Earlier this month the modul8 team spent almost two weeks in Brussels, Belgium collaborating with other designers and VJ’s to apply a digital skin to the Corps Urbain. The spaces included the Brigittines chapel, its lobby and stairwell area that connects the lobby to the chapel and separately the Congress train station. For the duration of the project we were provided with the nearly completed artist residencies of the Brigittines located next door.
The Corps Urbain is an music festival / public intervention. It was organized by Cafe Central (a popular night spot in the middle of Brussels) in collaboration with the Birgittines.
Normally individual VJ’s or VJ collectives are requested to perform as part of the music acts. The approach of Corps Urbain was to invite a group of people to create not just visuals for music but to also augment the environment in and around the parties taking place. The content of these projections was drawn from the city, its buildings, textures and energy.
Having several days leading up to the event I was able to connect with the other individuals who participated in the project. Besides the presence of Joanie Lemercie, Olivier Ratsi from the AntiVJ label the crew also consisted of the of Jean-François Roversi, Felipe H. Sierra, Deborah Robbiano, Nicholas Clement all under the umbrella of the Coproduction Continent-Virtuel.
The events occupied two different spaces. The first night took place at the Gare Congres. A train station in the northern part of central Brussels. The two remaining nights were in the The Birgittines chapel, in the lobby of its twin building and the part glass structure that connects the two buildings.
The Congres currently receives very little traffic during the day and at night it is locked. In effort to liven the space up a bit the offices that once hosted the ticket sellers and administrative functions of the station are now used to showcase art projects. For our sake it occasionally hosts parties sans access to the ramps leading to the train platforms. Anti-VJ took up residence in the main entrance hall with it’s columns and high ceilings this was the main dance floor area. As always Anti-VJ is not about putting up screens but using the space as a screen. They went about mapping the stairwell leading with its angled wall and station name. In one of their many ever clever moves they played with this type by adding other type to it or highlighting only parts of it. What very much worked for me was being able to see the projection from the ticket/bar area with its low ceiling.
In the ticket booth area and the bar there was a small room with two windows. Inside the room there was a long solid wood bench. Evidence that this room once served as waiting room for passengers. One of the windows was situated on a diagonal wall facing into the central waypoint between the ticket booth and entrance to the train platforms. Inside this room we projected an image from within the room. In order for the projection to have a substantial substance of surface Inside the room Julie set up a table with a computer and camera equipment in order to conduct electroshock photography. A willing member of the public is seated on a chair and is touched with a electrical discharge from a camera flash battery. A photograph is taken of the seated person comes into contact with the shock resulting in a still image of the facial expression caused by the shock. Using modul8 Julie could have a live feed of the person projected onto the window as well as post recently taken high quality images. In this way the public could see the images, come closer and then look inside to see that they could participate in this activity if they wished to do so.
The installation that Boris created was a last moment inspiration. Connecting the train platform and the ticket both area was a long hallway. A series of glass doors that were locked at night separated the platforms from the ticket booth area. Using two projectors situated at each side of the hall with two semi transparent screens, stretched wall to wall, ceiling to floor and situated in between the two projectors with a 4 to 5 meter distance between screens and projectors. Using a dual head 2 go Boris setup an automated playback of several different animated geometric compositions. The result was a sort of silent storm of white light emitted from an indeterminate distance.
With some time to recover from that night the team started preparations for the two nights at the Brigittines. Anti-VJ would occupy the chapel and similar to their activity in the train station they utilized the interior structure of the chapel by mapping it and augmenting it with projections. It was very interesting to observe the methods they used in order to map the environment. Using a laptop connected to the projector that would be used for the night of the event they mapped the structure using Illustrator. Once they had the mapping template they were able to create any type of visual material with any graphics program be it 2D or 3D.
The stairwell area was a collaborative operation with the installation of the projectors directed by Boris. There were 7 projectors connected to a Mac Pro and another laptop with a triple head 2 go. The projectors were positioned in such a way that the entire staircase was illuminated when viewed from below or while ascending or descending. Two screens made of semi-transparent cloth were used to create an illuminated virtual floor at each level of the stairwell and on each glass door that separated the stairwell from the corresponding elevator was draped with this same semi-transparent cloth.
Different types of content were used throughout the evening. Nicholas Clement collaborated with a dancer Kathy Contreras to produce a series of video clips of the dancers body in full view. Julie contributed her stock of video portraits of dancers and still sequences of commuters. Deborah added her touch of graphic illustrations of half torsos, faces hidden from removing their shirts with the map of Brussels as the texture of the shirt.
I need to add that the experience of walking through these projects produces a very interesting experience. If our eyes often deceive us about appearances there is something about having projections envelope your body that produces a sensation that is not unlike putting on clothing. This is especially true in the absence of sound. The absence of sound and the immersion of the body in the projected image allows me to imagine the lines and colors as having more then just the properties of light but something physical and almost warm.
Secondary to this were projections across from the stairwell unto the paneled glass windows that looked out of the building as well as a projection upon the interior wall of the chapel from the other end of the lobby. The same elements were repeated here so that the images projected on the stairwell could be visible and act as this skin from the outside of the buildings.
The end of the last night, almost before the sun started to rise we set about doing some proper and improper documentation of the space. To do this and direct me in doing so Boris set up a remote connection between modul8 on his laptop and modul8 on the Mac Pro. We were able to walk around in the space together with him changing the settings of the setup, slowing down the playback, changing the images while checking the photo sequences I was making. The results of this project were very satisfying. Even though the installation itself was not dependent upon the party, creating something peripheral challenged the idea that a party is just on dark room with pounding music fast moving lighting and visuals. It is an interesting challenge to find the spaces in between. There is an element of the unexpected within this context. Also the approach to how this project was created provided a structure where several creators could utilize it. We are so used to going to bars and seeing the one or two TV’s on the wall. At this point it is easier then would imagine to break the frame in a participatory manner so that the boundaries of our minds can intermesh with each other.