Sunday, September 25, 2005

Editors Note Updated 27SEP05 19:36

Transvergence Proposal: Oculus/Observatory

This is a proposal of my project for the ISEA2006/ZeroOne Festival. I have asked my contacts in the art, tech, physics and other communities to help me form this proposal. I will post some of the correspondence from these contacts as it develops.

Proposal Zero One Festival 2006
Working title: Oculus/Observatory/ staring at the sun

The Oculus/Observatory: Staring at Sol is a large form public art platform to provide visitors to the ISEA 2006 symposium and the Zero One Festival a point to relax. The space is structured as an icon of the futurist ideal, the geodesic dome. The Fullerian space is designed to develop the dialog away from the symposium, a place to unwind, a place to discuss.

It employs metaphors to the eye, different ways of seeing and stargazing. The physical structure also mimics the space of a planetarium or an outdoor stargazing experience through a video projection of visual data from the SOHO solar research platform. The space provides a getaway from the festival and symposium in a climate controlled (cool, dark) space. It offers the participants places to sit or lie back as they stare at the projection of the sun mediated through the SOHO satellite. Through this mediation the viewer is allowed to do what normally would be devastatingly harmful: endlessly stare at the sun.

Physical Plant

Layout and Space:
The physical plant of Oculus/Observatory is a 30-foot diameter tent domed with geodesic dome. The geodesic frame will be traced with neon-like lighting of cycling secondary colors that will affect an illusion of a modulating glow from within during the dawn, twilight and night hours. Two corridors spiral into the observatory allowing egress to the oculus. Inside the structure viewers will find a cool dark environment, centered overhead is a projection of near real-time images of the Sun mediated from the SOHO satellite. Places to lounge will be provided as well as a ‘lawn’ to lie down on and gaze.

The Corridors:
These corridors are known as the paths of envisage/pre-retinal and encounter/post-retinal. These passages will begin transition to the darker interior environment. At the end of the corridor Visitors will enter the observatory chamber through a light lock that will mediate the daylight input. These passages are neither entry nor exit; they are egresses or portals into the metaphor. This is purposely done to deconstruct binding nature of the narrative form of beginning-event-ending. It is the choice/option of the viewer to engage the passage from either mode of seeing and flow toward either portal as exit.

The Dome and tent construction:
The dome is a lightweight tent structure made of fire-retardant material and PVC manufactured by Shelter Systems of Menlo Park. Shelter Systems provides a covering option of light exterior and black interior. Each of the vertices will support up to 15 lbs; overall weight can be distributed over many vertices to achieve a safe suspension. The tent can be knee-walled to form a higher head clearance on the interior. The 31.5-foot diameter tent is approximately 15.5 ft at the highest point inside. The tent is easily staked down to provide stability. Additionally the side can be opened to allow an arched opening that allows for normal passage without ‘ducking’. The tent can be assembled in an hour without the need of special tools. More information is available at: and

The Climate:
The inside space is climate controlled maintaining an environment approx 65 degrees Fahrenheit. This is to lend to the illusion/theatrical experience of night temperatures. Additionally, it offers the visitors a spot to escape the normally warm to hot weather of August. The mean maximum August temperature for San Jose is 82 with a record high of 89 (data from: Research on keeping tenet cooled in progress. The volume of tent is approximately 30,000 cu. ft.

Images from SOHO(Solar and Heliospheric Observatory will be projected on the ceiling of the dome allowing the visitor to stare endlessly into the sun. The images are obtained every hour and processed through the Transformation Engine, a computer generated animation. Over the hour this system will morph one photographic state into the next. The overall effect will be a near-contemporaneous image of Sol mediated by satellite/researcher/animation.

The center of the oculus floor will be covered with an artificial lawn and few pieces of furniture to allow the visitors a space to sit or lie down and watch the slowly unfolding projection. Participants are encouraged to sit on the lawn. A walkway is separated from the lawn by a cordon and encircles the outside the perimeter of the ‘lawn’ and connects to the light-locks. Outside the walkway, the perimeter of the observatory is flanked with seating for alternative viewing and visitors who wish not to sit on the floor.

The Audience:
The installation is focused on the participants of the Symposium/Festival. Additionally my project is focused on the scientific community that is found in the Silicon Valley area. Stanford Solar Lab and AMES are two of the of science institutions that come to mind. In addition the physics dept at SJSU is advising me. They have shown great interest in the project as a platform to


  1. comment from my advisor Gareth Noyes:
    Sep 16
    Hi Thomas,

    this sounds very cool - very much in keeping with your cloud chamber display. Whilst I like the idea, I feel very much out of my depth in terms of the
    art impact this could have. I certainly relate to the idea and I personally would find it fascinating. I could star gaze for hours - haven't learnt to sun
    gaze without going blind yet.

