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Special Treatment VR (’05)

Special Treatment Virtual Reality Project
01/7-8/2005, by Applied Interactives, Collaboration with (art)n Lab, Chicago

I was asked to participate in this project as a sound designer/VR programmer for Applied Interactives. My core contributions were:

  • Planning where to add dialogues and sound effects in the existing virtual realty
  • Reviewing the scripts of narrations with teams
  • Editing a few hundreds of English and German dialogues
  • Producing various sound effects for the entire environments (for the year 2005 version)
  • Programming to add those audios into the environments

Project Description:

Special Treatment is an immersive and interactive CAVE(tm) piece which uses the architecture of genocide (re-purposed buildings and land, mass graves) and spoken memory as a starting point to examine the continuity of cultural memory. Whether discussing the camp at Auschwitz or the killing fields in Cambodia, there is continuing debate about whether these sites should be allowed to decay and erased from the land or if they should be conserved.

Our artist’s collaborative was inspired by this debate to create a piece that would address this privileging of the past by creating a new work meant to exhibit the persistence, even “reconstruction”, of our memories of these events. What we have created is an immersive artwork that is not a documentary of past events, but a dynamic monument to the present. We have specifically selected the medium of Virtual Reality for this work in order to fully engross participants in the experience by allowing them to create their own personal narrative – creating not a ‘virtual reality’ but an interpreted reality.

Special Treatment creates a landscape where glimpses and fragments of the structures of Birkenau establish a foundation for the changing cultural memory of that place. The immersive experience allows each participant to inhabit the scene of these events, and as they leave the evidence of their own actions and thoughts, Special Treatment is continually transformed into a new cultural record. Here is how that transformation works: each time an individual enters the VR environment of Special Treatment, they encounter evidence of those who entered the piece before them. This is evidenced not in artifacts, but through the visual solidity of the surrounding environment; which gains substance the more often it is visited and steadily fades away as it goes unvisited. Additionally, each participant is invited to add their own thoughts and memories to the environment through the placement of a stone which marks each individual’s recorded contribution. In this way, Special Treatment goes beyond the monuments of historical objects or architecture by creating a commons for the oral history of all individuals who experience the piece. By allowing each participant to make concrete their own memories or thoughts as part of the piece, Special Treatment becomes not just a representation of the collective public consciousness but may begin to affect the very cultural ether from which it springs.


Michael Workman, “Eye Exam:Hotel Birkenau,” New City Press, Chicago, Jan 2005
YoungSun Han, “Virtual Immersion: Getting Special Treatment”, Fens Magazine, Feb 2005