A brief history of After Dan Graham

Back in the spring of 2017, I began to experiment with VR. I was finishing up my first year of my PhD studies at York University, and I knew I wanted to investigate the creative potential of this emerging medium. 

Taking inspiration from the work of structuralist filmmakers of the 60s and 70s and the VR experiments of Tore Knabe, my early experiments focused on two central ideas: 1) giving the user a fully embodied experience, and 2) exploring the data that drives the VR experience.

Groundhog Station by Tore Knabe

I created a simple project in Unreal Engine 4 (UE4) for the Vive that put the user into the body of the UE4 sample avatar and then recorded the data reported by the hand controllers and HMD. This data was then used to animate a group of 10 other avatars, whose movements were a combination of random walking and the corporeal data of the user on a random time delay.

Early experiments in VR

I was extremely happy with this initial experiment which generated a new set of questions I wished to pursue. However, working in VR also presented a challenge. While I drew on my previous experience as a media artist to create the code that went into the project, I had no experience with 3D modelling, 3D animation and game design.

So when Aidan approached me to see if I’d be interested in collaborating on a project, it was serendipity.

Initially, Aidan and I agreed to create a puzzle-based VR game based on these experiments. The mechanic would be simple. Solve puzzles based on user actions that are recorded and then played back. We called the game Do While, and it wasn’t long before Aidan had created a small experiment implementing the mechanic in a non-VR environment.

Do While experiment documentation

At the same time as Aidan was working on Do While, I became interested in the work of Dan Graham. In particular, I was fascinated by an installation Graham created in 1974 during his time NSCAD called Time Delay Room 1.

What I found so fascinating about Graham’s installation was the way he employed video feedback, a unique process only possible through video, to explore the nature of self-perception in such a simple, affective way. Reading about this work, and closed-circuit video installation work in general, made me want to experience them in person. Unfortunately, opportunities to do so were few and far between.

It occurred to me that the methods being explored in Do While overlapped with the concepts driving Graham’s Time Delay Room 1. The use of feedback allowed the user to push a user’s sense of self-perception outside of themselves. With closed-circuit video, that sense of self-perception was actualized as a moving image. With VR, it was the movement of the user’s body itself.

So we shifted gears a bit, moving away from the game and towards what would become After Dan Graham.

Since then, we have shown the first version of the work at the Intersections/Cross-sections Graduate Conference & Art Exhibition 2019 and have recently agreed to show the work as part of VRTO 2019 Virtual & Augmented Reality World Conference & Expo this summer.

So, if you’ve read this far and you’re interested in checking out After Dan Graham yourself, make your way to Toronto this June for VRTO! Hope to see you there!