Daniel Phelps


The Future American Retrospective (2019)




The Future American Retrospective project can be found here: https://www.farvr.org/

My work as an Integrated Media Artist has allowed me to create and contribute to a wide variety of technology research initiatives and narratives. From robotics to linear documentary storytelling, my work always strives to incorporate emerging technology and apply it to emerging interdisciplinary fields.


The Future American Retrospective: A Telerobotic VR Experience, is a documentary film & installation project that incorporates robotic camera control, Virtual Reality, and novel Documentary filmmaking techniques into a truly social experience intended question how our future-selves will reflect upon this uncertain time in history.


This work builds upon my recent applied research in robotics and my abilities as a traditional documentary storyteller. Emerging technologies will converge in the construction of the narrative. Creating new ways to document scenes, interviews, and group conversation in Virtual Reality, as well as creating an interactive and distinctive playback medium in the form of a robotic, multi-channel installation piece.


The Future American Retrospective (FARvr) is an oral history and Virtual Reality (VR) Documentary project that aims to document and preserve stories, viewpoints, and timely issues of Americana.

The project consists of three points of public interaction (Capture, Experience, Share):

  1. Public availability of VR documentary resources. A mobile, high-end Virtual Reality capture system can be setup in almost any event or location, easing the complexity of capturing stories for FARvr.
  2. Public multi-channel VR installation piece. The FARvr installation is a way for groups of people to experience the oral histories and stories captured in VR. This mobile installation consists of multiple large monitors and surround sound so that 1-8 people can share the VR experience without the need for a computer or isolating VR goggles. See prototype, figure 1.1
  3. Online access to all recorded media and transcripts. All VR media, audio, and transcriptions will be available via an online repository for the world to experience and share. All media licensed in Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/




We are at a compelling period in this country’s history. Politics, technology, and disparate generations of Americans are shaping our future in ways that we could not even imagine ten or fifteen years ago. How will we look back at the political decisions made, our interaction with technology, and how we saw one another as a society of individuals? What does the diversity of our country have in common and are we all looking for the same refuge in our future?


The Future American Retrospective: A Telerobotic VR Experience, at its core, is a virtual reality documentary film that explores and presents these questions in unique ways. The project will question how people find their news and information, what sources and outlets shape their views, and ultimately how they feel about their future. I will sample a diverse pool of interview subjects, locations, and groups of seemingly dissimilar socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. This project will attempt to document the past-present while exhibiting it to our future selves as both a VR film and multi-channel installation piece.


Additionally, all technology developed for this project will have its construction documented and open-sourced under an “Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0)” license so that future VR filmmakers can develop the technology further. Pushing the fledgling medium to a place that lives beyond the scope of this proposal.


This method in which the story will be crafted has its roots in Errol Morris’s Interrotron device . This innovative documentary approach has not only lent itself to the unique look in his films but more so the byproduct of his Interrotron technology humanizes the filmmaking process. My approach will turn his device on its end by completely removing the filmmaker from the process rather than embedding them into it. By creating anonymity and dehumanizing the filmmaking process, I intend to create a wall for the subject and filmmaker to hide behind. This technique will allow for pushing the interview process past traditional boundaries by creating a faceless, cold machine that a subject can berate, reveal, bully, and find solace behind metal and lens. The intent is to mimic online conversation and interaction in the real world.


This research method will explore how technology influences group-think in face-to-face environments. For example, the project could record an interview groups at an outdoor KKK rally as well as several members in their rural home. Inversely we would then travel to public housing in an urban area to gather discussion with minority youth communities. Anonymity will allow the filmmaker to engage with people and demographics that they would otherwise be uncomfortable approaching to interview. Inversely, the filmmaker would also explore how the public would react to the new VR recording methods that remove the human face from “real life” interactions.


As a way to uniquely craft this story, I intend to employ virtual reality (VR) cameras and robotic telepresence (telerobotics) as the film’s primary recording and playback medium. This, first of its kind, approach will revoke the traditional human relationship between filmmaker and subject from the recording method. Interviews and environmental footage will be conducted by the Robocam VR Platform (Figure A.) and the interview subjects will never meet or see who (the filmmaker) is intrigued by their habits and curious about their future. The technology that interacts with its subjects, will in essence, become the filmmaker itself. The only human involvement in the production of the project will be in the conducting of the interviews and edited narrative as a human intermediate device. Anonymity will be the device of both the filmmaker and the subject. Never the two will meet in the form of the flesh, emulating the virtual interactions and engagement of our age.


