RHUNHATTAN is a journey back in time to explore a pivotal moment in world history: the trade of Manhattan island. Walking in the footsteps of explorers, viewers uncover stories hidden just below the surface and learn how a tiny seed ignited global trade and transformed our world forever.
In 1667, the world map was redrawn when the Dutch traded the island of Manhattan for the English colony of Rhun, in Indonesia's Banda Islands, in attempts to corner the nutmeg trade. This momentous land exchange, over spices, seeded change that set in motion unstoppable waves of displacements, migrations, and laid the ground for economic systems that shape our lives to this day. RHUNHATTAN peels back the layers of history, starting in the present, and guides the viewer back in time through interactive clues hidden in plain sight.
A Global Treasure Map
RHUNHATTAN places viewers onto the present day islands of Rhun and Manhattan where a global treasure map is embedded in the surroundings … if only we could decipher the signs. Immersed in the sights and sounds, elements of the environment come alive to guide viewers back in time. From forts and ports, to trees and seeds, these “island guides” tell stories and recite poems offering visitors a magical way to engage with the past in order to understand our present.
An Interactive 360° Experience
RHUNHATTAN is an interactive 360° experience that developed out of research into food-ways, plant based histories, travel and international commerce. Sprouting from the age of exploration when countless caravans and ships spun the wheel of fortune in search for spices worth their weight in gold, the experience opens a window into the cultural and economic circulations between archipelagos and continents and reveals the historical weight of nutmegs.
Bringing forth shared histories
The experience will bring forth shared histories and intertwined realities of two islands on the opposite ends of the world in much of the same way the researchers uncovered the information. Working backwards, told through the voices of locals and seen through the landscape of what exists today, we uncover buried stories of European colonial expansion, trade and the making of globalization, as well as the unheard voices of the indigenous peoples who saw a New World created where they stood.
17th century Manhattan was a backwater trading post compared with the Banda Islands, which were rich in nutmegs that grossly enriched the Dutch traders and was considered the crown jewel of the Dutch colonial empire. The islands were the focal point of a trade route that eventually established the merchants of Venice. In this VR experience, we step beyond the New York-centric perspective and journey to the Banda Islands.
Uncovers stories related to military control, domination, struggle, architecture and borders.
Numerous diamond-shaped Dutch forts built by the Dutch East and West India Companies across the world. In the first chapter, the viewer can focus on a certain area of the 360-degree environment to trigger a “gazing interaction” that would activate Fort Amsterdam and Fort Nassau in order launch the VR experience and 360-degree video content.
Exploring the embedded ideologies of technology, many of the scenes showing forts were filmed with a drone. By using 20th century military-derived technology (drone) to document 17th century military technology (fort), the visual language reinterprets and subverts the ideology belying the drone to narrate decolonizing perspectives.
Production shot of Fort Belgica, Banda Naira. March 2017. Photo by Alexandre Girardeau.
The virtual environment collapses the 10,000 miles between the two islands. A moment in history is brought into the present. The viewers experience simultaneously two structures which overlap in form but are geographically apart - the diamond-shaped Fort Amsterdam (now the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian) in Manhattan and Fort Nassau in Bandaneira, Indonesia.
The pink area is a 1:1 scale rendering of Rhun if it were overlayed over Manhattan. Rhun is roughly seven-times smaller than Manhattan.
360-degree photo of the Collector's Room in the Alexander Hamilton Custom House where the National Museum of American Indian is located within. This is the former site of Fort Amsterdam.
Equirectangular screenshot of Rhunhattan VR (work in progress)
Production shot in nutmeg plantation in Rhun. April 2017. Photo by Beatrice Glow.
Production shot at Nailaka, Banda Island. April 2017. Photo by Alexandre Girardeau.
RHUNHATTAN is a tale of two islands told through various immersive media. The concept began in 2015 as a collaboration between interdisciplinary artist Beatrice Glow and creative technologist Alexandre Girardeau.
