Siggraph '99 Educational Abstract

This interactive, multi-media project was created by artist Victor Raphael with the support of ZZYZX Visual Systems, a digital service company, founded by Bob Goldstein. The CD-ROM is a virtual exhibition of Raphael’s "Space Field" series that can be viewed anywhere on a personal computer. This CD-ROM has been accepted into the collections of The Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Bibiliotheque national de France, and the Skirball Museum, Los Angeles. In addition to it’s artistic merits, the CD-ROM is an educational tool. Teacher Jane Raphael has used the CD-ROM in her multi-age primary classroom.

Jane Raphael explains, "as we prepare to step into the 21st Century educators continue to ask, "What’s worth teaching?" and "How will learning best occur?". Information and knowledge is expanding at such an accelerated rate that what our children need to know is very different than what was needed a generation ago. Victor Raphael’s "Creative Journey" CD-ROM can help educators who are asking these questions. The CD-ROM renders the Universe a tangible miracle to students. It brings the question, "What is our place in the universe?" into focus as a point of student inquiry". The artwork, based on NASA images from outer space, and the audio, based on plasma sounds from our solar system, send the students on a personal journey into space. As they navigate through Victor Raphael’s artwork, students are using technology as a vehicle for exploration. They see images of the planets, stars and galaxies. This imagery is both awe inspiring and provocative. One student saw rocks that were banging into a spacecraft and the next moment she was using the cursor to trace around the tendrils of a spiral nebula.

As the connection between the arts and learning becomes clear and evident, "A Creative Journey" is a tool to bring art into the classroom. Jane Raphael continues, "viewing the artwork is the common experience that allows us to respond to, interpret meaning and make critical judgments, as individuals, in a group context. When students view Victor’s artwork I raise such questions as, What do you see?, What is it about?, and How do you know?. The student’s descriptions of what they see ranges from twisters and rainbows, to the moon, earth and stars. This talk about art seamlessly transitions into talk about science. It is in this transition that I am able to access what the children already know about the universe. The unanswered questions they bring, shape future investigations into this unit of study. A child’s ability to critically focus on an artwork is developed when they need to find the point of symmetry in order to interact and navigate the artwork. Using the art as a visual text to be "read" for specific information gives support and confidence to those students whose strengths lie in visual perception".

Once students have explored the artwork and raised scientific questions about our solar system they are able to explore Victor’s studio interactively, and through the movie section, observe the artist and his creative process. This becomes a virtual field trip to the artist’s studio after viewing his artwork. The CD-ROM also explore the collaborations with computer artists and technicians. As Bob Goldstein relates, "We shot video of Victor in his studio creating the "Space Field" series and explaining the history and methods of his work. We made videos of all the technicians; digital camera operator, computer artist, programmer, qtvr artists, and Iris printer operator to demystify the process and show other artists and students how art, science and technology come together. Few people have seen an Iris printer and fewer still know how it operates. As the Iris is the leading device in the fine art printing world we thought it important to feature it".

Goldstein describes how the CD-ROM project began, "I began working with Victor Raphael, who came to me to help him produce fine art Iris prints from his Polaroid work. As Victor and I got into the process, I became fascinated with the way his images were transformed when they were digitized and viewed on a computer monitor. I was also interested in the process Victor was personally going through seeing his art in a new way and beginning to work in the digital world. I thought that Victor represented a new breed of artist making the transition from traditional to digital art and I proposed we document this transformation. Because we were using a myriad of sophisticated digital devices and highly talented technicians I thought we could blend the art and science of digital imaging into an interesting "Creative Journey" that would not only document an artist process, but the entire late 20th Century digital production process as well."

Victor Raphael’s highly acclaimed "Space Field" series, created by shooting Polaroids of NASA images later enhanced in his studio with metal and gold leaf applications to the surface of the prints, provided the source material for digital transformation. The artists has a strong emotional attachment to the subject matter stating, "When I was a kid growing up in the 1950’s, I was excited about the prospect of being an astronaut and going out into space....I think that working with these space images was a way for me to put myself out there and create my own fantasy about space". Because we live in a time where the common experience of viewing the heavens has been minimized by urban light pollution, our primal desire to connect to something larger than ourselves goes unsatisfied. Especially with young learners, the CD-ROM provides an easy entry point to the student interested in making sense of the world.

In the opening artist statement which begins the CD-ROM, Victor continues, "all of these images of space are new and have come into being in our lifetime....I’m depicting space as a metaphor for a micro-macro relationship, both of which offer a glimpse into infinity...I want people to slow down when they look at these images because there is something incredible about our place in the universe, when we can think about ourselves as a very small planet in perhaps endless and vast expanses of space". For students of all ages, "A Creative Journey" integrates art, science and technology to provide an initial engagement in a compelling unit of study.