Furthermore, the presentation medium will be a robotic installation comprised of a humanoid robot experiencing the VR/multi-channel narrative (Figure B.). As the 20 to 30-minute narrative documentary plays on the four screens surrounding the humanoid robot (Softbank Robotics NAO platform), the robot will react and emote what it is hearing and seeing. Representing our future selves, the NAO will be programmed to react to the films multiple narratives in 360° movement, expressing traditional human emotions such as shame, excitement, wonder, and curiosity. This robotic representation and emotional programming will attempt to re-humanize the narrative with sentiment and dynamism.


The installation experience will provide the viewer with 360° movements around the installation, allowing one to follow the additional narrative and direction that the robot provides. Participants may also choose to diverge from the robotic attention steering and choose their own screen and storyline to follow. An alternative medium will also be provided alongside the installation as traditional VR Documentary format (VR goggles). The production and post-production of this project will be completed in 2017 with an initial confirmed gallery commitment from the York College Art Gallery for a 2-month show in the Spring of 2019.

Winter Abandon

Winter Abandon

NTSC Television and 3G Anaglyph video installation. Programmed using MAX/MSP/JITTER and multiple Arduino inputs to trigger Quicktime Events via MACos.

My intent was not to create an immersive experience… By addressing the fact that Much like 3D, the full effect of homelessness can never be fully realized.


Raw, anaglyph footage from installation (to be trigger via TV inputs; channel, volum, and power)



Peripheral Visions iPad Installation

This piece used a Jailbroken iPad and heavily modified Prezi presentation software.

Prezi and automated hacking tools to morph the consumer software into an installation platform

Hundreds of HQ scans and video “borrowed” from the NYPLibrary via a pocket scanner over a 3-month period. 

Curated by Maria Antonella Pelizzari and with the help of curatorial assistants, Peripheral Visions: Italian Photography in Context, 1950s-Present, is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog with writing by the curator and researchers and published by Charta Editions, Milan and distributed by D.A.P. globally.

Media and Framework Used for installation (LINK)




Giuseppe Pagano (1896–1945)

Image and text: Casabella continuità 265, July 1962“[Pictured]: Looking through one of two penetration tunnels inside [the] courts [of the INA-Casa and INCIS Quarter, Via Cavedone, Bologna].”

Images and text: Casabella continuità, April-May 1957“The buildings near Palermo for a ceramic factory consist, apart from the factory itself, of a group of factory houses for the factory employees and of a house for the manager, which is now being erected… Below: A North view of the factory and the group of the workers’ houses seen from the factory.”

Image and text: Casabella continuità, December 1962

“Since those held in Rome, the meetings and congresses of the National Institute of Town-Planning (INU) have assumed a precise institutional role: they provide the occasion for… high-level discussion and collaboration between town-planners and lawyers, economists, politicians, and lawmakers.”

Image and text: U.S. Economic Cooperation Administration (Documentation of Marshall Plan Activities), ca. 1948-ca. 1955“Matera, Italy: Italy’s government and America’s Economic Cooperation Administration cooperate to build a new housing project for the people of Matera. Note the Marshall Plan shield on the hoarding.”

Casabella & Domus History

Cover, Domus 205, January 1946

No problem is solved if it does not at once respond to utility, morals, and aesthetics.

A house is no house if it is not warm in winter, cool in summer, serene in every season, receiving the family in harmonious spaces. A house is no house if it does not contain a corner for reading poetry, an alcove, a bathtub, a kitchen. This is the house of man. And a man is no man if he does not possess such a house. Does this house exist? Did it ever exist?…

A magazine can be an instrument, a filter for establishing the criterion of choice…It is a matter of forming a style, a technique, a morality as terms of a single function. It is a matter of building a society…Let us all help each other to find the harmony between the human measure and divine proportion.

