Virtual reality environment, 2003-2005; partially re-coded, 2010; re-made, 2014-
Applied Interactives in collaboration with art(n) Laboratory
Special Treatment is an immersive and interactive Virtual Reality installation examining the strength and persistence of memory. An ominous journey by train car deposits viewers in a sparsely populated camp pieced together from plans, photographs and other artifacts from Auschwitz II/Birkenau, Poland. As visitors explore the camp and its architectural structures, conversations and ephemera of the past fade in and out of perception – at times almost tangible, at other times mere allusions. These structures and stories are not intended to be strictly historical or documentary. Each element is the foundation for the folding together of past and present; where the sounds and images of old memories blend with memories created by each new visitor.
Special Treatment is a project created by Applied Interactives, an artist-based non-profit organization that was co-founded by Todd Margolis, Geoffrey A. Baum, Keith Miller and Tim Portlock in 2001, in collaboration with (art)n Laboratory and with support from the Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL) at UIC, Panstwowe Muzeum Auschwitz-Birkenau w Oswiecimiu and VRCO. It was first exhibited in 2004.
I became involved in the project in 2010 while curating exhibitions of virtual reality artworks in Boston and San Jose. One of the perennial challenges in exhibiting and archiving art and technology work, particularly in an area like VR, is the pace of obsolescence. When the work depends on software or hardware that’s no longer available, it becomes increasingly difficult to view it. One strategy is preservation, where all the technology is preserved intact. Sometime this isn’t possible, and continued upgrading and patching can be done, as with a typical piece of software; this could be argued as a form of preservation, in the sense of repairs to the material while keeping the overall work intact. A third strategy is emulation, which is impractical for VR, and the final option is remediation or porting, where the work is recreated using new technologies.
In five years the underlying hardware and software had changed enough that I needed to reprogram some of the core components to be able to exhibit it, changing my role into something between curating and preservation. Soon afterward the opportunity arose to exhibit it at the Arts for a Better World fair in Miami Beach, one of the few (possibly only) examples of a CAVE-type immersive virtual reality installation at a major international contemporary art fair. For this exhibition I joined the artist team as a co-designer, programmer and artist, leading to our current project to re-create the work in Unity to support both CAVE’s and consumer VR headsets such as the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.
For more information on this project: