Procedural computer-generated video.
‘I'm Feeling Lucky’ is a real-time, computer-generated installation that questions relationships to image, geography, virtual space, historical media technology, and mass data collection systems. In the work, a historically and geographically ambiguous 3D virtual landscape is generated in real-time with game engine technology and then populated with figures pulled from Google Street View. These figures are processed through a new deep neural network, so they become three-dimensional ‘models’ in the virtual space. Thousands of figures taken from all over the world are randomly selected to inhabit the landscape.
With their blurred faces from ‘Street View’ these figures become semi-anonymised entities pulled from the approximately 115 thousand terabytes of 360-degree image data collected by Google–many of whom would not have known their photo was ever taken in the first place–never mind ending up in this new strange setting. The image of each individual's body is processed further, pushing these people deeper into a digital obscurity, stripping them of their marks of individuality and place, and re-situating them in a new strange ambiguity.
The work takes into consideration panorama paintings of the late 19th century as objects of historical, cultural, and perceptual significance, and situates them within contemporary media contexts. Panoramas are rotunda structures in which large 360 degree paintings often depict spectacular battle scenes, religious events, or large cityscapes, characterized by their lack of boundaries and the inability to be viewed in their entirety in a single glance. Such spectacle and scale may be associated with the scales of imaging and data collection undertaken by Google. The panoramic format, characterized by its expansive, immersive visual presentation, can be traced back to the late 18th century with the invention of the classic panorama by English artist Robert Baker (1739-1806). Baker's panorama represented a departure from traditional painting conventions, as it could not be fully apprehended in a single gaze, much like the dome paintings found in churches. In both the panorama and dome painting, the viewer's gaze is actively engaged as they navigate the image, exploring its spatial dimensions and the relationships between the depicted figures (figures, which in the case of I’m Feeling Lucky, are actually real people). Film theorist Andre Bazin would go on to call this wandering gaze a democracy of the eye.
These panorama structures are theorized as part of the lineage of immersive media technologies and are often analyzed as a proto-cinematic/virtual reality forms. The emergence of the panorama as a visual format was characterized not only by its technical innovation, but also by its underlying conceptual framework. Robert Barker's 1787 patent for a 360-degree painting, entitled "Nature à Coup d'Oeil," emphasized the construction of a "proper point of view" as a means of immersing the viewer in the depicted scene. This strategy of situating the viewer, which aimed to create a sense of being "on the spot," would evolve and take various forms throughout the history of the painted panorama and its subsequent iterations in photography, magic lantern projections, and cinema. [Oetterman, Uricchio, “cinema of attractions”]. With ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’, the virtual environment is generated and populated procedurally, so the panoramic image is continual as the virtual camera rotates around the landscape endlessly. At times moving at an almost imperceptibly slow rate, the image pans/rotates across this infinite landscape, portraying the stillness of painting at odds with the expectation of fast, high FPS movement of digital imagery. The historic notion of the panorama painting here is brought to the current virtualized spatial technology and contemporary media conditions.