It has taken me several weeks to absorb the experiences of our time in London where we took part in the ever changing environment that Exyzt had created in Southwark.
Provided here is a rough draft that attempts to render my experience based on observations attached to some loose theories that were conjured up in the process.
What this is all about
In the vj world there is always chatter about environments for social interactions. While vj’ing is still very much perceived by most of the people who know about it as adding moving and sometimes synchronized images to the walls or screens in the club there is plenty of work being done with projected video in spaces that are not clubs. In fact I would not be surprised if more is being done outside of the clubs.
While I do enjoy the occasional VJ gig at an all night dance club the kind of event that is not ear shattering and full of overly intoxicated people is rare. An event where the concept of ‘social interaction’ is not summed up by screaming in somebody’s ear to ask them for their name. Not to mention that night clubs are very much limited to people in the age range of late teens and up mostly tapering off when the majority of people start having their own teens. While there are also plenty of outdoor events that utilize projections these are also mostly within the confines of the DJ dance format. For the most part these events are about maximizing profitability by attracting as many people as possible in shortest possible time. Such events may provide opportunities for fund raising or advertising and maybe a hint of raising awareness about a particular agenda. While this can have a positive effect it is much more challenging to create a temporal space that acts as an ambient forum where ideas are exchanged instead of transmitted.
How is it possible to balance the spontaneity of the club environment with that of a free and open environment that is accessible to any age and walk of life? How does one manifest the spectacle without alienating any potential audience in the general public? I believe and maintain that openness is the key to any attempt to communicate ideas. I believe that what Exyzt creates and succeeded in doing with the Lido was very much an example of taking action and bringing together materials and people creating a space that allowed for that openess to emerge.
The installation initiated and created by the Architectural collective Exyzt and documentary film maker Sara Muzio was hosted by the London Architecture Festival and located at 100 Union Street in Southwark, London.
For a formal text about the goal and philosophy of the project I recommend the blog entry posted by Dimitri Messu & Véronique Patteeuw.
I roughly explained the significance of why Boris and I joined up with Exyzt collective at their installation/residence in London. In general we admire their energy and the kind of environments they create and how they go about documenting them. Another facet of our interest is the fact that both of us have been doing live visuals in clubs for some time and it is really refreshing to do projections in a less conventional format where we ourselves in collaboration with people who specialize in creating environments can experiment with projections. It is also great to get out of the office and engage with other carbon based life forms beyond email and instant messaging.
How is this environment unconventional? I actually have to ask myself that question as for the most part unconventionality is the norm. I am attracted to the unconventional as someone else might be attracted to a large sports event.
Photo: Julie Guiches
Boris and I arrived in the afternoon. Just before taking the shuttle bus the to train station the rain came down in mats. Boris and I looked at each other and we were probably thinking the same thing. It broke just as we thought about looking for a coffee and everything started to dry when we arrived on the platform that would take us into the center of town.
By the time we got to the site in Southwark the rain had cleared. The whole Exyzt crew were having lunch and we joined in.
It was fun to approach from the outside. You knew you were not just entering into an office building or hotel. Stranger yet is that there is an office building next door. Smokers from it stood by the entrance to the site, a door cut from a tall wooden fence. The site construction consisted of construction scaffolding, wood and white vinyl that was used to cover the major areas of activity.
Photo: Julie Guiches
The structures on the site consisted of:
12 beach huts with the numbers of each one pasted on the doors.
A nursery for flowers and plants that was a modified beach hut and later took on other tasks such as a clothesline and later a boutique for selling Lido Southwark branded t-shirts.
30 deck chairs each with its number printed on the canvas
About 45 percent of the lot was occupied by an open air common area that consisted of:
2 shower rooms
2 changing room
2 toilettes. (The womens toilette has cloth that covers the top from peeping toms) and unlike the ‘mens’ toilette the womens toilette was furnished with a wooden throne.
A tanning deck with a pneumatic system that sprayed an ultra fine water mist from small valves attached to the steel pipes. A tower overlooked the entire site. Its peak was about a floor above eye level to the elevated trains ‘next door.’ Sometimes I could not tell between the rumble of the trains going by or if it was thunder that got mixed into the track a little bit now and then. Added to this occasional beat is the sound of people shuffling along the stone covered ground that was set down to cover all the dirt on site and prevented the wooden floors that were most of the ground level from getting muddy.
The ‘larva’ that covers the top of a two floor structure attached to the tower houses the workshop where there is an electronics workshop / computer studio. The first floor is a common kitchen and dining area and a deck that connects the bathing and tanning area.
A long and shallow wading pool and a training bicycle bolted to one end. Its wheel had a rope wrapped around it that dipped into the water to produce the effect of a fountain.
Lastly there was a barrel that people can hop into when they want to cool themselves down from the sauna.
Photo: Ilan Katin
The temporal of the structures is inviting. A playground for living, working and interacting. Somehow concrete, glass and steel weighs down daily routines whereas wood and scaffolding invites and frees the energy of the mind to be active and open to constant changes.
My previous experiences with Exyzt projects were limited to 4 or 5 members of the collective. Lido required the presence of the entire collective and its extended satellite of artists and friends. Each contributed his or her own talents be it playing music, documenting, doing paste ups or pressing t-shirts but did not restrict themselves to these activities. Each was interested in participating in the various activities and necessities in the operation of the space such as cooking, washing dishes, scrubbing the wooden planks or modifying some piece of the environment to accommodate some new modification to the structure. All activities were punctuated by the products of these activities be it a meal or hopping into the sauna.
