Vorschau / Preview: December 2005

Tamiko Thiel

For the December Upgrade! Munich, Tamiko Thiel requests the honor of your presence and engagement to user-test her work-in-progress "The Travels of Mariko Horo," a virtual reality installation.


Tamiko Thiel is developing the dramatic and narrative capabilities of interactive 3D virtual reality as a medium for addressing social and cultural issues. She received her B.S. in 1979 from Stanford University in Product Design Engineering with a focus on human factors design. Her M.S. was in Mechanical Engineering in 1983 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where she studied human-machine design at the Biomechanics Lab and computer graphics at the precursors to the Media Lab. She then studied studio art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, Germany, where she received a Diploma in Applied Graphics in 1991, specializing in video installation art.

Since then she has been exhibiting internationally in venues such as the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Siggraph, and the ICA/London. She was creative director and producer of Starbright World, an award-winning 3D online virtual playspace for seriously ill children done in collaboration with film director and Starbright Foundation chairman Steven Spielberg. Her virtual reality installation Beyond Manzanar is in the permanent collection of the San Jose Museum of Art in Silicon Valley, California, and is discussed in Whitney Museum media art curator Christiane Paul’s reference book Digital Art. Current virtual reality works in progress include "The Travels of Mariko Horo," a reverse Marco Polo fantasy about a Japanese woman who constructs the exotic West, and "Virtuelle Mauer/ReConstructing the Wall" on the Berlin Wall.

She has taught and lectured internationally at institutions such as Carnegie Mellon University, the MIT Media Lab, the Bauhaus-University in Weimar, Germany, UC/San Diego, the University of Southern California School of Cinema-Television and the School of Film and Television in Babelsberg, Germany. In 2003 she was a Japan Foundation Fellow in Kyoto, Japan and in 2004-2005 a Research Fellow at the Center for Advanced Visual Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In March 2005 she founded the Upgrade! Munich.

The Travels of Mariko Horo
Sometime between the 12th and the 22nd centuries a woman journeys westward from Japan, traveling through space and time. She is called Mariko Horo, Mariko the Wanderer, and she is searching for the "Isle of the Blest," the Western Paradise of Buddhist mythology said to be floating in the Western Seas. She does indeed find Paradise, but finds also a chilling, darker side to the West, an island where lost souls are held in an eternal Limbo. She encapsulates her impressions of the places she visits in a series of “Horo-grams,” 3D virtual spaces. She invites you to visit her worlds and see the West through her eyes.

"The Travels of Mariko Horo" is an interactive 3D virtual reality installation. The image is generated in real time on a fast gaming PC and projected on a large 9’x12’ screen to produce an immersive experience. Users move their viewpoint through the virtual environment with a joystick or similar navigational input device. Mariko is a fictitious character I have invented to incorporate the viewpoint for this project - users will never actuall see Mariko, except perhaps in a mirror. In essence they will be Mariko, seeing the exotic and mysterious Occident through her eyes and her experiences. The virtual environment is sensitive to their presence, changing around them as a result of their movements and actions: An empty church fills with saints who vanish into the heavens. A basilica transports the user directly into the Western Cosmos, where angels sing the praises of the Goddess of Compassion. A pavilion takes users deep into the underwater realm of the Heavenly King. A plain wooden chapel leads into a Limbo of constant torment.

Music for Mariko Horo is embedded in the piece itself, localized to specific places within the 3D worlds. The composer Ping Jin, Professor of Music at SUNY/New Paltz, studied music both in his native China and in the USA. Ping describes the music as “creating a sonic dimension for Mariko's meditation on the mythic West. Created from both sampled and computer generated sounds, there are fusions and juxtapositions of Eastern and Western sounds to enhance the scene and mood of each section.”

"The Travels of Mariko Horo" is planned as a series of journeys, with each journey a complete work in itself. Completion of the First Journey: In Search of the Western Paradise will be in late 2005.


"The Travels of Mariko Horo"
 Tamiko Thiel website