In 1999, Auriea Harvey (Entropy8, USA) and Michaël Samyn (Zuper!, BE) merged their lives and careers in Entropy8Zuper!, a hypermedia research studio and design company. They now live and work together somewhere in Europe. Their portfolio includes design jobs for corporate clients, commissions from arts organisations and personal work. Numbers belongs in that third category. It is the fourth chapter in an ongoing project of interpretations/appropriations of the books of the Bible, called The Godlove Museum, the previous chapters being
This is the story of the making of the fourth chapter:
Leviticus was launched on February 15, 2000.
The earliest documents referring to the making of Numbers date from November 21, 2000.
Numbers was opened to the public on January 30, 2002.
It took us almost two years to make it.
In those two years, we also made
In those two years we relaunched
merged all our sites on one server, had a real art show in a real gallery, won the SFMOMA Prize for Excellence in Online Art, presented on several conferences and got tons of press, so much that we consciously started avoiding it.
In those two years, Michaëls daughter, Martha (now 4), fell and needed stitches in her chin. Three times!
After calling our first website Genesis, simply because it announced the start of our cooperation, it was quite obvious that we would make a website called Exodus when both of us left our previous lives to go and live together. Then we started to actually read the Bible and we found that there was a lot in Leviticus that we could apply to our lives at the time: the confrontation with rules and regulations, the sacrifices one has to make for being different, etcetera. The Godlove Museum was born.
Then there was Numbers, the fourth book of the Torah (or Pentateuch in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible, the first five books or the books of Moses). Numbers tells the story of the Israelites in the desert, after they had escaped Egypt, how their faith in their God was tested and how this God tells them to go to war and conquer the promised land.
It was shocking to realize that what was currently happening in the Middle East was a repetition of what had already happened once thousands of years ago. Normally the contemporary Western world does not approve of this kind of religious fanaticism, but in the case of the Jews it seems to want to make an exception.
So there was a very negative interpretation at the base of this chapter. We were disgusted with the way how one group of people claims superiority based on orders received directly from god. And according to these orders, this group of people allowed itself the right to destroy other "inferior" groups.
The fact that this applies almost literally to current-day Israel should not make us blind for the fact that it is also the story of the Western world as was illustrated by the US response to the attack on the WTC buildings. The Western world engaged in war against everything that is different, lead by their god of liberty and capitalism. Civilization against barbarism, good versus evil.
It was nauseating to realize that this had been the story of the world for such a long time. How futile suddenly became all our efforts to live in peace with our neighbours or even with each other. At first we had interpreted the god and the promised land as being positive elements, goals to strive for, utopias to reach for. But god turned out to be nothing more than a cruel, sadistic warlord set out to hurt and kill. Or at best an excuse for humans to do the same.
The petty capitalist competition system that is bringing so much shame and misery to our planet, also had its impact on the practical aspects of creating this piece. We would have loved to use a multitude of technologies with Dynamic HTML at its core but every other browser available to the audience implements this technology differently, effectively abolishing its use, except for those who want to limit their work to be viewed on one platform only.
In the days of Netscape 4, the world was beautiful. Most people had access to this browser and it worked. But then Microsoft attacked and conquered the market and AOL (Time Warner) bought Netscape to add it to their arsenal of patriotic weapons.
We chose Flash only because of its availablity to many potential visitors.
We had no affectionate feelings whatsoever for the obnoxious methods employed by the Macromedia PR department, nor for the enormous amount of garbage that has been created with this technology.
But during the development of Numbers we ran into so many problems with Flash -mainly performance issues- that we came to the conclusion that this piece of software was by no means suitable for making hypermedia titles.
So now we have a choice to make: to continue using an accessible technology and make low tech parodies of corporate memos or say goodbye to part of our audience and try to get closer to our research goal of making involving immersive environments.
Numbers merchandising for the computer desktop: icons, wallpapers, screensaver, system sounds
Ad banner for Numbers Feel free to put this banner on your site with a link to http://entropy8zuper.org/ godlove/69
Before and After images of our digitally retouched eyes.
Usually we just make our work and release it to the public without making a big fuss about it.
We send an email to the 300 or so people on our mailing list and the rest of our audience finds the new work by regularly visiting our web site.
For us, as a research studio, this method is very satisfactory.
But our vanity as creators is often hurt when we see other people attract much more attention with work that we think is much less involved simply because they are much better at public relations than we are.
But that is not the only reason why we chose to attempt to make a big deal out of the release of Numbers.
