ARTIST STUDY: Richard Lewer

Richard Lewer’s works cover a diverse array of medium, subject matter, scale and styles.  He has drawings, paintings, animations, video and performance art, incorporating portraiture and landscapes, sculptural and installation based works as well as intervening with found objects such as maps for irreverent social commentary.

His works are not realistic, but maintain a firm grounding in ‘social realism’ – as a way of representing a deeper underlying truth about social and cultural phenomena.  That is to say he aims to capture his subjects as they are, without adhering to any formal aesthetic realist mode of representation.

The series “In The Blue Corner” demonstrates this approach.  The figures are moody, emotional and verging on caricature, but they capture an emotional reality of the event from which the subject is drawn:

a painting of a boxer
In the Blue Corner
YEAR.   2014
MEDIUM.   Oil on board
DIMENSIONS. 300mm x 220mm
SERIES.  In the Blue Corner
CATEGORY. Painting
A painting of a boxer
In the Blue Corner
YEAR.   2014
MEDIUM.   Oil on board
DIMENSIONS. 600mm x 390mm
SERIES.  In the Blue Corner
CATEGORY: Painting

The “Blue Corner” of the title refers to the underdog status of certain contenders, and sourced from archival photos, such as the controversial first round Heavyweight Championship victory of Muhammed Ali over Sonny Liston – captured by Neil Leifer in 1967.

“Get up and fight, sucker” – credit Neil Leifer 1967

Other works are text based interventions on found objects; maps or flags become the canvas for acidic commentary on Australian cultural fragility:

Text on a Flag
The History of Australia
YEAR.     2018
SERIES.   The History of Australia
CATEGORY. Painting
text on a map  
Fit in or fuck off 
YEAR.       2013 
MEDIUM.     Enamel on found school map 
DIMENSIONS. 9000mm x 800mm 
SERIES.     9 day swing 
CATEGORY. Painting 

The Sullivan and Strumpf Gallery artist profile for their website notes his work “probes what is beautiful and sinister about our society without injecting a moralising tone or political message” – but with the overt politicisation of these objects: maps and flags which are manifest artifacts of colonisation – now bluntly defaced – it is difficult to resist his unequivocal commentary on (white) Australian Cultural Homogeneity and the insecurities which surround our place on this continent.



installation: light on plastic

This installation is the result of testing the mediality of lightweight tablecloth plastic under different states of light. The surface of the plastic is semi-translucent and subject to tiny changes in air pressure, so the object was to examine these aspects by using a live camera feed to project and re-project the image of the plastic under a very basic lighting rig (2 x 300W redheads) as a way to enhance and distort the ephemeral nature of this material. Several different iterations created surprising results from different formations.

To counterpoint this aesthetic, it was important to introduce shadowplay. I am interested in the notion of the audience-as-performer, and eventually found an arrangement for the work to allow a playful interaction between the spectator and the work itself. Eventually this is working towards a much larger project which allows for a durational exhibition, by which the audience can generate shadowplay with an invisible actor as part of an ongoing interactive performance.

The experiment of projecting a surface onto itself as a mode of dialogic media was inspired by the literary theories of Mikhail Bakhtin, who argues that as an image, word or utterance echoes upon itself over time meaning is generated through this conversant process of heteroglossia. Each utterance contains traces of that which has come before it, and that which is yet to come. Ultimately the work here operates as an experiment in making that process visible in real time.

Rowan McDonald June, 2019


The project began with a desire to further experiment and test the possibilities of this medium, using light and shadow on hanging plastic sheets. I’ve used this material before as a set backdrop for live theatre and in a previous installation for my media arts studies in 2018. I felt that while I was enjoying the aesthetic of how light interacts with this material (white tablecloth plastic), I was really only scratching the surface of its potential. So i wanted to use the workshop space to further explore this dynamic and really test out the possibilities for the material and aesthetic it creates.

Skeletal Remains, 2018. The focus of this installation was the objects behind the screen. The plastic wasn’t significant to the work but a convenient surface on which to cast shadows.

Concurrent to this experimentation, I was doing a range of theoretical and practical research across photography, theatre & performance media (via my other subjects). So I was looking for opportunities where these aspects might cross over, rather than going in with a particular outcome in mind. The main object for the research was to become more acquainted with the material through ongoing practice. As this unfolded, and I made various discoveries regarding the nature of hypermedia – (ie: a medium which can absorb all other mediums), I began to link in some of this other research, incorporating wide ranging concepts such as Butoh Dance Practices, Bakhtinian Poetics, intermediality and the postdramatic.


