The 1998 artwork PosadaSpace is a virtual world
exhibited in a decorated computer kiosk. Mike Mosher and Tim McFadden
built it around the historic cartoon imagery of Jose Guadalupe
Posada (and some other Mexican art) to investigate the appeal
and narrative power of simple 2D sprites in defining and populating
an interactive 3D world.
In the spring and summer of 1998, Mike Mosher
and Tim McFadden created a fine arts VR kiosk artwork called PosadaSpace.
Mike designed its environments and component JPEGs, and painted
an external facade for its computer. Tim programmed the world
paths for the viewer. This work however was the fruition of discussions
between the two-an artist and a software engineer-dating back
to the First Conference on Cyberspace in Austin, TX, in April
Art can be said to be the subtle manipulation
of limitations. Mike has long held that too many 3D worlds remain
kitsch, overly-complicated, overdetermined and overdesigned, splendidly
serving to demonstrate the capabilities of a computer's hardware
and software but little else. These interactive 3D virtual worlds
could best be constructed not by attempting a debatable "realism"
of every detail, but by emphasis on selected onscreen objects
(sprites) and diminution of detail on others. Lessons are to be
learned from the early low-resolution videogames like "Tank
Commander" circa 1980, where the interactive experience is
probably enhanced rather than diminished by the economy of visual
information on the screen. The viewer's attention is thus focused
upon a clearly-designed center. With more limited visual information
the eye also better follows movement of a sprite. Limited visual
information may also aid the viewer in spatially locating oneself
as the viewpoint moves. Smoothness of navigation may give the
greatest experience of real-world veracity, not the detail of
rendering of the objects depicted. Low-resolution depiction on
screen may have additional performance benefits (1), and economy
of rendering might free up processing power to be better applied
to responsiveness and refresh rate. For these reasons it was decided
the team would create a 3D world containing 2D JPEGs, nearly-monochromatic
cartoon figures standing like flat cut-outs. A visually appealing
JPEG of a painting, drawing or photograph can be positioned vertically
in a virtual world creates the metaphor of an environment with
PosadaSpace used JPEGs of imagery drawn by José Guadelupe
Posada (1852-1913), a hardworking illustrator for forty years
of nearly 20,000 cheap, popular broadsides and handbills in Mexico
City (3). He frequently used the motif of the calavera,
or skeleton, to illustrate humorous social or political commentary.
Skeletons were presented dressed in the garb of their owner's
role when living-bishop, businessman, fashionable lady, Zapatista
revolutionary, etc., or carrying on activities such as reading,
eating, bicycling etc. They are visually simple yet powerful and
memorable, as the best cartoons and comics artwork must be. (4).
Posada was a significant inspiration for Diego Rivera and his
generation of Mexican muralists and painters. Mike took the liberty
of including Diego's wife the painter Frida Kahlo in the artwork,
using Posada's busy skeletons and exaggerated figures as metaphor
for the tensions within their marriage. Three tours through the
PosadaSpace were designed in hopes in proximity they convey a
certain evocative narration whose imagery links artists, love
and death. The painted, cut-out facade designed to surround the
computer in which PosadaSpace is exhibited is intended to give
the work a certain carnival-ride attraction (5). Yet it is also
hides or masks the machine, for if the computer is to become more
a servant of daily life and become absorbed within other appliances
it should certainly do so within artworks as well. It is hoped
that works like this then take their place as part of a continuum
of complex narrative figurative artwork that includes the architectural
frescoes of Michelangelo and Rivera, rather than inhabitant of
a separate category "computer art".