    For the sake of a few questions (if you don't mind): what impact do you think this will have on viewers? Do you expect them to interact or feel part
    of the exhibit, or is their role simply as an observer? From a scientist's point of view, what knowledge can you impart from this display? Is there any twist to
    the display that could add an element of "magic" or awe?

    Again as a scientist, I relate to this as being an observation. Is there anything that can be gleaned from data? Does it tie back to any theory or model
    that the observation is trying to prove? What I liked about the cloud chamber was the notion that you were showing the invisible: the infinitesimally small.
    With this display, is there any way of adding to it such that people feel more connected to the sun they're seeing? How about subtleties of temperature? I like the idea of a cool observation room (especially in summer and to capture the
    elements of outdoor star-gazing), but can you think of any way of providing blasts or bursts of heat that relate to some visual stimulus? Probably getting to
    literal (and complicated) at this point, though there may be other ways of providing more connection to the impressive display.

  2. Reply to Gareth Noyes on email as of Sep16
    These are exactly the kind of feedbacks I am looking for. I was contemplating how to induce more interactivity into the arena. I like the idea about the variable temperature.

    I feel most people get into stargazing given the opportunity, during last summer's projection of the cloud chamber I had people hang out in
    that easy chair for over 30minutes at a shot. the planetarium/theatre type structure just tickles people somehow and I want exploit that.
    Plus the audience here in silivalley is so tech oriented I can see getting a huge draw.

    Also the nature of the beast necessitates that observatories are usually a drive for most people. By plunking something down into the middle of a gathering of tens of thousands; I think I can bring the 'mountain' to the people.

    And I provide some really high-volume exposure to the solar sciences, Stanford has a huge lab and there is NSF grants available for public projects.

  3. More reply to Gareth from Sep16

    A few answers, to see if it generates more questions/ideas...

    > > For the sake of a few questions (if you don't mind): what impact do you
    > > think
    > > this will have on viewers? Do you expect them to interact or feel part
    > > of the
    > > exhibit, or is their role simply as an observer? From a scientist's
    > > point of
    > > view, what knowledge can you impart from this display? Is there any
    > > twist to
    > > the display that could add an element of "magic" or awe?

    My objective is to get the audience to relax and look at the sun image as aesthetic object for a moment or longer. The same sort of
    experience the one get when captivated by some other natual structure/phenomena (flowers, mountian range). From my experience
    ealier this year people responded in a wholly different fashion when the image is made bombastic. People hung in the little theatre I
    created for a long time compared to the amount of time they commited to the original 'kitchen sink' chamber. I believe this response to scale is sort of programming in our brains and I plan on capitalizing on it. I think it is fun for the science audience because they get to see their studies used in other disciplines. I believe all of this will be hieghtened by mediating effect of the sattelite images allowing for the improbability of being able to stare into the forbidden for long periods.

  4. Thread from an artist I know in Humboldt Co.

    Hi Julie,

    The project proposal is spurred on by a particular
    seminar but I am really excited about the possibility of doing a public work. To answer a few more of your questions:

    Q:"I am curious as to how you will get permission from SOHO to use their images in your dome? Will those responsible for aiming the cameras to the sun, need to receive credit in your installation?"
    A: The images are already in the public domain on websites, I am working on developing relationships with 'industry' professionals in the possibility that I can get a more robust data stream. I will be giving all these folks due credit in the documentation. I will be applying for grants/sponsorships. This will lead to branding in the installation without doubt.

    Q:"I suppose you plan to not have too much sensory stimulation, as this is a place for relaxation? Is the festival a hectic place, held indoors or outdoors?"
    The symposium/festival is a city wide event with many viewers/participants, I am anticipating it will be rife with humanity.

    Thus, I am thinking less is more for this project. Some thoughts were clarified today when I read an illuminating critique of installation art and a wild article about Yahoo and their endeavors to make the
    site even more real time and interactive...

    Part of the critique dealt with ideas about relational aesthetic and the trend to large scale projects. The article about Yahoo is their development of more interactive short-segment content customizable to
    the A.D.D. neuroses of the end-user. The trends of more and more interactivity on the web are sometimes give me an overwhelmed feeling.

    I am wondering if this project should be less interactive than "over-interactive" as is the trend throughout media. I want to provide a space that is not solemn, but peaceful/restful. I propose that
    media's proletarian and futurist promise of endless choices and interactivity can be oppositional to these ideas.

    My large scale is a nod toward the scalar fascination I witnessed in my last project with the particle detector. When the image was made cinematic people would spend over 5,10, and some over 30 minutes watching the experiment unfold. People are fascinated with the unseen, unseeable (the microscopic and the macroscopic if you will).