(Ernesto N. Rogers, “Program: Domus, the House of Man”)

Interventions in southern Italy were fueled in part by the sassi of Matera. Frequently referred to as “the shame of Italy,” this district consisted of ancient cliffside dwellings with few hygienic amenities. Perhaps most shocking to the Italian public, many residents of the stassi brought their farm animals inside at night, sleeping side by side with cows or sheep in order to prevent their theft. Although Matera became a rallying point for intervention in the South, the entire region was economically underdeveloped and deeply impoverished, due in large part to residual effects from Fascist zoning policies. Town-planning and the arrival of factories contributed to the region’s turnaround.

Image and text: Domus 483, February 1970“The visual continuity between the interior and exterior spaces through the transparent… walls puts the predominant structural feature in evidence: the “U” shaped section of the roof slab.”

Images: Casabella continuità, December 1953-January 1954

Viale Etiopia’s eight residential towers make prominent use of efficient reinforced-concrete piers and standardized construction elements, while “regional” details–such as majolica tiling and wrought iron balconies–lend the design a broader aesthetic appeal.

The 1949 Fanfani Plan addressed Italy’s postwar housing crisis only secondarily; intended to create jobs by stimulating the construction industry, the legislation provided for a government-sponsored mass housing program, which was to be overseen by the newly formed public agency INA-Casa.

Early INA-Casa projects commonly followed an “enclosed quarter” model. Many peripheral districts lacked easy access to basic services, prompting progressive architects to design public housing estates equipped with schools, recreation centers, shops, and clinics, among other facilities. However, such projects often remained incomplete, with later phases of construction delayed or canceled as a result of bureaucratic inefficiency and the uncertain availability of government funding.

Writing in July 1961, Aldo Rossi asserted that the INA-Casa quarters were “no more than islands of poverty cut off from any organic relationship with the city.” In December 1962, Giuseppe Samonà made a similar assertion: “Of course, the times of naively revolutionary ideological choices have passed, and the social experiments in quarters of the city… have palled.” These assessments reflect the impact of “the new dimension,” a model for urban growth that treats the city as a series of interrelated parts, with particular attention given to socioeconomic circumstances. In the pages of Casabella continuità, attention shifted from mass housing estates to “directional centers,” infrastructural buildings or roadways designed to link isolated neighborhoods with much-needed services located in alternative city centers.

In a June 1943 article for Costruzioni-Casabella, editor Giuseppe Pagano looked ahead to postwar Italy, calling for a reconstruction plan that would fully resolve “the problem of human habitation” before attending to the restoration of historical monuments. Guided by a reformist agenda throughout his tenure, Pagano had previously drawn attention to overcrowding and structural deficiencies in the low-income housing of Milan’s Corso Garibaldi quarter. He envisioned alternative residences shaped according to the practical concerns of “the people”; stripped of adornment, these cost-efficient designs promoted physical and spiritual wellbeing with modern hygienic amenities and ready access shared outdoor spaces. In his extended analysis of public housing, Pagano anticipated many of the questions that would drive architectural discourse following the war.

After a brief stint as editor of Domus magazine, Ernesto Nathan Rogers took charge of the newly revived and retitled Casabella continuità in December 1953; he treated the magazine as a forum for the investigation of socially responsible architecture and urban planning practices; and as Pagano had done before him, he defended the relevance of traditional and vernacular forms to modernist building design. Appearing in the inaugural issue of Casabella continuità, Mario Ridolfi and Wolfgang Frankl’s Viale Etiopia quarter (1948–1954), represents an effective assimilation of modernist and popular design vocabularies.

As the 1950s came to a close, progressive Italian architects began to look beyond questions of form in order to embrace the discipline of urban planning. Although Rogers remained in his official leadership role at Casabella continuità until 1964, younger colleagues Aldo Rossi and Francesco Tentori became increasingly influential; promoted to editorial positions in 1961, this next generation of architects took up the investigation of Italy’s urban peripheries.

Modern & Vernacular

Images: Casabella continuità, April-May 1957

Construction of a House: INA-Casa (Tula, Italy) ca. 1950

Italy’s economic miracle (ca. 1957-1963) represented a moment of spectacular industrial growth as the economy shifted from an agrarian to a manufacturing base. The promise of employment in Italy’s large northern cities–particularly Milan, Turin, and Genoa–prompted a mass migration of rural and southern Italians. The swelling urban population strained infrastructures, creating housing shortages and promoting the development of economically and socially disenfranchised districts on the urban periphery.

