Ji­hee Junn dis­cov­ers how art and tech are con­verg­ing

No l onger i s the mod­ern can­vas con­fined to be­ing fl at. Fos­tered by the ad­vent of pow­er­ful pro­jec­tors and more ad­vanced meth­ods of map­ping, l arge- scale walls, sharp edged build­ings and pe­cu­liarly- shaped ob­jects have all be­come re­cep­ta­cles for to­day’s

Idealog - - CONTENT - Joseph Michael

In 2015, Auck­land-based new me­dia artist Joseph Michael trav­elled to Antarc­tica to cap­ture the pris­tine scenery of one of the most re­mote cor­ners of the world. Ear­lier this year, these im­ages were fi­nally pro­jec­tion mapped onto the en­tire ex­te­rior of Auck­land’s War Memo­rial Mu­seum, recre­at­ing the colos­sal scale of Antarc­tica’s ice­bergs in a cin­e­matic col­li­sion of na­ture and ar­chi­tec­ture.

You’ve de­scribed your­self as be­ing in­ter­ested in the bal­ance be­tween tech­nol­ogy and fine art. What drives your fas­ci­na­tion be­tween these two fields?

Tech­nol­ogy is so rapidly chang­ing. Ev­ery new project cre­ates the op­por­tu­nity for me to im­ple­ment in­ter­est­ing tech­nol­ogy in the work I’m cre­at­ing. Hav­ing said that, I think it’s im­por­tant to be mind­ful that the tech­nol­ogy is only there to sup­port an idea.

How did the idea for your Antarc­tica project come about, and was it al­ways your in­ten­tion to pro­jec­tion map these im­ages?

A friend spoke to me about the re­mote­ness of Antarc­tica, cit­ing the huge changes hap­pen­ing in this en­vi­ron­ment, and asked how I would re­spond to that as an artist. Through the de­vel­op­ment phase, it be­came ap­par­ent that pro­jec­tion map­ping would be the most ap­pro­pri­ate tool to con­vey my idea. I wanted scale to play a ma­jor role in my rep­re­sen­ta­tion of this en­vi­ron­ment.

What kind of tech­nol­ogy and meth­ods did you use to pro­jec­tion map the im­ages?

We had to an­tic­i­pate how the im­agery we cap­tured might be used when we came to the pro­jec­tion stage. The pho­to­graphic maps of the ice­bergs are kind of like a huge or­ange peel that we peel off the ice­berg and put back onto the build­ing. This huge pho­to­graphic map is com­bined with vis­ual ef­fects and video el­e­ments to cre­ate the fi­nal in­stal­la­tion. In or­der to digi­tise the mu­seum, a 4-bil­lion-point scan of the build­ing was taken and then sim­pli­fied in or­der to get the ex­act di­men­sions of the build­ing in a dig­i­tal space. We then placed var­i­ous cam­eras around the build­ing in a vir­tual en­vi­ron­ment. The fi­nal in­stal­la­tion is the equiv­a­lent of plac­ing eight 4K fea­ture films side by side, with each film in sync to the one next to it.

What was your t hi nk­ing be­hind t he au­dio/mu­sic com­po­nent of t hi s project?

I de­cided to take a sound recordist down to Antarc­tica early on in the project. But it wasn’t un­til we got down to Antarc­tica that we dis­cov­ered the unique and in­cred­i­ble sounds each ice­berg was pro­duc­ing. Dave White­head worked with the amaz­ing sounds Mark Michel had recorded and I worked with Rhian Shee­han to cre­ate a sound­track that would trans­late how it felt to be in Antarc­tica.

What do you think is unique about pro­jec­tion map­ping that doesn’t ex­ist in other forms of ex­hibit­ing art? For ex­am­ple, on the walls of a gallery or through a dig­i­tal screen?

The ma­jor thing I think pro­jec­tion map­ping helps con­vey is scale. Hav­ing said that, I re­ally en­joy that it cre­ates an en­vi­ron­ment that peo­ple have to ex­pe­ri­ence in the real world. I felt this was the clos­est way I could get to trans­port­ing some­one down to Antarc­tica to ex­pe­ri­ence it for them­selves.

How did the idea for the project come about?

Vaughan Brook­field: We both came up with the idea hang­ing out one night. We were camp­ing in Pu­rakanui Bay at that stage and look­ing at some cliffs across the wa­ter, and Tom was talk­ing about how these new pro­jec­tors he had could reach those dis­tances. We talked about the cre­ative idea of what we could project on there and pho­to­graph at night. So we did a few test shoots and be­fore you knew it, we started to get the hang of how we could ac­tu­ally cre­ate some­thing that was quite dif­fer­ent.

What con­trib­uted to your de­ci­sion to project onto nat­u­ral sur­faces rather than the more com­mon prac­tice of pro­ject­ing onto ur­ban ob­jects?

I've al­ways been a lo­ca­tion pho­tog­ra­pher so there were a lot of beau­ti­ful places that I'd done work in, usu­ally out in nat­u­ral land­scapes. With Tom, he hadn't re­ally pro­jected onto any­thing like that be­fore, but once he got this new tech­nol­ogy, he re­alised that we could project onto these kind of sur­faces quite well. We were both kind of sur­prised at what we could get out of it.

