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ICC Collection

“conFIGURING the CAVE” [1997]

Agnes HEGEDÜS + Jeffrey SHAW + Bernd LINTERMANN + Leslie STUCK



Stepping into the virtual reality space with three-D glasses on, the user is confronted by a nearly life-sized wooden artists puppet interface. By “playing” the puppet, you become enveloped in a series of seven worlds filled with enormous sounds and three-dimensional imagery. Part instrument, part stage, part performance, this work is a quest for multifarious relationships among body, space and language.

On the CAVE System

The CAVE (CAVE Automatic Virtual Environment) system is a general virtual reality system developed by Illinois University’s EVL (Electronic Visualization Laboratory) and NCSA (National Center for Supercomputing Applications) in the United States. 3D images are displayed on four large screens—one that the visitor faces, two on either side, and one on the floor—generating a virtual image within the space of the CAVE system. By operating a wand, the visitor can examine this generated image from various angles.

These interactive 3D images were created by CAVE software produced by the Silicon Graphics Cray Company’s graphic system, Onyx Infinite Reality. The superior graphics control functions of Onyx Infinite Reality enable it to render high quality, realtime images in response to the user’s input, making for an experience of total immersion in the virtual reality of the CAVE system.



Related Information

Artists’ Statement

The Title

The title of this art installation “conFIGURING the CAVE” carries two meanings. First, it indicates that the artists have sought to fully articulate the uniquely immersive visualization qualities of the CAVE. Second, it points to the thematic content of this artwork, which identifies the elemental conjunction of “body” and “space,” and uses the human figure as the interactive focus for its multiform spatial representations.

The Imagery

In this work there are seven different pictorial “worlds”—each offers a distinct set of conceptual and aesthetic characteristics to the exhibition visitors, and together they constitute a coherent exploration of the manifold relationships between “body,” “space,” and “language.” The computer images are generated by a unique set of algorithms and software tools (“xfrog” by Bernd LINTERMANN) that are able to create an emergent complexity of changing forms. Organic abstraction is conjoined with representational and symbolic forms so that highly original and expressive three-dimensional pictorial spaces are evoked within the CAVE.

The Interface

The interface is based on the stereotypical artist’s wooden puppet (mannequin). A large 150 cm tall version has been made with a finely engineered metal skeleton and electronic measurement devices fitted inside all its joints. Fixed onto a column in the center of the CAVE, the visitors can manipulate all the body parts of this puppet, and in so doing send control data to the visualization computer. In this way transformations of the imagery are interactively determined by the way in which people handle the puppet. Moving the puppet’s joints effects changing parameters in the image generating software, and certain key postures of the puppet cause specific visual events (for instance, putting the hands over the eyes triggers the transition from one of the seven “worlds” to the next, while rotating the puppet also rotates the visual space).

The Visitors

The size and nature of the jointed puppet interface allows up to four people to simultaneously and cooperatively interact with the imagery in the CAVE. Thus, the actual experience of interactivity with this work can be shared by a larger number of visitors.

The Sound

An eight channel spatialised sound system is used for this installation so that the immersive three-dimensional qualities of the visual space can be conjoined with an acoustic environment that augments those qualities. Seven sound compositions have been created for the seven distinct pictorial spaces. These sound compositions are (like the imagery) interactively affected by the visitors’ handling of the puppet’s body, and thus contribute to a synchronous unity of real time audio-visual transformations.

(Agnes HEGEDÜS + Jeffery SHAW + Bernd LINTERMANN)

On the Artists’Works

As a pioneer of new art forms, Jeffrey SHAW has been experimenting with new fields and exhibiting his varied artworks since the latter half of the 1960s. Yet, one consistency evident throughout the development of his works has been the spirit of dialogue. It may well be accurate to call the persistence of this sensibility the chief reason so many important movements have, one after another, emerged around him.

For example, SHAW has suggested that the most fascinating aspects of life in our era do not lie in things limited to the real world or some fixation with imaginary worlds, but are found instead in the creation of imaginary spaces of dialogue with the bodily experiences of history and its real spaces. In other words, SHAW emphasizes the creativity of the border region where one foot rests in the real world, and the other in the world of fantasy. The same can be said of SHAW’s attitude toward new technologies. While one cannot deny the compelling and fascinating new areas that have been born from the development of new, ever-evolving technologies, still one has to recognize their frequent, relative poverty in comparison to the rich complexities that real experiences impart to humans as living beings. Put otherwise, we are obliged to constantly traverse this divide. And within these conditions, we are called upon regularly to give new meanings to technology. Both SHAW’s precise grasp of the nature of this frontier zone and of this transitional period and his acute awareness of his generation, as one that must bridge the gap between historical and future experiences, have given his artworks a unique sense of dialogue.

SHAW, to whom collaboration comes naturally, has sought a dynamic dialogue and collaboration with other artists, engineers, and programmers in his efforts to bring art into a new dimension with the use of the latest media. His present piece “conFIGURING the CAVE” is a joint production with well-matched collaborators Agnes HEGEDÜS and Bernd LINTERMANN. HEGEDÜS, whose previous works includes one project that creates an imaginary space of communication through the metaphor of gaming, and another that tests mutations of sensory perception and re-editings of the body, brings a varied depth and critical acumen to the current project. Meanwhile, LINTERMANN, involved in the creation of real-time animation as well as interactive fantastic sculptures based on artificial life for the Web, contributes a unique sense of presence and precision.

For SHAW, art is a mechanism for broad dialogue and the realm for am embodiment of the imagination. Yet, even more important is the dialogue it maintains with the person who views it, that fourth dimension that exists between the work and the viewer. In that space, the viewer’s awareness and bodily experiences can be restructured and recreated. Perhaps we can say it is this process itself that has engaged SHAW for such a long time.

(ITO Toshiharu)


Artists: Agnes HEGEDÜS, Jeffrey SHAW, and Bernd LINTERMANN
Music: Leslie STUCK


Motion analysis for music: Jonathan BACHRACH
Puppet design and engineering: Fraunhofer Institute IAO, Stuttgart
Production support: ZKM Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe, Fraunhofer Institute IAO, BOCTOK, and David D’HEILLY

List of Works