The following is an interview with the artist Victor Raphael, conducted by Desiree Roy, artist and animator from Pittsburgh, PA.
Victor Raphael is an artist based in Los Angeles who works in a variety of media including painting, photography, video, and the computer. Victor graduated from UCLA in 1973, Magna Cum Laude. His artwork has been exhibited internationally, and can be found in such collections as the Museum of Modern Art, The Bibliotheque nationale de France, and the Skirball Museum. He has been the recipient of two grants from the Polaroid Corporation. Victor will be honored in May 2000 with a retrospective of his work at the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art at Pepperdine University. Victor began using the computer in his artwork around 1995, when he began collaborating with Bob Goldstein on the creation of the CD-ROM, A CREATIVE JOURNEY. This was Victor's first time at Siggraph.
The CD-ROM, A CREATIVE JOURNEY renders the Universe a tangible miracle to students. The artwork, based on NASA images from outer space, and the audio, based on plasma sounds from the solar system, sends the students on a personal journey into space.
DR: How did, A CREATIVE JOURNEY develop? Did someone or something inspire you to integrate your artwork with scientific images from NASA?
VR: Initially, I was interested in making Iris prints from the painted Polaroids that had been a staple in my artwork for many years. When we began to digitize the Polaroids, the images were so increadibly beautiful on the computer screen that the idea of displaying the work in a CD-ROM presentation became a compelling idea. So the evolution of "A Creative Journey" was a very organic process. From the beginning of the project to the pressing of the first edition of the CD-ROM took about a year and a half. I had been interested in space since I was a kid. As an artist I feel that these NASA Images are new images for us, unique to our time. I'm not interested in being scientifically acurate about the images I work with. I am more interested in abstracting these images and exploring the relationship between the micro and macro worlds. Both of which offer a glimpse into the infinate.
DR: How can A CREATIVE JOURNEY be implemented into a curriculum? Do You think it can enhance teaching and learning about art and science? In what way?
VR: When students view the artwork from the "Space Field" series, teachers can ask such questions as, What do you see?, What is the art about? and How do you know? This series, based on NASA images from outer space, and the audio, based on plasma sounds from our solar system, conjure up images of planets, stars and galaxies. The student's response to, interpretation of and critical judgement about the art can seamlessly transition into talk about science as the teacher brings into focus what the students already know about the universe, as well as their misconceptions and unanswered questions. Those misconceptions and questions shape future investigations into a unit on space that specifically adresses the children's curiousity and needs. Viewing the artwork allows students to share, individually, in a group context, their impressions of what they are seeing and what the artwork is about. The student's descriptions have ranged from twisters, rainbows, the moon, earth and stars to cells. Two kindergarten students once had a lively discussion trying to convince the other of what they were seeing. One child's description, stimulated by what she knew of our solar system, said it was a galaxy. While the other child was convinced he was seeing cheerios. This talk about the art was a natural steeping stone into talk about science, as the teacher helped them to justify their point of view. My wife is a teacher and she tells me how exciting it is to see the kind of scientific investigations that are shaped by the student's looking and talking about art.
DR: Do you think there is a creative process in science that is similar to the one involved in the creation of an artwork?
VR: I think there are many similarities. Scientists and artist are both involved in asking deep questions about our exisitance. And both art and science tend to be process oriented, where failure often leads to newquestions and new discoveries.
DR: How do you think your work is expanding the horizons of computer graphics and interactive techniques?
VR: What we have done with the CD-ROM "A Creative Journey" is use state of the art digital technology to present my artwork to new audiences, in an interactive multi-media format. There are many people who either don't have access or are uncomfortable in the gallery and museum world. I wanted to be able to share my work with anyone, anywhere in the world. As I learn more about the computer, I'm excited to discover new tools I can use to continue to transform my artwork and engage new audiences.
DR: Did you find that your experience designing, A CREATIVE JOURNEY brought a new perspective to your work as an artist?
VR: The QuicktimeVR's of the artwork have allowed me to extend the experience of the work in a new way. Instead of being limited to a two dimensional piece, viewers can interactively travel through the artwork. Zooming in and out with the keyboard and navigating at various speeds with the mouse allows the viewer to become not only a participant but a collaborator in creating variations in the imagery. As new technologies and softwares are developed, I'm excited to see where the work might go from here.
DR: Have you always been involved in computer graphics? Do you think interactive educational material can be helpful in learning about art and science?
VR: My initiation into the digital world began in 1995 when I began working with ZZYZX to create Iris prints. The recognition that the CD-ROM had educational value was a result of my wife letting her students use it in the classroom. She has always advocated interactive learning materials as a way for teachers to wake up the soup of the mind and engage the children in critical thinking. The CD-ROM instantly became a tool for her to teach basic computer literacy, visual literacy, art criticism, and as an initial engagemenent into a unit on "Space".
DR: When you were developing A CREATIVE JOURNEY, did you think it would be chosen for SIGGRAPH 99? How was your experience at SIGGRAPH 99? Was the response to the CD-ROM positive?
VR: I had no idea that "A Creative Journey" would be chosen for SIGGRAPH99. I had gotten positive responses from certain quarters of the artworld where the CD-ROM had been accepted into several museum collections. But the acceptence to SIGGRAPH was a real vote of confidence from the computer world. In addition to our panel presentation, the CD-ROM was included in the electronic playground, and my artwork was also included in the art gallery. The experience of meeting artist and programers from all over the world at SIGGRAPH99 was incredable. The response to the CD-ROM has been extremely positive. Both as a work of art, and as an educational tool for the classroom.
DR: Finally, are you satisfied with the work you did for A CREATIVE JOURNEY, as well as with the overall collaborative experiences with the many individuals who assisted you in your goal? Are you currently developing any new interactive educational programs and do you think we will see them exhibited at SIGGRAPH 2000?
VR: The process of collaborating with so many talented digital artists and programers was one of the best creative experiences of my life. I think we challenged each other to produce the best work we could. For me, it was an increadable learning experience, almost like a crash course in the digital world. Currently, I'm preparing for a mid-carreer retrospective at the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art for May 2000. So I won't be working on any new interactive educational projects until after the show. But I look forward to participating in SIGGRAPH again.