LUC COURCHESNE: You are here (2010)
A work built as an ongoing response to much of his earlier research, You are here (2010) by Luc Courchesne is a site-specific installation designed for the BMO Project room. According to Dr. Dawn Cain, Curator of the BMO Corporate Art Collection, the space itself is a small secreted room on the 68th floor of the Bank of Montreal office tower, which has been used since 2009 as an installation space for conceptual and non-commercial artworks that do not fit into BMO’s regular collection mandate. Artists are invited to create and install site-specific artworks for a period of one-year, which are then experienced by BMO Corporate staff and clientele, and the general public by appointment. Installed from January to November 2011, You are here made use of Courchesne’s Panoscope 360°, a projection system which builds an immersive experience of single-channel projection (Courchsene). A bowl-like structure made of a flexible fabric, the viewer lifts the screen to duck underneath and enter the inverted dome. Standing in the centre, an anamorphic projection beams down from above, and when projected into the distorted dome-screen, the image optically corrects into a 360° panorama (Luc Courschsne You Are Here).
Although the Panoscope 360° is able to present any sort of anamorphic projection, what distinguishes You are here—and links it to much of Courchesne’s other work—is interactivity. Within the space of the Panoscope 360°, the viewer is provided with a remote control. When the work begins, the viewer is immersed in a virtual representation of BMO’s upper floor, and can interact with a simulated Luc Courchesne character which acts as a guide and source of information. In a video tour of the work on the project website the actual Luc Courchesne tours viewers around the virtual space, showcasing how you are able to interact with the Courchesne avatar, and move from the project room into street level by navigating with a remote control. Primarily representational, both the project room and office space, as well as the scene he explores on street level attempts to mimic space realistically, or at least semi-realistically.
The street level offers a variety of options for the spectator to select, including virtual panoramas which incorporate video of activity in Toronto environments. Returning to the project room space, Courchesne uses the controller to move through rooms, objects and characters to explore the simulated BMO project room and art collection, while also being able to move into the “ghost 68th floor” where one can access information about the artworks. On entering this ghostly information space, the audio changes from realistic (as is found in the virtual project room and hall space, which is primarily silent, or on the street level which is representational images and audio) to atmospheric. The audio is spooky and droning, like a suspenseful film, and the visuals shift from representations of walls and paintings to black space, interspersed with graphical maps, text and grids. Returning to the project room, Courchesne navigates through sculptural objects which transports our view to the BMO offices in Montreal. Upon returning to the Courchesne avatar, the artist navigates through his own virtual body to access another “ghost” level, this time containing an archive of Courchesne’s part work and practice.
In a review of the exhibition, Toronto Life writer Stéphanie Verge describes the show as “a visual riddle”, which takes place in a space “so small that it can only surround two people, but so big it contains entire blocks of downtown Toronto”. Indeed, it actually contains much more than Toronto, but also elements of other cities, mindscapes, virtual landscapes, history, future and present. This simultaneous co-existence of multiple spaces and places is a key element in much of Courchesne’s work, whose primary interests seem to lie in using new technologies to activate historic impulses for immersion through panoramic scenes. Attracted to the immersivity provided by 19th century panoramic painting, Courchesne incorporates cinematic and interactive technologies to push the capacity for immersion even further. However, clearly his goal is not simply to immerse the spectator in an illusion, but rather to expand our conceptions around space and draw us into a conversation about its capacity to exist in many different ways simultaneously. In a world where technology has taught us to constantly multitask and exist in day-to-day reality alongside other virtual worlds that constantly move and pull at our attention (like email, newsfeeds, computer games, texting, Twitter, Facebook and many other informational spheres), Courchesne’s installation embraces this multiplicity of existence and the possibilities it offers. We demand that everything we interact with have multiple layers of information and possibility for engagement and we need multipurpose tools that we can manipulate to shape our individual purposes, not static gadgets. Although it is easy for a highly technologically based work to oversimplify it’s purpose, to exist simply because it is a cool gimmick (see for instance any theme-park ride that incorporates video, interactive computing or robotics), with Courchesne’s work, the layers save it from stagnancy.