Early in the session, for another subject we undertook a series of practical workshops surrounding the contemporary dance movement known as Butoh. While I am still very much a novice in this field, I found it a fascinating journey, and very much in line with my philosophy around creating work, that is: embracing the darkness of the unknown, and working in such a way that enables the unpredictability of what this entails. As this research progressed, and after some early photographs were taken for archival purposes, it became clear that I needed to integrate some bodily, performative aspect into the research. A tenet of Butoh practice is Butoh-Fu, which “sounds like poetry, but is the ‘physical language’ that indicates a dancer’s movement, a method for a dancer’s physical being. And a way of relating with space.”  This idea took root, but it was a while before I could articulate any specific logistical means through which I could apply it to the experimentation.

an early photograph testing the translucent quality of the material. I kept returning to this image of the hands, one unmistakably human and the other like an alien claw.

The use of Shadow as a core aspect of the media was also influenced by the William Kentridge exhibit The Nose which utilised distorted shadows of dancing figures which variously surrounded the spectator across different screens. This highly theatrical fusion of black and white film, puppetry and animation gave me a lot to chew on as I worked through different approaches to a similar performance work.


These are two central concepts we investigated in researching the history of theatre practice throughout the 20th Century – although I would argue they are central to all theatre since ancient times – this notion that theatre is a hypermedium which collates and absorbs all other mediums, be it text, speech, song, music, mask design, set/scenography video or lighting, the act of performance is inherently intermedial. This was always about investigating just one aspect of theatre/performance independent to the bigger picture of making an entire show. So the challenge was to find a way to integrate this material research into the qualities of light and plastic into a performative mode. The feedback I received throughout the session reflected this challenge, having discovered an interesting surface with which to generate different effect, but nothing which stood as a completed end unto itself – this critique is accurate as I was more or less aiming to explore just that: How to apply this particular approach to lighting, and use those techniques for the purpose of framing a much larger performance (at a later date). The question was how to proceed with this investigation without anything specific with which to perform? I didn’t really want to burden myself with creating an entire performance work in just a few weeks, however this obstacle became more of a provocation than impediment to the research.

what I was working on was like a “set-design without a play”

The solution was to anticipate the scale of the larger performance, in which I am able to operate as a performer, casting a shadow onto the plastic sheeting, but otherwise invisible to the spectator, who can create their own shadows and thus interact with the performance as it unfolds. With this in mind I was able to then investigate the logistics of how this would work, in terms of lighting, placement of the plastic, and using live-feed video projections. Various iterations of this process created some surprising results.

the mediated self – an early experiment in live projections

“We locate intermediality at the meeting point in between the performers, the observers and the confluence of media involved in a performance at a particular moment in time”

(Chapple, Kattenbelt – Intermediality in Theatre and Performance 2014, p12)

This intersection between the live event and the re-mediation process became the focus of this research, in particular by pushing live projections of the illuminated screen back onto itself, as a way to generate visual feedback of the aesthetic at play. This feedback, framed as a phenomenological dialogue is the ultimate aesthetic I am exploring across all of my practice, {photographic, sculptural, performance based or otherwise) – an area I have taken a long-term theoretical interest in as a logical extrapolation of the theories surrounding dialogic media, or as Mikhail Bakhtin describes the semiotic utterance as an event occurring in discourse with the wider cultural milieu which surrounds it: heteroglossia.

the dialogic self: engaging the spectator with a projection of their own shadow

So, rather than attempting to bring a performance into the medium, the research became about finessing the arrangements around how the audience would experience the event of being there. Multiple arrangements and reconstructions, repositioning cameras and projectors was a matter of trial and error as different combinations generated different effects. Initially I had hung ribbons in the audience area to assist with focusing the cameras but as the final installation progressed I decided I quite enjoyed the aesthetic, as a playful invitation to reach out and discover the work, so they stayed.


