This interactive installation—which takes its title from a banner visible in the final scene of Stanley Kramer’s 1959 film, On the Beach, depicting a post-nuclear apocalypse Earth— is a film about war and the ways that individuals respond to war. The installation offers the viewer control of a narrative displayed within a 360-degree video panorama. Seated in a revolving chair in the center of the space, audience members take turns controlling a virtual “window” to highlight discrete aspects of a story about British and French troops battling for control of Fort Calypso (a battle site in the French and Indian War). Joining the battle are grotesquely enlarged children’s toys vying for attention with politically minded bloggers; unsavory Internet videos; and a mercurial host who attempts to articulate the implications of this unique “narrative space.” With each viewing, a new cinematic experience is spun out of the choices of individual audience members.
For over ten years Johannes Goebel and I were close associates at the ZKM in Karlsruhe - he as founding director of the Institute for Music and Acoustics, and I as the founding director of the Institute for Visual Media. We worked closely together on specific artists’ projects that involved the conjunction of image and sound. In 2002, after Johannes took up the position of founding director of EMPAC at Rensselaer Polytechnic University and I moved to Sydney to co-found and direct the University of NSW iCinema Research Centre, we looked for new paths of cooperation. Johannes was enthusiastic about the 360-degree AVIE system I has developed, and looking at purchasing such a system for EMPAC asked me to propose a theatre company who could create a work in it for the EMPAC grand opening. The Wooster Group immediately came to mind, having seen them perform in Amsterdam in the ’70s, and knowing that they were pioneers of the use of new media on stage.
Johannes arranged a meeting with the Wooster Group at their studio in New York and I spent a couple of days outlining the characteristic of the AVIE platform, and especially the expressive opportunities offered by distributing narrative in a 360-degree surround space and the interactive capability of giving the viewer a physical mechanism to focus their interest in one or other area of this multi-narrative panorama. This was the viewing paradigm that I began developing in the late ’70s, and which reached maturity in the EVE and PLACE platforms in early ’90s.
The meeting with the Wooster Group was especially fruitful in two aspects. They recorded my presentation about the AVIE platform, and this became the basis for the spoken text of the host character who informs the audience about the nature of the cinematic system they are watching. When it came to the actual video recording of the work some months later, the
Wooster Group made use of a special panoramic camera (Spherecam) that I had conceived and developed with my associates at the iCinema Centre in Sydney. It was a ring of twelve digital cameras around which the performance took place, and whose individual recordings were later stitched together into a high definition panoramic movie. At our first meeting in New York I alerted them to certain parallax problems that would occur in the stitching process if the actors came too close to these cameras. The Wooster Group embraced these stitching artifacts as an aesthetic advantage, and purposely gathered all the actors and other material actions very close to the camera. The resultant discontinuous overlaps between the individual recordings reinforce the perceptual layering of the work’s multi-narrative threads.