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Beyond Manzanar

Main Page

History and
project origins

virtual reality

In the wake
of Sept. 11




Within an enclosed darkened room, the image of Beyond Manzanar's 3-dimensional space is projected onto a large, wall-sized screen. The life-sized image fills your field of view and gives you a feeling of immersion within the virtual space. A joystick mounted on a pedestal in the middle of the room allows you to move your viewpoint at will through the virtual space. Speakers mounted on either side of the screen provide stereo sound. Although only one person at a time can control movement in the space, others can watch and share the experience.

We have combined techniques of computer games and theater design to create a highly symbolic, often surreal environment with a poetic reality stronger than photorealism. The mountain panorama that defines the Manzanar site forms a constant backdrop for shifting layers of superimposed context. Open doors lead viewers through spaces that react to their presence, shifting between home and prison, between paradise and wasteland, to investigate Manzanar as a layering of contradictory and complementary images and emotions for two groups of immigrants. Archival photographs of Manzanar Internment Camp alternate with paradise gardens constructed from ancient Japanese scrolls and Persian miniature paintings; images of the immigrant American Dream alternate with media images of betrayal and hatred.

Sound is also an important mechanism to set the emotional and cultural context: The constant moan of the desert wind or the cool burbling of water from a fountain; the scream of war jets or a woman singing a love song.

The virtual space is sensitive to your presence, shifting context around you to change your emotional relationship to the space. If you follow an open road, barbed wire appears to block your path. If you enter a dark barrack you may find yourself in a pavilion overlooking a paradise garden - that disappears when you try to enter it, as if you suddenly awake from a dream.

For images and excerpted3D scenes, please go to the Demos/Images page.

1998-2002 Tamiko Thiel and Zara Houshmand