Ultimately this exhibit is a “proof-of-concept” with a specific plan to continue to expand and develop the scope of the work into something integrating more “performative” – emphasising spectacle, incorporating durational aspects and pushing the immersive and interactive qualities much further. I have an ongoing interest in work which centres the spectator, going beyond being simply immersive or interactive but placing the audiences’ choice to engage at the crux of the event. SO I’m looking forward to pushing this much further. As an experiment specifically exploring visual textures and lighting, it’s but a fragment of an entire public work – but as an exploration of medium I feel much more confident in applying different techniques with lighting and projection onto this material.


Taking this work in the next level involves introducing a bodily aspect, including shadows and projected/ mediated video. Working with a live video feed of the subject taken from behind the screen and then rebroadcast back onto the surface of the plastic give some interesting distortions. I have also continued to experiment with the photography component as an aspect of the mediated portrait, enhancing the distortions from the projection further in the still image by capturing the granular RGB components.

These initial images are self-portrait tests:

These variations combine the subject, the shadows cast by the subject, and projections of these back onto the screen. They are raw files, untreated. Notably the blue tint of my shirt seems to create a similar degree of RGB colour saturation across each photo.

These two are a further exploration of myself (as the subject) in close-up, looking into camera. I am also experimenting with casting the shadow of my hand across the projection to further distort the sheeting and images. The result is quite expressionistic and something I intend to explore further.

Within this I am working with the notion of the performance of “self”, using notions of the grotesque and exaggerated notions of the human form as well as representation of the “shadow-self” – or those parts of ourselves we keep hidden. These are early tests but taken as highly constructed still images I feel like these can be quite fascinating and I’m curious to continue the exploration further.


This essay will document my recent experimentation with white plastic sheeting undertaken in the studio each week and focus this research into a more tangible project outcome. It will also link my practice to theoretical research incorporating Butoh performance theory and the Bakhtinian notion of dialogism (areas I have been investigating in other subjects), with the intention of bringing a more precise theoretical component to the practical execution of this workshop. My intention is to outline my discoveries regarding the material aspects of the practice, specifically that of the plastic sheeting, but also what I see as the fundamental medium I am working with: Light and Shadow. Further to this I will frame this research as a precursor to what I am working towards; to use the plastic sheet ‘light painting’ to mediate a performance work and speculate how these two discrete approaches to artmaking can be brought together in an innovative way.

At the core of the research are simple set of questions:

  1. What happens when I shine a light through white plastic sheets which have been draped from the ceiling?
  2. How can I manipulate the light source and the sheeting in different ways to create interesting effects?
  3. What are the differences between live-installation and photo/videography of these components and where can the two intersect?

By focussing on the material aspects of the plastic I found some surprising outcomes. The primary feature is that the sheeting is semi-opaque. As such it diffuses the light like a heavy scrim, allowing some translucency when objects rest very close to the material. Here the light is indirectly bounced from the wall onto the sheet giving a ghostly effect:

This is distinctly different effect to a silhouette effect which comes when a light is thrown directly at the sheet, as we can see here – my hands are not touching the material at all (which creates some interesting possibilities with distortion and foreshortening, notice the asymmetrical arms):  

I’m exploring the use of shadows specifically as a response to the William Kentridge exhibit The Nose in which he displays a range of screens depicting various shadow puppetry and dance routines, have made some brief notes on this exhibit here: <> .

Other material aspects relevant to the project outcomes:

The plastic is very lightweight and susceptible to very small changes in air pressure, such that the very act of using a bright incandescent bulb as a light source (approximately 300W) will heat the air enough to create an immediate updraft across the face of the plastic. As such, an unencumbered sheet will drift according to its positional relationship to the lighting. When freshly unfurled, the sheet also carries an ionic charge, which encourages two sheets draped close to each other to cling together.

Finally, a key materiality of the plastic is it’s tendency to crumple when stored. I have deliberately accentuated this by not packing the sheeting neatly between workshops, so it’s been more pronounced as I have proceeded each week. The result of this is fine ridges and valleys occurring across the surface of the material which has proven a fascinating (and quite random) element to work with. Several different effects are immediately visible here where light is projected at an extreme angle across two sheets draped together:


D                                                          C                        B                               A

  1. The harsh light thrown directly onto the plastic creates a sharp ‘landscape relief effect’ (Visible Section A)
  2. This effect is noticeably softened where the two sheets begin to overlap (Section B)
  3. As the sheets are prone to undulate, sometimes casting a shadow, although the folds are still somewhat visible (Section C)
  4. Where the sheets overlap but are not touching, we can still see a diffused ‘landscape relief effect’, although quite different in quality (Section D)

Notably for this image: the light source is not an incandescent bulb, but a video projection of footage taken earlier in the workshop. I’m projecting a mediated image of the crumpled plastic sheet (taken from below) onto itself. I wanted to do this as a logical extension of the experimental workshop process; a means to extend the abstraction of light and shadow into texture, and a visual play on what had been done before.