When we heard that as much as fifty percent of a mainstream Hollywood movie's budget goes to advertising, we were shocked.
Since we see part of Numbers as being an analysis and critique of capitalism and consumerism, we thought it would be appropriate to mock this system by parodying it.
A parody that seems to have already begun with Hollywood's revival of the genre of the war film. This sort of propaganda machine which allows the USA to propagate its point of view by using a popular medium we find a disturbing but interesting phenomena. So, we decided that a bit of a masquerade was a good way to make propaganda of our own. We've made online movie posters and banner ads for distribution online in hopes that our project would be mistaken for ads for some new war film. In the tradition of all movie posters we present not ourselves but the ultra smooth digitally perfected version of ourselves. The smoothed out features mirroring the increasing falseness of the commecial world around us. Hopefully the seduction of the war movie ideal is enough to get people who like such films to come to our site and hopefully our version of war gives them some unexpected food for thought.
First web site with Michaël's "therapeutic Egypt"
In the first attempt to making Numbers, in January 2001, our focus was on leaving the relative comfort of our respective Egypts -the places where we had lived in slavery. This meant splitting the linear path of the Godlove Museum into two. Especially for Michaël this became a very therapeutic exercise which ultimately lead to stagnasis of the project.
There was a lot of guilt to be dealt with. The expression of which paralyzed Auriea.
And resulted in an inability to continue working on the project for half a year.
First attempt at journey game with a low tech version of Michaël dressed as Saint Francis like in Genesis
Numbers would start with a choice for the user between Auriea and Michaël, woman and man. Two is our number: one plus one. Those choices would lead to similarly structured paths away from Egypt towards the Promised land where the paths would meet again.
When these paths met a conflict would start which would spill over into a worldwide catastrophy that would end in the traditional ecstasy scene.
The paths away from slavery would allow us to free ourselves from our old lives, families, partners, cultures. At least part of this was going to take the form of a game. For Michaël a primitive computer game with flat graphics, for Auriea a MUD-like environment with photographic images. The idea was to split up Entropy8Zuper! in its constituting parts once again: Zuper! and Entropy8, 1 and 1.
Pictographic scenes from the life of Michaël and the sacrifices from the Bible
Michaël took the interactive birth card he made for his daughter as a starting point.
In one scene of that movie, his home and family were represented as a group of low res icons.
He took that idea for its sentimental value and made icons for all the elements that he needed.
Icons, based on pictograms used in airports.
One of his notes said "trapped in design hell".
The movie relates the story of how Michaël met his former girlfriend, built up a life with her,
had two children with her and then leaves her despite all the promises of staying together, to go and live with Auriea. This was not a swift process and involved many attempts to mend what had been broken. During the last failed attempt the fatal blow was given through a trans-atlantic phone call. Michaël's early residency in the Promised Land was not undividedly filled with milk and honey. There was the pain of being torn away from what had been considered the very core of his existence. And there was the confrontation with what appeared to be the monstrosity of his personality. He felt smaller than his three years old son.
But leave Egypt, he must. Gradually building up a new life with the one he believed to be The One.
If his belief was strong enough, he would be able to make the necessary sacrifices to get through it.
This is what the last game in the first attempt to make Numbers is about. After this, the two paths would join again. But we never got that far.
Welcome. A long distance message from Auriea to Michaël
You are in a dense forest but you cannot see the trees
New York City, Egypt
Auriea was in fact deeply saddened by the view of Michaël's Egypt, not only did it open old wounds of guilt but she wondered what could have possibly have been so bad in her life compared to his... What did she leave behind? She postponed working on her pathway until a planned visit back to her Egypt, New York City, in January 2001 hoping that this would give her the narrative thread she felt was missing.
As soon as she landed she made a small movie which she emailed to Michaël and announced on their skinonskinonskin email list, a small poem to say how much she missed him and that the travel felt so fruitless already. She had been flying around so much that the view out of airplane windows became a very strong symbol of their life together for her... but she wondered what was all the flying for and why could she not just settle in her new life and live the happiness she knew was promised there.
The life she had left was thrown in sharp contrast to the life she was beginning. She did not know how she could bear to create some comprehensible representation of the many things Numbers meant to her, primarily issues surrounding the children of Michaël, her decision not to have children, the beauty of the city that he could never see but she could, the years of wild stories and observations of her Egypt, the calm beauty of a new landscape where the hills are taller than most buildings and a love which calmed her inside.
