A project supported by the Experimental Humanities Immersive Media Art Laboratory (IMAL)

Project Team:
Ben Coonley, Assistant Professor, Film and Electronic Arts
Yashar Hasehmi ’18 (Studio Arts)
Sadie Schiffman-Eller ’18 (Film and Electronic Arts)
Hugh Hopkins ’17 (Photography)
Will Scarfone ’18 (Film and Electronic Arts)

“Trading Futures” (2016) is a stereoscopic 3D 360-degree video artwork created by Ben Coonley. Because it’s impossible for the viewer of a 360-degree video to see all directions of the spherical frame at once, a 360-degree video is usually viewed through a virtual reality headset, such as an Oculus Rift device, which allows a viewer to change which part of the spherical frame he/she looks at by tilting his/her head in different directions. For “Trading Futures,” a work that mimics the social space of a classroom, Coonley constructed a hemispherical structure that would allow multiple viewers the chance to watch the work without having to wear virtual reality headsets. Based on a D.I.Y. planetarium design often used for astronomical education, the dome for “Trading Futures” was built out of corrugated cardboard triangles held together by binder clips. It looks a bit like an observatory or a homemade fort for children.

The 3D video that is projected onto the inner surface of the dome is a looping, elliptical story about a professor who trades in dreams of becoming a professional paddleball performer for a career lecturing on financial derivatives markets. The viewer of the work is physically placed in the position of a student, who joins a clumsy 3D modeled avatar version of the artist, a green-screened cutout video image of the artist’s four-year-old daughter, and his cat, in a kind of “virtual seminar.” While the professor in the story relays awkward lessons about economic theory, his work is continually disrupted by flashbacks and asides. His students misinterpret his lessons, but end up creating magical displays that surpass the achievements of the instructor.

In 2016, the Experimental Humanities Immersive Media Art Lab (IMAL) adapted “Trading Futures” so that it could be included in the exhibition Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art, 1905-2016, at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Ben Coonley and four undergraduate students from the IMAL worked in a barn in the Hudson Valley, where they set out to test the practical and aesthetic impact of calibrating “Trading Futures” for a large-scale museum exhibition. IMAL students also participated in the physical installation of the work at the museum.

More information about the work (via Whitney Museum of American Art)