Virtual Wuhan

Virtual Wuhan is a virtual reality experience for HTC Vive, created on location in the Central China’s Hubei Province. Using photogrammetry pointcloud technology the project documents the rapidly changing city of Wuhan. In April of 2016, artist John Craig Freeman was selected by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to participate in the ZERO1 American Arts Incubator. While there, Freeman worked with local communities to document those parts of the city that best represented their experience of change. Virtual Wuhan includes 10 chapters with 30 individual scenes.


Virtual Wuhan: Dazhimen Railway Station, John Craig Freeman, 11”x14” archival inkjet print, 2016.

ZERO1 partners with the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) to run an international creative exchange program in media and digital arts, American Arts Incubator.
Inspired by the “business incubator” model made popular by Silicon Valley’s technology and startup companies, American Arts Incubator is a hybrid training lab, production workshop, and tool for public engagement. It showcases artists as engaged and innovative partners in addressing social issues, in addition to creating a cross-cultural exchange of ideas.
The field work for Virtual Wuhan was produced during a six week residency in the city of Wuhan. With a population of over 10 million people, Wuhan is located in central China at the confluence of the Yangtze and Han Rivers. The city is consolidated from three historic walled cities: Wuchang to the east of the Yangtze, and to the west, Hankou north of the Han and Hanyang to the south of the Han. With an ancient history Wuhan’s three cities date from before AD 223.
In addition to its access to the markets of Central China through the Yangtze Rivers, in the late 19th century, railroads were extended north and south through the city, making Wuhan an important transportation hub. During this period, foreign colonial powers established mercantile concessions, and the riverfront of Hankou was divided into foreign-controlled mini free trade zones, or concessions, including British, French, Russian and Japanese. The United States never had a concession, but it ran gunboats up the river to protect its interests.
Largely driven by resentments of colonial encroachment and Qing dynasty complicity, on October 10, 1911, Sun Yat-sen and his followers launched the Wuchang Uprising, which led to the collapse of the four thousand years of imperial rule and the establishment of the Republic of China. Wuhan was the capital of the nationalist government during the 1920s.
Considered one of the fastest changing cities in China, Wuhan just might be the fastest changing city in the world.

Chapter 01 transports users to the Changchun Guan buddhist temple in Wuchang.
Chapter 02 explores the markets of Old Hankou.
Chapter 03 investigates the original Dazhimen Railway Station, a beautiful French style building from the 1920’s which was once the most modern and important railway station in China, and helped to shape Wuhan’s image as a transportation hub.
Chapter 04, focused on the site of the former Nanhu Airport including the historic flight control building, from its military beginnings, to a public airport, and now decommissioned at the center of a peaceful residential community at the outskirts of Wuchang.
Chapter 05 explores the historic Donghu Lake, or East Lake, at the Tingtao Scenic Area. Once plentiful, in recent years Wuhan has suffered the loss of three quarters of its lakes to land reclamation and development.
Chapter 06, leads users through one of Wuhan’s demolition zones.
Chapter 07, includes Jianghan Road, a central pedestrian shopping street which divides the city from the historic Chinese part of town to the colonial concessions.
Chapter 08, leads users through a small portrait studio to a quiet rooftop pavilion and private garden.
Chapter 09, was created in the Russian Concession, including the former villa of a famous Russian tea merchant named J. K. Panoef. Once the richest man in China, Panoef was a relative of Tzar Nicolai and the owner of Buchang Tea Company. The Panoef has been home to local families since the revolution.
Chapter 10, takes place in and around warlord General Wu Peifu’s former palace. General Wu appeared on the September 8, 1924 cover of Time Magazine.

Photogrammetry is a technology used to create 3D models from the real world. A series of photographs taken at multiple angles can be analysed and the parallax differences of key features in the image can be measured and plotted in XYZ coordinate space. In addition to its position in space, each point is assigned an RGB color value. The result is referred to as a point cloud. The point cloud data can be converted to a polygonal mesh or used in its original state, as is the case with Virtual Wuhan, to create assets for use in virtual or augmented reality. This technology represents an important evolution in the history of photography, allowing the photographic image to be immersive and explorable. Photogrammetry can be used to create 3D models of people, places or objects. I like to think that this form moves us closer to virtual representation of experience itself.
Most examples of fully immersive virtual reality include synthetic environments of imaginary worlds. Virtual Wuhan was created on location and represents real people, real places and real experiences, bringing the real to virtual reality.
Throughout history, narrative forms are time-based and linear. Epic poems, theater, novels and cinema, all have a beginning, a middle and an end. Virtual reality technology makes possible new narrative forms that is structured over space rather than time. Virtual Wuhan is an experiment in spatial narrative. The user can navigate through individual scenes using touchpad walking, a method of virtual reality movement controlled by sliding a thumb on the touchpad of a controller. The audio is spatialized and individual audio nodes can be experienced in any order. Accordingly the structure of the narrative needs to be flexible. The intention is, that the story washes over the user as she explores the virtual scenes.