Auriea's original plan was to give a view of the city as a sea of buildings which swayed and slowly opened to allow passage into a small room where she stood waiting. She wanted to use a very photomontaged style of frame by frame sequences set to music. In the first scene she would stand with light streaming in from a window she would look at her computer screen and then look at the viewer and then eat the viewers cursor and begin to sleep and dream. The dream would take place in a text and sound based environment, but as has been said, she never got that far.
In New York City she revisited the conflicts she left behind but found no answers only more questions. When she thought about Numbers all she could see was the mother of the children waving goodbye to them on the weekend. All she could think to do was to try and re-create the confusion between up and down, east and west that she was feeling... she wanted to be cryptic and she wanted to use cut-ups and noisy mixes of music in a powerful way to illustrate the eclectic mix of environments that she came from, not only NYC but her life before then. Alas, it was all too much for her... as she was still facing every day the stark concreteness of Michaël and his Egypt. In some sad way, she wanted that kind of certainty that he had. All the dreams, the hallucinations, of herself eating cursors, the visions of the city buildings multiplied, were all very strong images but not strong enough to make her build them for Numbers. She was upset, unable to continue, and confronted Michaël with her decision that they would have to re-evaluate the chapter and start again... this time not so far apart.
After the seperation in the desert, Auriea and Michaël are re-united in the Promised Land.
The sins have been forgiven and the guilt washed away.
But despite of the love and the careful construction of a new bubble,
Auriea and Michaël could not prevent a new war.
The conflict scene in Numbers 1 was based on the cultural conflicts between Auriea and Michaël. We were amazed by how thoroughly our cultures had become part of what we thought was our personality. Despite of our love for each other, we could lapse into quite violent discussions which could all be brought back to the same thing: cultural differences: she was American, he was European. To this violence, we also wanted to add the violence of commerce -and by extension pop culture and democracy itself- of which we felt we were the victims. We called it a "commercial break".
After this an ecstasy of blood and love would wash over the cadavres of the war and bring peace,
a scorching, heavy, thick peace.
But it never happened.
In the struggle between art and life, for once, life had won.
But only momentarily.
Perhaps until another great artistic achievement woke us up.
Sketches of the final structure of Numbers
It wasn't until September 2001 that we started working on Numbers again. Although the idea of the "commercial war" was already present in the early sketches, the bombastic criticism of capitalist values that took place in New York City (Auriea's Egypt of all places) that month surely fueled our fervor. And the escalation of the Middle Eastern conflict that was the result of the cowboy politics of US president Bush, brought the whole thing home. The whole world was suddenly reliving the conflict in Numbers: one people gets the order from God to trample another people and take their possessions, good versus evil, the chosen people versus the barbarians. It became impossible for us not to use this material.
The structure of Numbers was simplified. Now there were six scenes:
choice between A & Z (black)
seperate path through the desert (yellow, x-axis left/right)
joint path through an oasis towards the tabernacle of the congregation (blue, z-axis)
the war (green, y-axis down)
ecstasy (red, y-axis up).
Later (document from November 28, 2001), the idea of the game aspect of the war scene was conceived.
In every chapter of the Godlove Museum, there is some kind of game.
Counting the visitors
In the Bible, the book of Numbers starts with counting the people.
On the internet, to count visitors through a hit counter, is a very common thing.
So that's what we did.
Since Numbers is the name of this book and we were using computers, we thought we should use as many numbers as we could. Other things that are being counted are the position, speed and distance of the user's cursor, the number of mouse clicks and rollovers, the animation frame rate and the total time. Also, several numbers that are important for the animation or the interaction in later scenes are being shown to the user.
Take my hand
First scene of Genesis
Last scene of Leviticus with scanned in body parts
Source of the background ornaments in the Choice scene
This scene offers the user the choice of going through the desert with either Auriea or Michaël.
Both hands have a number 1 written on them. A European style number on Auriea's hand and an American style number on Michaël's. The whole scene refers to the first scene of Genesis, in which our hands met. This time, however, it is impossible to make the hands touch each other. The user has to choose.
Also the order has been switched. Usually we follow the order of our name (first Entropy8, then Zuper!),
but this time, Michaël's hand is on the left and Auriea's hand on the right.
The picture of the hands was created by laying our hands on a scanner and scanning them in,
a technique we had used before, when we were still seperate, to acquaint each other with each other's body parts, and later in the Leviticus Ecstasy, for instance.
