Imaging Kaliningrad: The Seven Bridges of Koenigsberg
John (Craig) Freeman in Collaboration with Greg Ulmer
Launch Imaging Kaliningrad: on-line
Imaging Place is a documentary virtual reality method, which uses a combination of panoramic photography and digital video to investigate place. Although the Imaging Place method borrows freely from the traditions of documentary still photography and filmmaking, the Imaging Place method departs from those traditions by using the emerging nonlinear narrative structures made possible by new interactive technologies and telecommunication apparatuses. It also seeks to expand the notion of documentary by exploring how place is internalized, mapping place as a state of mind. It is exhibited primarily in alternative art exhibition spaces, museums and over the Internet. The work is projected up to nine by twelve feet in a darkened space with a podium and a mouse placed in the center of the space, which allows the audience to navigate throughout the project. When it is activated by the click of a mouse, the project leads the user from global satellite imagery to virtual reality scenes on the ground. The user can then navigate throughout an immersive space. Rather than the linear structures of the novel or cinema, this new form allows the story of place to unfold in a meandering labyrinth of discovery and associations. The goal of the Imaging Place method is to document sites of cultural significance, which for political, social, economic or environmental reasons are under duress, at risk of destruction or undergoing substantial changes. This includes historic sites as well as sites of living culture which are being displaced by globalization and the collapse of industrial modernism.
The earliest Imaging Place work was produced in 1997 as an attempt to apply what is known about the transition from aural culture to literate culture and to shed light on the current transition from literate culture to electrate culture. Electracy is the apparatus that is to digital imaging what literacy is to alphabetic writing. In aural cultures, language is the technology used to extend and supplement human memory. The wisdom of the culture is passed on from generation to generation-through ritual storytelling. The story was easier to remember if it rhymed, but the amount of human knowledge was limited by what one person could remember. In literate culture, the written word is the technology used to extend memory. It is no longer necessary to remember the entire story. All that needs to be remembered is how to read and write. Knowledge can accumulate and can be passed over by whole generations in literate cultures. In an electrate age the Internet, the hyperlink and the image is the cybernetic, prosthetic technology we use to extend our memory.
Imaging Place is designed to accommodate interdisciplinary collaboration conducted across institutions and over distances. It uses new technology to bring disparate bodies of knowledge together through the investigation and documentation of place. The method attempts to bridge the gaps in understanding that exist between esoteric disciplines that have developed as a result of academic and industrial specialization. The technological tools are now available for bringing the work of experts together without sacrificing the depth and dimension of specialized knowledge and to connect the abstraction of highly specialized thinking with the visceral experiences of people on the ground. In addition to providing a form for the generation, dissemination and accumulation of interdisciplinary research and artistic production, the Imaging Place method provides a model strategy for collaboration.
I propose to travel to Kaliningrad Russia where the famous Swiss mathematician Leonard Euler invented Topology, a branch of mathematics, which is the key to understanding how networks are formed. The river Pregel flows through the city of Kaliningrad with two islands in the middle of the river. In 1735, when Euler was visiting the city, there were seven bridges connecting the islands to each other and to the banks of the river. A favorite pastime for visitors to the city was to try to solve the puzzle of whether or not a person could walk throughout the city and cross each of the bridges exactly once. Some people told Euler, that it was impossible, and others said that they doubted it could be done. Euler found a way to answer this question and settle everyone's doubts.
Euler realized that by representing areas of land as points, which he called vertices, and the bridges as arcs, all problems of this form could be solved.
The problem now becomes one of drawing this picture without retracing any line and without picking your pencil up off the paper. Consider this: all four of the vertices in the above picture have an odd number of arcs connected to them. Take one of these vertices; say one of the ones with three arcs connected to it. Say you're going along, trying to trace the above figure out without picking up your pencil. The first time you get to this vertex, you can leave by another arc. But the next time you arrive, you can't. So you'd better be through drawing the figure when you get there! Alternatively, you could start at that vertex, and then arrive and leave later. But then you can't come back. Thus every vertex with an odd number of arcs attached to it has to be either the beginning or the end of your pencil-path. So you can only have up to two 'odd' vertices! Thus it is impossible to draw the above picture in one pencil stroke without retracing. Accordingly it was impossible to walk through the city of Koenigsberg and only cross all seven bridges once. The navigation of Imaging Place is organized with a network of vertices, created with panoramic still photography and a network of video shots, created by walking the camera from vertex to vertex. I have also attempted to model the structure of Imaging Place after human memory. So, in a topological model, ideas are represented as vertices and associations as arcs.
This act of invention has not only been important to the architecture of the Internet, it has served as an important relay in the development of the Imaging Place project. Another important relay has been The Philosopher ıs Walk. Twenty Years after Eulerıs visit to Koenigsberg, Immanuel Kant began his academic career at the Albertus University in Koenigsberg. It is said that residents of Koenigsberg set their clocks by Professor Kantıs daily walk. The street is still called the "Philosophengang" (The Philosopher's Walk) in his memory.
I am proposing to create two new Imaging Place works in the City of Kaliningrad, one on the Seven Bridges of Koenigsberg and the other on the Philosopherıs Walk. I am also proposing to mount an exhibition of the work, in Kaliningrad, once it is completed.
This project is being developed in coordination with the Art Guide: Koenigsberg/Kaliningrad today" at the The Kaliningrad Branch of the National Centre for Contemporary Arts.