Through an open door, we can see a stream of flickering color fields circling through a space. The artwork ‘RGBW’ by Dawid Liftinger and Camilo Sandoval is on display in one of the smaller spaces adjacent to the entrance hall of the former post office in the ‘Stationskwartier’ in Leeuwarden. It is part of the MEDIA ART FESTIVAL 2021, hosted in an industrial building in transition.
For ‘RGBW’, Liftinger and Sandoval experimented with the components that generate an image in a digital projector. In their spatial installation, a DLP video projector — without any image feed — acts as the source of a visual scope. DLP refers to ‘Digital Light Processing’, a technology that employs tiny, microscopic mirrors and a spinning color wheel to create projected images. They manipulated a standard projector using a motor and mirrors to create a mechanism to decompose the projected white light into the color spectrum. Depending on the motor’s speed, the stream of color fields shifts in appearance. The space acts as a 3d canvas, creating an open image into which visitors can enter.
“Me and Camilo Sandoval are a great team, since we bring a similar understanding of what art can be and our art practices to the table,” reflects Dawid Liftinger on their artistic cooperation. Both artists studied at the Media Academy Cologne and continued to share a studio space after obtaining their degrees in 2020. They each developed independent transmedia practices featuring installations and media performances; ‘RGBW’ is their only cooperation. “RGBW was developed as part of the class ‘Film without Film’ led by Luis Negrón van Grieken, Christian Faubel and Daniel Burkhardt. The main idea of that class was to ‘create’ a movie without using conventional filmmaking methods. So, I decided to take the contemporary tool that’s used to show film, the digital projector, and use its inherent properties to create something new — in that case a film, an animation,” told Dawid Liftinger. Camilo Sandoval adds: “Since the beginning we had a quite accurate idea of how we wanted the piece to work. But between its enunciation and its materialization there was a long trek full of failed prototypes. We spent a lot of time at the lab trying this and trying that… and by the end of winter we had it working. I found it very challenging, but at the same time very fulfilling, that we had to solve engineering problems too: Having the mirror rotate in a stable and smooth way was not for granted. In the end, it was a big relief getting to the point where the work could run unsupervised for days.”
Their experimentation resulted in a fine-tuned mechanical setup that composes and decomposes the physical properties of projected white light — the beam that can be found in all analog and digital image and video projectors. “RGBW challenges film’s conventional notions and uses the color imaging capabilities of standard home office projectors to create an immersive room installation. Basic components of film — speed, color, light, and darkness — are choreographed and stage the space. We deconstruct the process of projection itself and plead for the superiority of technical devices to the human eye. A rotating mirror in front of the lens of the projector uses the spatial light modulator, the digital light processing system (DLP), which creates the illusion of color and transforms the white projection into an oscillating 360-degree panoramic kaleidoscope,” explained Dawid Liftinger. “We want to deconstruct this ‘artificial’ and show the original components. A projector is … pointing towards a spinning 45-degree-shifted mirror. The projection falls onto the surrounding walls and is the only source of light in the room. … The colors red, green, blue, and white (RGBW) twine on the walls creating a seamless colorful loop. … Visitors of the piece are invited to enter the room and spend as much time as desired to perceive the different effects generated by the combinations of different light intensities and variations on the speed of the rotating mirror…”
At the MEDIA ART FESTIVAL, the installation was placed in a small, plain, square-shaped former office space. The choice of space is part of the artistic practice. Dawid Liftinger explains: “…thematically it fits best in two kinds of spaces: a dusty old office, in which this sort of projector is used on an everyday basis, and a cinema/projection space, even though it has never been shown in that kind of space. Nevertheless, it also works in other environments; especially in Tunis, which was an antique royal bathhouse, the piece came out especially grandiose.”
The spatial intervention premiered at the STUTTGARTER FILMWINTER 2018, then was shown at the International Light Art Project COLLUMINA in Cologne, travelled to Cologne’s twin city Tunis to be part of INTERFERENCE, where the MEDIA FRIESLAND curatorial collective scouted it. Due to the success of the emerging artists, and with some delay caused by the COVID19 pandemic, the work became part of the YOUNG MASTERS PROGRAM only in 2021. In the meantime, the work travelled to the TEHRAN ANNUAL DIGITAL ART FESTIVAL in Tehran (ir), the artists were invited to be part of RESPONSIVE in Halifax (ca) and were shown at BETWEEN SENSING in Friedrichshafen (de).
