Nieuw Amsterdam became New York in 1667 when the Dutch relinquished their claim to Manhattan in exchange for Rhun, the sole English colony in today’s Indonesia, thereby gaining monopoly of the lucrative nutmeg and mace trade. RHUNHATTAN is a tale of two islands told through immersive platforms including virtual reality, olfactory sculptural installations, and site-responsive performances enhanced by augmented reality, to explore these intertwined geopolitical fates and globalization’s wheel of fortune.
RHUNHATTAN: A Tale of Two Islands explores a pivotal moment during the birth of globalization when the Dutch and the British were locked in a stalemate during the Spice Wars. In 1667, the two countries “exchanged” Manhattan for Rhun, a nutmeg-rich island in present-day Indonesia’s Banda Island Archipelago, thereby leaving the Dutch with a monopoly over the lucrative nutmeg trade. For both the Bandanese and the Lenape people (Native peoples of Manhattan), the consequences were devastating as both suffered massacres and forced removal from their homelands. This exchange set in motion an unstoppable wave of colonization and inequalities that continue to shape our present.
This project will explore the intertwined fates spun from globalization’s wheel of fortune through an interactive VR experience. In Spring 2017, we filmed in the Banda Islands and are now filming in New York. We are working with WondaVR, Autopano, Adobe Photoshop, Premiere, After Effects, Mettle plugin and Samsung GearVR. The project will integrate 360-degree videos and 2D videos into a 360-degree environment built from a montage of archival imagery (eg. 17th century maps, engravings and treaties) to resuscitate history. We will include oral history testimonies as well as aerial views of the islands. We have connected with extensive research sources such as native culture bearers, scholars, activists, artists and ecologists to create a historically palpable and ethically accountable digital storytelling project.
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.
Equirectangular screenshot of Rhunhattan: A Tale of Two Islands (work in progress), 2017
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.
Production shot of Fort Belgica, Banda Naira. March 2017. Photo by Alexandre Girardeau.
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.
This screenshot is from the first chapter of Rhunhattan: A Tale of Two Islands which shows the numerous diamond-shaped Dutch forts built by the Dutch East and West India Companies across the world. 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.
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.
Nutmegs of Banda Naira. Photo by Beatrice Glow.
Production shot in nutmeg plantation in Rhun. April 2017. Photo by Beatrice Glow.
Equirectangular screenshot of Rhunhattan VR (work in progress).
Equirectangular screenshot of Rhunhattan VR (work in progress).
Equirectangular screenshot of Rhunhattan VR (work in progress)
Production shot at Nailaka, Banda Island. April 2017. Photo by Alexandre Girardeau.
Rhunhattan [Tearoom], September 15-October 25th, 2015, Beatrice Glow. Installation view, Sunroom Project Space, Wave Hill Public Garden and Cultural Center, Bronx, NY. Acrylic and decal collage on ceramics, ink on paper, terracotta infused with scents of colonial commerce. Dimensions variable.
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 300+ 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