Showing posts tagged with: I-Park Residency  Show all posts

Posted Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Working with Total Space

Last night I cleared (almost) everything out of my studio - so that I could focus on the installation in terms of it's 'total space':

Studio 1 at CAC
Rocks in Studio 1 at CAC

By 'total space' I mean the space around the work, which viewers experience just as much as the work itself - in installations this space is part of the work and cannot be separated.

In this post I'll describe some of the dimensions I am considering when looking at this space, in the context of the work I'm currently developing.

The original 'installations'
Installation art got it's name because curators used to have to decide how to hang paintings and place sculptures. This was termed 'installation', and photographs for publication of several works together were called 'installation shots'.

An installation shot
An installation shot, at the Smithsonian
Photo by Smithsonian

For installation artists much, if not all, of that process of arrangement of objects in space has become an essential aspect of the artwork itself. Each work cannot exist in isolation but has to be considered in terms of it's relationship to the space in which it is installed.

So in practice, the work must be 'site-specific', or somehow transposable to more than one location.

Using the architecture
An interesting antecedent for 'transposable' work is Sol Lewitt. A few weeks ago at Mass MOCA I saw the work 'Wall Drawing 51: All architectural points connected by straight lines'.

As the title suggests, this work can be recreated in any location (as long as it has some architectural points).

Sol Lewitt
Wall Drawing 51: All architectural points connected by straight lines
Photo by br_5530

As with much of LeWitt's work, the art is in the crafting of sets of repeatable instructions. Those instructions can then be carried out again and again to produce physical instantiations of the work.

This is one way of making the work mutable, but it also carries a rigid inflexibility that constrains the piece and prevents it seeping beyond a defined boundary; the work cannot 'mutate' beyond the prescription of the instructions.

Much more common is the approach that the artist must be physically present to carry out or oversee the instantiation of the installation. The consideration then is how the work can mutate to converse with new surroundings in a way that compliments, augments or challenges it's origin.

Navigating the space
There are a number of transposable elements I am currently considering in how I present my work. Each will have to be reconsidered in each location it is installed, and it is worth noting a few of them here.

Firstly, what is the viewer's initial experience on entering the space?

Beyond that, what path(s) can viewers walk through to enter the space and approach the work? Which are more traveled, and why? What aspects of the work are accentuated by particular routes? Which routes encourage temporal or physical interaction with the piece, and which don't?

The routes viewers can take will have a big impact on how people respond to the installation. A 'throwaway comment' type of an installation might call for fast and casual footfall, but for my work which requires some time I am experimenting with ways of allowing passage through, while also creating a pool of space which is separate from the traffic, in which time can be spent and immersion can occur, without prescription that it must occur.

Divisions within the space
What distance do you want viewers to have from the work? Do you want people to walk through and explore, or is the work to be physically cut off, distant, or somehow different from the viewing space they occupy?

There is a work by Jospeh Beuys on permanent installation at Centre Pompidou in Paris, "Plight", which was very influential on me. One of the key aspects of the room, when we step back and stop thinking about the silence, the felt, and the presence of the room, is that you can't enter the space.

Plight, Joseph Beuys
Plight, Joseph Beuys
Photo by Gastev

A rail prevents your entry, and also delineates a small viewing platform. This gives the space a sense of otherness, and timelessness. In this context, the rail is part of what gives the installation it's gravity, it's immanence, it's sense of potential.

The frame
And for all the talk about the democratization of space, about how installation takes away the centred viewer, there is always still a frame within which your work will be considered.

This might be an institutional frame, and therefore conceptual. But even physically, there is a frame provided by the walls, by markings on the floor, by the use of light, by ropes, gates or rails. And if there isn't a frame already, you have the option of introducing one. As in "Plight" this frame can serve as a boundary, or the frame can be just a suggestion.

In many room-sized installations there is no physical frame - this means that the work is fully immersive and is a deliberate move on the artist's part to obscure the frame so that viewers are not aware it. In these cases the work can still be framed by the physical features of the room, and particularly by the transitional nature of the entranceway provided to enter the space.

In any case, the concept of a frame is something which you can work with or against.

Emphasis and de-emphasis
What elements of the space are the ones that viewers can't see?

In the work I am creating at the moment, I want to draw back the sense that technology is central in the work. So I am experimenting with techniques for placing the projector I am using to craft the light out of view. This is not to attempt to obscure the fact that a projector is the medium by whch the light is being crafted, but rather to de-emphasise the role the projector plays and emphasise instead the light on it's own terms.

Indoor not outdoor
Since arriving here at CAC I have been increasingly focused on the installation potential for this project rather than outdoor. It's odd, because the project began with such an outdoor focus.

Outdoor shot at I-Park
Outdoor shot at I-Park

There were a whole set of issues related to working outdoors; technology, projectors, and sound equipment, and it was forcing me down a road of 'one-off' performances or interventions. Those elements are not crucial for this particular work at it's current stage, and so they have been sidelined.

