Archive for May, 2009

after all

I very nearly didn’t go to see the Aftermath exhibition at the Nicholson Institute in Leek yesterday, but I’m glad I did.

All art can be analysed. Don’t worry, I have no intention of delving into deconstruction, semiotics or iconography, but a lot of contemporary art, by selecting from an infinite variety of media, provides more information than ever to pick over. It’s not strictly speaking conceptual art, since it depends on the physical presence of the work, but its emphasis on ideas and its deviation from traditional Fine Art techniques and materials mean that its success depends largely on how the viewer reacts. That, in turn, depends on his or her knowledge, experience, ideas and thoughts. I confess, then, that some of the art on show left me uninvolved, and that says as much about me as it does about the art.

I liked ‘OHP’ by Stuart Porter, one of the first pieces you see on entering the gallery: an overhead projection onto the gallery wall of a monochrome drawing of a hanging jacket. The light shines through gaps in the drawing, so the jacket takes on the colour of the wall, like a chameleon against its background, partly hidden, its presence in question, for of course the jacket isn’t there. It’s just a projection of light that bypasses shaded areas.

Other pieces were intriguing, playing with ideas – the reflections, transformations and parallels of Phil Rawle’s blackened wood and white-painted wood formed opposites yet weren’t, a yin and yang that didn’t contain the other and wouldn’t become the other. ‘Festival 86’ by Anna Francis was slightly creepy, with the distance of 23 years since the National Garden Festival (and the styles and ideas of the time) both elongated and foreshortened by the continuing existence of tacky souvenirs and seedlings growing in trays.

David Bethel’s pieces also intrigued me. ‘You are Starving Me’ consists of model houses placed in polystyrene and cardboard takeaway food cartons, surrounded by gardens and water made of jigsaw pieces, some assembled to provide pictures as scenery and others acting as parts of flower bushes or just the colour of leaves and plants. The boxes are interspersed among the other pieces in the gallery, some open, others shut (and who knows what might be inside those?). The juxtaposition of such disparate elements is interesting – subverted chocolate box tweeness in throwaway containers, a lack of nourishment that is more than just physical.

‘I Know You are Always There’, also by David Bethel, hinted at the separate existence of breath or words once they leave our mouths, twisting in the air like a game of Snake on mobile phones. Is the title reassuring or frightened? Was the frequent, muttered repetition of the word “breathe” over the headphones an attempt to calm down or encouragement to stay alive? Was the piece referring to the things we say on the spur of the moment then immediately regret but can never take back? Do we continue a form of existence in other people’s memories when we are apart? Through its display on a television screen or computer monitor, perhaps it referred to the continuing existence of ephemeral things on the Internet, cached in Google or other archives and beyond our control? Perhaps it was referring to the endless existence of the atoms that briefly make up our bodies and then take some other form once we die.

I recently worked with Katie May Shipley, so I may be accused of bias, but I found her piece, ‘For Losing Yesterday (3)’, to be the most moving in the exhibition. A piece of embroidery lies on a chair, with a bag on the floor beside it. Has the person working on it merely put it down temporarily while they left the room? The image on the embroidery is so abstract as to appear random, though it may just be unfinished. If that is the case, though, why is it the same as the pattern lying to the other side? Has the embroiderer abandoned the piece, or are they trying to create an image based on an imperfect memory? Why is the phrase ‘What time is it?” repeated on tape spilling out of the bag? Is someone unable to remember what the time is? Our pasts are nothing but memories, and if we can’t rely on them, how much do we have left? Is it better or worse to be aware that our memories are imperfect? My father had Alzheimer’s Disease for many years, and gradually became a shadow of his former quick intellect before he died, so, for me, these are important questions.

The notes supplied to viewers in the gallery provide more material for the process of analysis and understanding. They explain the theme of the exhibition, so loose a link as to be discernible only after the event. Some notes, such as those for David Bethel, are so terse and mispelled as to be unhelpful, presumably deliberately. Others are interesting, providing useful information, and some offer context for the artists’ themes.

In the end, however, the art that has the most impact is the art to which viewers bring their own ideas and emotions. Give me hints and suggestions, choose and place symbols in my mind, and leave me to make my own connections.


Sunday, May 31st, 2009 art 1 Comment

slitscan the can – s quatro

I’ve been developing my Processing slitscan filter to create a sequence of images from a single original source.

Although manipulating individual pixels led to some interesting effects, I couldn’t work out how to achieve what I was really after. I switched to using get() and set(), thus leaving the hard work of calculation to Processing, and we’re both happier as a result. The only drawback is that images drawn with set() can’t be tinted, so, to suggest distance, I added a narrow black rectangle over each row of pixels, filled with decreasing transparency towards the centre.

I’m still not there yet, but the following clip is much closer:

Here’s the source image:


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Saturday, May 30th, 2009 coding 1 Comment

the wire

Katie showed us how to make wire figures the other day, and has posted the results on her Wire Sculpture Workshops blog. We’re doing some fun stuff at work just now, but that was particularly enjoyable. Thanks Katie!


