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Interrogating Torture

Professor Scott Rettberg presents hybrid virtual reality project about battlefield torture at Human Rights Human Wrong Festival Documentary Film Festival in Oslo.

From a showing of Hearts and Minds in the CAVE2 VR environment at the Electronic Visualisation Lab at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Viewers at a showing of Hearts and Minds in the CAVE2 VR environment at the Electronic Visualisation Lab at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Performance artist Mark Jeffrey led the audience through the interactive artwork. From a showing of Hearts and Minds in the CAVE2 VR environment at the Electronic Visualisation Lab at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Hearts and Minds: The Interrogations Project, 2014, Roderick Coover, Scott Rettberg, Daria Tsoupikova, and Arthur Nishimoto, CAVE2 multimedia installation
Photo:
Daria Tsoupokova

On Friday, February 13th at 7PM at Litteraturhuset Oslo, UiB Professor of Digital Culture Scott Rettberg will be part of a special screening of a new media artwork focused on abuses of prisoners in Iraq during the American counter-insurgency campaign during the early 2000s and a debate focused on torture and its consequences.

Hearts and Minds: The Interrogations Project is a virtual reality artwork originally made for the CAVE2 immersive virtual reality environment at the Electronic Visualization Lab in Chicago, based on interviews of American soldiers conducted by political science researcher, Dr. John Tsukayama. It addresses a complex contemporary problem: as American soldiers are returning from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it has become clear that some participated in interrogation practices and acts of abusive violence with detainees for which they were not properly trained or psychologically prepared. This has in turn left many soldiers dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder on their return home, and many unresolved questions. In Hearts and Minds, we navigate in 3D through ordinary domestic environments, such as a boy's bedroom, a kitchen, a living room, a suburban yard. In each of rooms certain objects are "triggers" -- when they are activated the room falls away and the scene moves to surreal desert landscapes, where soldiers recount acts of torture and its consequences. 

Hearts and Minds: The Interrogations Project was first developed at the CAVE2 immersive virtual reality environment at the Electronic Visualization Lab on the campus of the University of Illinois Chicago. While on a sabbatical funded by the Norwegian Research Council, Rettberg worked with collaborators including filmmaker Roderick Coover, 3D artist and visualization researcher Daria Tsoupikova, computer scientist Arthur Nishimoto, and collective violence researcher Jeffrey Murer to develop the project. With a grant from Arts Council Norway, the interdisciplinary team is currently developing versions of the work suitable for other platforms, including the cinematic version which will be presented for this first time at this event and a portable version made for personal interaction on the iPad.

“As a researcher and as an artist,” said Rettberg, “this project has opened up new ways of thinking for me about the role and function and potential outcomes of digital humanities. It is a research project both in the sense that is exploring the aesthetic possibilities of new visualization technologies and in the sense that is directly based on serious social science research into the contemporary problem of sanctioned torture. The result is also very much an artwork that is intended to communicate and to help people confront and learn from some terrible truths about our recent past." 

This 45 minutes performance of the interactive artwork will be followed by a panel debate focusing on torture, interrogation methods, and PTSD experienced by soldiers who have participated in such acts, as well on processes of adaptation and interdisciplinary collaboration involved in the project. The panel brings together members of the team behind the Hearts and Minds project and representatives from The Norwegian Centre for Human Rights and interrogation experts from the Norwegian police, who collaborate on projects to prevent torture, false confessions, and errors of justice in Indonesia and Vietnam. The panel promises an enlightened discussion on a controversial topic from the viewpoint of practitioners, researchers and the arts. 

In the past month Rettberg also presented another film he produced in collaboration with film-maker Roderick Coover, Toxi·City, a recombinatory narrative film about climate change, Hurricane Sandy, and flooding on the Delaware River Estuary, during the Oslo poesifilm festival at Kunstnernes hus. During the past four years the two have co-produced six different projects that merge techniques and practices from electronic literature and film. Toxi·City is the first feature-length project produced in the CRchange series, which applies new media narrative structures within films about contemporary challenges to society and the environment.