There is still strong outdoor potential for this work, more so than my previous projects. However at this stage, quickfire experimentation took priority, and indoor rocks became both a pragmatic reality and a potent ground for exploration.

The gear The handtruck
Packing up gear to take on the land at I-Park

The conceptual grounding which was so engaging at the start, could be brought indoors and more easily experimented with. The oldness and brutality embedded in the broken-open shape and texture of rocks. The internal, perceptive world that we conjure up and it's relationship to the alien and disembodied.

These are ideas that I want to exploit in the studio, and if and when the time is right, to explore in an outdoor arena. Outdoors brings it's own set of potentials and challenges, but which I think need to be prepared for in the studio, and should be respected for inherent caveats.

Posted Thursday, 20 September 2012

Installation Sketch at Open Studios

This video is of an installation 'sketch' representing the in-progress piece I worked on during the I-Park Residency program.

Installation sketch at Open Studios

The shots in this video represent what visitors to I-Park Open Studios September saw on the day. It is the same work discussed in my previous post 'Perception as a Creative Process'.

The installation is an attempt to create a space which is immediately unfamiliar - purely because of the controlled light and acoustics - but which with time gains a new type of familiarity. The flat blades of colour penetrate the darkness to slowly reveal the objects texture in new ways.

At the end of the residency program I was at this fairly initial stage. I will be further developing the work during my residency at Contemporary Artist Center, in Troy New York.

Posted Saturday, 15 September 2012

Roman Moshensky's Mirror World

One of the other residents at I-Park, Roman Moshensky, has created this short film. It's a personal reflection on his stay in Connecticut.

The film features several of the residents staying at that time, and the narration is my voice speaking Roman's words.

The film uses the split screen technique Roman has been experimenting with, but where those films focus on the dialog between humans and animals, this film reflects on the relationship between Moshensky, I-Park and the forest.

The other residents featured in the film are Jee Soo Shin and Michael Fairfax.

In the film, you get to see some of Michael's process - which is an awesome sight - as he turns a dead tree into a musical instrument.

Posted Friday, 14 September 2012

Open Studios at I-Park

This is a trailer featuring the seven artists at I-Park during my residency, created by Nancy Pinney:

It gives a little insight into what we all do, and was produced in preparation for our presentations at Open Studios last Sunday. The presentations were all very interesting and were a perfect ending to the residency.

The artists featured in the film are (in order):

  1. Michael Fairfax, British sculptor/sound artist
  2. Jee Soo Shin, Korean composer
  3. Tess Martin, a stop-frame animator from Seattle
  4. Boaz Aharonovitch, an Israeli photographer/visual artist
  5. Roman Moshensky, a Russian video artist
  6. Andrew McWilliams, myself
  7. Judith Stein, an author working on a biography from Philadelphia

Posted Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Perception as a Creative Process

The work I've been pursuing in the last couple of years has been influenced by the idea of perception as a creative process. What this means is that when we look, hear and otherwise sense the world around us, the combined sensation we experience is not a mirror-like reflection of reality, but an ongoing, constructed, internal model.

It's not a new idea, in fact it has been the essential paradigm since Kant's so-called 'Copernican Revolution'. But I believe these ideas are intellectually and culturally crucial in an age of overpopulation, multiculturalism and burgeoning globalisation; in which value system clashes are increasingly common.

I think that highlighting the powerful creative process of our individual perception can have an empowering effect, as it places us in the driving seat. First, I want to expand on this idea, and then I want to discuss how it is influencing my work.

Objects surfaces coated with light (detail)
Objects surfaces coated with light (detail)

I've always been fascinated by the textures of rocks, stones, bricks and other repeated but unpredictable surfaces. There is so much differentiation across the surface of a rock, so many peaks and troughs, that it is impossible to focus on and remember the intricate detail of even one small section at a time.

On one end of the scale, we know from school that a grain of sand contains billions of billions (of billions) of atoms. And that each atom is enormous compared to the tiny particles it in turn is made of.

And at the other end of the scale, we know that the universe is so large that the extent of it we can even see is determined by the time it took the light to travel - billions of years - and that it goes on beyond that in all directions.

There is so much going on around us every moment, and we are permanently and fundamentally incapable of noting, perceiving, processing all this complexity. Instead we live our whole lives working only with generalisations: abstractions, metaphors, categories, narratives, histories, empirical models and so on.

And we are built to take much of these abstractions at face value, as though they inhere in the fabric of reality itself. It's a process which is fundamental to conscious life - it would be impossible to live (or to ever make a decision) without being able to do it.

Object surfaces coated with light
Object surfaces coated with light

Some of these abstractions - cultural differences, language and so on, are learned. Going deeper, many of the more fundamental abstractions are built into our perceptual apparatus, because they are essential to both our perceptual process, and are essential aspects of the things being perceived.