However there is a deeper theoretical notion underpinning this: that of the nature of meaning and how it comes to occur. Mikhail Bakhtin theorised a model for language by which meaning is created through repeated ‘utterances’, the accumulation of which allow for a refracted meaning to exist as the speaker/listener simultaneously interpret a language event (or utterance) in the context of all past and future iterations of how they imagine that utterance to occur (Lodge, 59). While Bakhtin’s theories of dialogism apply primarily to the language of literature, I am interested to explore this process in other mediums as well.  

So, the notion of projecting a video of the medium of experimentation back onto itself is an aesthetic abstraction of light and plastic; but also a formal method to examine this process as it occurs, almost at a granular level. We can track each utterance of the language for the work as it is being created. This is why I have been so painstakingly methodical in these iterations, from the basic white-on-white of week 1, to the folded/crumpled landscape relief of week 2, and now the projection of one iteration onto the next, even something as simple as this can begin to hybridise layers of complex signification even before introducing any formal language component.

In the above image top left corner (Section E) the photograph takes on a violet tinge. To the naked eye this is not apparent, as the projection is simple white-on-white, however as that has been now mediated five times (twice by DSLR and once by video projection, plus photoshop compression and this final mediation to a computer screen) the observer can find further material aspects of the medium, specifically: light as a spectral phenomena. As the projection device must break the image down to its finite components, this aspect of the medium becomes apparent when being photographed at a fast shutter speed. In this instance it’s relatively slow at 1/30th second but we can see a shadow of the Red and Blue elements combining. Other images taken during this workshop are more startling:

Raw image of white plastic under video projection taken at fast shutter speed 1/160th second.

These two images were taken at 1/160th second just moments apart.

this is the actual projection in full. as you can see it’s basic white on white

These images demonstrate how quickly this process of dialogism can take place, as the utterance of a single image played recursively into itself and broken down into granular moments can drastically alter and reflect a range of possible ‘meanings’ within just a few iterations.


In order to collate this research into a work of live art/ performance I will introduce a human aspect to the process, and devise an approach which combines the same methodology of dialogism into a performance mode. The human component will comprise of two diametrically opposite positions: that of the audience and the performer. I intend to achieve this through a closed-circuit video feed from the installation to an isolated performance area, with a second video feed projected back onto the installation. The process will be as follows:

  1. Audience approaches installation, ideally they will be able to enter the ‘frame’ of the work and be surrounded on all sides by the plastic sheeting (as a kind of analogue immersion)
  2. As I observe their movements in relation to the installation, my own movements will be improvised in response, with a video feeding back into live projections, forming a dialogue between the audience and the art
  3. The movement aspect of the work will be abstracted, incorporating some of the early experiments of shadow-play and material aspects of the plastic sheets as already discussed (the next phase of development will investigate these outcomes in more detail)

As such the audience will be able to engage and interact with the performance to create something unexpected. Early examinations of this process have shown some promising results:

The image of my hand shadow is projected onto the sheeting. This can be abstracted or distorted a range of ways by positioning the light source or the projector at various angles.

It is also possible to forgo the role of performer entirely and engage the audience to step in, here I asked a classmate to create the shadows for the live feed so I could photograph at a different angle, and she immediately began playing with different shapes and shadow-puppets. The projected image of her hands is also visible in the frame which adds an interesting touch.

I will continue to investigate different possibilities for the live-feed/ performative components and see what emerges, however as a guideline for moving forward I intend to incorporate some of the Butoh theories I have been studying – specifically as dance being a non-representational form of movement, instead allowing the environment and imagination to guide the performance (Baird, 4).

Assuming I will be the primary agent of performance within this framework, the movements will be generated within the parameters of responsive, oppositional and intuitive to the behaviours of the audience as they engage with the work. By doing this I intend to further investigate the process of dialogism and iteration as a function of meaning within an abstracted and stylistic performance work.