MEDIA ART FESTIVAL Feature: Artistic Reflections on Technologies
The selection of ‘RGBW’ for the Young Masters exhibition is an example of MEDIA ART FRIESLAND’s interest in stimulating the viewer’s esthetic radar by giving equal status to the image and the apparatus employed to produce it. Directed by Andrea Moeller since 2014, the annual program has shown a particular interest in artists that are dissecting media technologies and exploring their esthetic potentials, as well as attempting to develop a critical scrutiny in juxtaposition to popular, commercial-driven narratives.
SMALL EXKURS: Artistic Reflections on Technologies
The artistic exploration of the intertwinement of the image and the apparatus employed to produce it furthers a long-standing strand of artistic research and production. Examples range from the works of László Moholy-Nagy in the 1920s to a broad variety of contemporary artwork. The following examples are to illustrate the diversity that has been developed over the last 100 years.
László Moholy-Nagy: Rendering Visible Light-Technical Tools
As early as the 1920s, László Moholy-Nagy (1895-1946) experimented with industrially manufactured light bulbs and developed mechanical apparatuses that could performatively realize the visual interplay of light, color, and space as it had been developed in Constructivist painting. One of his iconic works is the ‘Light-Space-Modulator’ (1930), a technical set-up for a projection space. The work was developed over 8 years with the aim of synchronizing engineering perfection and aesthetic purposes. “This piece of lighting equipment can be used to arrive at countless optical conclusions, and it seems correct to me that the development of these attempts be continued as planned, as a way to approach the designing of light and movement,” he explained. At the time, László Moholy-Nagy was only one of a loosely associated selection of artists working on ‘light plays’ — photographs and films, kinetic objects, space-related installations, and stage sets that explored light, lighting tools, and the optical properties of materials as artistic material; but it was he who made the shift to stage light technical tools as artistic material.
Frank Malina: Featuring Mechanical Animation
In the 1950s, Frank Malina (1912-1981) abandoned pigments and brushes to work on mechanical systems interacting with canvases. He choreographed with light, light-responding materials, and optical phenomena in order to explore repetition, serial elements, and movement: “I was very interested in the possible relationships between art, science and technology. I used to complain that when I went to the museums, I kept seeing paintings of dead fish and nudes and flowers and so forth, and no one seemed to be interested in all these other things that are happening in science and technology — the products and the conceptions and all these things. I had that bee in my bonnet. So, I was trying to find a way to introduce this into the visual arts. This led me, then, to start working with light and kinetic art.” Malina was among a group of artists who experimented with technical and lighting tools in the 1950s and 1960s, later described as “Light and Space”— and “Light and Motion”— Movement in Europe. The artists’ networks ZERO and GRAV (Groupe de Recherche d’Art Visuel) are well-known for representing these trends and, like Malina, they feature the visual impact of mechanical motion.
Anthony McCall: Featuring the Volume of Light
A well-recognized example from the 1970s is the artist Anthony McCall (*1946). Beginning with his film ‘Line Describing a Cone’ (1973) he developed an artistic practice featuring the sculptural qualities of projection beams, thereby inventing the term ‘solid-light installations’. In an interview with Joe Lloyd in 2018, the artist commented on the ongoing struggle of terminology: “… I often still refer to them as films. Obviously, they no longer use the medium of film, but it is so much easier to call any one of them a film as in ‘a work of cinema’. ‘Installation’ is such a general term, and ‘solid-light installation’ is so much of a mouthful to use often. The term ‘film’ is not accurate, and it leaves out all the other ways to describe these works, but it is modest and short.”
Gudrun Barenbrock: Featuring Projection Tools in Action
One of the examples who began in the 1990s to work on the aesthetic properties of the image-producing technologies of the 1990s is Gudrun Barenbrock (*1958). A recurring element in her artistic interventions is the use of video recordings of a projection lens while a projection is running. The image featured in the projection changes the appearance of the light beam emanating from the projector, but the image itself is not recognizable. Rooted in the same idea, she has also recorded the light behavior of a scanner carriage in action. Each image being copied creates its own dynamics and variable light intensities in the transfer process. As Barenbrock renders visible the imaging technique, the inverted view that she creates raises questions about where the image comes from, how it is created, and how it distorts what is represented.
