Genesis of the Work

The experience of visual immersion developed at the end of the 18th century with the first panoramas. The form quickly developed as a major attraction in the 19th century all over Europe, with some incursions in North America. The irresistible appeal of cinema at the turn of the 20th century destroyed the business of still panoramas. The situation has changed during the 20th century with increasingly sophisticated projection techniques, and more so recently with computer imaging technologies. These now allow for immersive and interactive experiences that go far beyond the experience of cinema and of the original panorama. In entering the frames of painting, photography, cinema, television and now the computer screen, spectators, turned visitors, actors and even inhabitants, have entered the domain of direct experience and active involvement—they have set foot in a new fold of the real that will no doubt expand, get enriched, and further engage our senses and our actions.

With the void, full powers — Albert Camus

Courchesne’s project participates in this media development in attempting to materialize the concept of an expanded reality where the physical world can be augmented to the point where it becomes virtual. The novel approach with You Are Here is that the physical, augmented and virtual realities are presented as a continuous experience of space. In the artist’s view, these concepts of reality simply represent different folds of a unified experience of the real.

The work also comments on the celebrated “white cube” used in the 20th century to present modern art, and its limits, exposed by the minimal and conceptual art practices in the 1960s and 1970s. 2 Those art practices brought the focus on the space for art, rather that the art object itself, and helped establish the “black cube” in the 1980s and 1990s as the prime context for artistic explorations in the age of media.

You Are Here, directly refers to the white cube (project room) and the black cube (projection space) while opening into a third exploration space, virtual this time, into which the artist is now inviting us. Yves Klein’s 1957 visionary exhibition The Void (Le Vide) and, three years later in November 1960, the iconic simulation of his jump into space is a clear departure point in You Are Here. For Courchesne, the immersive and interactive possibilities afforded by information and communication technologies are opening up new spaces such as those hinted at by Klein’s work. These “terrains of apparition”, as Courchesne calls them after Berthet, 3 are increasingly accessible and fluid, both inviting and challenging.

The Work in Courchesne’s Practice

You Are Here draws on a practice in media art that stretches over 30 years from the early 1980s, when Courchesne used laserdiscs and computers to author interactive video installations. Elastic Movies (1984) and Encyclopedia Chiaroscuro (1987) triggered his lasting interest in participatory art and the use of interactive techniques in the design of experience. Courchesne’s presence in You Are Here (2010) and the proposed form of conversational interaction are inspired by his portrait works of the 1990s. Portrait One (1990), Family Portrait (1993), and Hall of Shadows (1996) all used imposed question sets to steer conversation between virtual characters and visitors.

Landscape One (1997) and Passages (1998) mark the beginning of a formal shift in Courchesne’s work from portrait to landscape. Making the connection between subject and space, identity and territory, Courchesne then re-actualized his interest for immersive space and subsequently embarked on a project to simplify the authoring process of immersive/interactive experience. This led to the invention of his Panoscope (2000) and its successive adaptations in The Visitor: Living by Numbers (2002), in the Where Are You? series (2005-2010), and in You Are Here (2010).

In parallel developments, Courchesne’s early installations exploring the effects of light and darkness on perception and behaviour connect directly to the technique he has developed for visual immersion and to the exploration of the concept of space and reality that is central to You Are Here. Light Dome (1982), a literal pre-figuration, as well as Light Proof Suit (1982), and the boat designs he created at the time, were part of his ongoing quest to define and formalize a pure experience space, one that connects directly or indirectly to the elemental forces of nature. Other less material works prefigure the type of immersive experience he creates in You Are Here: a rich, complex environment that is no longer a representation of something else but a genuine fold of the real, rightly complementing, and coexisting with, the physical and the augmented. Those early immersive works include The Center is Dark (1982), Day and Night at the Beach (1983) and the Chiaroscuro Installation (1985).

In his work through all these years, Courchesne reaffirmed his deep connection to photography and to a documentary approach using cameras as his tool for collecting primary material. The harvest is later assembled in explorable 3D environments opened for visit in works such as You Are Here. With these works, whether they qualify as installations, stills or moving circular anamorphic panoramas, Courchesne attempts to explode the frame and to invite spectators within the image space, turning them into visitors, participants and, eventually, inhabitants of the designs he crafts.

Finally, the 50th anniversary of Yves Klein’s visionary jump into the void, which is a direct inspiration for You Are Here, offers the occasion to reflect on contemporary art practices and the challenges they pose to art theory. Just as Klein’s exhibition The Void challenged the “white cube” as the quintessential space for contemporary art, You Are Here, opens onto another type of space for contemporary art: with Courchesne, the void becomes a new terrain to be explored, built and inhabited. In this sense, the title “You Are Here” points to the challenge we face after having set foot in unknown territory. Questions pertaining to subjectivity and space, identity and territory, are being asked in new ways. Interestingly, You Are Here starts where Couchesne’s 1985 book The in/visible domain ends. If we were then “sitting at the edge of the Copernican world, waiting for the invention of the rudder,” now we make use of a handheld controller (a joystick or iPhone application) affording us “legs” to leave on a journey into the unknown, an actualized concept of the free and open void that Camus was perhaps hinting at in his note to Klein 50 years ago.

1 Note left by Albert Camus at Yves Klein’s 1957 exhibition Le Vide (The Void) held at
Iris Clert gallery in Paris.

2 See The White Cube by Brian O’Doherty

3 Frédéric Berthet, Éléments de conversation, Théorie de la mondanité. Communications 30, p. 147