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The Virtual Reality Of Benjamin Britton
Benjamin Britton is an artist who exhibits interactive artforms. His new media journey has taken him from rooms controlled by touch screens and joy sticks to rooms controlled by the intimate headmounted displays made for virtual reality interaction.
Virtual reality comes in many sizes and flavors. The VR Cave at Lascaux installation takes advantage of an "immersive" display system. That is to say, two small monitors, motion sensors, and headphones, that are strapped onto the head for the "immersive" experience in the computer program. The motion sensors send movement commands to the computer controlled installation. The virtual reality computer then translates the motion of the head, looking up or down, turning left and right, into real time computer animation movement that mimics the direction that the headmounted sensors have turned.
What is remarkable about Ben's VR cave is the very high quality, 16 million color, full motion renderings. There are thousands of paintings in the VR cave and the detail is there to see them. Most VR games, non-dedicated desktop vr, and VRML are conceptually exciting but grainy to watch. The crispness of the playback from the Lascaux playback system occurs because it takes advantage of the latest in high quantity, high speed texture memory with dual pentium technology and high resolution image maps.
Virtual reality has been surrounded by as much hype as the Internet; and, with just cause. Touted as a powerful learning tool and applied in simulators by everyone from the military to the medical profession, VR does engage all of the senses in a replication of real life experiences. Because of the powerful quality of this full "immersion" VR has been labeled everything from religion to drugs, from panacea to pornography. What Timothy Leary celebrated as LSD's ability to break down barriers within the mind, VR does without the chemical side effects.
LASCAUX is a richly rewarding experience and has provided Ben a visit to the cave of Lascaux , a once in a lifetime opportunity. "LASCAUX (vr) is an artwork not a commercial project," said Ben Britton. "The French Ministry was interested in my art because it respects the cave at Lascaux. They do not want to see the cave lose its spirit and message through commercialization. They consider that the cave contains a rare cultural treasure."
And what is that treasure? "I reconfirmed my interest in paleolithic sanctuaries (of which the cave at Lascaux is one) about 5 years ago while I was working on an environmental documentary. I had been researching the Ice Age and came across information about the cave. The idea of recreating the cave became more and more engaging to me, and I have been working on it ever since. I suppose that the cave has become a spiritual phenomenon for me. In a time when the media would have us believe that life is hopelessly doomed, that things are getting worse, the cave stands as a message that says: humankind will survive and prosper."
The Lascaux project recently had its world premiere at the InfoART Festival in Quang Ju, Korea, sponsored by Nam June Paik & the Korean government and co-curated by Cynthia Goodman and Kim Hong-hee. Ben's Artist Statement in the catalog is as follows:
"Humanity is terrified of the future, holds civilization in contempt, and is alienated from the natural world. We must realize the relationship of our society today with human society of the most ancient past and most distant future. To be a human being is to be trapped in the river of time with countless other living forms with whom one can communicate; and, finding that the beauty of this inescapable fact is essential for making life on this plane worthwhile. To connect our culture to the cultures of all time is the purpose of LASCAUX: to take part in the virtually endless tradition of life."
Currently, Ben has a dream that would complete his tour and production for the VR cave. "LASCAUX needs a permanent home. I will continue to demonstrate the project in hope of generating enough support to find a permanent installation. Hopefully, somewhere in France," said Ben.
While the real cave exists, it is now closed to the public. The thousands of paintings are sealed behind a vault-like door made (in the style of the Myceneaean period) during the 20th century. Unfortunately the natural traffic of visitors after its rediscovery in 1946 brought bacteria and moisture into the cave. It was determined by the conservators that closing the cave to the public was the only responsible course of action to prevent the inevitable deterioration of the paintings.
Select indiviual artwork for larger viewing
Currently Lascaux is in need of a permanent home. Sponsorship is being sought.
Direct exhibition/support inquiries to: [email protected]
Copyright 1996, Benjamin Britton. All rights reserved.