Baird, B 2011, Hijikata Tatsumi and Butoh : dancing in a pool of gray grits / Bruce Baird, Palgrave studies in theatre and performance history series, Palgrave Macmillan, New York.

Lodge, D 1990, After Bakhtin: Essays on Fiction and Criticism, Routledge, London.

PRACTICE: light painting 2

Today I took the same approach as previous iterations of this research, except notably the plastic has been folded and creased over two weeks of storage (whereas previously it comes directly off a long roll and appears much more smooth) – casting the lamp from an angle gives a remarkable array of shadows and contours to play with.

same arrangement, taken from floor shooting upwards

I also noticed this effect was amplified by movement in the air, as the angle of the light changing slightly across the face of the plastic sheeting shows. This is even more profound when the plastic is left hanging off the floor so there is very little resistance to even the slightest change in air pressure.

same arrangement, shot from floor level directly upwards.
all the movement in the plastic is from subtle changes in air pressure

I also looked at some basic shadow play, using a second lamp and photographing the effect as the air shifted the plastic across at different angles:

twisted/ frayed rope shadows 1
layered plastic sheets with torn edges & twisted rope –
this image seems to recall a bleached out, corrupted flag

There are some interesting possibilities to explore with the layering of sheets behind multiple lamps. Where the edges of the sheets are touching creates a multiplicity of shadows and lights crossing over, and while these images are just crudely ripped edges, it seems like a good place to experiment with variation in texture and shapes down the track:

two sheets, only touching in the centre –
front sheet is smooth and when they touch the light reveals the creases in the back-sheet
detail: the torn edge of the back sheet just against the front, with two lamps

Fieldwork Research (Part 1)

At the Art Gallery of NSW today for the William Kentridge exhibit – to think about his process and approach to media. He has a diverse body of work ranging from animation, printing, collage, sculpture and theatre design. A couple of his works stood out but I was particularly enthralled by the montage of shadows animating eight screens in a large display room. Here’s a sample of the effect captured on video:


I was immediately struck by the sense of whimsy, carnivalesque absurdity in every frame – so I was not surprised to learn the works related to the farcical opera The Nose by Nikolai Gogol. Each frame offers a distinct experience, ranging from text to shadow puppets, animation and dance. The spectator immediately feels surrounded by a chaotic frenzy of parading and posturing figures, from the opening fanfare it immediately becomes impossible to zero in on any particular set of images – multiple titles appear at once from all sides, and so the spectator is immersed.

The simplicity of the tools used to create this work is striking. Basic theatre spotlights, or stop motion animation ascribed to film- all technologies available from the early part of the 20th Century, this lo-fi approach is emphasised by the use of black and white, as well as the imagery used which is reminiscent of a travelling circus. The use of shadow is significant for the audience experience, as the projections often collide with the audiences as they inhabit the space, thus creating an additional set of shadows – this has a marked effect of simultaneously disrupting the work and enhancing it, as the fresh shadows invite a sense of interaction and playfulness, the spectators may feel compelled to dance along with the animation, for example.

Kentridge combines his pre-revolutionary operatic scenography with Soviet era iconography. note the shadow of the spectator (me) at the bottom of frame.

I’m interested in this work for the following reasons:

  1. it has a theatrical lineage, working from a perspective of set design and opera
  2. the immersive, chaotic nature of the piece, surrounding and overwhelming the viewer
  3. the lo-fi shadow play component, using simple tech to generate an immersive aesthetic experience
  4. the inherent sociopolitical commentary to the work, linking the human body with notions of freedom, expression and oppression within the same moment

I will explore this final point in more detail to come.

