Yeuz – a project by Parisians Paul Sabin and Johan Raghbate – is sharpening the cutting edge of art and tech by experimenting with the “intersection of digital art and virtual reality”. Doubting the accuracy of Google Translate’s version of their mission statement, I had a chat with the duo, and, it turns out, they are truly messing with complex tech to create beautiful art.
Virtual reality (VR) is endlessly fascinating (my colleague vouches that even the VR game Job Simulator, with the uninspiring slogan ‘Prepare. To. Job.’, is fun), but it comes even fresher under Paul and Johan’s playful perspective, which focuses on the weird way our bodies can be perceived through mind-bending installations.
This is not the VR you’ve come to expect of bulky headsets and messed-up hair, but equally transporting, captivating interactive video and electronic music projections, creating experiences that are both fun and serious, disturbing and relaxing.
Kelper (watch above) is the duo’s new and, in my view, most interesting project to date and the pair’s first interactive installation. Glittering, strange particles rain down on your silhouette as you move – the physics of which is based on a real 3D space model, using a video games engine for realistic physical interaction.
To find out more, I chat with Paul and Johan about how they created the installation, the strange ways people reacted to it, and what’s next for them.
All images of Kepler courteous of Nathan Got.
Mimi Launder: Why did you create Kepler?
Yeuz: "At first, we developed a special scenography for our musical live show. In order to give the music a new visual dimension, we added interaction to the musician’s gesture. All the visuals were controlled by our body’s movement and by the music, in real time.
"When we were rehearsing, our friend enjoyed testing and controlling the video projection, instead of us doing it, and we started to think about creating something for the audience to interact with, instead of controlling everything all by ourselves.
"We thought it would be better for everyone if people could experience all of it, not just watch it. Then we developed Kepler , which is designed for exhibitions. It had to be poetic, but also simple to manipulate and understand.
"The most important aspect for us was to create an object that pushes people to spontaneously create their own choreography without learning how the installation works, but through their own exploration and discoveries, and to have them believe that they are part of the illusion.
ML: Talk us through the process of creating Kepler.
Yeuz: Thanks to our previous work, we were all set regarding the video projection, the holographic feeling and the calibration of our system, so the main part of the work was about us sleeping with our computer, trying to engineer something interesting.
We’ve studied sound engineering and modular computer programming on Max Msp and Quartz Composer, but now we’ve turned towards next-gen video games creation software and ultra-realistic physic simulations, in order to use effective and beautiful renderings and real-feeling sensations in real time.
We can easily split the conception process in two: the graphic conception and the interaction programming, even if it happens in the same time.
The tricky part is when you have to make these two work together - when you realize that the snow won’t collide with your body for no reason etc. Even before that, a lot of the work is about making sure that the system and everything you’re engineering will be stable - and trust us it’s not the fun part!
ML: What challenges did you face and what did you learn?
Yeuz: "The hardest thing to do is to put things in perspective, to have a global view of what you’re doing. Our screen is 3m tall - that is to say that you can’t do it in your living room. You always have to anticipate when you’re working the render of the projection, and how the silhouette will look like according to the people testing the installation.
"Then, when you’re making it interactive, you have to consider how people would globally react because the art exists through them experiencing the device. We had to make the interaction more obvious than we think - for example with the bouncing and falling of particles, and the density of the snow - for it to be immediately apprehended by the audience."
ML: What are you most proud of?
Yeuz: "The first reactions that we got from people experiencing Kepler, which happens to usually be a smile, or a weird posture trying to push the limits of the system.
"It’s always a great moment to witness how each person reacts in front of Kepler, and each time we discover a new idea that we never could have thought of because we’re so close to and involved with the project.
"The greatest surprise was that we didn’t really realize the potential evolution of Kepler, apart from it being a piece of art. For example, we learned a few months ago that it could be used for pedagogical and psycho-therapeutical applications, so we are now developing it with that in mind too."
ML: How does it differ to your other work?
Yeuz: "We’ve created Orbe (shown), another installation about human and economic fluxes around the world. A person in front of a screen can control a turbulent atmosphere around a representation of planet Earth, which rotates slowly, but the participant can make the world turn quicker with a specified movement.
"But Kepler is based upon a holographic illusion, which creates an augmented reality effect. With Kepler, we play with the point of view because there are two: the participant and the viewer. The viewer sees holographic snow contouring the participants, and the participants control their digital avatar precisely and are immersed in a realistic 3D & sound landscape.
"Now, we’re working on new features, on one hand to continue our research about the different representations of the human body, using fluids, textures … and on the other hand to go further in our exploration of the holographic dimension."
Image: Orbe. Courteous of Julia Weber.