We've all seen the optical illusions that demonstrate perceptual flaws. But optical illusions don't just demonstrate holes in an otherwise flawless perceptual process - they demonstrate the constructive way in which our entire experience is presented to us as reality.

For example, our eyes contain lenses, like those in a camera, which focus light onto a retina. A retina is a patch of light-sensitive tissue much like film. Like cameras, eyes are only capable of producing 2D images. The 3D world we experience is an internal mental construction, created by triangulating the positions of objects based on images from both eyes.

There may be a 3D world out there in front of us, but the 3D world we experience in our minds is a construction. It's a construction which enables us to navigate the 3D world it represents, but it's a construction nonetheless.

Grid to mask around object surfaces to be 'painted' with light
Grid to mask around object surfaces to be 'painted' with light

A couple more examples. Colour is just the brain's way of representing different wavelengths of light (i.e. wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation from the sun). Each surface in front of us reflects a particular wavelength based on it's pigmentation, and our visual system assigns that wavelength an appropriate colour to help us navigate and respond appropriately to the things around us.

Our ears only sense changes in air pressure, but if someone is bouncing a ball behind you, you have an innate sense of the position. Your brain is combining data across the senses: performing complex sound frequency analysis and comparisons from both ear drums, borrowing from your memory of the scene the last time you looked in that direction, and continually updating the constructed model of reality you perceive.

And it only gets more complicated from there - add to this the intricacies of spoken language, facial cues, body language, taste, smell, hunger, fear, emotion, instinctive or learned over a lifetime, and automatically embedded into our perceptual process. We have the ability to override parts of this model, to reason our way past it and so on. But the model is a construction, and a large web of associations - some native to our DNA, the rest built from previous experience - determine how we currently experience it.

Objects gathered in the studio
Objects gathered in the studio

How much of what we perceive in an object inheres in the object itself? And what happens when we are presented with genuinely new experiences?

Various art movements have attempted to heighten people's bodily awareness, of their creative perception in action, inspired by Merleau-Ponty, minimalism and embodied viewing.

But what I'm interested in doing is not so much to increase the awareness of embodied space, but instead to reduce the foothold of the nexus of previous associations. To force new associations to be quickly constructed to account for the new phenomena.

Each time we travel to a new place, meet somebody new or different, this process of disorientation and new construction can occur. But when it happens in life, it's often muddied by the hustle and bustle of daily social reality, and of preconceived associations. I'm interested in creating spaces where this process can happen in relative isolation, so that the phenomenon on display can be appreciated on it's own terms.

To do this, I am experimenting with a technique of projected audio and video, with the two synthetically intertwined. I believe this approach can work to achieve these ends for a number of reasons.

Firstly, projection means low-light. As a viewer, the enveloping void of space around created in a night sky reduces the efficacy of the 3D-triangulation apparatus in your brain, offering you less certainty in the internal world you create. It offers less connection to specific other objects, and creates a space where the brightly-lit video is the focal point.

Objects in the I-Park graveyard
Objects in the I-Park graveyard

Secondly, advances in computer technology in the last several years have made it possible to intertwine sound and light patterns in a way that is genuinely new. This provides a space for exploration where new multi-sensory spatial patterns can be created, reducing the baggage of learned preconception. The key mistake to avoid here is over-stimulation - it is best to avoid a sense of a 'light show', as that has a specific set of built-in associations.

Thirdly, the projection-mapping technique allows textures, light patterns, colours and so on to be 'warped' around objects, so that the objects are 'reskinned'. Again, the pitfall to avoid here is making the resulting light patterns too 'neat' or configured in a way which confirms or reminds of existing associations.

The space is 'alien', but it is not empty.

The space can be fully alive, but it takes the isolation and presentation as 'alien' to make such alien spaces live. The idea is to reduce the foothold of existing associations, but also to present a new space for exploration. In a space like this we can make a leap from that alien space, and try to find a connection in it - to find value from valuelessness.

Posted Wednesday, 29 August 2012

The I-Park Graveyard

This is the I-Park graveyard...
The graveyard of previous artist's installation work which has died on the grounds:

Objects at the I-Park graveyard
Objects at the I-Park graveyard

I-Park has been around for over ten years, and with 6-7 artists in each season, they accumulate a lot of art on the grounds. Some of it doesn't survive, is temporary in nature, or was related to a performance piece. When this work is dismantled, this is where it ends up.

Words, wheels, and a tank
Words, wheels, and a tank

There are mixed arrangements of objects, mostly rusted or dirty, many are new homes for insects.

Tins and tubing
Tins and tubing

Artists from previous residencies have taken the time to organise and lay out this area into a kind of window-shopping experience. This area is tucked away behind the Red Barn, hidden from some of the more picturesque locations. But this junkyard of objects is more my natural home.

Tucked behind the Red Barn
Tucked behind the Red Barn

Ralph Crispino took us to the graveyard as the last stop on our introductory tour. I'm sure you'll see some of these objects again.