At the time of scanning, however, we had forgotten to write the numbers on our hands.
So we added them later with an image editing program.
The background was made from roccocco-style ornaments we had found on a the cover of second hand vinyl album of the Vienna Boys Choir.
Click on the giant flower
Early version of the desert scene
Leviticus game scene with memory clouds: "Unclean!"
We decided that it was a bad idea for us to work as isolated from each other as we had been doing per the scenario of Numbers 1. In this version of the journey through the desert, the paths of Auriea and Michaël are similar, going opposite directions and featuring their own memory bubbles.
The concept of the memory bubbles in this scene is related to the memory clouds in the game scene in Leviticus.
In the desert one navigates by making those memory bubbles pop. Auriea's bubbles contain pictures of some New York City skyscrapers, her ex-boyfriend, her unborn child and Entropy8. Michaël's contain a photograph taken by his ex-girlfriend of him working in his studio surrounded by his analog art, a screenshot of the Zuper! website, pictures of the first days with his son Marcel, a picture from his daughter Martha's birth card with a happy family on it (originally copied from a Witnesses of Jehova handbook) and pictures taken in the kitchen of his ex-house (one of Marcel, one of Martha being carried away by her mother and one of Michaël posing for pictures to send to Auriea). It is remarkable how this simple solution gave us a feeling of closure of these issues, not that they have gone away but that now we can let some of the pain fade as we prepare for the future.
Not unlike how God required the death of a whole generation of unruly Israelites before the rest could enter the Promised Land.
The giant pink flower in the desert is sort of a tribute to Belgian surrealism. We needed something to click on to proceed. The very wet flower seemed like a very alluring element in the dry desert and a good transition to the tropical rain forest of the oasis that would follow this scene.
But most of this image's appeal to us lay in its visual absurdity.
The images of the desert were made by painting the hill shapes in Flash, filling those shapes with a gradient, then selecting random areas and filling those with gradients and transparency. A fading gradient was overlayed on the whole scene to give the effect of blowing sand.
Technically, there is only one desert movie. The movie is switched to Auriea's or Michaël's path by flipping the whole movie so it moves in the correct direction.
Early experiment with z-axis motion simulation for the oasis scene
Early sketch for the oasis with branches instead of leaves
The branch that started the forest
The oasis was a source of serious frustration caused by the technical limitations of Flash. There was no way that we could do what we had envisioned to do with this scene within the performance standards that we had set. Flash just couldn't keep animation framerate up, despite all of the compromises we had already made.
We wanted to create a scene in which the user would feel he or she was going into something, deeper into the forest. In that forest he or she would find little treasures (scenes of Auriea and Michaël making love for instance). It was probably because we had gotten used to thinking in three dimensions after our experiments with interactive 3D software, that we came up with such a plan.
Anyway, after lots of trial and error we compromised on using branches instead of leaves.
In fact all the branches in the oasis are generated in real time with one single part of a branch that is duplicated, scaled, mirrored and tinted to form a whole forest. This is a randomized process which generates a different forest everytime a user visits the site. And instead of treasures we used lady bugs (Onze Lieve Heersbeestjes in Dutch, animals of Our Sweet Lord).
At the end of the oasis is our version of the "Tabernacle of the Congregation", or the "Tent of Meeting", which functions as sort of a mobile temple in the Bible. For us, of course, this was the place where we could finally perform our marital duties. This took the form of the sensuos motion of the opening and closing of a Tigerjaw flower (which some may recognize from Wirefire). An action which obviously sparks the wrath of God with a flame that refers to Leviticus. The background for the scene is a picture of a ceiling of a gothic cathedral.
The eyes are a tribute to Indian movies but also to the disturbing trend in "wartime" for Hollywood to revive with new venom the genre of the war film.
It's an abomination!
Source movie for the fight scene recorded in our living room.
Early sketch for the war scene
Food package as dropped by the US army simultaneously with bombs on Afghanistan
This is a complex scene. It is a combination of at least three elements: the cultural and personal conflicts between Auriea and Michaël, the destruction of the planet and its cultures by global capitalism and the aggression of the USA and the Western world towards other civilisations (in concreto: the war in Afghanistan). These elements are not juxtaposed but intertwined.
We are very much aware of the fact that we are both the victims and the executors of Western ideologies.
We know that the computers we use, are weapons of mass destruction.
That the clothes we wear cause the exploitation of underpaid workers.
That the car we drive suffocates the planet.