Urban Peripheries

Images and text: Domus 483, February 1970“This recent work of Vittoriano Viganò’s–[the Attiva Plant] in the plain between Novi Ligure and Alessandria–stresses the coherence of his architectural language. See the dynamic relationship of the structure with the site: the horizontal development of the architecture underlines the wide flat landscape, while creating a definite image recognizable from afar. See the staggered progress of the low boundary walls and the green areas filtrating between the buildings.”

Italy’s economic miracle (ca. 1957-1963) represented a moment of spectacular industrial growth as the economy shifted from an agrarian to a manufacturing base. The promise of employment in Italy’s large northern cities–particularly Milan, Turin, and Genoa–prompted a mass migration of rural and southern Italians. The swelling urban population strained infrastructures, creating housing shortages and promoting the development of economically and socially disenfranchised districts on the urban periphery.

Images and text: Casabella continuità 253, July 1961“The face of the contemporary city is for the most part represented by the outskirts: a large part of humanity is born, grows up, and lives on the outskirts of cities, that is, in those huge zones which rose rapidly around the old centers and now together with all the signs and scars of too rapid a growth, show a new and more intense vitality.”(Aldo Rossi, “The City and the Outskirts”)


Images and text: Casabella continuità, December 1953-January 1954

“View of the buildings completed and inhabited. There are shops on the ground floor. The other buildings are not yet completed.”

Images and text: Casabella 391, July 1974

“Here are two subsidized buildings specifically designed for the Gallaratese quarter, Milan, where for some time now the inhabitants have been clamoring for houses and social services.”

Southern Transformation

Public Housing Projects

Image and text: Casabella continuità 199, December 1953-January 1954“The true conscience of the Modern Movement lies in its continual transcendence: in its never-ending conquest of itself with every form acquired… [T]hus when I talk of continuity, I am talking of a dynamic continuity, which is to say, of a continuos sense of tradition, well beyond the coarse nominalistic meaning of the word.” (Ernesto N. Rogers, “Continuità”)

“When painting, the cinema, and literature deal with the city, they reflect this aspect in which everything is in itself rich with new motifs: the man of the metropolis is now the man of the suburbs, the most typical feelings of our time are attributed to the residents of this zone.”

(Aldo Rossi, “The City and the Outskirts,” Casabella continuità 253, July 1961)

Image: Casabella continuità, December 1962

Introduced in 1959, the term la nuova dimensione–”the new dimension”–refers to a model for urban growth in which the city is treated as a series of interrelated parts, including center, periphery, and socioeconomic foundation. In practical terms, “the new dimension” extended the purview of architecture from questions of form and style to the realm of urban planning.

“Houses for Workers (Meolo, Italy),” Foto Giacomelli, Venice, 1950

Images: Casabella continuità 270, December 1962

Giuseppe Pagano promoted an architecture based on the simple functionality of rural peasant dwellings; designed to support the routine activities of daily life, these structures were efficient in cost and construction and expressed pride in an “authentic” Italian vernacular tradition. Still, Pagano was deeply invested in the notion of modernity; he embraced engineering and technology, calling for expanded infrastructure for the delivery of running water, electricity, and telephone lines–and highlighting the need to promote hygienic living spaces with adequate light and fresh air for all Italians.

Rogers also championed regional and vernacular styles, citing the importance of “continuità”–continuity–or integration of the new into the existing urban environment. English critic Reyner Banham famously accused Rogers of supporting an “infantile regression” in Italian architecture, prompting a heated exchange between the two in a series of magazine editorials. Rogers’ Torre Velasca, Milan (1958) became a symbol of this negotiation between old and new forms, drawing harsh criticism from many of Europe’s avant-garde architects. By contrast, Gio Ponti’s Torre Pirelli, Milan (1960) was widely celebrated as a sign of Italian economic progress, with its sleek soaring lines emulating an American skyscraper.