Posted Monday, 27 August 2012

Scoping Out the Land

On our introductory tour of the I-Park grounds with the owner, Ralph Crispino, we walked by interesting spots for potential portable projection.

However, Mason Carillo is the Grounds Keeper here, and he said he knew a few more remote spots that were less well-known.

A rock in Area #3
Mason standing with a rock in Area #3

Mason was right, and he showed me some amazing areas off the trails. With Mason's help I have numbered the areas where rocks are lying together (the numbering is mine, these areas are not on any maps at I-Park).

I include a few more shots below, but first of all, how we got there. Walking the trails is fine for a leisurely Sunday afternoon, but if you're working the grounds you need to get about quickly. This is where the gator comes in:

The gator
The gator

It's small enough to navigate the trails but hardy enough to handle steep inclines, declines, and just generally uneven surfaces, and generally quite an experience in it's own right. Mason is out on this thing all the time. Nice job.

In each area where we found rocks there were often several clumped together. In Area #3, they were quite spaced apart. This rock is in the same vicinity as the one at the top of this post:

A nearby rock in Area #3
A nearby rock in Area #3

Some of the rocks are collected together in such a way that the layout almost looks 'designed'.

For example, the rocks in Area #5 are lined up together so that they look like a kind of entrance-way, with a rock precariously balanced at the top to make cubby-hole:

Rocks in Area #5
Rocks in Area #5

Whether or not these rocks were moved here, it does remind me of one of the recurring themes on this trip. I am told that this land was once intensively cultivated, not so long ago. This forest is second / third growth, a number which refers to the times it has been razed down for farmland and left to grow again.

Connecticut is part of New England, and this area is full of second-growth forest. Settlers from Europe farmed here until eventually much more fertile, flat and spacious land was settled in the Mid-West. The land here was eventually abandoned for the more profitable property West of here.

It's hard to believe when people tell you that - but the evidence is right here in front of us:

A Model A Ford
A Model A Ford - photo by Tess Martin

It's a Model A Ford, in the middle of the I-Park forest. It would have been driven by farmers in the late 20s / early 30s. It was parked, presumably broken or just abandoned. The forest simply grew up around it.

It's fascinating to me that as wild as it may look here, there isn't a patch of land that hasn't been completely altered, transformed; that doesn't somehow owe it's entire current state of existence to some previous large-scale intervention by human hands.

Posted Thursday, 23 August 2012

Residency Begins at I-Park

I've just started my residency at I-Park.

I'll be here for one month developing a portable installation / performance piece, which I have been working on for a while already.

The I-Park welcome
The I-Park welcome

We are all staying in this gorgeous 19th Century house, which has been completely renovated to have all the mod cons. We also benefit from the use of studios, a library, study, woodshop, common area, a very talented chef (four nights a week), and of course the 450-acre woodland / park.

The house on the left, studios on the right
The house on the left, studios on the right

There are seven residents here, all for the same time period.

The six others are: Judith Stein, an author working on a biography from Philadelphia; Jee Soo Shin, a Korean composer; Michael Fairfax, a British sculptor/sound artist; Tess Martin, a stop-frame animator from Seattle; Boaz Aharonovitch, an Israeli photographer/visual artist; and Roman Moshensky, a Russian video artist.

Residents in the kitchen
Residents in the kitchen

My studio is the 'Sculpture Studio', although I'll be using it for other purposes. This space is useful for me because of the size and the possibility of low light.

Posing in my studio
Posing in my studio

We're out in the woods here, quite literally. The I-Park grounds are in the middle of Connecticut, miles from the nearest town or village.

The area around the house and studio building has the most trails, and is very clearly, carefully, and beautifully sculpted. As you head further out, the grass gets longer and you are surrounded by trees. But it doesn't take long before you start to notice some really striking permanent artworks:

Roger Rigorth 'I-Dragons'
Roger Rigorth, 'I-Dragons', 2009

These sculptures, created by German artist Roger Rigorth are made from wood and rope. They are very professionally crafted, and although they are presented as the central feature of this photograph, it's is fascinating just how long they linger in your peripheral vision the first time you pass by (and are not expecting them).

Kathryn Kelley, Untitled, 2010
Kathryn Kelley, Untitled, 2010

This piece by Kathryn Kelley on the other hand, jumps right out at you through the clearing. First it's an indiscernible blob, then you start to make out the textures and the sense of weight, as it sags from it's hoists on the trees. It feels organic and reminds me of H.R. Giger, but it's actually composed of used vehicle inner tubes, stitched together.

It's an astoundingly beautiful piece. I'm particularly fascinated by it's clear 'otherness', the way it is somehow human trash 'imposed' on the landscape. But also by virtue of it's composition and construction (the 'exoskeleton' is made of sticks), it has negotiated a place there. You can read more about the piece on Kathryn's dedicated I-Park blog.

