Web3D RoundUp: Looking Backwards and Forwards

Vol.34 No.2 May 2000

la_fabrique: A Web3D Electronic Museum for the Binary Years

Patrick Keller and Christian Babski
Alternate Fabric

Figure 1: Entrance of la_fabrique. Shot taken in the 2nd World of Canal+, which is the French virtual community. Most places are reconstruction of some part of Paris.

Figure 2: Main hall and opening place of la_fabrique and stairs to the exhibit. Shot taken in the 2nd World.

Figure 3: Entrance of la_fabrique no. 1. Snapshot taken in rhizoreality v1.2, the event multi-user system created by alternet fabric.

Figure 4: Andy Best’s artwork displayed in la_fabrique. Shot taken in rhizoreality v1.2.

Figure 5: Cristiano Bianchi’s work around the Babel Library and (virtual) space perception. Snapshot taken in rhizoreality v1.2.


The project la_fabrique emphasizes new opportunities revealed by emerging technologies (such as VRML97, Java3D, Flash-Shockwave or the coming X3D and MPEG4) for artists. A new era of creation is opening up for architects, artists as well as designers, sound designers, dj’s, graphic artists, et al. This exhibition is now displayed in the Web3D on-line community, on the famous Canal+ virtual world (

This project won the Golden Lasso Award in the art category of the last Web3D RoundUP, held during the Web3D 2000 conference in Monterey, CA, and has been made possible thanks to the work produced by more than 30 artists. The Web3D artists in this electronic art exhibit include Andy Best of MEET Factory, Cristiano Bianchi, Jacques Perconte, Maurice Clifford, Patrick Keller, Christian Babski, Steve Guynup, Victoria Vesna and Craig Brown.


Central concepts regarding the network were used as a theme during this first year’s exhibition of the electronic museum la_fabrique. The artists may take positions with respect to this shared conceptual theme. The precepts are the following: that the network and the digital spaces represent the emergence of a mutating reality. This reality is a deformed expression, an accelerated evolution of our society and our physical world. A (new) world submitted to near-natural and neo-Darwinian processes of evolution and (technological) auto-selection, inside of which the values are melted and mixed: human: nature: machine: information. It is in fact a world that becomes more and more complex and that informs itself: a mutating reality or a recombinant reality. We could describe this as a new layer of information, the noosphere (as described by Th. de Chardin), that adds itself to the already existing environment, the biosphere.

Thus, new landscapes and territories are emerging. New architectures, new social relations and forms of communication are emerging as well. Our physical body, our individual identity and the relations we have with the outside world, human-beings, machines, things are modified:altered. We are touching here on the basics of information theory by Claude Shannon, and also Norbert Wieners’ writings on cybernetics. These theories describe physical and energy relations between nature and machine, man and machine and in particular, man and computer. These theories consider everything as information/entropy – even man.

The notion of energy as well as information exchange between physical world and machine world (in our case, computers) will interest us in thermodynamics (see J. de Rosnay, in L’homme symbiotique, éd. Seuil, Paris 1995 or Le macroscope. éd Seuil, Paris 1992 and also derosnay). These scientific and philosophical theories and essays, in essence these links, serve as theoretical background to the exhibition and elaboration of the project. The mailing list that we set up during the elaboration phase of each exhibit is used, hopefully, as an exchange area between the people involved. We wish to stay anchored in what constitutes the main body of the web: interactivity, interfaces, images, sound, light, pixel, bits, programs, etc. Displaying galleries of paintings or sculptures in 3D which are the immediate and literal transcription of a pre-existing reality is of no real interest in our eyes. A museum is intended to create “actual and discursive thinking,” a chatter and/or a polemic exchange around the domain of electronic and networked artwork.

Technical Aside

These kind of projects emphasize the link between the creative part and the technical opportunities, as well as raising several limitations. As an example, we experienced several problems at different levels that reveal VRML plug-ins’ actual limits. For example, the management of interactive viewpoints is very badly implemented by most of the current plug-ins. By dynamically creating and deleting viewpoints at runtime, the displayed list becomes unusable: viewpoints with identical names co-exist but point to the same location, while some others are in the list but unreachable.

