U razgovoru učestvovali: Matthew Shaw i Max Čelar (ScanLAB), Vernes Čaušević i Lucy Dinnen (Project V architecture) i Dario Kristić (AABiH)
Prevod razgovora na bosanski jezik možete pronaći ovdje.
[There was no real reason why I kept this interview in the works for such a long time. It was done last year, at the end of the month of May, during the Days of Architecture festival. I stashed it away with so many other precious things that I hide from myself, fearing that if I indulge in them too often, they will lose their charm. Or maybe it just to justify my laziness? But I’m rambling again…]
A series of fortunate events that involved British Council, AABH and Lift spatial initiatives brought Scan LAB, one of the most interesting practices in UK to Sarajevo. Experimenting, using and abusing the technology of laser scanning they push the boundaries of architecture, photography, film and probably few, as of now still unnamed branches of creative work. They worked with BBC, New York Times and The Guardian. So, a pretty big deal.
In collaboration with Project V architecture (Vernes Čaušević and Lucy Dinnen), they did a 3 day workshop called “Livinig memorials” with students scanning the sites important for the history of the Siege of Sarajevo. What was initially planned as a small interview morphed into a rich conversation between Matt, Max, Vernes, Lucy and me about ScanLAB’s work, workshop, history, reality and future. I tapped the black mirror of my phone and the recording started…
Please, as an introduction, tell us something about ScanLAB.
Matt: The practice was started by me and William Trossell straight out of architecture school. We trained at Bartlett school of architecture and were throughout our studies interested in technologies that have become increasingly digital while we were students and one of the crucial things that we wanted to do is being able to map the existing world to digitally fabricate the objects so we can fit them more accurately into it. We got involved into the world of 3D scanning that way and actually accidentally discovered the beautiful benefits of scanning.
How did you first start to use laser scanning?
Matt: In my fourth year at university I made a wooden object which I wanted to insert, CNC machined aluminum component into so I needed to understand the shape of the object that I carved by hand. I took it to a studio in London and asked it to have it laser scanned. They told me that it would cost £750. Of course I said – no way, I don’t have £750 so I got on Google and googled “Build your own laser scanner” and about six hours later that evening I rigged:
a laser level
and a laser that you would use to dazzle the airplane (don’t do that)
and a little web camera
and some software that I downloaded from the internet
so I built a 3d scanner in my bedroom and that’s how I got into laser scanning.
And later, the gear you now use. What is it?
Matt: We use a whole range of terrestrial laser scanners, light laser scanners and we use a lot of photogrammetry – traditional photography and complex computations.
Do you have any background in photography?
Matt: I don’t have any background in photography but people in our practice definitely do, including Soma Sato, a guy who is a Japanese professional photographer. He’s been practicing photography for more than 15 years.
Ok, because, what I wanted to talk about is your project called “Post lenticular landscapes“. I think that naming a project like that is pretty bold claim, to level yourself up with Edward Muybridge and Ansel Adams. (Laughing all around) Do you see your work as a continuation of traditional photography? Is it something that photography will morph into in the future?
Matt: I would say that if we align ourselves with any of those photographers it would be Muybridge. Like, Adams came along later on and took all glory but Muybridge was a photographer, he wasn’t necessarily an artist. He was, like a guy experimenting with this new technology. And he was also an entrepreneur and, y’know, quite a handful as a guy but he was putting his tool through its paces and testing it against all sorts of things, all sorts of ridiculous ideas.
Like you are doing right now?
And that’s a major inspiration to us. And also he was making money as well. He had to make money to survive, to do things that he wanted to. Experimenting… He wasn’t an artist, sitting in the studio. He would take on practical projects for practical reasons with practical problems and that contributed to what we see as art now.
Do you think virtual reality will start branching out? Just as in photography right now. Someone will do commercial VR, someone will do more artistic stuff, someone documentary.
Matt: Sensible businesses streamline and focus on one thing and make lots of money but I think interesting practices do lots of different things and never do the same thing twice. Always learning, always on the periphery of existing and… failure. (laugh)
Were you approached by any big company, Google or Tesla?
Matt and Max: No comment. (everyone laughs)
Let’s say that we are right now having a problem with consuming VR. You showed us a video but we were not really immersed in virtual reality, it was still just a 2d projection on the wall. There are now VR headsets readily available and they are cumbersome to use. How do you think that part of technology will develop? How will we consume VR in the future?
I’m gonna hand this over to my colleague, Max.
So in the future… We are not building the tools. The tools are being built by big companies. The augmented reality glasses and virtual reality headsets will definitely bring this digital world closer to us. They will change perception of who we are, how we interact with each other and what we create as architects and artists. The augmented reality is coming pretty soon. Probably in a decade we will see these realities, virtual and physical being almost merged. Tracking devices will play a big role as Matt said in his lecture. Tracking and scanning of this world is used by these technologies for functional reasons. When these technologies become everyday occurrence the people will start bending the rules and make art.