There is still so much more to explore. I've yet to venture up Mie's trail. I have a lot of software to get finished, before I go and spend much more time on the land, creating my piece.

I'll keep this blog updated with the progress of the piece, and as I explore more this amazing place.

Posted Thursday, 19 July 2012

First Shopping List for Projection-Bombing

As discussed in a previous post, I will be powering a projector from a lead acid battery during my residency at I-Park. This is a technique often referred to as 'projection bombing'.

In this post I'll describe the shopping list, and when the parts arrive I'll post some more on how well they work together.

I've never done this before, and have taken advice on electronics, technique, and shopping list from a friend and fellow projection-bomber Andrew Crowe. Here are some shots of his projection bombs at the Occupy protests in London in 2011:

Occupy London protests by Andrew Crowe Projection Bomb by Andrew Crowe
Projection bombs from the Occupy London set by Andrew Crowe, 2011

I also found this post on stack exchange quite helpful getting started.

The shopping list
Bear in mind as you read this, these are the parts ordered, but I haven't used them yet and can't vouch for them. You will have to check back and read future posts to see how well they work together. Here are the parts purchased:

  • A 12V lead acid battery
  • A power inverter - this is attached to the terminals on the battery. It draws DC from the battery and supplies AC in a way which mimics 'wall outlet' AC for consumer electronics (such as a projector)
  • A volt meter - to keep an eye on the remaining charge in the battery during use. I will experiment with the battery and inverter, to find out at what voltage the inverter cuts out at. This is so that I can monitor the battery during use, work out time remaining, and shut down the projector prior to the inverter cutting out
  • A mains battery charger - this attaches to the terminals on the battery and plugs into a wall outlet, to recharge the battery from the mains between uses

Below I'll describe each part in a bit more detail.

The battery
I had considered either a 75Ah (Amp-hour) battery or a 92Ah. This rating basically tells you the capacity of the battery, or how long it will be able to supply enough DC voltage for the inverter.

12 Volt 75 Ah Sealed Lead Acid Battery
12 Volt 75Ah Sealed Lead Acid Battery

My hope is to power the projector for at least two hours - as Andrew Crowe pointed out:

"For comparison I can run my projector off a 45 amp hour battery for just over an hour, so 80-100 amp hours should let you go for 2 hours"

The big problem with batteries is weight. I intend to use a cart to wheel the battery around but it's important to bear in mind that I will be walking along trails at I-Park, not flat paths. I will also be carrying a projector, laptop, sound system, camera, and probably other bits & pieces too.

The 75Ah battery is 60 pounds, and the 92Ah is 75 pounds. It's hard to know upfront just how much of a problem this will be, but I opted for the easier-to-carry option.

The inverter
I calculated that I would have an operating power consumption of 320-330W, based on a projector of 280 or 290W (depending on which projector I actually use), and a small sound system of 40W. I therefore purchased an inverter which supports a much wider 450W.

450W Sine Wave Power Inverter
450W Sine Wave Power Inverter

A problem here is it (probably) means I'll have to power the MacBook Pro from it's internal battery the whole time. The MacBook Pro battery life will be reduced quite a bit anyway because of high CPU load associated with intensive media processing. On the other hand, the battery life could be longer because the screen will be off during performance (the projector will handle all the visual output).

However, in the worst-case scenario, if I decide during testing that I need to power the MacBook Pro from the lead-acid battery, I can just switch to an 800W inverter.

The other problem is that it is said that modified sine wave inverters (as opposed to 'pure sine wave' inverters), while cheaper, can cause a loud hum. I want to experiment with the modified sine wave inverter I have selected and only order a pure sine wave inverter if I encounter problems.

(If you want a nice demonstration of AC vs DC, there are some nice detailed electronics tutorials by mjlorton here, including this one which covers AC/DC with diagrams!)

The volt meter
The volt meter, actually a multimeter, was the simplest choice. I really only need it to tell me the voltage remaining in the battery.

Pyle PDMT02 Multimeter
Pyle PDMT02 Multimeter

I don't need to be able to test current or anything else, so the simplest tool will be fine for this.

The mains-battery charger
With the mains charger there are a few things to get right. Firstly, they are each rated to charge a battery with up-to a certain number of Amp-hours. So the inverter I chose had to support a battery of 75Ah.

CTEK MULTI US 3300 De-Sulfating Charger
CTEK MULTI US 3300 De-Sulfating Charger

Secondly, there is the charging speed. Andrew Crowe points out:

"3.3A charging current isn't great, that'll take a very long time to charge ... I'd look for one with at least 4A max charging."

The problem here is that I couldn't source a charger that supported both a 75Ah battery and a 4A charging current... at least not without opting for an industrial solution way beyond the scope of this project.

So my charger supports 75Ah battery with a 3.3A charging current. Extrapolating from figures Andrew supplied me from his experiences with smaller batteries, I estimate that it might take 20-24 hours to charge.