Max Sudhues: Rendering Visible Projection-Technical Tools
In the 2010s, artist Max Sudhues (*1977) became known for site and material-specific approaches. He has worked on a series of spatial installations staging the technical components of video projectors via overhead projectors. He explains: “With the aid of a pincette and screwdriver, I opened and deconstructed two broken video beamers into their components. This anatomic process and the material I gained by it led to a series of works that range from medium to content and examine the artistic usability of the used material. The innards of these gutted digital devices find new forms and narrative meanings by being observed from different analogue and digital, old and modern projection and presentation techniques.” The examples illustrate how all parts and aspects of projection technologies have been employed as artistic materials, all demonstrating the impact of the processing technologies on the images that we see. They stand for image generation as part of a performing practice.
MEDIA ART FESTIVAL Feature: Artistic Reflections on Technologies
Over the last years, several projects that further artistic reflections on technology have been featured at MEDIA ART FESTIVAL. One example is the work of Friedrich Boell (*1982), a study peer of Dawid Liftinger and Camilo Sandoval at the Media Art Academy in Cologne. He was invited to the MEDIA ART FESTIVAL in 2018 with an installation titled ‘Dead Pixel’. In this work, Boell stages phone screens as artistic material; as he explains: “Since the displays are based on IPS technology, they would normally block all light without an image signal. Therefore, I have carried out a manufacturing process of destroying the display pole filters, to allow the light to escape in the form of uneven artifacts from the mobile phone screens, and thus produce the textures that can be seen. On the back of the installation, the light emerges in bright colors from the displays, which is also related to their design. I have arranged the individual displays according to the structure of their cracks, so that an overall structure is created.” A similar approach can be found in the work of Samira Arrami (*1994) who was also part of the 2020/21 MEDIA ART FESTIVAL. Other examples are Jakub Valter (MAF 2018), Lena Weisner (MAF 2018), Jochem Knoef and Bas Laarakkers (MAF 2017).
“While the fields of light and media art have undergone great transformations in the decades since their emergence, the refusal of media artists to take the tools that shape our aesthetic fields for granted remains exciting and urgent. To critically focus on media and technology as much as content is a form of artistic research that also has social and political potential. By deconstructing the very dichotomy between form and content, the frameworks that shape our image of reality can be revealed and indeed, transformed. RGBW, therefore, mirrors this experience: the detection of technological artifice, taken apart and rendered visible and immersive, in and of itself,” said Irene Urrutia, the curator of the 2021 YOUNG MASTERS PROGRAM. Camilo Sandoval adds a different angle to this reading. “The saturation of the senses allegorizes trance induced religious states, bringing to relevance the spiritual connection that can be established between human and machine.” _ another good reason to have the installation on display.
The RGBW Experience
“I like when people talk about the sensorial aspects of the work … without any need to find an interpretation or a meaning behind. Either they find it pleasing or displeasing for the eyes, and that is it,” Sandoval replied when asked how he reflects on the role of the audience. “I dislike … when the attention span of the visitors is extremely short. How is someone supposed to get a work in like 30 seconds, especially if it is something that develops in time?” he adds. The spirit of the work encompasses the idea of sharing an experience rather than staging a moment of technical or educational insight. “Since, in my eyes, it’s an animation that breaks with the traditional convention, I prefer to have seating in the space, so the ‘audience’ can sit down and watch the whole ‘film’. At one of the first shows, it was great to see the audience stay even beyond that and watch loop after loop,” remembers Dawid Liftinger. The sequence, the series, or the loop are an important asset of technical-mechanical art installations. The loop allows a mind play on the experience of what the audience has already seen, and what they are expecting to see.
In his 1955 published essay on “Structure and Experience Time”, the German composer Karl-Heinz Stockhausen described the relational properties of objective and experienced time in serial musical compositions: “By experience time is meant the following: if we listen to a piece of music, the processes of change follow each other at different speeds. … the repetition of an event is also a change: something happens — then nothing happens — and again something happens. Even with a single event, we experience change: it begins and ends. … A repetition … has the least degree of change, a completely surprising event the greatest. … If we notice at the end of a piece of music — regardless of how long it took, whether it was played slowly or quickly, whether there were very many or very few notes — that we ‘forgot the time’, then we have actually experienced it most profoundly.” In this sense, ‘RGBW’ opens a situation that nurtures the patience of beholding, trains the responsiveness of the eye, and cultivates the agile mind.