▸ virtual environments

n o w h e r e — ein Welt Raum Spiel

n o w h e r e  is a GameMod,
a modification of the Egoshooter Unreal. 2005 

Users move freely in all directions of this virtual 3D-space. Architecture, sound, voice-over and images support an immersive effect.

Flying through space and time is a metaphor to reflect the intellectual world of The Crystal Chain, a group of architects and artists founded by Bruno Taut in 1919 to share utopian ideas by way of correspondence.

I treat Wittgenstein's propositions more like axioms. When I negate the axiom, 'We make ourselves a picture of the world' and say, 'We make ourselves a world from a picture' then I create the whole of Constructivism.* Heinz von Foerster

Sylvia Eckermann

n o w h e r e 2005, still image

Mere depiction was not the aim of our work, nor transferring the two-dimensional sketches, designs and drawings into the third dimension. We rather intended to entice the viewer into a simulation of a historic world of utopian ideas. Thus, in  n o w h e r e  Wenzel Hablik's outer-space painting Sternenhimmel (Starry Sky, 1909) appears as a dense, sometimes concave, sometimes convex cosmos, situated in an unknown system of suns, of agglomerations of stars, satellites, flying machines and airborne colonies. Some of these celestial bodies are inspired by text fragments from Paul Scheerbart's Glasarchitektur (Glass Architecture), a work by the man of letters who died in 1915 and who influenced the proponents of the Crystal Chain immensely: »Paradise beetles, light fish, orchids, shells, pearls, diamonds and so on—all of this together is the most magnificent on the surface of the earth—and this is all to be found in glass architecture. It is the highest—a pinnacle of culture.« (Glasarchitektur, 1914)

In  n o w h e r e  a cluster of planets—an interstellar stairway—beams the visitors (the navigating cosmonauts, so to speak) into the space of contemporary architecture—a room full of citations and collages in shining colours.

»Glück ohne Glass – wie dumm ist das!« (Happiness without glass—how dumb is that!), »Was wäre die Konstruktion ohne den Stahlbeton? « (What would construction be without reinforced concrete?), »Ohne einen Glaspalast ist das Leben eine Last!« (Without a crystal palace life is a burden). These hardly translatable examples are citations of the Glashaus Dictum formulated by Paul Scheerbart for the glass house constructed by Bruno Taut for the Werkbundausstellung in Cologne in 1914. In  n o w h e r e  these text fragments shine through fragmented extracts of contemporary architecture that appear in front of the visitor like dazzling coronas before they fade away again.

A crystal appears; in its faceting the cosmos is reflected entirely. The visitor encounters this crystal in all the segments of  n o w h e r e . It is the teleporter, the gate, the wormhole—it links to the cosmos itself from where the journey continues. The crystal as universal metaphor and basic element of nature at the same time was a crucial metaphor for our protagonists: for them, it was pervaded by light, unifying outside and inside, simultaneously form and spirit, an inorganic material growing similarly to a biological organism, a reflection of man to come. In  n o w h e r e , the visitor penetrates the crystal, forming a relationship of reciprocal transferences and penetrations of form as well as of meaning. And—as if one was inside a multi-faceted microcosm—the polygons delineating the crystal's inside become an immersive kaleidoscope.

A particular crystalline form is assigned to Wenzel Hablik, Bruno Taut, Wassili Luckhardt, Hermann Finsterlin, Hans Scharoun and other proponents. Like a chain, link after link lines up on invisible threads. They seem to be enclosed in this form that appeared so important to them—like the insect caught up in resin that has become stone. Where they twinkle like inclusions in the light of the stars there are other links and invisible portals. One enters a prismatic lucent cylinder in which mountain panoramas revolve through fog. This place is dedicated to the Alpine Architecture (1917-1918) by Bruno Taut, the spokesman of the Crystal Chain. His drawings seem to become real inside the mountain chains—crystal nests adorn the ice crevasses, chrysocolla, amethyst and bismuth tower upwards like futuristic buildings competing with the mountain tops. The area dedicated to Wassili Luckhardt does not tell of the vastness of the starry sky but of the stronghold of fortress construction. His designs for buildings of worship (around 1920) are external views of crystalline-formed glass architecture that are interpreted as a possible interior view in the virtual architecture  n o w h e r e .