“The augmented reality glasses and virtual reality headsets will definitely bring this digital world closer to us. They will change perception of who we are, how we interact with each other and what we create as architects and artists. The augmented reality is coming pretty soon. Probably in a decade we will see these realities, virtual and physical being almost merged.”
Tell us about refugee project. I have a kind of feeling that with the development of VR and people being more immersed there’s a possibility that people would start to relate more with tragedies. For example we could transport people in 1993 Sarajevo and experience the siege. What do you think how it will change perception of tragedy and memorials?
Matt: I do think that’s true. At least I think the potential is there but I think that with the refugee crisis there was a mad proliferation of virtual reality experiences that did the one liner, basically a VR that puts you in a boat and therefore you are supposed to empathize with the people who are in that situation because you’re there. To a certain extent our piece did that as well but I really think that there’s a lot more to it than just being there and just seeing stuff. Our VR tried to put you there as a displaced witness, an observer. There are bunch of VR pieces that try to make you feel like a refugee. Just sitting in a boat in the middle of the ocean doesn’t mean you are a refugee. There’s a family, here’s…
Lucy interjects: there’s an ethical kind of question… You can be a refugee through this technology but there’s none of the emotional component, desperation, fear and everything else that goes through those people’s heads. Therefore I think that idea of witnessing it is much more tangible, much less ethically questionable.
Dario: I remember the game, called “This war of mine” that happens in kinda-but-not-quite Sarajevo and it was really difficult for me to judge whether it’s good to show people what happened or whether it was just exploitation.
Max: Yeah, is it just spectacle, entertaining people with something that should be appreciated as a… yeah, where’s the balance?
Matt: We took the position in “Displaced Witness” that we would only show what we saw, and what we heard and you would see what we saw and feel what we felt, physically. We wouldn’t edit it, we would try not to edit it as much as we could. I think that approach was also done with another project “in limbo” with “The Guardian”, about the asylum seeking process in UK. And it took a very, very different line, they have years and years and years of journalistic experience so they wrote the story through research and they tried to come up with the best way to tell that story in the most powerful way. I think it comes down to the expertise as well. We are expert observers because of our technology, they are expert journalists so they know how to research and come to a conclusion. At least we hope they do. So I guess you have to be aware of your limitations and qualifications to show something that important.
Obligatory boring question about your work in Sarajevo… (Everybody bursting with laughter) Yes, I should learn to phrase my questions better.
Matt: Umm, from our point of view… I dunno, it’s tricky. On the one hand, the most important thing is that we came to teach a bunch of students. We met some students who you couldn’t have expected to know anything about scanning technology and, because of the educational system that they are in probably are not used to digital experimentation as much as we are. So to meet them and give them a chance in brief to see and do something is most important. If you ask what we have done in the last three days, we worked like in many of our projects, we have to come along with our skillset and know our limitations of our knowledge of architectural remnants of tragedies which you were bearing witness to but which we are not experts in so it has been kind of fascinating and it is nice to work with colleagues like this who try to shine a light on interesting and socially responsible way of dealing with these spaces.
What I noticed in your work presented here, a hotel, Holiday Inn, at one point looked really damaged, like it was burnt. It was probably a “happy accident”. How often do you find these non-intentional mistakes that somehow enrich your work in a way that you probably didn’t expect?
Max: Happy accidents in ScanLAB is like, yeah… Our main pursue… (Max laughs)… is to establish scenarios that happy accidents work in. However in this workshop we had a bit of conversation, not about that particular happy accident but a different one where digital replicas looked more war damaged than the real thing. And these are the realities of a workshop when you have one scan, two scans, but in the end we had a very interesting conversation with the student about how this is not actually helpful representation because it is a misrepresentation of the facts.
Max: You can call it impressionism or something like that.
Vernes: the original photos became quite important to use, historical photos which would fill in the gaps when we didn’t have enough time to do another scan.
Lucy: I also think that we had a specific example which is Nedžarići. What we did and what student was really keen, was to actually focus on the detail because from afar it did look quite damaged but actually rather than that, she saw that usually focusing on the detail with a scanner, internally within the building would pick up so much detail and texture which she could use to represent the side of the building that nobody ever sees because nobody walks through there.
Dario: Especially electric station.
Lucy: Yes, exactly! Especially electric station. So, again, it was another one where actually focusing on detail and architecture in a different way it was bringing out something within. Each animation was focusing around one of these historical photographs but actually each student also found a way to draw around something unique or challenging, something they haven’t expected about the site, and something they didn’t know before the scanning. It was really educational and, I think as a set of animations they will be educational for the people here, to see different approaches and different interpretations.
I mean, imagine, and this is why I think it important preserving and talking about because what we did with ScanLab, in the city there are maybe sights that some people would like to erase from the public conscience for various reasons.