This is a restriction. Sunset will be around 7pm in August in Connecticut. Since I can only use the projector at night, I might like to go out at 8pm each evening and return at 11-12pm. If it takes 24 hours to charge, I will not be able to keep that rhythm and it may impose a 48 hour gap in between performances.

However, if the battery isn't fully charged, I could still go out with a 75% charged battery. And in practice the battery may take 20 hours to charge.

Ideally I would have a 100% charged battery ready to use at 8pm each evening, but we'll see how the tests pan out. It may be that I have to find a better charging solution, or work within the restrictions.

It's also a very fair point to say that this artificial restriction could be useful - it imposes a 'day off' from performances for reflecting, documenting and making changes to the performance in preparation for the following night.

Posted Friday, 13 July 2012

Portable Projection in a Rural Context

In just over a month I will start a one-month residency at I-Park. My proposal is based around 'portable projection', and in this post I want to describe what that means and what I am planning to do onsite.

My proposal to I-Park was that I will appropriate the projection bombing technique (described below), but this time to explore a new approach to my installation work. Instead of scanning, photographing, replicating or manufacturing textures in a studio or gallery, I wanted to work with real, physical objects and textures, which have a life - and unpredictability - of their own.

My proposal is to explore the surfaces and textures of the woodland, by writing software patches which generate 2D geometric shapes, and projecting them as moving video sequences.

The flat plane of the 2D geometric shapes (projected on the flat plane of the 2D projection surface) will be distorted by the underlying natural textures and shapes that the light falls on. In this way, the underlying material will drive the visual artifact in a very direct and immediately perceptible way.

Projection Bombing
When people talk about portable projection they often mean Pico Projectors: very small hand-held projectors with built-in batteries. However these projectors (by nature) are not powerful enough to provide an effective image for bright, realistic video.

The terms 'mobile projection', 'portable projection' and 'projection bombing' therefore also refer to a separate, established technique - that of making a regular, mains-powered video projector portable, by attaching it temporarily to a car battery:

Example of 'guerrilla' projection bombing, Rio de Janeiro, 2007

This approach removes the restriction of position, where a projector can only usually be moved a few meters, or the distance of a power cord. Instead, you need to carry, wheel or drive a car battery around with you to keep the projector powered.

New restrictions
However, with this approach you gain new restrictions. Moving a heavy car battery can be cumbersome, and you can only power the projector this way for a period of 1-2 hours before you need to recharge the car battery - which takes several hours.

The technique is usually associated with a small creative subculture of VJs, street artists and media programmers. It often takes place in an urban context, and has a 'guerrilla' feel - the targeted building surfaces, and projected imagery are often chosen 'on the night', and / or the building owners aren't consulted beforehand.

As with all new techniques ofcourse, media companies have appropriated it to create promotional stunts for their clients. (Compare an original, in 2006 by Karolina Sobecka, with an ad agency version from 2012 inspired by the original).

Textures and surfaces - why projection-bomb in a rural context?
In my previous installation work, I have explored revelation of textural detail:

Gravity, 2011

In 'Gravity', 2011, I was experimenting with the idea of the 'endless plane' which extends beyond the canvass borders. Paintings have long explored this idea, and I was particularly influenced the work of Mark Rothko or Jackson Pollock. Using software and projectors I have been experimenting with the idea that the plane can be slowly revealed, one frame at a time.

Rather than manufacturing a frame, I will be working with found forms and textures on the grounds of I-Park, and temporarily altering the way they are perceived by projecting combined sound and light.

The grounds at I-Park
I-Park is located in a remote, 450-acre woodland with "ponds, hills, streams, stone outcroppings and sheer cliffs" and "wild fields and new growth forest, as well as miles of stonewalls and walking trails". The land "has a wild, gnarly character"... (see the I-Park website).

A picture of the I-Park grounds A picture of the I-Park grounds
Some shots of the I-Park grounds, by Fabio Battistetti, 2011

Jim Sanborn
A good place to get a sense of what this will look like is the work of Jim Sanborn, an American artist and sculptor:

Lo-res stills from 'The Topographic Projections and Implied Geometries Series', 1995-97

(Sanborn is a prolific artist, better known for the sculpture Kryptos, outside the headquarters of the CIA, which contains an encrypted code which to this day has not been fully decrypted.)

For the 'Topographic Projections and Implied Geometries' series, Sanborn used a portable projection technique similar to the one employed in projection bombing, but much more 'planned'. From Sanborn's portfolio:

"These images were produced by direct, large format, light projection. The projector, powered by a mobile generator, was moved from site to site. All of the pieces were photographed at night using long exposures. On moonless nights, the landscape was lit with searchlights. The landforms themselves are quite large, requiring the projector and camera to be, on average, 1/2 mile away from the subject landscape."

Looking at Sanborn's work makes clear a few important questions that I have to consider.

