Constructing Purgatory

James Charlton with Sam Morrison.
Constructing Purgatory was presented as part of VROOM 2005.
VROOM has been facilitated by Otto von Busch, Evren Uzer and Klas Ruin
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ARTISTS’ STATEMENT.We cast a life-ring adrift into the streets: an earth-bound Purgatory lost in the vast Southern Ocean. It bobs around at the mercy of currents dictated by the video feed that hovers like a heavenly, scientific vulture overhead. Tracking movement from on high, the camera sees all. The eye of the empirical god is cast down.  This is a game of cat and mouse, though. Foil and counter foil with each player tied to the movement of the other in a dizzy dance performed to the beat of algorithms.
Our souls, finding redemption in the safety of our lifejackets, are drawn into the dance as the tethers of technology dictate. This is a performance of excess and whimsy dictated by the logic of reason – a Divine Comedy that charts our progress – a map, of sorts. 
While Dante’s journey to Purgatory in The Divine Comedy starts out “on foot, seemingly in full physical form, at the end of the tale we (he) wonders whether he has travelled in his body or out of it.”[Werthiem]. For Dante there is no conflict between the space of the body and the space of the soul – the two mirror one another.  Such visualisations are based on the physical world yet provide us with a map of soul space. Located at the antipodes of Jerusalem, Purgatory is visualised as a remote island in the Southern Hemisphere. Its lofty slopes are steeped with seven terraces, each dedicated to the purging of sins. On the summit, the Garden of Eden and the ascent to heaven.
In contrast with the model provided by Dante in which the physical and metaphysical are fused and mapped together, secular quantitative representations of the world allow only for the depiction of the physical. As there is no contemporary sense of a body-soul duality and as phenomenologically based systems of representation permit us to only perceive of, and thus represent, that which we can see, then it is little wonder that there have been few contemporary representations of soul space. Is this an inherent limitation of the current modes of analysis and representation or can it be taken as indicative that there is nothing else to represent other than that which can be quantified?
In contrast to the assumption that understanding is “enhanced by graphic representation” [Fitz. J.], Constructing Purgatory argues that current representational modalities simply compromise that being represented by showing us only that which the system is capable of representing – inevitably constructing a misrepresentation.
As a modality of representation Constructing Purgatory opposes the principles of visual display prescribed by Edward Tuft.  Departing from Tuft’s reductivist approach in which coherent and economic modalities of representation are prescribed, the project seeks a modality of representational excess and incoherence.  Perceptual junk abounds and is multidimensional and non descriptive.
This is a performance of excess and whimsy dictated by the logic of reason.
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In our (re)construction of Purgatory we are not offering an alternate model for the Catholic faith or engaging with the connotations of punishment and atonement that are often associated with Purgatory. (Although it is tempting to consider this work as a metaphor of the purification and redemption of representation – a way of ridding it from the sins of quantitative analysis so that it is fit to / capable of representing the metaphysical.) For us Purgatory serves as a subject matter from within which to examine the limitations of quantitative representation, and to pose questions about how it affects the way we see the world.
In Constructing Purgatory a self-referential representation circuit is constructed in which the original event becomes obscured or misrepresented through the process of representation.   As a representation, Constructing Purgatory presents an alternate visualisation comparable to a video representation. The representational modality of video as an absolute account is questioned by the encoded nature of the abstracted representation. Unable to “read” the data as a representation, yet aware of its representational role, the act of representation as an absolute quantitative process is exposed.
Loading this representation with metaphysical associations through an imposed subject matter (Dante’s soul space) – Constructing Purgatory proposes a visualisation of that which previous quantitative representations have been unable to represent. Rather than resorting to historical modalities that would provide little insight for the quantitative soul, algorithms articulate the soul space of seven sites, each pertaining to a level of purgatory.
If Dante’s Purgatory can be seen as a rational construct of its times then how do we visualise Purgatory in a contemporary context dominated by empirical data? If Dante’s map of Purgatory served as a guide for the soul for the Christian Medieval world how do we map Purgatory in a time of quantitative analysis?   Where is the quantitative soul located and what does it look like? Would such a map be capable of locating Purgatory more effectively and where would it be? Or would GPS simply deliver the bodies of the technologically righteous to the Gate of Purgatory only to find their souls had been lost in the assent?
RECORDING – Equipment and method.
Constructing Purgatory is comprised of three parts –
HEAVEN – A helium filled meteorological balloon, providing a maximum lift capacity of 410grms, carries a wireless video camera aloft.   To address rotational instability the balloon has a cross bar of carbon fibre. These cross bars provide eyelets for the attachment of strings that tether the balloon to the ground unit.
PURGATORY A mobile ground unit formed by a plastic welded inflatable life-ring accommodates interlocking plastic housing.  The upper housing contains a camera receiver and a 4in black and white monitor. The lower bucket houses the drive mechanism.  This consists of a pair of 3.6v motors (adapted cordless screwdrivers) that power independently driven 180mm wheels. Motor control is delivered via a Teleo microprocessor system that provides pulse width modulation control of the motors.  The Teleo unit is controlled by MAX/MSP – Jitter software from a laptop at the end of a 5m USB cable. Power for the monitor, receiver and processor is supplied by a 12V, 4.0AH.