There’s definitely again parallel with photography (here I go again). It is objectively captured reality but there’s something more in it.
Matt: Yeah, we set this rule at the start of the workshop. Scan number one is to try and find photographic position and scan from there. Scan number two is your decision and you have to be very, very much aware that this is not a forensic investigation where you’re gonna cover everything and document everything impartially. You are making a choice and you have to take responsibility for that choice as well.
Vernes: During the first scan every student would listen to about five minute presentation on historical background and the current political discourse about the sites and what is at stake at each site. So, they would first have to learn how to use the technology for the first scan but then already have to be thinking critically about the site from the information they’ve been told and from having that time to learn and see what was around them. Then they could position the scan the way they wanted and then thinking about the animation they would make, story they will tell in this spontaneous moment.
Lucy: I think that creative freedom for each student, that it was their chance to critically consider the current political context and the piece of architecture in front of them was really liberating, they really enjoyed it. Scanning days were a lot of fun. Conversations, engagement… I think often these things are often overlooked in education. Actually encouraging students to have a critical guideline about their current environment. It has been really wonderful to do that.
Last question: architecture and virtual reality – you are at the forefront of it. What do you think, what will develop in the future? We are now starting to design virtual buildings, in the future we will do it even more. Currently, real, built architecture is in crisis. Will we find some liberation in VR?
Matt: I think what we are talking about is digital versions of the world or digital compliments to the world becoming more and more important and more in line or at least closely experienced along the real world. Like I said in the lecture, architects should take the opportunity to think about the digital that accompanies their real. They don’t do that at the moment. They use digital to make their real and then forget about it. Occasionally people do some digital monitoring like the air flow through the building or something but they are building a canvas that will be exploited by its occupants digitally but also by whole bunch of advertisers and mapping companies and technology companies so they really need to engage with this other life of their building that is happening in the digital ether around them.
Will we construct other realities, like merging game technologies and move completely into digital.
Max: We already are. We already are! We’ve been doing that for so long. It’s just getting more and more immersive. The biggest breakthrough will be when the both worlds combine into one. Then we will not treat something as digital or physical. It’s going to be THE reality. Right now you can live without your phone. That will have even greater impact than the phone because it will directly influence your sensory activities. Your phone is still a detached device. When technology becomes part of you it will augment your vision, hearing, maybe something else, smell, touch…. You will be able to make spatially unlimited worlds. Or, you could start erasing ugly architecture. It’s a joke, in a way. I need to give you my thesis that is all about digitally erasing fragments.
Maybe everyone can have their own reality? For example, if you don’t like some building you could paint it or erase it completely from your sight. Maybe you could put a tree there instead of the building?
Max. The physical will be a framework for the virtual.
Lucy: I think what’s interesting is and we had that in conversation last night is when you get there, it’s about who’s controlling these landscapes. Ant it’ corporate control. If you think about fake news and facebook and the fact that we are only fed the things that we will like anyway.
If this also becomes reality that you don’t see things you don’t like there’s a huge discourse around that I think can be really fascinating (maybe some kind of blockchain verified reality is a solution?) the limitations and responsibility of corporations who provide these things.
Like fake news but fake reality.
I mean, imagine, and this is why I think it important preserving and talking about because what we did with ScanLab, in the city there are maybe sights that some people would like to erase from the public conscience for various reasons. There is a possibility for corporation or government to do that so actually capturing reality now is also an archive because it can, actually, you know, remain.
Yeah, they could download the Yosemite park and drill for oil and people would never know.
Matt: And what is also going to happen is that you will be walking down the street and you are going to be bombarded by augmented adverts and imagine of you could also be bombarded by history and old news and street art. The advertising is like driverless car thing. 3D scanning will become more prolific because of phones will need and the cars will need it so the automotive industry and tech industry will make it cheaper. Advertising will lead content for VR and AR, ultimately it will because it needs all content but then there is another we can fight that and tell much more important stories then buying cigarettes.
Max: I personally think that advertising is going to find new ways to advertise the products within VR and AR because it will have many more ways to show it without you even knowing it’s advertising.
Now, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t use adblock so people will resist this and wouldn’t want to watch ads but advertisers will find the way to advertise their content.
Matt: a lot of advertising is now disguised as news but also disguised as art.
Max: It will become more personalized and that’s going to be very dangerous, each part of reality tailored perfectly to convince you. This is kind of endless discussion we are currently having in ScanLAB.
Lucy: one other thing to add is as things become more digital and the reality becomes less tangible in its digital nature, there is a possibility that will also be a rebellion, a counter culture to that which is actually about physical and that in itself is quite exciting. We have come to a point where physical, material reality is very global and actually we’re not really related that much to production, materials and source of that materials. This can be really interesting counter culture in architecture design. It has already started in so many ways.
Matt: Yeah, definitely.
Lucy: I just look forward to the idea that this plastic kind of nature of physical reality might finally come to an end.