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DR. KLAUS NICOLAI

Virtual Squares of World Culture in Dresden's European sister cities
A project combining the tendance of cultural heritage with the application of new communication technologies

Introduction

Squares of World Culture as European Project

On July 12, 2003, the "First Virtual Square of World Culture" was opened in Dresden. The inhabitants and visitors are now enabled to have utterly new experiences in sensitive virtual audio-visual environments under the balcony of the Börse café, right in the modern centre of the city: Artists from all over the world can now send their interactive audio-visual compositions to Dresden via internet.

The "First Virtual Square of World Culture" offers ideal preconditions for its linkage with further interactive public places in other countries. Hence, the idea of a new, interactive art in public space is to be used as an opportunity to install similar Squares in Dresden's sister cities (Coventry, Columbus, Florenz, Hamburg, Ostrava, Rotterdam, Skopje, Salzburg, St. Petersburg, Strasbourg, Wroclaw) and link them with each other via internet until the 800th anniversary of the Saxon culture and high-tech site in 2006. People; children at play, young skaters, curious tourists, art experts, dancers, architects, media artists, and composers, can play with each other, skate, make investigations, dance, create compositions and choreographies, simply interacting over their countries' borders by means of and within the virtual environments.

In cooperation with schools and youth institutions, the Squares of World Culture will additionally be distinguished as meeting places for the young generation. Here, young people acquire new forms of interaction and communication, make new social contacts, and have creative encounters with the New Media. With this additional focus on the youth, the Squares promote new forms of learning and perception.

The linked Squares of World Culture thus form a new transnational platform for encounters in which political limitations of space and linear limitations of time can be transgressed by physical interaction.

The City of Dresden in cooperation with the Trans-Media-Akademie Hellerau would like to invite its sister cities to participate in the realisation of this idea. With the support of the European Commission, the Culture Foundation of Germany and the sister cities themselves, new Squares of World Culture can be installed until 2006 in cooperation with artists technicians, and institutions in the participating countries.

Dresden as a European Venue of Media Art

CYNETart establishes media art in Dresden

In the past years, Dresden has developed into an international centre of media culture and media art. One of the youngest media art institutes in Europe – the Trans-Media-Akademie Hellerau (TMA) – works in the historic festival ensemble Hellerau, a location situated in the immediate vicinity of the European producers of microelectronics AMD and Infineon Technologies. On behalf of the City of Dresden and in cooperation with institutions, artists, technicians and enterprises from all over the world, the TMA organises the annual festival for computer-based art CYNETart. In 2001 more than 1000 artists from 39 countries submitted 420 projects to the international CYNETart competition.

EU-supported project "Realtime & Presence"

From April 2002 to March 2003, the TMA ran the project "Realtime & Presence – Composition of virtual environments" in cooperation with the Ars Electronica Center Linz, the V2_Organisation Rotterdam, the Fraunhofer-Institut Bonn, the WRO Center for Media Art Foundation Wroclaw and other partners from the east and west. By now, about 70 artists, architects, scientists and programmers are involved in the production and presentation of interactive environments supported by the Culture 2000 programme of the European Commission. In 2002, first results of the project – about 20 interactive installations and performances - were presented to ca. 15.000 visitors at the world's biggest media art festival Ars Electronica, at the CYNETart and at other festivals. Further presentations are scheduled until June 2003 in The Netherlands, France, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and in the Russian Federation.

New developments in Art!

From operating a keyboard to free acting in space

The rapid development of computer technology allows for a real-time feeback between the movements of visitors, dancers or performance artists and computer data in the form of programmed audio-visual compositions. The results are sensitive virtual environments, or "electronic stages", in which human behaviour is transformed into colours, images, and sounds. The transformation of the real into virtual processes and vice versa might also take shape as translation, mirror, context or association.

Virtual environments as second skin

Virtual environments are somewhat like a second skin consisting of sounds, images, languages, and illuminations. This virtual skin (or environment) only unfolds and becomes real in dependency on the way in which physical action and interaction takes place in the sensitive space. Thus, movement becomes sound, sound becomes light, light becomes language, language becomes image... Lopsided, disembodied, and passive watching, listening, learning, etc. is transgressed to the benefit of an interaction that engages the entire body.

Software for motion capture

The software EyeCon, developed by Frieder Weiß in cooperation with the Palindrome Inter.media Performance Group and the Trans-Media-Akademie Hellerau, allows for a differentiated, largely synchronous cybernetic translation of the parameters of movement into audio-visual processes.

From the international workshop to the Virtual Square of World Culture

Linkage of public places

The spectacular results of the interdisciplinary development of virtual environments now generate possibilities for applications transgressing spatially limited artistic installatons or interactive stage situations. The advanced state of development and testing of the camera-motion-tracking system EyeCon not only makes it possible to turn the most diverse living spaces and communicative spaces into an extended experience space. In addition, sensitive virtual environments even allow for the design and linkage of completely new experience spaces in public places of today's cities. The squares based on EyeCon transform public places into fora of artistic action and at the same time into fora of intense self- and social perception.

Opening of the First virtual square of world culture in Dresden

The first permanently installed and internationally linked square of that kind was opened on July 12, 2003 in Dresden's city centre in Prager Strasse by the Mayor of the City of Dresden and by the main sponsors. An internationally linked performance show and audio-visual compositions open to the public form the artistic content of the opening. After its opening and respectively announced in the media, the square will feature performances and open environments on a regular basis. Thus, the virtual square of world culture represents a venue of a new kind.