So with my skills and Tom’s skills, we thought we'd go out to places that you wouldn't nor­mally take a 25kg pro­jec­tor to see if we could cre­ate some­thing that could amaze peo­ple a lit­tle bit and make them think. Since then, we’ve de­vel­oped it much more and it’s moved in the di­rec­tion of an en­vi­ron­men­tal mes­sage, look­ing at cre­at­ing con­tent that re­lates to the en­vi­ron­ment around us and the ef­fects we’re hav­ing on it. We're even plan­ning to get a he­li­copter up to the Tas­man Glacier to do some more en­vi­ron­ment-re­lated pro­jec­tions.

What meth­ods and tech­nolo­gies do you use to ex­e­cute The Name­less?

Tom uses a Christie pro­jec­tor,

which is one of the lead­ing brands in pro­jec­tion out there. It's a very pow­er­ful pro­jec­tor, so we can be 30 or 40 me­tres away from a sur­face and it can still project high de­tail im­ages onto that sur­face.

I shoot on a Canon 1DX, which is top of the line in terms of low light dig­i­tal pho­tog­ra­phy so it works re­ally well in dim even­ing light. There's a win­dow just af­ter the sun goes down or be­fore the sun rises – that dawn/dusk pe­riod – where I can match the nat­u­ral sur­round­ing light with the pro­jected light quite well and make it look all seam­less. So it's all about that lit­tle win­dow.

What are some of the chal­lenges?

We tr y and keep it pretty sim­ple. We gen­er­ally don't spend a whole lot of time map­ping the ob­jects that we're pro­ject­ing onto be­cause we've got such a short win­dow of time and we've got so many dif­fer­ent im­ages that we want to project on there. Usu­ally, we can get a rea­son­ably good pro­jec­tion with­out map­ping out the sur­face.

We’re also work­ing in ex­treme en­vi­ron­ments, so most of the time the chal­lenge is just warm­ing up the pro­jec­tor and mak­ing sure ev­ery­thing works. It’s set to be neg­a­tive 20 de­grees on the Tas­man glacier, so it’s go­ing to be in­ter­est­ing be­cause these pro­jec­tors are de­signed to work at cer­tain tem­per­a­tures. There are a lot of lit­tle things that could go wrong when you're out there. If some­thing's not work­ing, it's not like you can just pop down and get a new cord or down­load the soft­ware off the in­ter­net.

What do you think is unique about pro­jec­tion map­ping that doesn’t ex­ist in other forms of ex­hibit­ing art?

I think it gives peo­ple who want to be cre­ative the op­por­tu­nity to do things at a large scale but not have to leave a foot­print. You don’t have to paint a big bill­board or print out a whole lot of large for­mat im­agery – you’re just pro­ject­ing light for a short pe­riod of time.

Au­dio Crea­tures is this strange, mes­meris­ing and an­i­mated loop of colour­ful vi­su­als. Where did the idea come from?

Be­cause I go to the Opera House quite a bit to see bands and artists, I al­ways see it as a place you go to ‘see’ au­dio. The way I saw it, it was trans­form­ing the build­ing into some­thing that's mov­ing, like a crea­ture, and it's pro­duc­ing au­dio. It’s kind of like a metaphor for what the build­ing does.

Did you en­counter any chal­lenges hav­ing to deal with the build­ing’s unique shape?

The big­gest hur­dle de­sign-wise was tr ying to make it feel like it was ac­tu­ally the shape of the Opera House. In the years be­fore, they hadn't re­ally con­sid­ered the Opera House shape and that was some­thing that was re­ally im­por­tant to me. I wanted to make it feel like it was ac­tu­ally the Opera House trans­form­ing. I think when pro­jec­tions can do that, that’s when they’re most suc­cess­ful.

When you walk around the build­ing, the crea­tures ac­tu­ally de­form and dis­tort be­cause it gets a bit weird with pro­jec­tion map­ping. But it still to­tally works be­cause it’s not a shape that you recog­nise. If it was live ac­tion or some­thing, it wouldn't work.

How did the sound and mu­sic com­po­nent of Au­dio Crea­tures come about?

Ben Mar­shall, who’s the head of con­tem­po­rary mu­sic at the Syd­ney Opera House and fes­ti­val di­rec­tor for Vivid Live, asked me which artist I’d like to have. I said I’d like to work with An­war Tobin who’s an ex­tra­or­di­nary elec­tronic artist from the UK who cur­rently lives in San Fran­cisco. He's con­sid­ered one of the most in­no­va­tive elec­tronic artists in the world so I con­tacted him, sent him some ini­tial sketches, and he was re­ally into it. What he did was re­flect and in­ter­pret the con­cept by mak­ing the au­dio that the crea­tures would be pro­duc­ing.

What do you think is unique about pro­jec­tion map­ping that doesn’t ex­ist in other forms of ex­hibit­ing art?

It's like mov­ing sculp­ture. I think there's some­thing re­ally neat about that. It's not like cin­ema or a TV where you've got a square box that you fall into and you're trans­ported some­where else. You're very much still in the real world. What I liked about pro­ject­ing im­agery onto the Opera House was that all the boats, fer­ries and vis­i­tors could go past. The ob­ject was this an­i­mated thing, but it's still in the real world. I think that's re­ally unique.

Cre­at­ing some­thing for the pub­lic do­main must’ve been a re­fresh­ing change from the film work you nor­mally do.

The main thing that was re­ally cool was there were so many peo­ple tak­ing pho­to­graphs, which you'd never do with a screen. No one takes photos of the TV or in the cin­ema, even some­thing pub­lic like an out­door cin­ema. An out­door cin­ema is nar­ra­tive-driven. You’re there to lis­ten and watch rather than cap­ture. With some­thing like this, peo­ple feel like they need to cap­ture it them­selves to be­come their own di­rec­tors.

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