Body Movies

The Need for Design: Body Movies, 2001

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer’s Body Movies, 2001. Schouwburgplein, Rotterdam.

The next work I would like to examine reveals the considerable difficulties facing the construction of art games, even for outstanding digital artists such as Lozano-Hemmer. The work in question is Lozano-Hemmer’s Body Movies, 2001. What is especially interesting about this work is that the interactive game designed by Lozano-Hemmer is not especially successful in practice. What becomes evident is that the artist becomes entangled in his own preoccupations and does not fully consider the role of the viewer. When viewers play this art game according to the rules laid down by Lozano-Hemmer the resulting interaction is not especially creative. But the apparatus that the artist constructs unintentionally allows more creative viewers to ignore the rules and play much more interesting games.

 Lozano-Hemmer reports that the initial inspiration for Body Movies was the work of the Dutch painter Samuel Van Hoogstraten a master of ‘perceptual deceit such as trompe l’oeil and anamorphosis’ (Lozano-Hemmer 2001) and in particular his engraving The Shadow Dance made in Rotterdam in 1675 which shows a source of light placed at ground level and ‘the shadows of actors taking on angelic or demonic characteristics depending on their size’ (Lozano-Hemmer 2001). I cite Lozano-Hemmer’s commentary on Body Movies because the most effective aspect of the actual installation became the very simple idea of the giant shadow play.

Like Vectorial Elevation, 1999–2000, Body Movies is an interactive installation installed in a public square, in this case the Schouwburgplein in Rotterdam. For Body Movies Lozano-Hemmer made use of the very large façade of the Pathé Cinema which is normally glass fronted. For the purposes of Body Movies this façade was covered in a white screen material so that the façade could be used as gigantic projection screen. Powerful low lying lights set some distance from the cinema would project the shadows of passers by onto the giant screen. People who were some distance from the screen appeared very large whereas those who were closer were smaller.

In retrospect, if Lozano-Hemmer had simply provided this modern day replication of Van Hoogstraten’s The Shadow Dance thenBody Movies would have been a remarkable instance of a minimalist interactive installation. But being a creative artist Lozano-Hemmer has been trained and conditioned to manipulate and transform rather than to simply reproduce. Accordingly he created a much more complex apparatus in which images of people in the streets of Rotterdam, Madrid, Mexico and Montreal were projected onto the side of the Pathé cinema (90m long x 20m tall), Rotterdam, by digital projectors fed with images from a computer. These images were then washed out by intense light streaming from two 7000 watt xenon lamp sources placed at ground level. As soon as people walk on the square at night their shadows are projected and the portraits are revealed within them. The game that Lozano-Hemmer devises then is one in which the viewer needs to align their shadow in such a way as to reveal the still photograph of someone in a street somewhere else in the world. To encourage the viewer in this endeavour an audible click echoes across the public square whenever a shadow uncovers one of the images.

A complex digital apparatus achieves such effects. And their complexity is evident from Lozano-Hemmer’s own description:

Three networked computers control the installation: a camera server, a video tracker and a robotic controller cued by MIDI signals. The camera server feeds video images to a PC over Ethernet twenty times per second. A custom-made software programming in Delphi analyses the video detecting the edges of the shadows. The computer vision system determines whether shadows are covering portraits in the current scene and when a portrait is revealed the hotspot turns white and remains activated for a few seconds. A wav file sound is also triggered to give feedback to the participants in the square. (2001)

One can see from this passage that Lozano-Hemmer is being drawn into one of the pitfalls of digital art which is obsession with technology. When the technology becomes an end in itself then aesthetic quality tends to suffer. Unaware of this problem Lozano-Hemmer installed a video monitor and loud speaker behind one of the exposed ground level windows of the Pathé cinema so that viewers had a chance to read the instructions on how to play his game.

The video of the installation (Lozano-Hemmer 2001) reveals the problems in the work very clearly. The people who evidently read the instructions and/or responded to the audible clicks that rang out across the square in the proper Pavlovian fashion can be seen dutifully manoeuvring their bodies to reveal the static photographs of people underneath. But when they have done this they appear to be at a loss with what to do next. The best responses we see on the video is people waving their shadow arms or bobbing their heads up and down in an attempt to instill some animation into the deadly stasis of the photographic image. It does not look inspiring either for the participant or to others looking on in the square. In his commentary on the work Lozano-Hemmer reveals his intention that people would be able to ‘match or “embody” a portrait by walking around the square and changing the scale of their shadow’ (Lozano-Hemmer 2001) but in this case the theoretical enchantment of the concept of ‘embodiment’ is not transmitted into practice. The actual ‘embodiment’ is dull and boring. The game does not work, it does not facilitate creative engagement in the manner of Vectorial Elevation.

But that is not the end of the story of Body Movies. If we watch the video we see other people who neither read the instructions nor listen to the Pavlovian clicks and simply play their own games which are closer to the simpler Van Hoogstraten model than Lozano-Hemmer’s complex elaboration. And what is remarkable is that some of these games are highly creative. In other words the installation does work! But not the way the artist intended it.
Rafael Lozanno-Hemmer의 Body Movies는 네덜란드 미디어아트 그룹 V2의 지원을 받아 제작된 작품으로 네덜란드 Pathe 극장 건물 외벽에 프로젝터와 조명을 이용하여 도시와 그 안에 사는 사람들의 소통을 시각적으로 표현하고 있다.
사실 이 극장의 외벽은 흰색 천으로 가려져 있고, 맞은편 바닥에 설치된 강한 조명 외에는 별다른 특이사항이 없어 보인다. 하지만, 사람들이 하나 둘 조명이 비치는 공간 안으로 들어서면 아무것도 없던 벽에는 사람들이 그림자가 크게 드리운다. 그리고 그 그림자 너머로 다른 사람들의 사진이 보이기 시작한다. 친구들과 걸어가는 사람들, 아이 손을 잡은 엄마, 멋진 도시 아가씨 사진까지 그림자 속 세계는 또 다른 사람들의 사회와도 같다. 사진 속의 그들은 움직이지 않지만, 스크린 앞에 서 있는 사람들의 그림자의 움직임 속에서 마치 팔, 다리가 살아나서 움직이는 듯한 착각이 들기도 한다.
작가는 네덜란드 로테르담, 마드리드, 멕시코, 몬트리올 거리에서 촬영된 인물사진들을 먼저 극장 벽에 프로젝트를 이용하여 투영하고, 그 위에 아주 강한 빛을 쏘아서 아래 인물 사진들이 안보이도록 했다. 사람들이 빛을 가리면, 그 강한 빛 속에 가려진 인물들이 보이게 된다. 사람들은 빛에 가까이 가고 멀어짐에 따라 그림자 크기를 조절하면서 때론 옆에 서 있는 사람들과 그림자 놀이를 하기도 하고, 그림자 속 인물들과 소통하기도 한다.
예전부터 그림자놀이는 단순하지만 아주 재미있는 놀이로 역사를 통해 알려져 왔다. Body Movies는 그림자 놀이를 통해 사람과 빌딩뿐만 아니라 사람과 사람사이에 새로운 관계 형성을 돕는 작품이라 하겠다..
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