Vantage point for a new space for global encounters

GEF – Global European Fields

The realisation of the First Virtual Square forms the vantage point for the international Project "GEF – Global European Fields". This project is designed to connect Dresden's sister cities via public virtual interactive squares by 2006 for Dresden's 800th anniversary. Artists from St. Petersburg, Columbus, Salzburg, Rotterdam Wroclaw, Florence etc can then transfer their audio-visual compositions to the other sister cities.

Involvement of educational institutions, artists, and technicians

We want to include students and young researchers in the interdisciplinary work process during the set-up and the further operation of the Virtual Squares of World Culture. That includes cooperations with institutions like the Studio für elektronische Klangerzeugung (Studio of electronic sound generation) at the Academy of Music Dresden, the Faculty of Information Science at the TU Dresden, the Academy of Dance Gret Palucca, the New Media departments at the Hochschule für Graphik und Buchkunst Leipzig and at the Academy of Arts Dresden. Similar institutions in the sister cities as well as interested artists and interdisciplinary researchers from there are to be included in this development of virtual environments. The First Virtual Square of World Culture as such forms a bridge between local, national, international, and global communication. The planned Virtual Squares of World Culture are a "concretion" of the processes of globalisation which take place in a largely abstract way.

Key aspects of Global European Fields – Virtual Squares of World Culture1

Installation and opening of Virtual Squares in Europe

Virtual Squares of World Culture are installed, tested and opened in Dresden's sister cities Coventry, Columbus, Florence, Hamburg, Ostrava, St. Petersburg, Rotterdam, Salzburg, Skopje, Strasbourg, and Wroclaw in cooperation with relevant partner institutions from March 2004 to September 2005. Artists from the sister cities/countries develop their own compositions for the Virtual Squares of World Culture. From spring 2004 onwards, there will be a lively, internet-controlled exchange of virtual compositions between the developing Virtual Squares.

800th anniversary of Dresden – European network of Virtual Squares

In 2006, for the 800th anniversary of Dresden, we will have the opportunity to network all Virtual Squares of World Culture in different forms. Thus, real-time encounters between people in the different cities will be possible in manifold, artistically as well as technically sound ways.

Key aspects of Global European Fields – Virtual Squares of World Culture2

Workshops in Dresden's European sister cities

Two-week workshops with media artists, composers, choreographers, dancers, architects, scientists, technicians, and software developers from the participating countries are held in all European sister cities.

These workshops promote forms of interdisciplinary, international, and media-ecological thought and work. All disciplinary presuppositions for the composition of virtual environments will be linked with the integral software EyeCon. The ca. 250 participants acquire the machine- and design-related bases for the composition of virtual environments and develop their own virtual architectures for performances and installations. At the same time, the workshops suffice the development of parameters and technical presuppositions of the linkage of Virtual Squares of World Culture.

The concluding symposium on the topic will be held in the Festspielhaus Hellerau in 2006 on the occasion of the 800th anniversary of the City of Dresden with participants from many different countries. The best installations and performances based on virtual environments will be presented and discussed in the Festspielhaus Hellerau in Dresden.

Key aspects of Global European Fields – Virtual Squares of World Culture3

New forms of youth and social work and networking

The project is to foster new forms of the work with children, youth work and the work with handicapped people, wherefore detailed concepts and working methods will be developed. At the same time, the project forms the basis for the development of municipal, national, and international networks of interdisciplinary artistic, scientific, and social work. The artistic, technical, social, political, ecological, scientific and pedagogical dimensions of virtual environments are explored in theory and practice.

Key aspects of Global European Fields – Virtual Squares of World Culture4

Publication of the project in different media

A profound, permanently updated publication of the project is realised on the internet on www.t-m-a.de. The internet is also used for the cooperation between the artists. Apart from that, we plan the production of a CD-Rom and the publication of a book on "Virtual environments – the rise of the body in art" (work title).

Area Vision Hellerau – Trans-Media-Lab Hellerau

In the context of a modern presentation of the historic as well as current visionary ideas in Hellerau and also as a computer-based interactive archive for experience, all compositions for the Virtual Squares of World Culture are going to be collected and documented. Thus, they will be permanently available and accessible as interactive environments in the area of the "Squares of World Culture". Until 2006, the ca. 40 audio-visual compositions developed in the context of the EU project will be open for access and experience. The Trans-Media-Lab in the European Centre of the Arts Hellerau forms the technological and ideational centre for the running, linkage, presentation and archiving of the compositions/architectures for the Virtual Squares of World Culture.

Global European Fields
Virtual Squares of World Culture
A project of the Trans-Media-Akademie Hellerau e.V.
in cooperation with the City of Dresden

Project management
Dr Klaus Nicolai (idea, project manager TMA)
Frieder Weiß (technical management, Palindrome IMPG Nürnberg)
First Virtual Square of World Culture in Dresden
GEF (Global European Fields) Part I

Artists

Georg Hobmeier (A), Bertrand Merlier and Jean-Marc Duchenne (F, Lyon University), Robert Wechsler (USA, Palindrome IMPG Nürnberg), Dance Group „Twisted Sisters", (GB), Tenteki (CH), Frieder Weiß and Emily Fernandesz (AUS)

Contact:

Trans-Media-Akademie Hellerau e.V.
Festspielhaus Hellerau, Karl-Liebknecht-Straße 56, 01109 Dresden
Tel. +49-351-8896665, Fax +49-351-8896667
tma@body-bytes.de; nicolai@body-bytes.de
http://www.t-m-a.de

Biography:

Dr. Klaus Nicolai, born in 1954. Studied culture sciences from 1977-82 at university Leipzig and was conferred a doctorate philosophy in 1985 and continued with teaching assignments to 1993. Since 1993 Klaus Nicolai has held the position of referent of media culture in culture office of city Dresden. Since 1997 he has been the director of International Festival for computer based arts at CYNETart Dresden