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Stan Vanderbeek and the Advent of Immersion

posted Jan 30, 2013, 10:05 PM by Ellen Pearlman

Stan Vanderbeek and the Advent of Immersion

Image from blog site Revel In New York of VanDerBeek  outside his “Movie-Drome”  at Stoney Point in upstate New York

The show Ghosts in the Machine at the New Museum has reconstructed Stan VanDerBeek’s Movie-Drome (1963-1966) which is described as an “immersive cinematic environment where the viewer is bathed in a constant stream of moving images,” a “movie mural” or a “newsreel of dreams.” The original was a 31 foot high dome constructed from a mail order catalog grain silo kit build on a platform in the woods of Stoney Point, New York. The point of the dome is to  constantly bathe the viewer in moving images from floor to ceiling, and the best way to watch the images is prone, lying on one of the many pillows and mats tossed about the room. Though the electric hum of the projectors (as opposed to the original clacking of 16 mm projectors) is a minor annoyance, its inconvenience is worth the unbelievably canny insight into a 1960’s glimpse of the future of entertainment and visual cognition. According to VanDerBeek’s daughter, August VanDerBeek, even Andy Warhol made it up for the opening performance. The original had a circular tray around 10 or 12 feet in diameter, containing many slide projectors and 16mm projectors. It would just spin around the whole room.  VanDerBeek envisioned a world wide network of these domes connected by satellites.

VanDerBeek in 1969. He described “motion pictures as graphics in motion” and “looked upon the computer as a challenge.”  Photo from Faariscar blog

Studying first at Cooper Union. and then at the infamous Black Mountain College, he worked with Allan Kaprow,  Yvonne Rainer and Claes Oldenburg. His later collaborations involved John Cage, David Tudor, Merce Cunningham and Nam June Paik. He also produced various experimental pieces at Bell Labs with Kenneth Knowlton using the first moving image programming language, called “B-Flix” for Bell Laboratory Films. An early example of these types of collaborations is the 1966 composition Poemfield No. 2. At the time the scientists described early computer graphics as being “influenced by the pointillist paintings of Seurat.” They also envisioned sending “three dimensional picture images over ordinary telephone lines.”

VanDerBeeks “untitled” - or early interactive TV

Jeffrey Shaw created “Place” a 360 degree installation in the mid 1990’s, and took the idea of immersive images even further creating “Alive” at the Hong Kong Science Park.

“Alive” at the Hong Kong Science Park

VanDerBeek died in 1984 at the age of 53.

VanDerBeek’s grave at the Green River Cemetery in the Hampton Springs, Long Island, New York, where Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner and others are buried

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