Practice: Light Painting 2019

BACKGROUND: In 2018 I developed a work for class which experimented with shadow and light, using a semi-opaque white plastic sheeting as a medium to generate a set of shadows. While I was moderately satisfied with the outcome, I felt as though the time pressures and circumstances surrounding the installation off the work left a lot of potential for this untapped. In short, the real outcome for me was the discovery of ways in which this very basic material (white tablecloth plastic) can be manipulated. So for the following weeks and months I intend to experiment and explore the possibilities in more depth.

skeletal remains (abstract human); light on plastic UoW 2018

While the focus on this project was the abstracted representation of the Human Skeleton and questions of robotics/ genetic manipulation therein; in this phase of want practice I will investigate further into the qualities of the Light-On-Plastic media. It’s a material I have used in a couple of design projects before, and I will create a separate post to archive these experiments. But here I will begin with a simple analysis of some very basic experiments I undertook today as follows:

wide view of the setup: two plastic sheets, overlapping, with a single lamp approx 1m behind

There are two outcomes I am investigating with this series:

  1. How the light interacts with the material in the space: the material is very lightweight and will sway/ react with even a very slight movement in air pressure, such as the wake of a body walking past, or even gentle shifts in pressure within the room.
  2. How these lighting effects translate to photography/ video, within the context of exposure, frame rate, ISO and depth-of-field

Here we can see a wide angle set-up, with a single lamp, taken at 200ISO set for normal exposure (f-stop 4.0 at 1/25 shutter). I used a low ISO to begin with to see how far I can push the possibilities of shutter speed and aperture in low light without underexposing. It turns out that’s pretty much the limit.

close up of material, same conditions

The notable outcome for this image is the difference in how the light behaves reacting with either one or two sheets. There’s a significant difference in tone where the sheets overlap. Also worth noting that the sheets are touching, as even the smallest of gaps between them can generate a different effect.

same setup, light is angled from the left

By angling the lamp slightly to the left there is a noticeable difference. Firstly we can see the creases and contours inherent to the plastic, which form as a result of being stored for long periods rolled up. Also we can see a very faint reflection and shadow along the edges of where the two pieces overlap. These subtle reactions demonstrate a significant level of tonal variation from a simple repositioning of the lamp.

same setup, angled lamp, taken from below – 400ISO, f-stop 4.5, 1/50 shutter speed

I wanted a very low depth-of field for this shot to let the foreground fall out of focus. The main are of focus is the middle of the frame, and the line created by the overlap/ creased area. The object of this photograph is to see how this would impact the perspective for the viewer, as the outcome is abstracted from the vertical to the horizontal.

At this point I ran out of time for the workshop, will continue to test the following iterations:

Investigating the dynamics of semi opaque plastic sheeting under different lighting conditions:

  • Different physical shapes of the plastic:
    • draped vertically
    • taut/ no creases or folds
    • loose, incorporating folds and innate curves from the sheeting
    • layered, close together
    • layered at a distance
    • layered with different colours, close or distant
  • position of the lighting
    • distant/ close to the sheet
    • different angles
    • how this impacts the various physical shapes of the plastic as above
    • multiple lights
    • different types of light (LED vs incandescent vs fluorescent vs natural light)
    • coloured lighting in conjunction with white or coloured plastic
  • movement of the plastic
    • ‘natural’ movement, reacting to air pressure
    • mechanically generated movements
    • human generated movements
  • projecting onto the plastic
    • still photo projection
    • video projection
    • black and white vs colour, how this reacts to white/ coloured surfaces
    • projecting text/ titles onto different qualities of the arrangement
  • shadows and objects
    • mechanical objects
    • organic objects (human, plantlife)
    • insectlife?
  • What are the performative elements which become apparent from these various states
  • How do these various compositions lend themselves to immersive/ interactive possibilities

Investigating the photogenic qualities of these various states of lighting and sculptured plastic sheeting

  • what are the differences between these effects “live” and photographed/ videographed
  • using different exposures, f-stops, shutter speeds to enhance/ degrade the image


The object of this experiment is to generate an “object of wonder” or as I like to describe it: “Machines That Do Nothing” -based on the research at UoW Innovation Campus this semester around installation artworks with an interactive/audience driven component. The theme for the work is ” A Natural History Museum After an Earthquake”.

I’ve been experimenting with this medium of very lightweight plastic sheeting for some time, which is semi-opaque and reacts really well when placed in front of a lamp. For this particular workshop I have been using white plastic sheets, and arranging them in various ways using the most powerful lamp available to humankind (The Sun). Some of  the results have been detailed in previous posts (here’s one example):

These images also use a thin white fabric called ‘poplin’ which is adjacent to the white plastic, so the sunlight here is slightly diffused before it strikes the cloth.

