Barracks (black and white processed), 1997, (art)n and Stephanie Barish




Special Treatment advances the audience from passive viewing to active experience by smoothly moving from present to past and back again. Special Treatment creates a landscape where glimpses and fragments of Birkenau establish a narrative framework where the events of the past continue to shape and be shaped by contemporary interpretations of those events. The full history and lesson of a place such as the death camp at Birkenau is seen not only in the records of those who survived or passed on their memories to us in the present, but in how those events are remembered and shaped by the people of today. The stories of these people grow with each new experience of Special Treatment, and the solidity of that space and the substance of those events becomes more concrete with each new visitor. The immersive experience allows each participant to inhabit the scene of these events, and as they leave the evidence of their own actions and memories, Special Treatment is continually transformed into a new potential memory.

At its most basic level, memory is a perceived arrangement of events. Applied Interactives is concerned with how memory is a malleable substance, and Special Treatment's poignancy is highlighted by a world where global and mass communications instantaneously influence impressions of events, so that people have incomplete or greatly divergent ideas about the same occurrences. Even if we tried to faithfully recreate the past, the interpretation of those events would vary from one day to the next.

Although Special Treatment uses the holocaust as a context, the project creates an experience beyond time by focusing on the larger issues of persistence and memory. Events other than the holocaust could have been used as the basis for Special Treatment. However, any occurrence that exhibits the tragedy of 'history repeating itself' provides a powerful framework for taking a critical look at how and what people remember, how they change their thoughts over time and how cultural biases influence personal recollection.

Not a "virtual reality" but an interpreted reality, Applied Interactives has specifically selected our medium to fully engross participants in the experience by allowing them to create their own personal narrative. Special Treatment is more than observation - the piece is interactive as well as reactive; visceral and emotional as well as intellectual. The term virtual reality, as a cliché of futurist propaganda, has been overstated by the media and is widely considered to be an attainable technology. We are critical of this belief and the entertainment industry's portrayal of interactive storytelling. We find that they more commonly wish to construct their stories with products and brands rather than use the medium in the creation of a meaningful experience. Other meda are bound to formulaic standards that utilize obvious narrative arcs that don't allow for the same degree of individual ownership of the experience. With Special Treatment we hope to break down the conceptual barriers that have been placed around artwork employing these cutting-edge technologies.