The first tour carries the viewer from an opening "gateway"
with a portrait of Posada, he title and explanatory paragraph
hovering in space to a "sculpture garden". The viewer
moves between the sprites in a sort of star pattern, moving close
to investigate each one. Two walls that share a vertex to form
a corner are fairly ornate, one having Rivera's "Dream of
a Sunday Aftertoon in Alameda Park" mural (which alludes
to Posada's calaveras ) mapped upon it, for a free-standing
complex graphic image becomes a muralized wall within the architecture
The second path moves from the gateway towards the sculpture garden,
then veers sharply to the left where it moves towards what appears
to be a gravestone or monument. The viewer then descends, the
visible walls of the "elevator" proving to be Diego
Rivera's mural of millionaires dining. Upon reaching the bottom,
the viewer turns to see "Frida's Boudoir", her portrait
upon a bed-like floating rectangular object. A bust of Russian
revolutionary Leon Trotsky, murdered in exile in Mexico, stands
beside it. Images from a "Mexican Art" disk of clip
art, of several women drawn by Rivera, were positioned to serve
as the walls of Frida's boudoir. This imagery alludes to the fact
that Frida Kahlo had a love affair with Trotsky as well as with
several women, and Diego had affairs with many women that he painted.
The third path takes the viewer to the frontiers, where four Posada
images of crowds among buildings appear, finally shooting the
viewer upwards to view close-up a moon-like rotating sphere with
a crazy face mapped upon it.
Tim McFadden relished the opportunity of this project as a great
a movie's director-cameraperson relationship, Mike designed the
scenario's storyboard and look and feel of the project while Tim
performed the coding. "For a programmer, it was a big thrill
to be in control of moving bodies in color" said Tim. Most
of the VRML was hand coded, but for creating the navigation paths
a table-driven curve generator was written in C. A table would
specify start and endpoints, type of curve, rotation, and initial
value for splines. The output of the C program would be loaded
into eventOut SFVec3f and SFRotation fields on clock ticks. The
spline code camedirectly from William Press' Numerical Recipes
VI. Process Issues:
Mike Mosher handed over to Tim McFadden specifications for PosadaSpace,
including sketches of proposed positioning of the sprites and
the trajectory of the viewer's paths through the world. Upon viewing
the results notes on their modification would be presented in
action item lists. For an artist and a software engineer to work
together efficiently meant a learning process towards a common
language, so visual ideas which Mike would otherwise express evocatively
yet imprecisely could be quantified for the most precise implementation
by Tim. By assigning numerical values to the position of each
sprite, Tim could build paths that most accurately resembled Mike's
intentions, and then together they could refine them upon viewing
of the results in thebrowser.
The initial version of PosadaSpace was exhibited upon an Intergraph
workstation in "The Art of Digital Technology", an exhibit
curated by Barbara Allie and Barbara Rainforth held at the Santa
Clara County Fair in August 1998. All visual development on PosadaSpace
had to cease in mid-July prior to Mike's travels (6); coding,
of course, continued up until the last possible minute. It was
exhibited behind a 4' x 2' painted facade of two skeletons kissing,
with another skeleton on each 18"- wide side wing panel.
There were significant difficulties encountered with the browser,
requiring positioning a strip of black tape on the screen and
Tim clicking at precise moment to stop its rotation. It is also
suspected the piece may have been down (frozen or shut off) a
considerable amount of time during the exhibit. Work has begun
on refinement of the Tour paths, with the addition of one or more
new Tours under consideration. The optimum goal would be to allow
the user total freedom to wander, yet worlds built in this manner
traditionally suffer the problem of the user flying out into empty
space without sufficient visual clues that allow easy return,
unless an invisible bounding box or sphere is in place.
Tim has begun to code PosadaSpace to swap high-resolution JPEGs
for conventional ones when the viewer reaches a predetermined
distance from a specific JPEG. A later version will use LOD. This
would give the illusion of near focus without big pixels' blockiness
interfering with reading of the image. Some of the animated movement
within the world could not be implemented, due to the browser
slowing down. In three instances the swapping of alternatives
to specific sprites, so skeletons would appear to strum a guitar
or stab a piece of meat with a fork. However tthe standing portrait
of Posada by Rivera would momentarily momentarily swap with a
version wearing a skeleton head, and a large moon face mapped
upon a sphere above him would rotate. The tale of Indra's Net
says that the universe is made of an infinite net at whose intersections
are jewels, each jewel reflecting all the others. With this image
engaging him as a provocative paradigm of cyberspace, Tim hopes
to continue the work within it begun in his essay "Notes
on Cyberspace and the Ballistic Actors' Model" (7) both in
writing and embodied in future collaborative art projects. Tim
did not have access to a Java-compliant VRML browser early enough
in the PosadaSpace project, but in the future hopes such projects
will be networked and multi-user. It is hoped by both Mike and
Tim that continued development of VRML, and supportive technologies
like MPEG-4, will support continued investigation by many more
teams of artists and programmers, pursuing their personal investigations
into design and content amidst the burgeoning potential of creative
(1) First proposed by Mike Mosher in "Objects
in Mirror May Be Larger: On Designing Low-Rez Virtual Worlds"
a poster installation at the Second Conference on Cyberspace,
Santa Cruz CA, 1991.