1. The decentred viewer?
Firstly, due to the remote locations, audiences will rarely directly perceive the work. Dissemination relies heavily on documentation, and therefore documentation takes on an importance equal to that of the artwork itself.

This is troubling for an installation artist. Mainly this is because by providing a 'frame' from which to view your work, i.e. a photographic or video frame, you are taking away all other possible perspectives of your work. You are eliminating the 'decentered viewer' as described by Claire Bishop, and you are putting a nail in the coffin of viewer participation too.

However the way I am choosing to look at this is that it is a sequence of short intervention experiments. The end result it may lead to is unknown to me. This may become a performance, it may lead to other directions for installations, or it may be the last portable work that I create. It's hard to say, but that's the nature of experimentation.

2. Differentiation
Since Sanborn's work is aesthetically so similar to that which I am hoping to achieve, it becomes an interesting point of departure. It forces questions about what is the essential nature of my proposal, and the question: What is it that I hope to achieve beyond or seperate from what Sanborn has already achieved?

The first thing to note is that Jim Sanborn's work is beautiful. It is also large-scale, well-funded, and very carefully considered work. What I am planning for I-Park is very ad-hoc and small-scale by comparison.

But putting that aside, there are also conceptual differences. These differences have a lot to do with the influence of digital culture in 2012. But on closer inspection they are also centred around intention, presentation, appearance and dissemination.

Generative sound & video
I will be working with a laptop and a projector. The laptop will run software which will produce video and sound simultaneously. The software will produce those media 'on the fly', which means that unlike Sanborn's work mine will be 'generative' and changeable (and as such, bears the relevant nods to John Cage, Brian Eno, Sol LeWitt, and many others.)

The sound and video will be created together and, ideally, will exist as a single entity. Data from the one will feed the other, as in the work of Memo Akten:

Simple Harmonic Motion study #5d by Memo Akten

Where Akten's work is purely pattern-based, I will introduce a certain amount of randomness. This is very much intentional. Each evening I want to go out and perform a short (1-2hr) experiment, allowing patterns to generate and run.

The next day I want to try a new pattern, software patch or set of geometries, influenced by the previous evening's work, but never fully take control. There is a fast turnaround and each installation will be fleeting, but each installation will also be surprising, since it will not be defined upfront.

Borders & masking
Where Sanborn allows the natural borders of his patterns to be exposed, I intend to 'mask' my projections in the 'projection mapping' style:

Projections mapped over vines

The main reason for this is that Sanborn used either moonlight, or search lights to expose the non-projected areas. This makes sense with long-exposure photographs but moonlight will not make a difference to video. This is potentially an area to be explored.

Another difference which may exist (I will find out when I do it) is that my work may expose a little more of the technological mechanisms which produce it. This isn't necessarily by design, but with a lower budget and a car battery rather than a generator, the projector used at certain angles may show pixels, or differences in brightness over extended distances, or other artifacts that I haven't thought of yet. This isn't my intention, but it will be interesting to see what effect this might have.

The purpose of documentation
In Sanborn's work, the time dimension is noticable. The long exposures mean that stars in the night sky are captured moving from position to position, which gives a subtle but powerful sense that these are not just 'recordings' of events, but are events mixed with recording techniques.

It's hard to see where the recorded event ends and the recording technique begins. They are fully intertwined, since the represented event in the documented image was never really experienced by a human in quite the way it is presented.

With my work at I-Park, the recorded documentation will be in video form. The role of the video will be to demonstrate the installation as recorded from a particular angle, as faithfully as possible. The primary focus of my work will be the live event, and the video recording will be an attempt only to reproduce that event for dissemination, not to become part of the work as such in itself.

However although that's the intention, inevitably the recorded events will become a lens through which the work is viewed, and therefore can't fail to have a big impact on it's perception. But as discussed above the future of the work is open-ended - it was concieved as installation and as a work for direct perception by audiences, but the emphasis may change depending on the results.

I want to publish the work online as I go, week by week. This means I have the potential to get external feedback as the process develops, rather than after delivering the work at the end in a gallery or presentational setting. I'm viewing this residency as an open-ended experiment.

With that in mind, it makes sense to try to initiate a group of interested individuals before I start, designers, software developers, artists, who might be interested in commenting on the experiments.

I'm looking forward to starting the experiments, and will be posting more info about the preparation work I'm doing over the coming weeks.

Posted Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Visit to Cold Spring

New York state has some outstanding areas of natural beauty. On Sunday we hiked up a trail in Cold Spring, and brought back some photographic evidence.

I want to talk in this post about some of the discussions that came up as we walked, and the way they are affecting how I'm thinking about my upcoming projects. I'll illustrate the text with some shots of our hike.

An early view from the trail

I met Hannah Gould, and as we hiked she told me about her father's studio out in San Jose, California - and their mutual admiration of Andy Goldsworthy. Bill Gould creates various types of physical sculpture, signage, fencing and gates for public locations.

