For many Americans, getting intimate with someone means having a long conversation in a quiet setting or perhaps over a romantic dinner.
For Australian new media artist Keith Armstrong, however, getting intimate with someone means entering a fantasy world, leaving your body behind and plugging into a virtual space.
Armstrong is inviting people to get intimate through his interactive electronic artwork “Intimate Transactions,” which will make its American debut at Cal Poly as part of the Open House festivities from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Sunday in the architecture building.
“Intimate Transactions” is an award-winning new media work that allows two participants to interact with their bodies through a virtual world.
“I wanted to use the body as the interface because ultimately our body is the interface with the world,” Armstrong said.
A half-hour session of “Intimate Transactions” requires two people to be standing on “body shelves” in two different locations. The shelves track each participant’s movements as they interact with each other through a virtual world presented in front of them.
“There are two universes and I can do whatever I want with my universe, and they can do whatever they want with their universe, but they affect each other,” Armstrong said.
As users begin to take objects from their own world and watch it begin to fall apart, it ultimately affects the other user’s world as well. The participants can, however, meet up in another space and give objects back to each other.
“So, the only way to reestablish previous states of balance in the work is to collaborate,” Armstrong said.
They also experience an immerse surround sound environment consisting of eight large speakers and small, wearable speakers that send sound vibrations throughout the participants’ bodies. The work features thousands of sound samples, including voices speaking in French, English and an aboriginal Australian dialect.
The show is being produced on campus thanks to the help of over 100 students and four faculty collected from such departments as architecture, English, graphic arts, computer science, mechanical engineering, theater, business and others.
“It’s definitely something different,” said computer engineering senior Chaitanya Patel. “It’s my first giant project to work on and I hope to understand a whole new type of architecture that was put together in Australia.”
One of Armstrong’s main artistic ideas behind the work was to stress the importance of sustainability.
“I’m interested in social and ecological relationships and the idea of leaving an ecological footprint,” Armstrong said. “It’s the idea of what you do here ripples out and has an effect off in the distance.”
Although Armstrong predicts American audiences will have a “go-getter attitude” and try and take as many objects as possible, not everyone interacts with the work in the same way.
“You could use the basic game metaphor of taking objects, which is usually the way to win,” Armstrong said. “But in this, the more you gather, the more dramatic it gets, but the less you can ultimately do.”
He noted the three different types of people he’s watched inter-
act with the work around the globe.
“If it’s a gamer, they will try to grab everything. If it’s an investigator, they just listen and glide around,” Armstrong said. “Then there are those who are nervous about technology and don’t think they’re doing it right.”
Armstrong is part of the Australian Transmute Collective, a group of internationally recognized media artists, performers, sound artists, programmers, scientists and system designers, which helped build “Intimate Transactions.”
The Cal Poly College of Liberal Arts and the College of Architecture are sponsoring the event on the Cal Poly campus until the end of June 2007.
“Intimate Transactions” has been presented in many shows across Europe and Asia, and was recently selected to represent Australia in the China International New Media Arts Exhibition accompanying the 2008 Olympics program in Beijing.
Armstrong is also currently collaborating with a new media artwork at Cal Poly called the Lumiere Ghosting project, directed by professors David Gillette and Thomas Fowler. The project looks to create a new form of interactive cinema and electronic storytelling, which, like “Intimate Transactions,” will be used around the globe.
“Intimate Transactions” will have ongoing demonstrations over Open House weekend in the third floor and atrium of the architecture and environmental design building at the west end of Dexter Lawn.
The Open House premiere of the work will be followed by a series of smaller public showings on the Cal Poly campus.