Art That Soars In & Out Of Space
In early January of 2001, Ray Kass and the Mountain Lake Workshop asked Jackie Matisse to develop another space for her innovative work -- a virtual environment hosted by Virginia Tech’s University Visualization and Animation Group and School of the Arts. Over many months, a’ collaboration with the University of Illinois’ Tom Coffin, Shalini Venkataraman, Dr. Jason Leigh and Amsterdam’s virtual environment at SARA gave birth to the “groundbreaking” programming required to transform a virtual reality CAVE into a vistor’s playground. Using the infra-red connected “goggles” they wear and a “wand” they hold, a visitor in the virtual reality CAVE controls their experience with Jackie Matisse’s kitetails, created by three-dimensional projections in front of them, to the right and left of them, and below them.
Upon completion of the first phase of the virtural reality artwork, “Art Flying In and Out of Space” Jackie Matisse agreed to visit Virginia Tech for nine days in April of 2002 which included a public kite-making workshop with guided tours of “Art Flying In and Out of Space” at VA Tech’s virtual reality CAVE, an exhibition of Jackie Matisse’s air and underwater kites and mobiles at Virginia Tech’s Perspective Gallery, and a private workshop where Jackie Matisse created new kites with workshop volunteers.
The public kite-making workshop resulted in over 100 participants of all ages each constructing with Jackie Matisse at least one kite and experiencing the virtual reality kites within the CAVE. The initial response of the virutal reality kites as so strong that the core group, Jackie Matisse, Ray Kass, Tom Coffin, Shalini Venkataraman, and Francis Thompson agreed that futher development of the piece should proceed. Since then the project has undergone another virtual reality phase completion, invited collaborators from around the world, and continues to grow in its creative process.
”I make and fly kites to play with color and line in the sky. My kites play games with the light, hide and seek with the clouds. They push and pull on the wind. They challenge the birds. My hand grows longer and longer until I feel I am somehow in contact with that immensity into and out of which all things come and go. The kite itself is a reference to the human: so fragile and yet so strong. It is also a reference to constant movement, sinuous movement, the movement of dreams and childhood. A child on the street rarely walks in a straight line. It plays while it goes, in and out, around and about. That is what birds in flight do. That is what my kites do. I wish to create “sky-works” however ephemeral. Kites are an instrument for this. They put line and color into the sky and sculpt the air. They play game of freedom”
Jackie Matisse’s “Kites Flying In and Out of Space” is the first high bandwidth art piece ever created. Exhibited at the
iGRID2002 Conference hosted by SARA in Amsterdam, Netherlands, September 23rd – 26th, 2002, “Kites Flying In and
Out of Space” utilizes a “Grid” model for real time steering of calculations on computers distributed over high-speed
networks. Each of the 12 kites appearing in the piece utilizes up to 15 megabits per second. This art piece uses a total
of approximately 180 megabits per second in calculating the forms and theoretically could utilize even more. CAVEs
around the world could potentially view this application through a connection to the Starlight high-speed networking
program. The kite structures are so complex to simulate that a distributed computational model using processors on
multiple machines is needed. “Kites Flying In and Out of Space” enlists servers distributed across the globe in Chicago,
Canada, Japan, Singapore and Virginia to calculate its forms. Each of these servers “stream” a single kite to SARA in
Amsterdam where they are then displayed in a CAVETM.
A participant in the CAVE presentation can manipulate the kites and control the wind. When a person injects wind into
the scene, messages are sent to all the servers. These messages contain information regarding wind direction and
strength. The servers then calculate the modifications to their individual kite structures. That information is then
streamed back into the CAVE. This process is called real time distributed over a high-speed network. This “grid” model
has never been used for art prior to “Kites Flying In and Out of Space.” It is an example of “Grid” computing, resulting in
an original work of art. “Kites Flying In and Out of Space” is a collaborative art piece initiated by the Mountain Lake
Workshop of the Virginia Tech Foundation in 1999. Jackie Matisse was invited to participate in an experiment in virtual
reality using her imagery.
Jackie Matisse speaks of the piece: “These kites are evolved from my use of the sky as a canvas and from my need to use movement in my work. The square head is a homage to Malevich the Russian suprematist painter of the black square. The kites have very long tails, which are derived from a Thai serpent kite which I lost over a forest and which flew with unbelievable ease. It had such lift and in my mind it became a flying carpet and with it I could travel in the air. I began making tails and this enabled me to put color and line into the sky. I have always been interested in the connection between art and science. Since my kites were very hard to fly in all conditions, I experimented with alternative spaces such as underwater, video, and now virtual reality. The networking has enabled me to compose and fly many more kites than I would have been able to fly in real space.”
The movement of the kites uses a physically based simulation technique called “mass spring” model. A mesh of approximately 250 points constructs each kite. The movement of the mesh translates to the movement of the kites.
