Chimera Obscura, 2002

Shawn Brixey

Navigating the Maze: Collaboration and the Chimera Obscura

Date 9/15/03

Affiliation Artist, University of Washington, Seattle


(Richard Rinehart will lead the presentation and Prof. Brixey will participate remotely from Seattle as advised by his doctors).

Commissioned for the traveling exhibition, "Gene(sis), Contemporary Art Explores Human Genomics", "Chimera Obscura" is a net based-telerobotic work inspired by the historical anxieties, eungenic fantasies, and emerging realities evolving from the frontier of contemporary genetics research. The collaborative project between Shawn Brixey and Richard Reinhart is a meta-level discourse on the nature of human discovery and evolution as exemplified by the Human Genome Project. Crossing the boundary between gallery installation and Internet art, the work is constructed around a telerobotic agent that Internet visitors use to navigate, and decode a highly complex maze designed from a human thumbprint. The project employs a mutative game style structure allowing visitors to leave a virtual trail of media memes behind them for others to read, duplicate, or delete in the search for a unique sequence that will decode the maze. The ghost of the Minotaur roams the maze in the form of random mutative forces (a mathematical algorithm), frustrating attempts at easy, linear resolution. Visitors break through by assuming a newer hybrid form - that of telematic cyborgs, simultaneously operating in real space and virtual space, while existing physically in a third removed place. Elastic physicality and collaborative agency integrates technology with basic human functions to extend our discourse about what is organic and evolutionary. Chimera Obscura is on view at the Berkeley Art Museum through Dec. 7, and online at

Brixey and Rinehart will highlight the performative aspects of creating and presenting interactive, networked artwork. Digital media art provides increased opportunities and demands for collaborative practice. The Chimera Obscura asks visitors to collaborate (or compete) by tracing their own and each others' paths in a complex virtual maze. In this way, the strategy of the work is reflective of the conditions of practice that created it. This work, like many collaborative works, is not only a conscious integration of the collaborator's ideas, but is also an un-self-conscious crossroad of individual paths that stretch back far and long. This joint presentation will trace the paths of each artist leading up to and intersecting at the Chimera Obscura, reflecting on the carefully planned as well as the inherent conditions that formed the work. Like the Minotaur that roams the maze; what forces are at work that upset and enliven our notions about collaborative practice?


Shawn Brixey is Associate Professor and Associate Director of the University of Washington's newly established Ph.D. program in Digital Arts and Experimental Arts (DXARTS). A former UC Berkeley faculty member he has exhibited widely including Documenta, Cranbrook Art Museum, The Chicago Art Institute, The Cooper Hewitt Design Museum, NY, the MIT Museum, and The Winter Olympics, Nagano, Japan. He received a 2003 Rockefeller New Media Fellowship for his pioneering work in the field.

-- As of 9/15/03

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