In the wake of global political upheaval, architectural style became a hotly contested matter; classicism was dismissed as the language of oppressive Fascist monuments, while pure modernism seemed to express a naive faith in technological progress—and a willful ignorance of the devastation wrought by war machinery. The vernacular inflections of many INA-Casa projects, by contrast, signaled the arrival of a democratic Italy committed to fulfilling the material and psychological needs of “the people.”

Images and text: Casabella continuità 253, July 1961

“[Pictured]: Works in progress for the new quick traffic roads through Milan. The too late development of quick traffic roads in and out of the city…seem rather poor as compared with the actual city size expanding over wider areas already thickly built…”

Building Reform & Politics

Industrial Buildings

Ernesto Nathan Rogers (1909–1969)

Aldo Rossi (1931-1997)

Image and text: Casabella continuità 270, December 1962

“This issue on the city and region is dedicated to Adriano Olivetti, who was the first in Italy to grasp the historical and instrumental importance of their relationship and their interdependence.”

(Ernesto N. Rogers, “Unity Throughout Adriano Olivetti’s Life”)

Image and text: U.S. Economic Cooperation Administration (Documentation of Marshall Plan Activities), ca. 1948-ca. 1955

“The picture shows Larderello in the background with refrigerators and plant buildings. At left [are] some of the new apartment houses which have been built for employees.”


Sonic Graffiti

Sonic Graffiti: Hacking the Subconscious Through Aural Cues

The project presented to funding sources through 2015. Was abandoned due to legal and permit issues. Artist considering gorilla art and self-financing as an alternate installation method.




Every day we are exposed to sounds from both natural and man-made sources. Our ears are constantly bombarded with cues that tell us more about our environment. Everything from train conductor announcements, to the beeps and clicks to your iPod, assist in providing the information that one needs to navigate and interact with the modern world.


Depending on your profession, your ear might be trained to pick up on sounds that trigger an ingrained response due to training or repetition. For example, a fighter pilot through many hours of training will respond to certain aural feedback coming from his cockpit. In turn, a construction worker understands the sonic landscape of the construction site with all of it crashes of manufacturing and beeps of warning.

Other than the aural cues of a distinct profession, what are the cues that tie the human race together? Do certain sounds connect us all? Obviously, the farmer has a very different set of daily environmental sounds, and therefore different reactionary cues in his environment than the urbanite would have in theirs. And while our daily experiences may be different sonically, we may have a set of sounds that binds us all together through evolution.


It is well known that certain sounds trigger a mammalian response often referred to the flight or fight response. This response prepares the body to either run from danger or challenges it. Engrained in us over our evolution, our subconscious can inherently identify sounds in our environment that can cause us harm, and react. This emotional, sonic exploit, is often used in movies. Whereas, the low hum of bees will be laid into the background track of a scene to heighten a moment (The Exorcist, 1973). Or by the use of sudden loud sounds to interrupt a quiet moment often used in every horror film since 1923. The effect is used to literally strike fear into an audience.


I believe that we all share a pool of environmental, aural cues, that trigger an uncontrollable emotional or physical response. My project intends to manipulate those emotional responses by exploring these sounds via context, repetition, and source identifiable. How do these sounds interact with the conscious/unconscious mind?



Project Outline


My inspiration for this project came from the more effective, modern, graffiti artists such as Banksy. Specifically a piece where, in 2005, he placed subverted artworks in the Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, and the American Museum of Natural History in New York. What worked about his art subversion was the subtlety that it was presented. His art was placed in an environment where the context allowed it to be accepted as “real art” and then interpreted by museum-goers as such.  He used context to gain access to visitors interpretive minds. Without this subversion, the more traditional museum visitor probably would not have viewed his pieces in this new, established, context.

The Sonic Graffiti project borrows not from Banksy’s social commentary, but from what I believe his core approach is when choosing the environment for his art. A decision-making process to maximize context, interpretation and create an “art space” from nothing but a perceived area.

I plan to plant audio projecting devices within spaces where people gather. These “Improvised Sonic Devices”, or I.S.D.’s,  will then project sound through a variety of mechanical and acoustically practical means. Chosen sounds will be denoted by the context of the space, and the audience available. The key to a covert Sonic Graffiti show is the subtlety that the piece is presented and the physical and emotional responses that they elicit from the unwilling participants.


