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Prix 1987 - 2007

ORF Oberösterreich

Systems Maintenance
Perry Hoberman

In the center of the installation "Systems Maintenance" by Perry Hoberman, life-sized pieces of furniture are placed on a round turntable in a variable arrangement. A virtual variant of the room is presented on a computer monitor. Along with a 1:8 model of the scene, the two other arrangements are projected together on a projection surface in the exhibition space and combined in an overlapping projection. Visitors can change the position of the furniture and also the position of the camera, which creates the option of intervening in the relationship of chaos and harmony in the projection.

"Systems Maintenance" consists of three versions of a furnished room. An ensemble of life-sized furniture occupies a large circular platform on the floor, a virtu al room is displayed on a computer monitor, and a 1/8 size physical scale model of the room is present ed on a small pedestal. Each version is imaged by a camera (either video or virtual), and the three resulting images are combined into a single large-scale video projection. The camera position, height, angle and field of view are matched between the three cameras. By moving the furniture and camera view points for each of the three rooms, visitors can match or mismatch the components of each of the rooms as they appear in the projected image. The three video signals are fed to a pair of video mixers which are used to perform an additive mix of the three signals, and this combined signal is sent to the video projector.

The images of the three rooms are balanced in intensity, so that the final image appears to represent three different states of the same room. It is nearly impossible to visually distinguish the three versions from each other on the screen, and so the only way to understand the space is to interact with it. There is an implicit goal: to line up the three versions of each piece of furniture, to bring them into harmony. However, there is no correct position for any element, nor is one version of the room the reference for another. Thus, there are an infinite number of possible solutions: and in any case, the goal is continually thwarted by the ease with which a single user can re-introduce disorder into the system. The life-size furniture sits on a smooth black circular floor in the center of the room, eight meters in diameter. Each article of furniture is mounted on ball-bearing casters, so that, despite its mass, it can be moved easily.

During designated hours of operation, an Adjustment Team of two or three workers makes every attempt to synchronize the three rooms precisely, a goal which usually turns out to be unattainable, due to the continual interventions of the public. The Adjustment Team has a difficult, demanding job, but they per form it with the utmost professionalism and patience. The public functions as a kind of crew, simultaneously filling the roles of directors, actors and audience in an ongoing collaborative spectacle.

On the screen it's difficult to distinguish the images of each version's furniture from those of the other models. Until something is picked up, or pushed, or clicked, it is nearly impossible to tell whether it's in the same "world" as you are. The participants are simultaneously inside the room, looking down on it like a chessboard, and interfaced with it. The video projection becomes, in effect, a "fourth room" where hands, bodies and gadgets mingle in the same hybrid space-a confused space that allows us to enter a virtual world-and, more significantly, allows that same virtual world to invade our own.

"Systems Maintenance" is an attempt to come to terms with, and even revel in, the essential nature of interactivity. Rather than locate structures of meaning in ideas of narrative, they are embodied in concepts of behavior - the behavior of the participants and of the system itself. The goal is to line up the furniture, but achieving this goal is hardly the point of the piece, which functions equally well whether it is moving toward a state of order or disorder at any given moment. The ultimate aim of "Systems Maintenance" is to analyze, comment upon, and open up notions of immersion, virtuality and interactivity itself.