Thursday, May 28th, 2009 art No Comments

we’ve got five six years, stuck on my eyes – d bowie

It’s nearly three years after the event, but I only recently came across one of the best time-lapse films I’ve ever seen: Noah takes a photo of himself every day for six years.

The impact is partly due to Noah’s perseverance, partly to the manipulative soundtrack, partly to the unchanging facial expression and partly to the identical positioning of the eyes in each shot, but the main impact, and what makes it almost unbearably poignant, is the aging that occurs over what is perhaps a quarter of Noah’s life so far.

He’s still taking photographs of himself: have at look at his website.


Tuesday, May 26th, 2009 photography No Comments

scannin’ fodder

Following on from my previous poston slitscanning, I’ve been working on a Processing sketch to imitate the original slitscan technique, i.e. create a sequence of images from a static single original. I’ve never used images or video in Processing before, so it’s all new to me, and I’ve a way to go yet, but I’m getting there. So far, my sketch creates a new frame for each row of pixels in the original image, and adjusts each line in it with a flickering offset.

Here’s the output from the current version of the sketch:

… and here’s the original, rather cheesey image I used as a test source (taken from a website offering free desktop wallpapers):


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Monday, May 25th, 2009 coding No Comments

slit scannin’ away – p simon

I can’t remember how it started, but my attention was caught recently by the idea of slitscans. The term seems to be used indiscriminately for different but related techniques, so I’ve tried to categorise them for my own understanding.

Firstly, there’s the creation of a sequence of images from a backlit static original. That’s how the stargate sequence for ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ was created, as well as the original Dr Who title sequence. It’s a laborious approach, where, for each frame of the sequence, the camera shutter is held open while the camera is lowered towards the static image. Only a thin line of the original is visible through a slit (hence the name), and the light coming through it falls on different parts of the film as the camera’s position alters. For subsequent frames, the camera is raised again, the film wound on, the original image moved slightly so the next part of it is visible through the slit, and the process is repeated.

Intriguingly, someone has reverse-engineered the stargate sequence to produce some of the static images that must have been used to create the effects.

The next version of the technique creates a single image from a sequence of images. A common use is to capture a series of timelapse images of a scene then take adjacent slices from each one and combine them. The result is an image of a scene where different parts of it represent different times. The teeming void has examples of a street scene and the sky.

A variation on this approach captures a single image from a changing scene by using a box with a moving slit in it in front of the camera. Alternatively, though it’s more restricted, you could move things while scanning them.

Finally there is the creation of a sequence of images from a sequence of images. This seems to be particularly popular because of the weird effects you get from simple movement. It’s a development of the previous technique, where each frame of the output sequence consists of slices of different frames in the starting sequence. You can watch a test video to compare the input and output frames and see what’s happening more clearly. Some video editing programmes provide filters to achieve this, and people have supplied code for use with Processing and Quartz Composer. It can be impressive, but the novelty value of this approach wears off very quickly.

I’ll develop this topic further in some way, but in the meantime, if you’re interested in delving deeper into the subject, there’s an extensive collection of examples assembled by Golan Levin.


Saturday, May 23rd, 2009 photography 2 Comments

abandoned artworks

That nice zenbullets (see link in sidebar) sent me a postcard today, featuring fifty of his abandoned artworks (see other link in sidebar). It was a lovely surprise waiting for me on the doorstep when I got home from work. Cheers, Matt.


Friday, May 22nd, 2009 generative art No Comments

here’s what you missed…

Rhizome has just posted a summary of last weekend’s Futuresonic in Manchester. You have to read a long way down before you reach mention of the art in the Cube that we went to see. It doesn’t even mention any of the music events (which doesn’t bother me, because the only event I’d have considered going to in that category was the concert by Philip Glass), but it shows how much the festival contained.

I’m sorry that I missed the presentation by Aaron Kolbin. I hadn’t realised that was on, though it was only seeing Flight Patterns at the Cube that made me interested in his other work. The version of Flight Patterns on his website lacks the changes over time that were included in the version at the Cube, but you can zoom in and pan around, which gives it a completely different feel.


Thursday, May 21st, 2009 digital art No Comments

algorithms for visual design

I know it’s geeky, but I’m excited that ‘Algorithms for Visual Design Using the Processing Language ‘ by Kostas Terzidis has arrived. It’s been on my wish list for many months, but a publishing date was specified by Amazon only recently. It appears to cover a lot of the same general topics as other Processing books, but it rushes through the basics then you’re into all sorts of complicated matters. I’ll have to take this book very slowly indeed.


Wednesday, May 20th, 2009 coding No Comments

the sky at night

This time-lapse film of a night sky starts quietly and appears to be dull, but it’s worth persevering… If you’re interested in how it was made, read the tenth comment, and scroll down further for an explanation of the AA screen.


Tuesday, May 19th, 2009 photography No Comments