“Kites Flying In and Out of Space” is scalable computationally as well as geographically. It is a very good test of high - speed networking because the application requires a multicast enabled network to accomplish communications. The kites have become a visual metaphor for network performance. The kites have different sections and the movement of these sections indicates the size and latency of the network data. A fast and smooth moving kite represents a good connection. A slow and jerky moving kite indicates a network connection with a problem. In this way, network
performance can be visualized.
History and Development
Rather than having evolved from video games or flight simulation, the CAVE has its motivation rooted in scientific visualization and the SIGGRAPH 92 Showcase effort. The CAVE was designed to be a useful tool for scientific visualization. The Showcase event was an experiment; the Showcase chair, James E. George, and the Showcase committee advocated an environment for computational scientists to interactively present their research at a major professional conference in a one-to- many format on high-end workstations attached to large projections screens. The CAVE was developed as a “Virtual reality theater” with scientific content and projection that met the criteria of Showcase. The Showcase jury selected participants based on the content of their research and its suitability to projected presentation.
The challenge was attracting leading-edge computational scientists to use virtual reality. It had to help them get to scientific discoveries faster, without compromising the color, resolution, and flicker-free qualities they have come to expect using workstations. Scientists have been doing single-screen stereo graphics for more that 25 years; any virtual reality system had to successfully compete. Most important, the virtual reality display had to couple remote data sources, supercomputers, and scientific instrumentation in a functional way. In total, the virtual reality system had to offer a significant advantage to offset its packaging. The CAVE, which basically met all these criteria, had success attracting serious collaborators in the HPCC community.
How does it work?
Virtual reality may best be defined as the wide-field presentation of computer-generated, multi-sensory information which tracks a user in real time. In addition to the more well-known modes of virtual reality - head-mounted displays and binocular omni-oriented monitor (BOOM) displays - the Electronic Visualization Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Chicago introduced a third mode in 1992: a room constructed of large screens on which the graphics are
projected onto two to three walls and/or the floor. Recently images have been projected onto all three walls.
The CAVE(tm)* is a multi-person, room-sized, high-resolution, 3D video and audio environment. In the current configuration, graphics are rear projected in stereo onto three walls and the floor, and viewed with stereo glasses. As a viewer wearing a position sensor moves within its display boundaries, the correct perspective and stereo projections of the environment are updated by a supercomputer, and the images move with and surround the viewer. Hence stereo projections create 3D images that appear to have a presence both inside and outside the projection-room
continuously. To the viewer with stereo glasses the projection screens become transparent and the 3D image space appears to extend to infinity. For example a tile pattern could be projected onto the floor and walls such that the viewer sees a continuous floor extending well outside the boundaries of the projection-room. Three dimensional objects such as tables and chairs would appear to be present both inside and outside this projection-room. To the
viewer these objects are really there until they try to touch them or walk beyond the boundaries of the projection- room. There are many rips and tears on projections screens where viewers have forgotten to be careful when walking within these invisible boundaries.
Specifically, the CAVE(tm) is a theater 10x10x9 feet, made up of three rear-projection screens for the front, right and left walls and a down-projection screen for the floor. Electrohome Marquis 8000 projectors throw full-color workstation fields (1024x768 stereo) at 96 Hz onto the screens, giving approximately 2,000 linear pixel resolution to the surrounding composite image. Computer controlled audio provides a sonification capability to multiple speakers. A user’s head and hand are tracked with Ascension tethered electro magnetic sensors. Stereographics’ LCD stereo
shutter glasses are used to separate the alternate fields going to the eyes. A Silicon Graphics Power Onyx with three Infinite Reality Engines is used to create the imagery that is projected onto the walls and floor. Goals that inspired the CAVE engineering effort include:
* The desire for higher-resolution color images and good surround vision without geometric distortion
* Less sensitivity to head-rotation induced errors
* The ability to mix virtual reality imagery with real devices (like one’s hand, for instance)
* The need to guide and teach others in a reasonable way in artificial worlds
* The desire to couple to networked supercomputers and data sources for successive refinement
"CAVE” the name selected for the virtual reality theater, is both a recursive acronym (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment) and a reference to “The Simile of the Cave” found in Plato’s Republic, in which the philosopher explores the ideas of perception, reality, and illusion. Plato used the analogy of a person facing the back of a cave alive with shadows that are his/her only basis for ideas of what real objects are. The CAVE premiered at the ACM SIGGRAPH 92 conference. It is achieving national recognition as an excellent virtual reality prototype and a compelling display environment for computational science and engineering data. Technology Involved
Technical Specifications (of VA Tech Virtual Reality CAVE):
* Tracker 6 DOF
* Display resolution: 2500 x 2000 addressibility per screen
* Horizontal scanning frequency: 15-130 kHz
* Vertical scanning frequency: 38-180Hz
* Bandwidth: 125 MHz
* Dimensions: Operating position 104”H x 73.5”; W x 84” D; Storage/Transport position 82”; H x 73.5”; H x 34”
Jackie Matisse flying kites in the CAVE
(right) Jackie Matisse instructing a student on how to use a sewing machine
Installation of Jackie Matisse’s exhibition in Virginia Tech’s Perspective Gallery