The Chinese Room

The Chinese Room

Short film and Interactive Installation, 2003

The Chinese Room is a 3D animation and participatory installation about intimacy and alienation during times of surveillance voyeurism.

In the installation the viewer follows two animated characters on different video channels as they live their daily lives. The characters’ living spaces and offices are filled with surveillance cameras that transmit routine footage into their personal computers so they keep watching each other while not being in the same space. There is a camera mounted into the wall of the installation that in its turn records the viewer who occasionally sees his/her images on the screen in front of the animated character. The viewer is both watching and being looked at.

The characters’ world is set in a space resembling an expo-stand with a very refined and rather gloomy design that together with a slightly pixelated image hint at unsettling emotional issues. In fact two people living together seem to barely know each other as they talk to their computers instead of communicating to each other. At the same time they constantly watch the other at different locations living through their personal continuum apart. At the first glance the computer mediated bond implies safety yet controlled engagement. But with a closer look it turns out that human interaction and empathy being a rather sensitive and tricky realm in the first instance only becomes entangled and misleading due to the help of machine diplomacy. Does a technological intimacy have a potential to successfully transcend human nature or will its further advancement eventually demolish our anthropological microcosm?

“The Chinese Room” looks at the problem of interpreting new forms of visual evidence that arise in surveillance culture. The theme of watching and being watched suggests the allure of technologically mediated intimacy, but at the same time it speaks to the threat of inescapable surveillance. The 3D animated characters that populate the narrative invoke the animation industry ideal of simulated actors, which has arisen from a research agenda driven by the goal of doing something purely because it can technically be done. Yet in “real world” terms it could come to displace working actors. The epistemological problem of what we can know about each other which is posed in this work, extends in a continuum from everyday interpersonal contact that is turned into fodder for reality T.V., into the social realm where alienation and paranoia result.”

– Rafael Lozano-Hemmer, VIDA 6.0, Art & Artificial Life International Competition, 2003.

Exhibitions and Filmfestivals

The installation was exhibited at the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki, 2003. Curator: Perttu Rastas. It was selected for the group exhibition Fast Forward at Nassauicher Kunstverein, Germany, 2004. Curator: Elke Gruhn.

The Chinese Room animation was screened at the Tampere Film Festival, Uppsala Short Film Festival, Arctic Glory Film Festival, Simrishamn International Art Film Festival.

The Chinese Room installation won an honorary mention at the VIDA 6.0 Art & Artificial Life Competition, Madrid, 2003.

Credits

Directed and written by Minna Långström
Production: Virta Productions Oy/Ltd
3D Modeling, kinematics and composition: Minna Långström
3D animation: Minna Långström, Živa Borlja
Music: Aku Raski
Sound Design: Pertti Venetjoki
Texture Design and rendering: Jani Kahrama / Media Magic Oy/Ltd.
Visual effects and graphic design: Henri Tani

Software Engineering for the installation: Lauri Hyvärinen