    Q:" And, with any project like this, a back-up plan is necessary in case of technical problems (images don't come through clearly, temperature-controlling devices fail, etc...).

    A: Gordon Kluge and I were talking about these types of contingencies yesterday, and possible solutions. Maybe more personal experience
    'observatories' with differing data streams... I am still rolling this one around.

    Thanks for all the input. I hope this wasn't too long for you. Tell the family we said hi, send our love. and if any of this is absolutely absurd call me on it please!

    On 9/18/05, Julie McNiel wrote:
    > Hi again, Thomas,
    > Thanks for sending your most interestin proposal! When is the due date? Are you doing this through school? I am curious as to how you will get permission from SOHO to use their images in your dome? Will those responsible for aiming the cameras to the sun, need to receive credit in your installation? If yes, how will that become part of the dome structure, or surround? Your proposal is very clear. Your addressing of various senses (tactile, as in the temperature of the air, as well as the texture of grass and the visuals) will make the experience more interesting for participants.
    > (Ocularity has as much to do with the brain and memory, as with the workings of the eyeball...) I like the grass or turf as a reference to the need for
    > sunlight, of green growing things... I suppose you plan to not have too much sensory stimulation, as this is a place for relaxation? Is the festival a hectic place, held indoors or outdoors? Will you have assistants to help in constructing the dome? Lighting inside the dome would be very important. And, with any project like this, a back-up plan is necessary in case of technical problems (images don't come through clearly,temperature-controlling devices fail, etc...).
    > I wish you much luck with your proposal! Please keep me posted as to what
    > happens.

    > Best,
    > Julie

  5. Last Wed I contacted the Physics Dept once again to look for an advisor on this project. The following is a transcript of my sucess. Yippe!

    On 9/22/05, Kiumars Parvin - Physics Chair wrote:
    > Dear Mr. Azmuth:
    > Dr. Monika Kress ( has kindly agreed to help you
    > on your project. Please feel free to contact her directly. It is very
    > important that you keep your department advisor or instructor informed
    > of this arrangement. Also you should realize that she is spending time
    > in guiding you on this project, and her contribution should be well
    > recognized in all steps of your work. Thank you. Kiumars Parvin
    > *********************************************************************
    > Kiumars Parvin
    > Professor and Chair
    > Department of Physics
    > San Jose State University
    > San Jose, CA 95192-0106
    > Phone: 408-924-5272
    > Fax: 408-924-2917
    > Email:
    > On 9/21/05, Thomas Asmuth wrote:
    > > Dr. Parvin,
    > >
    > > Hello this is from Thomas Asmuth, grad student in the SJSU Art&Design program. Thank you for your time earlier today. Below is a brief introduction to me and the project. I have attached supporting documents that are early drafts of my proposal/project.
    > >
    > >
    > > Hello to the Physics Community:
    > >
    > > My name is Thomas Asmuth and I wanted to introduce my project and myself. I am a science enthusiast and a full-time artist who uses physics and other empirical sciences in my art.
    > > I am looking for advisors for a project that will be exhibited at a prestigious electronic arts symposium ( held on the SJSU campus in August 2006.
    > > One of the four topics of the symposium is the idea of Transvergence: hybridizing disciplines to develop innovative modes of thinking and representation. The symposium and related events are anticipated to draw 100,000 visitors.
    > >
    > > My proposal is an interface fashioned much like a planetarium. The public will be able to watch video data from SOHO or other solar research platforms as it is projected near real time on the ceiling of the observatory. Participants/viewers will be encouraged to sit and relax, taking time to contemplate the images.
    > >
    > > My opportunity to develop an innovative, inspirational project will be significantly increased if I can work closely with the science community. Thus I am writing to professionals such as you in the field; I am looking for advisors so I can learn more about the research being done in heliospheric science.
    > >
    > > If you would like to know more about my project proposal please consult the draft documents I have attached to this email or please call me at any time. Thank you for your time and I look forward to
    > > hearing your feedback.
    > >
    > > Sincerely,
    > > Thomas Asmuth

  6. Analysis notes from Lisa Ivy:

    talk about the system of the corridors tht they are a nondirection mode of inquiry, there is no correct flow.

    Editors note: the term POST-RETINAL: Pierre Cabanne: Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp (1979)

    translated space, move between world transition into new world

  7. Meeting with Monika Kress: look up helioseismology look in physics folder of bookmarks

  8. I wonder what is the relationship between "relaxing" (or passively receiving the image of the sun and the actually experiencing the sun shining right into your eyes. Is there some kind of play with comfort/discomfort? I think that's an area that could be interesting. It's very different, for example, than laying on a blanket looking at the stars. What will the viewer's reactions to each other be? Ex. a public reaction of alienation, a community context, a personal revelation, etc. How will you address the viewer moving through, pausing in, or relaxing in the space?

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