangible realm, the ground becomes shaky.

The resulting piece, Virtual Concrete, consists of six 3-ft slabs of concrete covered with large electrostatic (digital output) prints, along with light sensors and a computer connected to the Internet via a CU-SeeMe camera (Fig. 5) [2]. On the Internet, I established a Virtual Concrete WWW site (http://www.arts.ucsb.edu/ concrete) to allow viewers to see the visitors/participants who walked on the concrete.

Exhibitions

  • Veered Science. Huntington Beach Art Center, Huntington Beach, CA. 1995
  • FIVA ONLINE 95, Montreal, Canada. 1995
  • Santa Barbara County Administration Building, CA. 1995

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