This body of work has been presented as sculptural installations, digital prints on silk and olfactory art at venues such as Honolulu Biennial 2017, Asian/Pacific/American Institute at New York University; Wave Hill Public Garden and Cultural Center, New York; Duke House NYU Institute of Fine Arts, New York; and Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de Chile, Santiago de Chile.
Highway 101, ETC (Experiential Technology Community) is a tribe of new media specialists encouraging the praxis and research of experiential technologies. Founded by Alexandre Girardeau in 2014, the community has grown to 390+ passionate members and held gatherings such as a VR Café that has popped-up across Montreal, Paris and New York. As content producers we develop VR/AR applications that encapsulate dioramas, first person experiences, interactive virtual environments and 360 degree videos. Notable projects include The Wayfinding Project, an augmented and virtual reality exhibition at NYU; Mannahatta VR, a virtual reality experience that envisions indigenous futures and has been shown at venues such as Viacom; Conphyture, a VR guided meditation that uses EEG sensors; and 360 degree videos for music labels.
BEATRICE GLOW is an artist whose practice comprises of site-responsive sculptural installations, performances and experiential technologies. She amplifies stories lying in the shadows of colonialism, migration and inequality while highlighting human interconnectivity. She is currently Artist-in-Residence at the A/P/A Institute at NYU and has been named Honolulu Biennial artist, Wave Hill Van Lier Visual Art Fellow, Joan Mitchell Foundation Emerging Artist Finalist, Hemispheric Institute Council Member, Franklin Furnace Fund grantee and Fulbright Scholar. Recent solo exhibitions include Aromérica Parfumeur with Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes de Chile; Lenapeway and The Wayfinding Project at NYU; “Rhunhattan” at Wave Hill; and “Floating Library” on the Hudson River. She is featured in Duke University Press’ Cultural Politics Journal issue 13.2, has written for post at MoMA, and published a trilingual artist book, Taparaco Myth, about retracing 19th century Asian coolie geography in Peru. She has presented public talks at Venice Biennale 2015, New York University, and Columbia University, amongst others.
ALEXANDRE GIRARDEAU is resolutely turned towards human sciences, technology and the media arts, and is interested in the transdisciplinary intersections between cognitive sciences, gamification and philosophy. Convinced about the revolutionary potential of virtual and augmented reality, he focuses on the evangelization of this new medium. This is achieved through various means, including developing VR/AR applications that encapsulate dioramas, first person experiences, interactive virtual environments and 360° videos; founding Highway101 Experiential Technology Community; co-founding the VR Café that pops up in Montreal and Paris; managing digital content for VRRelated and The VR Bible, managing communications and producing events at Jump Into the Light, VR Cinema & Playlab located in NYC. He recently demoed Mannahatta VR at Exploring Future Reality hosted by NYC Media Lab at Viacom, New York University, and Creative Tech Week.
This project is generously supported by
In 2016-17 New York University, Asian/Pacific/American Institute generously supported the preliminary travel and research to Indonesia as well as the community engagement with Lenape culture bearers via a one-year art residency.
We are connected to extensive research resources including Lenape and Bandanese native culture bearers, community stakeholders, scholars, activists, artists and ecologists to create a historically palpable and ethically accountable digital storytelling project.
Jack Tchen, Founding Director of Museum of Chinese in America, Founding Director of the Asian/Pacific/American Institute at New York University
Margo Machida, Emeritus Professor of Art History and Asian and Asian American Studies at the University of Connecticut
Wim Manuhutu, PhD. University Amsterdam, Cultural Heritage Historian, Former Director of Museum Maluku
Tanya Des Alwi, Chairperson of Banda Culture and Heritage Foundation
Eric Sanderson, Senior Conservation Ecologist at the Wildlife Conservation Society, Bronx, New York
Kayhan Irani, Emmy-award winning writer and an arts and community engagement strategist.
Chief Reggie Herb Dancer Ceaser, Matinecock Nation
Jeong-A Kim, Art Historian