Noxiterra (large prints)

I created these prints beginning in 2008, as part of a project I did experimenting with the use of webcams for a kind of live performance. (My obsession with webcams goes back more than a decade; I also used them in my “World of World” project, and I’ll be writing about several other projects using them as well.) I also wanted to explore the boundaries of what could be meant by the term ‘virtual world’. We think of this now as something modeled in computer software— a Second Life type of virtual reality. Sometimes the term embraces old-style text-based virtualities like MOOs; sometimes it’s analogized to the parallel universes of fiction or film. But I had been thinking about the physical model worlds that conceptually preceded the virtual kind: everything from orreries and the miniature paper theaters of the 18th century about which Barbara Stafford writes so incisively, to dioramas, Victorian terrariums (also known as ‘Wardian cases’), and especially  tabletop landscapes for war games or model railroading.

For this project I set up a tabletop biome—basically a very large dirt box with plants, sculptures, and other quasi-narrative elements. This would function as my physical stage. I linked it via live webcam feed to the UpStage virtual stage for the international 080808 UpStage Festival of online performance. The key elements for each of the several performances were simple: a roving webcam in the tabletop world and a writer improvising in response to the visual stream.

In essence, I was using the tabletop set with its miniature cameras as a generative system for art and writing. I had no real idea ahead of time what the resulting images would look like. Like a filmmaker, I chose my camera angles carefully to make the world seem bigger than it really was, even boundless. But what surprised me was how difficult it is to resolve the scale of the images—some of them could be microscopic, others look like there is half a mountainside in the viewfinder.

Each of the improvisations was done under different lighting conditions, to give a sense of the passage of time, and each print consists of 9 stills taken from a single performance. Noxiterra 1.4 (stills), for instance, is from the first performance. Within each print, the images are arranged in chronological order reading from upper left to lower right.

For a companion set of small Noxiterra prints, see this page.