multi-media project: RPI’s Igor Vamos.
he initially gained notoriety from playing with little dolls,
Igor Vamos was most recently recognized for his ingenuity
and vision in the medium of film.
Vamos, an assistant professor in the art department at Rensselaer
Polytechnic Institute, was recently awarded a $35,000 Guggenheim
fellowship for new-media arts to continue his work on an experimental
“mobile” documentary, Grounded.
The film centers on the now-defunct U.S. military base in
Wendover, Utah. The site was used to test and develop the
atomic bomb. In August of 1945, B-29 bombers departed from
Wendover to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.
is a fascinating place,” Vamos said. “It is in an area of
very heavy industrial and military land uses, not to mention
the newer gambling industry. As a result it says a lot about
During the 1940s, Wendover was one of the largest military
bases in the world, sprawling nearly 86 miles long and 17
to 36 miles wide, and Vamos’ film takes advantage of that;
Grounded will be a film to experience rather than merely
Viewers will experience the film by driving through the former
military base in a 1983 Ford Crown Victoria fitted with a
viewing screen, and a computer hooked up to a global positioning
system. As viewers drive through certain points of the base,
they will trigger a variety of media clips discussing the
site’s historical and political significance.
For example, when a viewer drives past the base’s aircraft
hangars, the viewing screen might produce images of the Enola
Gay—the bomber used to drop the first atomic bomb—prepped
for its bombing mission.
Though the script to the film will be written, Vamos explained
that by driving the car, the documentary will act like a guided
tour and viewers will be able to choose when and if certain
parts of the film are accessed.
it allows the viewer to choose the path they want to take
while experiencing the documentary,” Vamos said. “It is not
really that fundamentally different from a printed tour guide,
it just means that people don’t have to constrain to any prescribed
route. You can’t zap through space to an entirely new location.
If you are at one place, you may have to pass through several
others to get to the destination you have in mind, but other
than physical restraints, in theory, you can go anywhere you
The film’s content is still being developed, Vamos explained,
and there are currently about 60 trigger sites at Wendover
that would generate different aspects of the documentary.
Vamos, who has been working in collaboration with the Historic
Wendover Restoration Project, hopes to unveil the project
real amazing thing about it, when you’re actually doing it,
is that it does seem somewhat magical to be able to move around
and have this voice follow you that refers to whatever, wherever
you are,” Vamos said. “It’s always sort of surprising to know
that it knows where you are.”
Another of Vamos’ projects, the Barbie Liberation Organization,
garnered international media recognition in 1994 for switching
the voice boxes in Barbie dolls and G.I. Joe action figures.
Vamos and partners swapped parts so the Barbie dolls barked,
“Dead men tell no lies,” while the GI Joe figures said, “Math
his work generates international attention and debate, Igor
has opened doors for many others working in very advanced
media and in very daring subject areas,” said John Harrington,
dean of humanities and social sciences at RPI.
Vamos was one of 184 people to receive the Guggenheim Fellowship,
out of more than 3,000 who applied. The John Guggenheim Memorial
Foundation awarded grants and fellowships totaling $6.75 million
dollars last year.