The sparkle around Wenzel Hablik's crystal is the transition to his Schöpferische Kräfte (Creative Powers), a series of etchings (1912) that tell of the becoming and being of crystal, of birth and death. The cosmonaut—the visitor—in  n o w h e r e  is able to discover this and much more as he flies on his freely chosen path through the cosmos of the Crystal Chain.

Sylvia Eckermann


*Translated from: Heinz von Foerster, in: Teil der Welt, "Zweiter Akt: 'Ich bin Teil der Welt'", page 115, 2002

Sylvia Eckermann

n o w h e r e 2005, still image

Gerald Nestler: co-author, text.
Oliver Irschitz: production, interface design.
Christoph Cargnelli: spatial acoustics.
Frédéric Lion, Marcin Glowacki: voice over.
commissioned by thecrystalweb°

2006: media@terra International Art + Technology Festival, Athens GR,
3rd International Digital Art Festival, Changzhou CN,
11-art.com, Dashanzi Beijing CN,
Architekturzentrum, Innsbruck AT
2005: Heiligenkreuzerhöfe, Vienna A.

Sylvia Eckermann

Sylvia Eckermann

n o w h e r e 2005, still images

Sylvia Eckermann
Sylvia Eckermann

n o w h e r e 2005, still images

Joseph Squire, Nan Goggin

n o w h e r e 

n o w h e r e  is a Mod of the game Unreal Tournament 2003. UT is a multiplayer first-person shooter game. There’s a sketchy plot about a victorious invasion of “human space” by an armada of alien warships, and the establishment of gladiatorial tournaments for the entertainment of the subjugated masses. Players compete in teams against aliens, gene-boosted humans, and robots. The goal is to get yourself a bad-ass weapon, like the Lightning Gun, and seek to achieve maximum mayhem.

UT In the hands of Sylvia Eckermann, however, UT is something entirely different. She has stripped out all of the details of the original UT world and left only the rough geometrical shapes and planes of the virtual space. What remains is a surprisingly serene world of soft lighting and almost transparent surfaces. And unlike the original UT, there is no strategy or competitive climax, no discreet beginning or end, no explicit narrative. There is no obvious point to the experience, except to calmly float through a minimalistic cosmic universe.
The transformation that Eckermann has accomplished is startling and ironic. Who would have ever thought that lurking beneath the surface of a world explicitly built for slaughter was a parallel world with an opposite soul?
This yin/yang polarity seems to be exactly Eckermann‘s intent; a ritual healing by appropriation, a gentle revenge. Through a process of subtraction, stripping away detail and reverse engineering the game engine, Eckermann’s virtual world becomes more abstract yet oddly more human. n o w h e r e  is an act of pacifist reappropriation, with Eckermann playing the part of humanistic saboteur.
Eckermann‘s inspiration for n o w h e r e  came from a secret society of modernist architects called The Crystal Chain (in German: Die Gläserne Kette) that formed in Berlin around 1920. They shared a utopian vision that viewed architecture as a vehicle for social change. In their writings, group members talked extensively about glass as a building material and it became emblematic of many of their ideals. Although the group itself was short-lived, its members ended up having significant impact on twentieth-century architecture.

Without this context, the work is still sensual and pleasurable. But knowing the background gives extra dimension and weight to the project. It is as though Eckermann is trying to manifest the ideals of The Crystal Chain in virtual space, perhaps creating a virtual architectural space that is a closer embodiment of those ideals than anything the original creators were able to accomplish during their own era.

This text was originally published in: Ninth Letter, 2006