Abstracted: A Space Odyssey

Video Loop 

8 minutes 8 seconds


A wireframe figure floats, rotating in a void. There is no background, no scene, only a figure within an empty space, serenaded by the sound of a faint electronic signal. Drifting in this vacuum, coded messages, transmissions, and internal thoughts all merge into a constant din. Here an explorer, void of context, will be transformed continually into shapes that suggest an abstracted alien landscape. The individual becomes one with the idea of his destination.


Increasingly, humanity is connected through signals. Great distances are easily overcome through digitally abstracted communications. Images and sounds are captured, coded, and sent great distances, to be translated later and—we hope—understood. While human influence and knowledge continue to expand, our connections seem tenuous. We bounce a beam of light or sound off a distant object or we send a coded packet through protracted wires, all with the expectation of connecting with someone or something in a faraway land.


Exploration has always fascinated me. I’m captivated by the never-ending search for information, meaning, and a purpose for our existence. Regardless of date, distance, direction, or technology, this pushing of boundaries has played an essential role in the development of human consciousness. Exploration is a platform upon which science, art, philosophy, and mythology all merge to extend our collective human impact and imagination.  


There was a time, now long past, when monsters populated the edges of maps. This was a period when recollections, drawings, and samples   lands. Now, we are able to explore neighborhoods, streets, continents, and other planets with the aid of flying, all-seeing satellites. Tools to aid our indirect observation of anywhere, from our backyards to distant moons, are now available 24/7. As technology proliferates, our daily existence is increasingly influenced by information and connections with people from all over the earth. Distance has become a relative concept. There is virtually no delay in communications between people on opposite sides of the earth. While sea voyages once took months or years to complete, a short video chat, SMS, or social media message now takes only seconds. It seems as though time and space are being folded into an unseen digital dimension. 


Our history books were once filled with stories of great explorers like Magellan, Cook, Gagarin, and Armstrong. Now, we hear stories of Voyager, Pioneer, Spirit, and Opportunity, the fearless pioneers whose bionic eyes enable us to see and experience a greater universe. We no longer need to experience a directly in order to understand something about it. Photographs, spectral analysis, and numerous other data sources in order to give us the experience of distant places. We even come to know well without ever having met.


I am also fascinated by obstacles to communication. Having lived abroad and traveled extensively, I am aware of how rarely simple communication is a simple act. Subjected to distance, language, or digital interference, our messages risk confusion at every turn. This possibility becomes far more dynamic when transmissions rely upon technology. 


While making this work, I wondered what it might look like to see the noise that surrounds us. How could messages, sounds, and signals envelop a person? Imagining this, I wanted to stay within the concept of space exploration. Maps, 3D models, and games were all sources of visual inspiration for this project. As I thought of these, I began to imagine sound more as a physical distortion than as static or image glitch. 


In this , the resulting transformations look similar to low-resolution 3D landscape models, while the accompanying soundscape sways between familiar and manipulated tones. This anonymous character is left to float indefinitely between representation and digital abstraction.


Barry Whittaker