Seoul: Fertile Confusion

Seoul: Fertile Confusion

The story of a cross-discipline cross-cultural journey ... a digital installation of Janet Sternburg's analog photography at the Seoul Institute of the Arts in Korea.


Janet's book "Phantom Limb (American Lives)"

Late last year, I was immensely flattered when John Reaves, Alyce Dissette and Hal Eagar asked me if I would be interested in collaborating with photographer Janet Sternburg in creating a multimedia exhibit for the Seoul Institute of the Arts.  

Of course I said yes, and by January 2009, I was getting deep into design research.

Janet's work is remarkably layered and complex, but created with simple disposable film cameras.  The layers are part of the way she sees ... "found images" of reflections in a complex world.

Coming up with a concept

International Actors & Directors Workshop, Seoularts 2009

The exhibition has three different elements: 1) Photographic prints, 2) Photographs and videos displayed across 8 HD monitors, and 3) a combination of translucent prints and video projection. My role is to be the video designer of both 2) and 3).

The goal is to inaugurate a new Art and Technology building at Seoul Institute of the Arts, in S Korea, and to showcase the multi-layered analog photography of Janet Sternburg.

Faced with an interesting tension between the desire for technology from SIA, and the desire for analog from the artist, I've proposed that we explore a theme of 'ghosts'.

Janet's images play with confusion of place and perspective and often have partially hidden or transparent figures placed artfully within the composition of the image.  Pursuing this theme, I propose that we found ways to 'embed' video shot around the campus of SIA into Janet's images, further extending the complexity of place.

1st Concept: Projection Test

By January 2009, I was getting deep into design research.

Our first concept was to use projection on some surface within the large interior spaces of the Center.  I tried to identify a good transparent projection screen.  

Below is a video showing a series of projection tests that I did.  This one shows tests with an acrylic screen made by Da-Lite.  I wasn't too impressed with this one... Low contrast, and didn't deal with ambient light very well. This product definitely wasn't going to be good enough to show Janet's photography on...

2nd Concept: Multiple Monitors

I traveled to Seoul in March and started discussions and testing in the space.

Because of the large amount of ambient daylight in the space, it turned out to be impractical to use projectors. A lot of ideas were discussed and rejected.

Finally, the team at the Seoul Institute for the Arts came forward with a fairly straightforward concept consisting of a series of 8 flat screen monitors.

I wrote software patches using Jitter that could run 8 HD monitors from just two synced computers. I went with Apple Mac Pros, each with two NVIDEA 9800 GT graphics cards, synched through an ethernet switch. The monitors were lent to us by LG. The videos were rendered out in Pro Res 4:2:2 at 1280 x 720.

Day and Night

I designed the other section of the Fertile Confusion exhibition at Seoul Institute of the Arts to try and take advantage of the many large windows that characterize the architectural design of the new building.  These windows are a source of natural light that had initially proved an insurmountable problem with regards to video projection. 

However, it occurred to me that I should try to work with this light instead of against it, so I proposed evolving the glass facade of the building into a huge lightbox, by adhering translucent prints on the inside of the glass.  The basic idea was that sunlight would illuminate the photographs during the day, and then after dark, I would use video projections to illuminate the prints from inside, creating new collage images by combining different elements of photography and video and lighting up the building to be viewed from outside for quite some distance.

After some research, the best material I found for this was a product called 'Sheer Vision', made by Duggal in New York. However, we had to use materials made in S Korea, so some Seoul-based printers did their best to replicate the effect that I wanted. In fact, if budget had allowed us to cover the exterior of the glass in diffusion, as I requested, then I think we would have got an amazing look.  As it was, without the diffusion, the projector bulbs created hotspots, however, it was still a very satisfying effect to create.