We are the victims of a society that has replaced respect by trade and equality by consumerism.
Powerful armies are flying to remote regions to ensure our liberties, to safeguard our way of life
by means of murder, destruction, manipulation and blackmail. Complete cultures are wiped off the face of the earth just so we can drive our car for a few more years.
In Numbers' war scene, the parachuting soldiers are sponsored by the corporations whose stock quotes appear in the top of the scene. The corporations have been chosen randomly. Their names don't matter. They represent a system.
We wanted the user to become an aggressor, one of the bad guys, by forcing him and her to take up the gun and shoot the soldiers coming down with their parachutes. As they are shot, the stock value of the companies that sponsor them goes down. When all stocks have reached zero, the scene finally ends.
The bars that indicate the health of Michaël and Auriea are copied from our favorite fighting game: Tekken Tag Tournament.
The numbers on either site of the screen that seem to represent the health of each game character, are in fact chapter (left) and verse (right) numbers of the Bible quotes that appear at the bottom of the screen.
The horizontal bar at the top of the screen refers to the menubar at the top of the Macintosh desktop. Again the choice of this company does not matter. Apple is a metaphor for Microsoft, etcetera.
The sound bytes are from speeches the US President George W. Bush gave during his bombing of Afghanistan.
The slap sound is the same as the one in the Ecstasy scene of Leviticus.
The packets with Pound and Dollar signs refer to the food droppings of the US Army on Afghanistan (which also inspired the home page design of our
The bomber airplane is a picture of an airliner taken from the game scene in our Exodus, in which the user is made to shoot airplanes. Originally we had intended to use ad banners from web sites to represent the bomber, but we couldn't decide on which and didn't want to make the file needlessly big. Also we really wanted an image of an airliner plane somewhere in Numbers.
The background silhouette is based on a photograph of the Afghan skyline before the attacks.
The graveyard that is created when soldiers fall, is reminiscent of the World War I graveyards in the region of Belgium where Michaël spent his youth (where the slogan "Never again" was coined after the attrocities of the war...).
The sounds of the shooting and the falling soldiers are taken from Quake 3 Arena.
The helicopter sound was used to annoy Americans with memories of Vietnam.
The colors in this scene are derived from the footage of the USA-Afghanistan war that we saw on the US propaganda television channels. This footage was shot with some kind of nightvision filter that allowed images of nightly scenes to be filmed. It is one of those things that are used to make real wars look like harmless video games. A strategy employed by the USA since the Desert Storm abomination.
It is part of a complex system of confusing simulation with reality.
Disney World is a very crude example of this, Hollywood already a little more advanced and CNN one of the major achievements. Its purpose is to make Westerners believe that the societies that they live in are the result of natural evolution and not of aggressive attacks on and -sometimes subtle- destruction (often in the form of assimilation) of everything that does not comply or that stands in the way.
Many people ask us if this is really the end of Numbers.
They wonder if they may have missed the spot where to click.
Orchids pattern used in the Ecstasy scene of both Genesis and Numbers
At first, we had planned to make a more baroque ecstasy but after experiencing the war, we decided that a little bit of modesty and serenity was in place. Also we did not want to end with an undividedly happy atmosphere. After all of the chaos of war we simply leave the viewer alone.
In the red background, once in a while, the user can see a vague picture of red orchids fade in and out.
This is exactly the same image file as was used in the Ecstasy scene of the first chapter, Genesis.
The music and sound effects in Numbers were all made with the same amount of beats per minute (200).
This was an attempt to ensure a continuous soundtrack despite of synchronisation issues that are inherent to networked media.
The different melodies hook into each other differently every time one goes through the site.
Unlike when one would listen to a linear sound track.
No Dynamic HTML was used during the making of this software.
With the exception of a little Perl for the counter,
Numbers is the first chapter of the Godlove Museum that was made entirely in Flash.
And probably the last, since our imagination keeps running into the limitations of Flash too much.
For the images, mostly Photoshop was used.
For the sounds, Cooledit.
And for the music, Reason.
Most of the work was done on two Windows 2000 Dell workstations (Zardoz and Doll) and an Apple Macintosh Powerbook (Europa).
During development, files were stored on our trusty Snapserver (Emmanuelle).
For low end perfomance testing, an iMac (Callisto) and a Windows 98 Sony laptop (Johny) were used.
Most source material for sounds and images was found on the internet.
Permissions for use of these files was not requested.
All code was hand-crafted by the authors.