For the Studio Work I am aiming for a more complex set of shadows to create an image, using the ‘Natural History’ motif I settled on the core symbol of a Human Skull, slightly inspired by a kitsch object i found while shopping for Hallowe’en decorations, a plastic skull with a flashing LED light inside.  Initially I thought to rig the LED to an Arduino/ Motion Sensor, however some initial experimentation with placing the object in combination with the plastic sheeting generated some more interesting results:

Placing the plastic skull either in front of or behind the white sheeting gives a markedly different outcome.  The stand I have used here is an old lamp base which is rigged to swing back and forth when triggered by a pendulum, giving the impression that the head is turning left and right. The image resonates with a litany of popular culture icons, such as the metallic skull of Terminator and the infamous Damien Hirst Work “For the Love of God”.

While the image captures some of the essence of these works, it harks back to what I think is a quite primal recognition of our own bodies as mechanical/ organic objects, of which the skull is a central tenet of humanity, encapsulating all human achievements of the past few milennia: science, art, spirituality… Once I had discovered the kind of macabre and primal energies of this particular object I hoped to  find away to explore that in a very “cheap and cheerful” manner (hence the use of everyday household objects and found items) – the installation is essentially made up of Junk, in contrast to the extravagance of Hirst or High Tech imagery of the Terminator films.

I will continue to explore the possibilities within this framework, possibly attaching LEDs or other lights, however my instinct is to go as low-tech as possible and keep the simplicity of a single light against a basic rig of ropes and plastics for a core elemental impact of an object which is simultaneously alive & dead, human & mechanised, totemic & spiritual but made from junk.


White on White

Setting up two different sorts of white fabric in a clothesline formation such that the plastic generates a mild static charge against the poplin. Both textiles are semi translucent against the light.

Experiment with letting the fabric rest against the plastic. The Cloth has been stored in a travel case for some weeks, and such has random folds and creases throughout. The plastic has been kept on a long roll, which adds to the static charge, and allows the plastic to cling and adhere to these folds and creases creating an interesting cross-hatch effect in the ‘natural’ grain of the plastic roll:

Experiment with the fabric pulled slightly back. The light is from a single shaft of sunbeam falling through the window diffused once through the fabric and then falling on the white plastic from behind:

Beam of sunlight, creating different effects through the fabric.  This effect is shot in slow-motion, to allow more focus on the subtle variations as the plastic settles against the cloth.

Testing this effect with the iphone camera, at different apertures.

Movement test- allowing the body’s movement to create a ripple in the formation:

Accidental Shark Formation, inspired memories of the previous exercise using Processing, where the particular shades of the coloured triangles emulated a sharks fin, with variations/

Using LEDs and set-up behind the plastic with an Arduino motion sensor could set off some interesting outcomes

Making Phenakistoscopes

These are very basic animation machines derived from 19th Century innovations in home-entertainment technology.  There are a number of variations within a basic structural premise, a kinetic object displays a series of images in succession, viewed through a tiny window to create the impression of a single moving image.  It’s the same principle as film stock and the effect can still be seen in modern digital animated films, particularly the popular short ‘GIF’ (Graphics Interchange Format) files found across social media and memeography.

The main difference is these are not digital, instead reliant on hand drawn objects – as a throwback to pre-industrial arts & entertainment there’s a slightly charming & folksy quaintness to the notion of a uniquely crafted hand-held device which is purpose-built for distraction.

I wanted to use different colours and adjust the position of the coloured shapes in each segment to give the impression the colours were moving around.  The first attempt was simple squares and blobs which moved from the centre of the circle to the edge. This was the opposite direction to what I had intended but it gave a good basic outcome for a fitst attempt.

Second attempt was a bit more complex, with two coloured blocks moving in towards the centre (or ‘down’ the segment) smoothly.  I left the narrow ‘slits’ blank; which had the effect of a stationary block at the top of the segment, which adds to the overall impact providing an ‘anchor’ for the eye to focus on amongst the flurry of colour and movement.  I feel without this anchor the overall outcome would be diminished  and the viewer would simply see a spiral, as all the movement is towards the centre of the circle, the eye would always be drawn back there (it’s quite hypnotic!)

Finally I have added an extra layer to the animation which was a separate coloured block moving from the centre to the edge.  I attempted to blur some of the tones as they passed each other, but it was a bit tricky doing this with texta, and without planning the colour combinations a bit more carefully.

Going to try a new version with this effect tomorrow and bring to class.