(2) Mike's experience painting murals in San Francisco,and living
in its mural-rich Mission neighborhood 1981-84, inspires this
(3) Berdecio, Robert and Applebaum, Stanley, Posada's Popular
Mexican Prints (Dover Publications, New York NY, 1972), Preface
(4) When Tim wore a Posada calavera t-shirt to a breakfast
meeting at Hobee's Restaurant, Mountain View, in February 1998
Mike realized the appropriateness of Posada's simple,powerful
imagery for their first virtual world.
(5) Two recent public sculptures in Mountain View, California
that are larger-than-life cut-out figures in metal by Joe Sam
stand at the City Hall and at the Whisman Sports Center. Mike
acknowleges the influence of works like this upon PosadaSpace's
"sculpture garden". Mike painted mural panels in 1990
for Laguna Honda Hospital, San Francisco, cut to the contours
of the composition of multiple figures, and since 1992 has exhibited
multimedia and hypertext software in kiosks whose screen is cut
into shaped, painted facades.
(6) While in Memphis TN in August 1998, Mike organized and painted
a collaborative mural panel "Transistor Healing Elvis",
described in "Elvis Healed! A Report From His Conference"
in BAD SUBJECTS #39 (HTTP://eserver.org/BS/39) .
(7) Published in Benedikt, Michael, Cyberspace: First Steps
(MIT Press, Cambridge MA 1991).
Anders, Peter, Visualizing Cyberspace
(Macmilliian and Co., New York NY, scheduled 1/99). Includes mention
of PosadaSpace plus a screenshot.
Bad Subjects Production Team, Bad Subjects (NYU Press,
New York NY, 1998). Includes Mike Mosher's essay "Towards
Community Art Machines".
Benedikt, Michael, Cyberspace: First Steps (MIT Press,
Cambridge MA 1991). Includes Tim McFadden's essay "Notes
on the Structure of Cyberspace and the Ballistic Actors Model".
Berdecio, Robert and Applebaum, Stanley, Posada's Popular Mexican
Prints (Dover Publications, New York NY, 1972).
Carey, Rick and Bell, Gavin, The Annotated VRML 2.0 Reference
Manual (Addison-Welsey Publishing Co., Reading, MA, 1997).
Tim found this book especially a joy to read and use.
Press, William et. al., Numerical Recipes in C (Cambridge
University Press, Cambridge UK, 1988).
Rothenstein, Julian, J. G. Posada: Messenger of Mortality
(Moyer Bell Limited, Mt. Kisco, NY, 1989).
Mike Mosher is an Adjunct Professor in the University of San Francisco
College of Professional Studies Information Systems Program, Cupertino,
California U.S.A.. He has taught in the San Francisco State University
Art Department, the SFSU Inter-Arts Center and the SFSU Multimedia
Studies Program. His multimedia artwork has been exhibited at
the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, the Rochester Institute
of Technology, and Artists' Television Access in San Francisco.
Tim McFadden is a software engineer at ThinkOne, Brisbane, California,
U.S.A., where he is currently networking MPEG-4. Please note that
PosadaSpace is unrelated to any work done by Tim for ThinkOne,
and does not in any way represent the efforts of ThinkOne in VRML
or MPEG-4. Tim is also working privately on a sonar cyberdeck,
and will continue to develop fun art to upload into cyberspace.
Mike Mosher and Tim McFadden would like to thank Barbara Allie
and Barbara Rainforth for exhbiting PosadaSpace in the Art of
Digital Technology exhibition, and Trudy Reagan for help with
its installation there.
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