Chalkroom by Laurie Anderson & Hsin-Chien Huang
“The medium of chalk speaks of erasure and impermanence, the fallibility of memory, and the instability of surfaces and structures we create and inhabit.”
Created by pioneering American artist and musician Laurie Anderson and Taiwanese new media artist Hsin-Chien Huang, Chalkroom is a virtual reality (VR) experience which is the result of a decades long creative partnership founded on a shared curiosity to explore and develop the experiential potential of new media technologies.
Anderson and Huang have created an expansive digital landscape constructed from an explosion of words. Rendered from hand- written chalk marks, text and gestures, this is a world where the power and impression of words, lyrics and stories reigns. Chalkroom allows you to soar through corridors and pathways of words, accompanied by Laurie Anderson’s indelible voice.
The concept of a chalkroom first took form in Anderson’s loft studio, where walls and ceilings covered with slate paint became a surface to infinitely rework and fill with sketches and drawing. Later, this way of working, which allowed an ongoing process of layering and erasure, began to appear in installations, and took digital form in Anderson and Huang’s first collaboration together in 1995. Puppet Motel was an interactive CD-ROM. At the time this technology was predominantly developed for gaming and carried with it the hard aesthetics of an industry focused on fast entertainment. Together Anderson and Huang evolved the visual language of the technology to create a more responsive and tactile world.
The pair began experimenting with the interactive potentials of CD-ROM, creating immersive digital experiences which were embedded with stories and text, where the user was free to explore, guiding themselves through a digital structure of unfolding rooms, chancing across deposits of memory and stories. In a 1995 interview with a British CD-ROM magazine discussing Puppet Motel, Anderson speaks of the disembodied experience of exploring the early internet, how the network allowed you to float freely and engage in text and dialogue, or as she described it, the “mixture of rumours and lies, and false information” 1, disconnected from your physical form.
Over two decades later, with the development of VR technologies, Anderson and Huang endeavour to bring us further into such an experience. Chalkroom offers a new dimension of immersion in which they augment a disembodied state that allows the viewer to fly through an edifice of text and stories. Once you enter, you are fully immersed, free to take your own path and explore an abstracted library of stories and reservoirs of words across a labyrinth structure.
Across Anderson’s forty-year career she has honed language as a tool, finding ways for it to be moulded and dispersed, gauging its impact and affect. She understands language to be a living, evolving entity which we interact with, adapt and sculpt each day. It is this exploration that forms the crux of her expansive practice across music, performance, installation and multimedia. For Anderson, language and text is a binding force through which we mediate and relate to our conscious and unconscious worlds. It is both a barrier and a filter through which we construct exterior and interior worlds.
Donning a VR headset, at first you appear to be standing in the gallery space you have just entered. It takes a moment to become aware of your new surrounds, to discover that you have left your body behind and now exist in a disembodied realm. Slowly, you adapt to a new way of navigating space, traversing this weightless atmosphere.
Anderson leads you into an expansive structure that appears to be suspended in an endless universe. The walls, floors and ceilings are filled with gestural drawings and extracts of text. As you soar, particles of dust float past you, suspended in the ether. At the start of your journey you are introduced to a series of choices; separate rooms which you can choose to enter, each with a different function and mode of interaction. You are equipped with tools to manipulate the world around you. While Anderson is ever present through the experience, you are your own guide, as her unmistakable voice encourages you to roam and test the potentials of this new environment.
In Chalkroom the seams of this digital world are not hidden. You note a repetition of surfaces, the construction of space – a digital rendering that can be understood as a facsimile of an interior world. It speaks of fading memories stored in the recesses of a mind; fragments of many stories stored across lifetimes. The medium of chalk speaks of erasure and impermanence, the fallibility of memory, and the instability of surfaces and structures we create and inhabit.
ABOUT THE ARTISTS
Hsin-Chien Huang is a new media creator with a background in art, design, engineering and digital entertainment. His practice endeavors to explore developing technologies in art, literature, design and live performance His projects often involve large- scale interaction, performance, mechanical apparatus, algorithmic computations and video installations.
Huang is a professor in the design department at the National Taiwan Normal University. In 2019 he received the Fulbright scholarship as a visiting scholar. With Laurie Anderson he was awarded the Best VR Experience in 74 Venice Film Festival for Chalkroom. He won the Fifth Public Art Award from the Ministry of Culture Taiwan (2016), the Light of Taiwan’s Honor from Taiwan’s President Ma (2011), the MUSE Award of American Alliance of Museums (2009).
Huang’s art works have been exhibited in galleries, art museums, film festivals and TV programs internationally. Including; National Taiwan Museum of Fine Art, Taiwan, Venice Biennale, Italy Museum of Modern Art New York, United States, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark, Shanghai Biennale, China, OK Center, Austria, Beijing 798, China, Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art and 404 Festival in Argentina.
Laurie Anderson is one of America’s most renowned and daring creative pioneers. Best known for her multimedia presentations, innovative use of technology and first-person style, she is a writer, director, visual artist and vocalist who has created groundbreaking works that span the worlds of art, theater, and experimental music.
Her recording career, launched by O Superman in 1981, includes many records released by Warner Records among them Big Science (1982), the soundtrack to her feature film Home of the Brave (1986) Strange Angels (1989) Life on a String (2001) Homeland (2008) and Landfall (2018) released on Nonesuch which recently won a Grammy Award in 2019 for Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance.
In 2002, Anderson was appointed the first artist-in-residence of NASA which culminated in her 2004 solo performance The End of the Moon, the second in a series of three “story” performances along with Happiness (2001) and Dirtday (2012) all of which toured extensively internationally.
Anderson’s films include numerous music videos and installation works as well as Carmen (1992), the high definition Hidden Inside Mountains (2005) and Arte- commissioned Heart of a Dog (2015) which was chosen as an official selection of the 2015 Venice and Toronto Film Festivals.
In 2017 Anderson joined four other artists in Mass MoCA’s Building 6 inaugurating a fifteen-year rotating exhibition of work. Anderson will show pieces from her archive as well as new work. Included in the first exhibition cycle are her virtual reality collaborations with Hsin-Chien Huang Chalkroom and Aloft. Chalkroom has been featured in film festivals all over the world including the Venice Film Festival where it won the award for “Best VR Experience” under its Italian title La Camera Insabbiata.