The work can operate at many different levels of interaction and engagement, which is a device the artist uses on several of his other projects. In his early iteration of a work for the Panoscope 360°, the 3D interactive projection Where are you? (2005) used a more basic visual interface to engage viewers with the work. In what this multi-scale interaction, the viewers enter the space to find a gridlike projection space. Once they have progressed in their interactions, the installation incorporates archival pictures, sound, text and objects in a very basic manner. Moving on to the next scale, the elements begin to organize in a “molecular” world which visually reference 19th century impressionism. The final scale activates 18th century ideals of landscape and the sublime (Courchesne, Where are You? 1027). In many ways, this idea of “leveling up” seems like it is associated with a video gaming style of interactivity, where the user is rewarded for progressing to a certain point. The game becomes more interesting, difficult or complex, and encourages the user to continue. It develops a type of narrative which is less dependant on the initial programming or design, and more on the willingness of the user to continue using the interface to discover. In the article “The Construction of Experience: Turning Spectators into Visitors”, Courchesne also describes his early work Portrait One (1990), where he attempted to design an immersive experience without relying on the panoramic environment.
The result was a shift of immersivity as less the impact of the surrounding space (although that remained important to maintain seamless attention) and more emphasis on the realism of interactions between the visitor and the virtual character. It was about developing a realistic conversation that could be sustained, and this again, incorporated the same “levels” that ones sees in the later works. Courchesne writes that “in order to strengthen the illusion of a growing relationship between a character and a visitor, [he] added ‘levels of intimacy’ to the conversational structure” (261). These levels included basic banal questions, then after proper introductions, the interaction might progress to cover the character’s motivations and beliefs, more personal considerations and feelings, and finally (if the visitor passes the ‘tests’ and manages to sustain a considerate conversation) into intimate confessions. Much of this interaction rests on the viewer’s part to properly read the situation and engage with the illusion as if it were real. This type of mental interactivity is an automatic response in (most) viewers, and doesn’t require anyone to figure out new technology or interfaces. This in itself helps the immersivity of a work, as it makes the transition between real and virtual spaces seamless and easy.
In the BMO project You are here, the work utilizes an interface that is completely naturalized in most users at this point—their phone. The remote-control interface is a modified iPhone, which used the internal compass capabilities as part of its design (Verge). This allowed the device’s movements to be tracked and the installation to move the projection perspective based on the user’s body. By relating the movement of the image to that of the user, the work seamlessly immerses them into the illusion of space. It allows them to believe in the momentary surroundings and experience them on a moment-by-moment basis, while simultaneously allowing for the possibility of multiple experience and spaces to exist in the same place and at the same time. It is a contraction of space and time that only virtual technology can support, and Courchesne works deftly to draw our attention to that unique event as a huge part of our modern experience.
Bank of Montreal Corporate Art Collection. Luc Courchesne You Are Here. Bank of Montreal Corporate Art Collection, 2011. Web. 18 September 2013. <http://www.youarehere2011.info>.
Bank of Montreal Corporate Art Collection. “You Are Here Video Tour”. 2011. Online video. Luc Corchesne You Are Here. Band of Montreal Corporate Art Collection, Web. 18 September 2013. <http://www.youarehere2011.info/en/video_tour.html>.
Courchesne, Luc. “The Construction of Experience: Turning Spectators into Visitors”. New
Screen Media: Cinema/Art/Narrative. Ed. Martin Rieser and Andrea Zapp. London: British Film Institute, 2002. Print.
Courchesne, Luc, Guillaume Langlois and Luc Martinez. “Where are you? An immersive experience
in the Panoscope 360°” 14th annual ACM international conference on Multimedia (MULTIMEDIA ’06). New York: Association for Computing Machinery, 2006. ACM Digital Library. Web. 18 September 2013.
Verge, Stéphanie. “The one thing you should see this week: a virtual tour of Toronto’s streets.” Toronto Life. Toronto Life Publishing Company, 1 February, 2011. Web. 18 September 2013. <http://www.torontolife.com/informer/toronto-events/2011/02/01/the-one-thing-you-should-see- this-week-a-virtual-tour-of-toronto%E2%80%99s-streets/>.