While the sounds and implementation may vary from any two Sonic Graffiti pieces, I believe that there are three main factors that are used in both a Banksy project and Sonic Graffiti. The core approach to this project needs to consider the environment, sounds produced, and finally, the devices used.


When considering a Sonic Graffiti project, a matrix is created that assists in denoting the application and programming of the I.S.D.’s. The three variables in the matrix are the environment, sound, and device. Examples of each variable can be but are not limited to, those found below.


Requirements: Quiet enough for I.S.D’s to be heard, complex enough to be hidden.


  • Library
  • Small Park
  • Gym
  • Lounge
  • Art Installations
  • Museums
  • Schools
  • Restaurants
  • Restrooms
  • Airplanes



Requirements: Illicit physical or emotional response out of participants, given context.


  • Practical (aka mechanical) Applications
    • Taps
    • Broken Bell
    • Chime
    • Pops/clicks
    • Physical vibration through low Hertz
    • Rattle

  • Speaker Based Applications
    • Hiss
    • Whiz
    • Falling rocks
    • Infrasound
    • Baby
    • Siren
    • Mammalian Distress
    • Screeching car
    • Voice



Requirements: Long lasting. Programmable volume and duration for sound projection.



  • AC Powered “Vampire” devices
    • Edison plug
    • Incandescent
    • Fluorescent
    • Power over Ethernet (POE)

  • Solar Powered
    • Indoor
    • Outdoor

  • Wind Powered

  • Battery Powered
    • Magnetic
    • Sticky
    • Clippy

The intent of a Sonic Graffiti installation is to heighten the awareness of the audio environment. By using sounds hard-wired into our collective unconscious, the installation will generate a physical response that will enhance attentiveness in the participant, therefore increasing the perception of their acoustic environment.


Since the piece is variable due to the open interpretation by the participants, this cognizance will come in many forms. From searching out the source of the sound (I.S.D.), to the subtle curiosity of the modified environment. Ultimately, certain sounds and their manufactured environments should be perceived and not heard. This “subtle hack” should be invisible, much in the way the humming of bees presented in the exorcist was only intended for the audience’s subconscious.

Practical Installation

Location: Hudson River Greenway. Westside Highway and 64th Street, New York NY.


Potential visitors to the audio installation would visit sonicgraffiti.info to find the current location of the Sonic Graffiti Project.

The Hudson River Greenway provides everything that a good Sonic Graffiti installation needs to be sustainable and successful; A quiet space where people congregate and relax, access to energy sources (e.g. Sunlight, wind, public utilities, etc.), areas for concealment of I.S.D.s, and a relatively subdued background noise provided by the Westside Highway.


The installation will utilize every type of I.S.D. in the Sonic Graffiti arsenal. A minimum of 5 pieces will be used to create the installation. The main goal of this installation is to generate a certain sense of awareness in the visitors of the greenway. By using sounds and vibrations, visitors will seek their source, therefore exploring the space and changing the intent of the visit.


Devices Used

Thumper – Battery powered. Conductive transmission though steel by spring loaded hammer mechanism.


Buzzer – Public utility powered. Buzzing and cracking sound emanated through the speaker and concealed in a light pole.

Talker – Battery Powered. This device transmits a one-sided conversation to visitors sitting on the park bench.

Beekeeper – Solar Powered. Playing back the sound of a hive of bees in the grass, this device is meant to distress passerby’s curious of the ornamental grass.

Whaler – Wind-powered. This device is the only I.S.D that will not be concealed. Hiding the device is not needed because it is unreachable from the installation. The sounds of dolphins and whales emanate from the partially submerged pier off of the Hudson River Greenway.

Maker-Culture and You:How 3D Printing and Hands-On Learning Can Augment Traditional Pedagogy

Workshop and Webinar facilitated by Daniel Phelps, Performing & Fine Arts Adjunct Assistant Professor & Multimedia Production Specialist.

Originally recorded on April 3rd, 2014

Sponsored by the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL).

Can 3D printing help accomplish your course goals? This workshop willexplore how creative pedagogy using 3D printing & design can enhance your coursework, leading to increased interest and understanding in your subject matter. Learn by invention in York College’s Makerspace. This event will also be simulcast in Google Hangouts

Participation does not require Blackboard or any other technology.