[perfect.city] was completed in 2009 and sits in the 3-D game space, specifically looking at cities. The work is modeled after the then planned futuristic city of Songdo, a city in South Korea that has been designed to be perfect in every aspect. The foundation of the city is that citizens will be living a life stress free where everyone will be happy. To show the plans of the city, 3-D models were input to Google Earth about what the city will look like. Mary Flanagan took these models, and then translated them into The Sims 2, where she designed a perfect replica of the perfect city. Once the infrastructure was built in the Sims, characters with a diverse set of emotions and background as well as having personalities were added to the game. The characters are completely cut off from the real-world history and other real events, but instead the game progresses in a simulation.
The physical aspect of [perfect.city] involves a two channel video installation with a large double sided projection screen. One side of the projection is showing Mary working hard to recreate the renderings and translate the city to the Sims. This is shot in a way that imitates a documentary of how Songdo was made. The other side of the projection is showing a slow motion of the simulation within the Sims itself. People are seen sitting on a park bench or going to their job. Each person appears to be well dressed and happy, and the city has no visible signs of trash nor distress of any kind.
This work had significant cultural importance for its time. Songdo was created as the first smart city concept in the world. Expectations for the city were insanely high, and most of Asia was watching closely to see how the city would ultimately pan out. When Mary completed [perfect.city] in 2009, no one knew what to expect. By using the renderings from Google Earth, and a myriad of human personalities, she was able to give a glimpse into the future of the city and all of its possibilities. By showcasing the work as an installation video, specifically a video filmed like a documentary, the feel was one such that Songdo became successful and the video showed how it became successful. [perfect.city] was able to encompass the feeling of success, and made people anticipate the success of the city itself, well before the city was completed in reality. No matter how the city ended up, Mary’s work remains a literal perfect core of what could have been.
When thinking about the work from a contextual space, it is interesting because her simulation takes in no outside variables. This means the city is a utopia of sorts, one impossible to be found on Earth. By running the simulation as a Utopia, viewers can see the possibilities, while still knowing the improbabilities. The project was picked up by Professor Roger B. Dannenberg, and he had this to say on the topic:
Mary utilizes technology to create this work. Instead of advanced developer software, she uses a common computer game. This engages her audience. Incorporating The Sims 2 as the characters, it humanizes the piece and brings everything together. Because the game is all theoretical, it becomes more relatable when citizens match someone’s personality. A viewer can find a character with a similar personality or job to them, and follow their life in this perfect city. It is almost a dark thing, because in this perfect city nothing bad ever happens. In the real world this is simply not the case. By using relatable objects, the game appears to be an idea of the ideal self, and not an achievable self. When watching the video of Mary creating the city in documentary form, the viewer feels a sense of satire because in their mind they know the actual city is yet to be built, and this video is all a demonstration. But because the software and production seems real, the viewer may feel or even hope that the city matches the game directly, creating an oddly sad feel for what is in theory a perfect city.
The work of [perfect.city] is similar to another piece by Mary herself, [borders]. [borders] is another game piece, that again involves a virtual world. Instead of being modeled off of a futuristic city however, [borders] imitates how Henry David Thoreau went about his life – walking. The piece is designed to show that many borders in life are not actually borders, but rather roadblocks. In the game, the user can wander aimlessly around an unending map, going anywhere their heart desires.
The concept of [borders] is to show invisible disruptions, and how a user navigates those disruptions. That simple fact of how a user navigates potential issues seen and unseen in their life is really deep, and hits home with many a person. Because the game is a game, everything is virtual but meant to simulate real life in one way or another. It is in this regard that [borders] is very similar to that of [perfect.city] because both simulate a way of life. One way of life is in theory perfect; another way is exploratory, but both ways are hypothetical and contained in the game.
Rachel Rossin has dabbled with some virtual reality and art, creating a few truly astonishing pieces. One piece that takes a look at how life could be when mixed with future technologies is her Safe Apron, Safe Cape digital piece. In this piece, Rachel combined the effects of virtual reality (VR) and mixing VR with our real life world. The resultant artwork is one that blows the mind just a bit.
She played around in a virtual world, and created some astonishing images and landscapes. Using a mathematical algorithm, she translated those landscapes onto a glass sheet that bent and folded in unique ways. The sheets were then placed inside a room with pillars, as shown above. The result creates a very unique room wherein the human is able to walk around the space like normal, but the images all imply a virtual world. Combining a VR world with the real world shows a great example of where the Earth could be headed as VR technologies get better and better. Again, this is all hypothetical which is why it relates to [perfect.city]. Both pieces show what could be – it is simply up to the human to decide to make it a reality or how they perceive the resultant world.
[perfect.city] shows us that models are simply that, a model. The model can have all the inputs of a real environment, but without a real world it is simply hypothetical. When it was created before Songdo was built, it became the baseline for what the city should become. Humans have a great imagination, and simulations allow the imagination to become fully flushed out. This piece shows us how powerful virtual settings can become, but also how they are still not real. It requires work to make an idea become a true reality.
Small World Exhibition, Southend-on-Sea UK
Incheon Digital Art Festival, New Songdo South Korea