It seems possible that I could arrange a trip to see him and spend some time in the studio creating work inspired by land art.

Climbing the trail

It all seemed to tie in very nicely with the plans I have been making for I-Park. It feels like a cloud is forming around this idea of 'land art', portable projection, and visual-sound correlation.

I'm beginning to see several disparate concepts converge. All of which I can come back to, flesh out and consider over the coming months.

Spatial augmentation and exploration
I'm really interested in thinking about the way that we consciously and unconsciously project value onto objects and environments around us. 'Nature' and 'natural objects', rocks, trees and rivers, are perceived with a given context based on the historic demographic context of the observer. In the work I produce I want to think about the ways my augmentations of these objects affect this sense of value.

Ascending the trail

Land art
For example, in the arrangement of natural objects in the traditional sense of land art, do we 'humanize' the object, in making it more relevant to us? Or are we moving closer to nature, in the sense that we are augmenting natural objects by revealing natural patterns?

And one step further from that, does it really make sense to demarcate 'natural' and 'human' and to posit them on either end of a scale?

A land art performance

Working with natural textures
And what happens to this conversation when we introduce digital elements?

If I project algorithmically-constructed patterns as light onto a naturally textured surface, does this do anything more to the surface than can be achieved with the use of natural materials alone?

Will the strictness of the algorithmic geometry work against the endless unpredictability of the natural texture? Will this form a disconnect, and what might this disconnect say about the demarcation between 'natural' and 'human'?

And does this disconnect occur in 'pure' land art?

Augmenting a natural texture

I've always preferred 'natural' texture to algorithmically-generated ones (i.e. Perlin noise), and so I'm fascinated by the idea of projecting onto them. So much projection mapping is designed to attack as geometrically 'perfect' surfaces as possible, it will be really liberating to explore with the purpose of highlighting the 'flaws' in the surface rather than concealing them.

The synaesthetic effect
The aspect which excites me most about digital projection right now is the way it can be linked in real-time to other perceptible events - in particular simultaneously generated sound. Some people call this the 'synaesthetic' effect, though synaesthesia is about much more than just vision and sound.

Walking with Gene we discussed potential experiments we could work on with SuperCollider, and combining it with VVVV. Gene is passionate about SuperCollider at the moment, and we have already agreed to collaborate over the next few months before he goes to India.

Standing on a rock in Cold Spring

These experiments, along with the land art training in Bill Gould's studio could provide a really solid base for the work I produce at the I-Park residency.

The technical part of portable projection
The one and only reason I am interested in 'portable projection', is so that I can walk off with a projector to a remote location and not have to worry about a power source. The way I've seen this achieved is by connecting a car battery to a projector. There are ofcourse pico projectors, but these have nowhere enough lumens to make a convincing 'coat of light'.

The car battery approach means that each projection will have a very ephemeral nature. The projector will need to be switched off shortly before the power runs out. This gives only about an hour, including set-up and mapping time.

Descending the trail

Computer Vision and quick mapping
Gene is also very interested in projection mapping, and he is particularly interested in using Computer Vision libraries to create a real-time automapper using a webcam. This could mean that software could continuously scan a webcam feed, and use edge detection and other algorithms to continuously redraw it's internal representation of projected surfaces. This in turn would mean that as you move the projector around the object, the 'coat of light' applied would continuously update (a considerably lower-tech version of this).

This is lofty stuff, but I am interested in exploring this because it could speed up the mapping process. Which, when you are time-limited by battery life, would be a really positive thing.

Coming to the end of the trail

I will come back and look at these subjects more in the coming weeks, to see where a little fleshing out takes them.

Posted Saturday, 28 April 2012

Residency at I-Park

I have just accepted a residency at I-Park, Connecticut starting in mid-August 2012!

The I-Park house

I-Park is a unique space - it is a woodland retreat, and the work I do will be embedded in the natural environment. This is a first for me, having always exhibited in cities (although not always in a whitewall gallery!)

From the I-Park website:

"I-Park is a 450-acre woodland retreat in rural East Haddam, Connecticut. The property consists of ponds, hills, streams, stone outcroppings and sheer cliffs. It has wild fields and new growth forest, as well as miles of stonewalls and walking trails. It is bisected by the Eight Mile River and adjoins the Devil's Hopyard State Park and other preserved tracts. The land has a wild, gnarly character that suits I-Park's role as a refuge from and recourse to the safe routines and subtle compromises of the workaday world."

I will be experimenting with the intersection between portable projection and land art, inspired by the work of Shaun / PRICKIMAGE, and my friend Andrew Crowe. I will keep this blog updated with my preperations and progress. So watch this space!

My friend and fellow resident at Jaaga, Heather Dewey-Hagborg created a piece for I-Park in 2010, entitled Bower. And there is a long list of previous fellows who have created work at I-Park since 2001.

This will be a great chance to get out of city life and produce something unique and different!

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