SOULS  Lifejackets fitted with harnesses to house recording and processing equipment. The video feed is recorded on a Digital 8 Walkman and feed to a 17inch Powerbook G4 suspended in a harness on the lifejacket.  The video data is processed in a MAX/MSP Jitter patch to track the location of the ground unit (Purgatory) relative to the camera position and provides motor control to the Purgatory unit in an attempt to maintain a relative position.
Recordings were taken at seven different locations.  (One for each level of Purgatory.) Four recordings were made in Auckland, New Zealand while the remaining three recordings were made in Istanbul.  The Auckland sites were selected for their relative geographical elevation. The highest being on top of  the volcanic cone of Maungawhau (Mt Eden) the lowest being at sea level Kohimaramara (Mission Bay) with Takaparawha (Bastion Point) and Owairaka (Mt Albert) being used as intermediary levels.
The recorded video is edited and fed into a MAX patch. The patch interface maps the recording locations to levels of Purgatory.  By clicking on each level a digital 3D representation of that location is presented in a window at the top left of the screen.  The equivalent video source can be seen in a window at the top right.  These representations have a full screen. Parameters for each level can be adjusted using the DIM selector (that presents the level relative to its positioning within Purgatory) and by adjusting the core and scale values.
Patch sub windows driving the interface convert the video to a Jitter matrix that is mapped to a cylinder and rendered in

Video Images
Thanks to:

  • Phil Dadson
  • David Nutt
  • Bill Thomson
  • Janet Lilo
  • Helen Finlayson
  • Deniz Gok
  • Yasemin Sunbul

Vehicles of Registration and Omniscient Observational Mechanics
VROOM was a collaborative design project, seminar and exhibition of vehicles for reading and comparing globally distributed localities and urban situations for Istanbul Fragmented event parallel to 9th Istanbul Biennale in September 2005.
Group of designers and artists have been asked to produce a vehicle for reading their hometown and to bring it to Istanbul to repeat this reading. The event consisted of the implementation of Istanbul phase and discussions about vehicles and mapping the city with alternative tools. Within the artists and designers dealing with similar projects 6 VROOMers have participated Istanbul event with their vehicles.
VROOM Istanbul participants
20-24 September 2005
HEHE , France based artist group, Heiko Hansen, Helen Evans,
project name Train, City: Paris
POND , San Fransisco based artist/designer group , Marisa Jahn and Steve Shada, project draft name is “bread crumbs” , City: Hartford
Atopia, New York artist/designer group, Jane Harrison, David Turnbull, Lize Mogel and Alan Smart, project title is “Disarm” City : New York
James Charlton and Sam Morrison, Auckland University of Technology/ New Zealand, project title is “Constructing Purgatory”, City: Auckland
David Cuartielles, Ossian Sunesson, Marcus Hannerstig, Bjorn Wahlstrom, Dan Gavie, Pontus Stalin, Malmo Uni. K3, Project title: SMEE, City: Malmö
Linus Elmes, Milo Laven and Elin Strand, architect, artist group based in Stockholm. Project title “Hur mar du?/ How do you do?” City: Stockholm

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