“Virtual reality projects frequently promise experiences so realistic you won’t believe that you are in VR. I’m interested in the opposite,” Pittsburg-based visual artist, Claire Hentschker, tells It’s Nice That. Claire works at the Studio for Creative Enquiry, a “flexible laboratory for new modes of arts research, production and presentation,” at Carnegie Mellon University and last year spent nine months using every computer in the lab at night to find, process and stitch together thousands of video frames from hundreds of scenes of Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film, The Shining.
Through her practice, Claire is constantly looking for ways to misapply “digital tools towards artistic ends” and create maps of imaginary places that she can share with others. “When I was younger, I loved when a book had a map of the imaginary lands from the story in the back pages. It serves as such an exciting proposition that says: the same tools we use to make sense of our world can just as easily be used to explore places that don’t exist in reality,” she tells us.
Claire began working with photogrammetry – a technique that enables exact measurements to be made from a photograph to create maps, real-world scenes and three-dimensional models – a few years ago. At the time, it was predominantly being used to create realistic digital replications of things from the real world: “I got really excited about all the ways I could ‘misuse’ the tool as an artist who is not interested in the photorealistic,” she explains.
She uses such techniques to explore “how these emerging technologies can be used to capture the abstract, the confusing, the hidden, the complicated, and the parts of our culture that hold real significance but are not visible in photorealistic representations and (Google) maps.” For example, an ongoing project sees Claire making reconstructions of places that don’t exist anymore, using found footage that has outlived the original location in Merch Mulch.
“I grew up in New Jersey, so the suburban shopping mall was a place that held a silly, but strong cultural significance for me and the people I grew up around,” she explains. Many of these malls are no longer thriving and are being abandoned and subsequently demolished. Claire underwent a process of digitally reconstructing these demolished buildings as 360 videos, using footage shot by others who were exploring the deserted premises to share with a YouTube audience.
The output is a peek inside a fragmented and broken digital artefact and a fascinating exploration into the concept of physical and digital space. “The 360 videos are akin to looking around inside other people’s memories of places I’ve never been: it’s really messy and there are a ton of parts that aren’t filled in. That fractured incompleteness intrigues me,” says Claire.
Similar concepts are explored in Claire’s project, Shining360 which began as a “personal experiment to see if it was possible to extract depth and subsequently a 3d model from film stills.” However, as she processed more and more of the scenes from The Shining, she became fascinated by what it means to look back into a now-iconic fictional space once the story has ended. The 360 video allows users to revisit the spaces from the film and look around them in real-time, while following the original path the camera took.
Following this path is possible through understanding depth from images (or video frames in this case), as it relies on computing where the original camera location exists in relationship to the newly fabricated digital model. At the end of the photogrammetry process, Claire not only had 3D models of the scenes but also the original camera paths relative to those models. “I was able to send a visual 360 camera back through the model along the original perspective,” she explains. The final piece is 30 minutes long and incorporates audio manipulated from the original score.
One of the most captivating aspects of both Merch Mulch and Shining360 is the black space that exists at the edges of the environments as you look around. This is a result of the space that never appears in the original footage, meaning there’s nothing to reconstruct. This black space becomes a representation of the fictional “space” audiences are required to fill with their imagination to fabricate complex fictitious worlds.
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