BE[AM] Concept and Detailed Description

In a darkened space, a robotic projector throws a stream of hovering, undulating background clips on the walls, floor, and ceiling. The background video and the projector’s movements are pre-scripted to complement the content of the video clips (X/Y/Z directions, speed, duration). The three icons, freed from their “home” environments (and their original media), are available for insertion.

Charlie, Coyote and Mario represent three figures from the history of media in the endless attempt to evade the “beam” of militarized vision within which we inevitably continue to appear. They are icons of different periods in the evolution of mass media (cinema, television, and computer games) and modes of representation (the traditional “live” shoot, line animation, and digital generation). Like figures from classical drama, these modern media icons have dramatic personae that are familiar to us, and with whom we can identify. They all struggle against the material world, and yet in their survival, find some residue of grace.

These iconic figures, playing in the foreground, are digitally inserted into equally recognizable scenes – battlefields, domestic environments, mythic worlds – taken from a database of American pop culture: movies, animations, comic books, TV shows, TV news, and computer games, creating fast-paced backgrounds consisting of explosions, superheroes, killers, journalists, and movie stars.

In BE[AM] we see this database of American pop culture through these three characters who are the opposite of what we are led to believe is the strong male, the warriors and killers, violent and destructive. These three icons are struggling like us, with the world, and the idea that at any moment we can get into trouble, but we have to just go through it. These guys are always in trouble, but they always come back, they find ways, and they start from scratch again and again. BE[AM] looks at these images, and lets the public enter them in a game that, also, is not typical; rather than trying to win or achieve a goal. There is nothing to win.

Three game stations are highlighted intermittently for the public’s attention, inviting any volunteering visitor to take control over one of the icons. Each station is dedicated to a specific icon. Each console is equipped with a gamepad.

Sporadically the installation takes control of a character. The machine is a player as well, with it’s own control. There are points in time when characters are already composited in the background video. Control of a character will be taken away from a guest player in order to fulfill these scripted actions. The consoles light up when their character becomes available for play.

Players use the gamepads to invoke particular behaviors in their onscreen surrogate. Through the gamepads inputs, players can chose among behaviors (pre-recorded clips) and control size and position. The background clips have different durations, they can be very short (a few seconds). The player has constantly to quickly adjust to new choices. There are no predictable actions.

Occasionally, no background is displayed by the machine, and all three stations are highlighted for a short game allowing interaction among the three icons, alone in space. The characters’ interaction is left to the players’ imagination.

Technical information

The video is made up of three layers which are composited in real time. The first layer is called the base movie; it is made up of clips of news broadcasts and other media. This base movie is a specified length and plays through from beginning to end. The second layer is used to mask parts of the video: for vignetting the clips and otherwise isolating parts of the 4:3 video frame. The top layer is the province of the three icons which appear to move in and around the video frame.

The audio of the background clips is replaced by an original sound design made from effects such as explosions, gun shots, car crashes, cartoon sounds, military orders, news reports. Additionally each character is accompanied by his own uniquely scored leitmotiv.

Technically, the work employs a robotic video projector (DL1 from High End Systems), a Mac Pro with MAX/MSP/Jitter software, USB to MIDI to DMX interfaces, a Mac mini computer for the audio component, 3 game stations with gamepads. Compositing of the mask and character layers is handled by custom video software written in Max/Jitter. The movement of the robotic projector is controlled by a separate Max/MSP patch sending control signals directly to the control yoke.

Concept

The merging of the technologies of vision and the technologies of destruction has been going on since the invention of the camera, but has become critical after 9/11. In Hollywood movies, video games, sports, and in news programs, entertainment and combat are indistinguishable. In the words of Tim Lenoir, the military-industrial complex has become the “military-entertainment complex.” The consequence of this shift is sophisticated, and covert: it is the prevailing ideological manipulation.

The video war games trend and business in relation to real war, power struggle, and fascination with celebrity and visibility, tend to confuse fame and marketing self-promotion with art and self-expression. The project addresses a shift from surveillance control to mass entertainment manipulation; from increased transparency to fake visibility to the triumph of the gaming rules, whether the game is in TV news, a movie, the stock market, or a real battlefield.

Our proposition is that the ‘security’ discourse of the emerging ‘military entertainment complex’ collapses the ambiguities of the relation to the image of the other into a clearer but more rigid relation, which quickly hardens into paranoid ensembles of us versus them. BE[AM] tries to recreate a critical distance between image and sound, sender and receiver, market and consumer, targeter and target, and thus to explore how large scale, long-term cultural forces impact individuals in their everyday lives.