Estimated reading time: 3 minutes —
Once upon a time there was a young girl who lived on Utopia Parkway in Flushing, New York, next door to a man named Cornell. I don’t recall her name, but let’s call her Alice. And if you want to picture her, an image of the young Alice Liddell will do nicely I believe.
Long before Oberon Onmura ever scripted a prim, long before Bryn Oh ever unfurled secrets across a dark landscape, long before Philip Rosedale ever went to Burning Man, Joseph Cornell (1903-1972) was the greatest virtual world designer we had ever known. Today his extraordinary, idiosyncratic worlds have all come under the connoisseurship of collectors and cultural institutions and for most of us they are experienced in books and online and if we’re lucky enough to see them face to face, then it’s almost certainly behind a sheet of glass in a museum. But these inert artifacts are not the living worlds that Cornell created, and this detached experience is not the one he intended…
These now priceless box worlds were once creations that Cornell would give to young Alice, who would take them home and take them apart and have who knows what sorts of adventures, perhaps different from yet complimentary to the adventures Cornell had in creating them, and then return a couple of days later saying, “I’m finished with this one Mr. Cornell,” on which he would hand her another world to explore.
Here in 2013 planet earth is plagued by an unsustainable human herd of 7.063 billion souls. Most of them like commodities, lots of commodities, and so we further scorch the surface of the earth and crush every other living thing with the weight of this human herd. While object production is alive and well in the world of art, there has also long been a parallel and growing track of public art, performance art, and other forms that focus on ephemeral experiences rather than commodified objects. Perhaps these experiences are more true to the artistic impulse in the human soul, certainly they are more sustainable on an overpopulated world with a growing human population and a growing population of artists.
Obviously today we live in increasingly virtual times. Increasingly digital network mediated times. You don’t have to be a virtual world resident to realize that access to jobs, social services, and even dating are increasingly found via online media and increasingly difficult to access without an online presence.
As a believer, indeed a cheerleader, for new media I applaud this. I believe the richness and power of these sustainable, experiential art practices to be both profound and nearly unlimited. Yet no matter how immersed in virtual space we may be, we still are corporeal beings, and we still long for haptic experiences. So what of the tactile, kinesthetic, visceral experiences of a Cornell Box? Of a Wonder Cabinet? Of Maker Culture? Of Zine Culture? Are they to be lost in digital / virtual space? Or might we yet discover a virtual haptic?
Alice in Cornelland
T H E . Q U E S T . F O R . A . V I R T U A L . H A P T I C
In this Linden Endowment for the Arts Land Grant proposal, Alice in Cornelland, I propose to host an ongoing, public participation, investigation into ways to discover immersive and virtually visceral experiences in virtual space.
• LEA Land Grant Proposal form
This Education, Experimentation, and Discovery space will have regular salons and presentations for sharing and investigating ways to reach for a virtual haptic as well as a variety of small and large-scale opportunities for residents to create, exhibit, and perform experiments.
In Alice in Cornelland we will strive to find the touch in the virtual, just as an event like Burning Man strives to find a virtual experience in the physical world. Even though you think Burning Man came before Second Life, Burning Man has, in fact, always been an attempt to make a corporeal virtual world.
This Theme Image Library contains a collection of images drawn from contemporary culture and technology as a provocation for the investigations to take place at Alice in Cornelland. To view the library click on any image thumbnail to enter “slide show” mode and then use your arrow keys to scroll through the library.
• Geological Survey of Iran
• Aerospace Engineering / University of Illinois
• Paolo Armao – Sound Designer
• Direct Industry
• Jeff Prosise’s Blog
• The Customize Windows
• Intec Open Science | Open Minds