Nacht-Umwelten is an exploration of an alternative mode of vision that ponders the question: Can I only ever truly understand what it is like to be me?
Most bats perceive the nocturnal world primarily by sonar, or echolocation. Their brains are wired to correlate outgoing impulses with the subsequent echoes, and the information acquired enables bats to make precise distinctions of distance, size, shape, motion, and texture comparable to those we make by vision. But bat sonar, though a form of perception, is not similar in its operation to any sense that we possess, thus beyond what we can experience, imagine, or even describe. The world is full of other complex beings with astonishing perceptual features, yet humans rarely consider them. Snakes can navigate based on heat and thermal imaging, bees see striking hidden UV patterns in petals, and donkeys have nearly a 360-degree view. In our world, it seems every other organism’s subjective experience is private to you. I can tell you about my perception of reality but I can’t share it with you.
For this project, I employ an advanced technological apparatus to go beyond our way of seeing, viewers can attempt the most radical form of empathy trying to take in what it’s like to be a bat.
Nacht-Umwelten is a visual representation and exploration of extensive spatial data collected around my home in Northern California. The data was captured by a complex handheld LiDAR sensing device which uses laser light to densely sample the surface of objects and surroundings in an almost 360-degree view. A sensor in the device actively spins, transmitting over 300,000 electromagnetic pulses of energy per second. These infrared and optical wavelengths are timed as they bounce back, just like how bats use sonar to gain three-dimensional information. The hyper-accurate measurements are then used to produce a detailed cloud of X, Y, Z, vertices of the environmental characteristics.
To establish my connection to the bat and its external perception within the nocturnal world I only captured data at night, when viewing the live feed from the LiDAR sensor was my only way of navigating. The objective wasn’t to knowingly create the final model of the environment, but just to maneuver at night through these familiar locations while recording tons of data. So, while the final data is captured on location, the actual true exploration happens digitally in 3D space.
Nacht-Umwelten is just as much an exploration of the digital as it is of nature. The interdependence between the artist and their technological equipment is played out in several stages in this project: the sophisticated LiDAR tool allowed for miles of data scans, advancements in laptop hardware-enabled a real-time LiDAR feed, and recent updates in real-time game engine software allowed for smooth navigation through over 500 million points. Simply put, new technologies can help uncover new perspectives of the concept of our reality.