These types of problems are in fact very important because they produce technical boundaries for the artists during their creative process. We won’t argue about the necessity of these boundaries, but they force artists to take into account the limits before and during the creation of a VRML universe, and to have a very thorough understanding of this technology throughout their creation. Partly due to these reasons, it will be hard (even if we try in the near future) to work with non-Web3D specialists for the coming exhibitions. This might be an actual weakness of the Web3D technologies compared to other existing products and plug-ins that have already reached their mature state. This might also be one of the main issues that slows down the rise and adoption of Web3D technologies.

As most of these problems are not linked to formal technical specification issues, it shouldn’t be a major problem for plug-in developers to fix them and, as a result, make their products stronger and more user friendly.

Architectural Structure (Of The Museum)

The museum, la_fabrique, is constructed of four different and distinct spaces. In principle, three of them don’t evolve. The fourth one, dedicated to temporary exhibitions, mutates for each exhibition according to the themes of the show. These four distinct spaces are dedicated to the following functionalities: an access street-hall, a gallery dedicated to temporary exhibitions (modified for each exhibit), a gallery that will display the work of non-professional artists or links to their work, a link gallery giving access to some on-line works of the invited artists.


The access street-hall to the electronic museum. There will be displayed maybe one or two permanent electro-artworks. There are switch nodes on top of the stairs to go directly in the gallery/file of each artist.

Gallery A

Thematic: the temporary thematic rooms are displaying the works of professional artists. Each creator will have the benefit up to 240K of compressed disc space (including everything—sounds, environment, work, textures, etc.). Of course, in this case, less will be more. Each artist gets his own file/room to produce his work. The way to go from one artists’ room to another is managed via “doors” and switch nodes, maybe LOD. Five to eight artists will exhibit their creations during each exhibition in this space. Duration of the exhibit is three months.

Gallery B

Temporary rooms dedicated to non-professional artists (can be billboards and links) are made out of two different spaces (via one switch) that can contain six to 10 in-line images (depending on size).

URL Gallery

The link room, a room in which we will find links to some of the artists’ on-line works and maybe, maybe to some on-line theoretical references.

Fragments (cut parts of gallery A, cut and paste of those different parts to create the right number of files corresponding to the number of artists) of the museum are given to the artists, so that they can produce in it/with it/against it, for work of electro-art. At the end of the process of creation, where a strange relation between artworks and museum might emerge, alternet fabric is collecting all the pieces to produce the final file.

Some points of connection between the different parts of the museum cannot move or be renamed because they assure the way to move from one file to another. These parts are the materialisation of the file system. This way of moving in the entire museum will also be modified by some of the works. Each part of the museum received by each artist could be made out of geometries, sounds, textures, links, lights, texts, etc. These data, their real and virtual hierarchies, the way they appear on the hard disk, and their relation to the complete museum, together constitutes the context of intervention/interaction.

Theme:Artists:Actual_Exhibition: Expo_01: Recombinant Reality:Digital_Prosthesis


The body today seems to have attained its limits and we can see attempts multiplying that try to improve it or duplicate it. From the coupled doctor/sportsman to the man genetically modified or the man-machine, everything leads us to think that a mutation/combination awaits us. Tackle the notion of extension/reduction of reality in the electronic universe, via new space and body prosthesis. We wish to extend and modify the functionalities of one’s body understood as a mixing of man and machine in the binary universe. Influences acting in these themes include avatars, mutation, exoskeleton, mixed medias spaces, compunetic and genetic manipulations, information manipulation and manipulated reality. Man-machine interfaces, implants, softbots, sports-doctors, datasuits, artificial intelligence (AI/IA), robots and prostheses may all result.

You are now free to open a web connection and enjoy a cultural trip inside the electronic museum of alternet fabric: la_fabrique. See or

Patrick Keller and Christian Babski
Alternate Fabric

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