[Submerged website , Digital Development Agency]
A site-specific video installation for two video projectors, two video players, two video cameras and linked web-site.
Merging/Emerging was commissioned as a site-specific work for the exhibition “Submerged”, part of the Bath International Music Festival, 1999, with funding from the Arts Council of England, South West Arts, The Henry Moore Foundation, The National Lottery and the European Social Fund. The work was made in response to a brief from the Bath Festivals Trust and the Digital Development Agency and exhibited at The Royal Hot Baths June-July 1999.
The “Submerged” project brief specified the site and the context of the work (see appendix) and was selected from an open submission advertised in the national press.
My approach to the work involved several stages. Initially working from plans and archive photographs of the space and a written description of the venue, I devised an initial treatment, referring back to aspects of my previous installation work from which I could draw connections.
The themes implicit in the project brief were very suited to my approach and to the themes and concerns of my installation work generally, and I found it useful to draw parallels with a number of previous works, specificallyStreamline (1991) and Cross-Currents (1993) . The project brief identified an interest in establishing an internet “web site”, and I was particularly attracted to the idea of developing an aspect of “liveness’ which had been a central feature in Cross-Currents.
For me there were a number of important connections with Cross-Currents . The work had also been site-specific, commissioned by Camerawork, London to be exhibited at the Cafe Gallery in Southwark Park for the exhibition “River Crossings”. Both Cross-Currents and Merging/Emerging were concerned with establishing connections with an historical aspect of the site. The lido adjoining the Cafe Gallery in Southwark Park and the spa at the Old Royal Baths were both derelict, both involved a relationship between the architectural space and the human body and both were about a current absence of water.
In Cross-Currents I made a feature of a link between a “live” outdoor video camera and an interior pre-recorded image sequence to draw together representations of space and time- the “present” outdoor live camera image (with superimposed date and time in the display) with the “past” of the interior projection.
In Merging/Emerging I was particularly interested in the historical aspects of the site, both in terms of the architectural space and the specific purpose of the original building. My plan for the installation was to draw together historical images (using archive photographic records of patients in treatment at the spa) with details of the building interior using video projections. The archive photographs were recorded onto videotape and digitally manipulated to create a continuous video sequence of liquid flow.
Each photo was made to gradually turn fluid, progressing from a static frozen image to flowing liquidity, creating an illusion of movement within the photographic frame as well as building a progressive sequence from the cyclic flow of individual images.
The resultant video sequences were projected onto two key architectural features within the building: a wall niche and an adjacent circular well in the centre of the floor. Two synchronised video sequences were made, linking a vertical movement down the length of the wall niche to a continuous dissolving of the well image projected into the hole.
These two video projections were monitored via two ceiling-mounted “web-cams” which provided “live’ images of the installation to a dedicated web site. The two alternate camera views were continually switched using a simple surveillance vision mixer.
In all my installation work since 1990, and to a lesser extent in earlier single screen video tape work such as The Stream (1987) , notions of flow have been an important recurring theme. In Merging/Emerging the flow of still images was made to move across the space of the building. The vertical progression of each photograph, the gradual transformation from frozen still to fluid motion within each frame, and the layering and stratification of the images in the well, all contributed to this visual experience.
A further layer of the fluid theme is encountered through the installation’s relationship to the internet. The ‘live’ video cameras provide a ‘video stream’ to the web-site. Experienced as a series of grabbed frames (the video stream cannot be displayed on the web as continuous video) the animated video of the live installation is reconverted into still images in order to become part of the flow of information on the “World Wide Web”. I was particularly attracted to this cyclic structure- the fluid flux of “real life” becomes a frozen representation of the past, it is converted and re-animated using contemporary digital imaging technology and projected into the present, which in turn is reconverted into a series of still moments. Beginning as historical B&W photos, these images are converted into video, digitally animated, colourised and given an illusory fluidity, projected into the architectural space they were originally photographed in 50 years before, they are finally returned to a sequence of static moments in order to become information floating in virtual space.
There is a sense in which all video installations are site-specific, insofar as works installed in a gallery must be placed and tuned to the particularities of the site. Characteristics of site include such factors as entrance positions, scale of space, acoustics, light levels, type of space (it’s “normal” function) etc. The most important issue in question here is the extent to which a work is site-specific. Merging/Emerging was planned to have a particular relation to the site, this idea was built into the original commission, and furthermore was a condition of it. The installation’s “site-Specificity” has a series of interleaved layers, or inter-related aspects. Firstly there is the relationship of the installation to the building itself. the original purpose of the building, its history and its use. Following on from this are the physical properties of the building- its archetectural details, its condition, the physical layout, the fabric of the building- it’s light, colour and scale.
The ideas for the work, it’s “look”, function, utilisation of display technology, the projection of sound, the type of images presented, and their mode of presentation are all linked to the site and are tied into the generation of meaning and the sense of experience it produces in the viewer. The context of a site-specific work are complex and are the most significant factor in both the making and the rerading of the work- a notion of the significance of the site is a pre-requisite in both cases. This may or may not be exp;licit in the case of the viewer, but in cases where it is made apparent by the artist, this fact will enhance the undertanding of the work by the visitor. The artist must take into account the specific nature of the viewer’s physical experience of the space, but canmnot assume the viewer’s knowledge of the history and purpose of the building. the work can attempt to present aspects of it’s history and purpose and to integrate them into the content of the piece.