"When Ghosts Will Die" —Digital Performance
by Steve Gibson (Canada) and Dene Grigar (US)

"When Ghosts Will Die"—a digital performance and an installation in which participants experience nuclear warfare by interacting with multi-sensory elements such as sound, images, light, and text created by motion-tracking technology and computers—explores these technologies for the development of non-zero sum, "serious games" that require intense psychomotor activity and raise affective and cognitive awareness. The artists and programmers involved in the project include Steve Gibson (U of Victoria, Canada), Dene Grigar (Texas Woman's University, US), Will Bauer (APR, Canada), Jim Andrews (U of Victoria, Canada), and John Barber (U of Texas at Dallas, US). The work is envisioned as a live performance, game "installation," and video. Currently in production is the game installation.

The works envisions a 3-dimensional grid simultaneously within a central computer and a physical performance space. Each point of this grid is programmed with sound, music, light, and/or image elements. Interactors move through this environment and evoke the multi-sensory elements with hand-held tracking devices as their hands pass through the programmed grid points—in a similar way a computer mouse works on a tabletop—and in so doing interact with these elements through three phases of nuclear proliferation: 1) Disharmony, 2) Destruction, and 3) Disintegration. These three phases are intended to evoke the first nuclear explosion, the "Trinity" test, in the Jornada del Muerto (or "Journey of Death") region of New Mexico, on July 16, 1945, that took place just weeks before the nuclear bombs exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.

These three phases function as game levels so that when interactors produce a certain pattern of hand and body movements in the grid, they are taken to the next phase. The mood of the space is designed to match the level of the "game" that interactors have reached. Disharmony, for example, offers melodious sounds and music that increasingly give way to cacophony, as well as images and video footage representing growing belligerence. Destruction sees the dropping of the bombs and corresponding sounds of buildings falling into rubble, to name one possibility open to interactors. The final stage, Disintegration, takes interactors to the motif of the work: that the destruction derived from these weapons will be so complete that even "ghosts will die," an allusion to Michael Frayn's play, Copenhagen which sits at the heart of this project. To reiterate the total disintegration that such thoughtless proliferation can cause, photographs taken of interactors by the system will be morphed into ghostlike images, which slowly disintegrate.

Because the installation is a "serious," non-zero sum game, there are no "winners," in the traditional sense. Rather, the installation is meant as a way to shock interactors into a deeper awareness of the horrors of nuclear warfare. Politically speaking, the work's message—that the development and deployment of weapons of mass destruction not only test a country's power but also its humanity—is a bipartisan one and speaks to artists' "responsibility to envision alternative futures . . . and shape the way people think, live, and interact" (Shanken 44).

One or two people can experience the environment simultaneously, and the experience can last from five to seven minutes. Audiences are welcome to watch interactors as they experience the work and will be able to take in the multi-sensory elements as in a performance since the elements are projected in the space and visible and audible to all.

For more information about the project, go to "When Ghosts Will Die".

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