One of the first days was filled with rain fall. While this kept much of the public from visiting the space the foul weather only hardened the resolve of the collective to enjoy the space occupied with the warmth of the sauna and occasional dips into the cold water barrel or walks around the timed mist of the sun bathing deck.
I imagine that my experience being slightly outside of the group yet present for the daily operations was vastly different from that of the casual walk in. My role was somewhere in between the two. Of the members of the Exyzt team I saw an unquestioning devotion and endless energy and enthusiasm for what they were doing. While there may have been a slight language barrier with Exyzt being composed of predominantly French and German speakers there was plenty that was expressed through the creation and maintenance of the structure.
As mentioned in the introductory post about this installation Lido was hosted by the London Architecture Festival. However as the site for the installation took place in Southwark it was also supported by the community of the neighborhood. I was continually amazed at the wide swath of generations that the site appealed to.
Smokers from the office building next door would stand next to the entrance peeking in. A stranger would occasionally enter with a bewildered gaze and this presence was immediately welcomed by one of the Exyzt crew inviting them to come in accompanied by an explanation and a guided tour of the space. Often visitors needed to be convinced that the site was accessible and not a traditional ‘construction site’ devoid of hard hats and pouring concrete.
During the day the Lido was frequented by mums and their tots who enjoyed the friendly and safe atmosphere coupled by elderly who would bring reading materials to absorb the air on the sun bathing decks. The childern in swimming trunks would splash around as their parents chatted. Late afternoons added office types who would sip beer or cocktails. I would often go around clearing beer bottles and catch conversations and was always delighted to find that the visitors were very much aware of what the space was providing them with.
Video projection was not really a consideration in the design of the Lido. Despite that we managed to experiment with the surfaces provided by the space using the projectors available on hand. Since we were there for several nights we had a chance to do something a little different each time installation and content wise.
Unfortunately the first big soiree set for the Thursday night at the Lido for the public was postponed a day due to the aforementioned all day heavy rain. Nevertheless as night fell we busied ourselves eager to try out what we could do with the space.
The first target surface and the most obvious was the large side wall of the office building next door. We had two optoma projectors at 3000 lumens that Boris stacked one on top of the other with a custom made mount so that the two light beams made one bright image. The whole thing was attached to one of the guard rails on the 2nd floor of the tower pointing directly at the red brick wall.
I brought my NEC LT245 and at François (or Frz for short) suggestion positioned it to project onto the pool. The projector was mounted into a corner connecting the tower with the workshop area and tilted at a sharp angle that allowed us to cover the entire pool with the beamer. Both Frz and I experimented with simple white lines to augment the geometry of the pool.
This was a very challenging process because we did not have any fancy spatial detection beams to map the space. One has to look at the space while drawing onto the surfaces which I find to be an interesting exercise in eye hand control adaptation. I used the paint tool in modul8 along with the wacom tablet. Frz used a custom made drawing tool. We both stuck with just white shapes that augmented the lines in and around the pool. Creating augmented environments with projections is almost always done with white. It is not often about images unless one has access to a really powerful projector. I managed to create some stripes that when viewed from the outside of the entrance gave the impression of a continuous light beam enveloping the pool.
The other ‘effect’ that this approach provided was one of the most subtle and remarkable ‘visuals’ I have ever partaken in creating. Frz brought with him long thin polyurethane en-coated illuminating cables that were used to adorn the pipes at the top edge of the sunbathing deck above the pool and were run all the way back to the workshop. From workshop the level of the light was controlled from Frz’s laptop via DMX and a custom Max/MSP(?) patch. With this same patch he was also able to control the fluorescent lights that were encased in tubes wrapped in green transparencies. On the sunbathing deck these were strapped to the horizontal scaffolding pipes placed at about knee hight and all of them were connected to power using DMX cables allowing these to be controlled via the patch as well. Lastly inside the workshop area that was enclosed in the ‘larva’ a very powerful strobe lamp.
Frz created a sequence that would make various timed changes to the lights and then be punctuated by a flash that would momentarily illuminate the entire larva. During this process the fine spray of mist would be activated, float across the pool give volume to the stripes created by beams projected onto the pool. From the ‘deck’ of the larva workshop this was a stunning site that I feel no recorded image can reproduce. Mind you there was no music. Just the sounds described earlier such as the pebbled ground, the hiss of he mist and the occasional train going by.
Around 5 in the morning we collapsed into our respective beach huts and tents.
It was evident to all that this experience could not be replicated with many people hanging out in the area of the pool standing in the way of the beams. I decided to point my projector in the opposite direction of the large wall and onto the white tiled wall that was the ‘courtyard’. We mixed some of our own material with that of some of the time lapse footage taken of the building of the Lido taken by Julie Guiches and Benoit Lorent. Also present for the party was VJ Moe, mentioned below. Sorry for the cheesy rhyme. Towards the end of the party I set myself up for a little live drawing session.
Photo: Toby Spark
Photo: Toby Spark
Saturday night was the final evening for visuals at the Lido. The previous night Julie Guiches set up a makeshift studio under the arch that supported the train overpass with a small rotating podium for doing full bodied moving portrait sequences of the participants of the Lido. These were added to the mix along with the Lido/Southwark/Exyzt logotype so that both the history of the space and the people who made it happen could be celebrated in tandem with the present. It was nice way to enjoy the last evening in the space and reflect on the experience of the preceding days.
Photo: Boris Edelstein
Toby Spark was in the loop about Exyzt’s presence in London. It was part of his plan to join us in the projection fun. He had been by the site prior to our arrival. His intention was going setup a his SMS driven Quartz Composer patch during the party on Thursday night. However due to the rain out this did not happen and his Friday evening was set to different plans. Nevertheless Toby spent several days with us on the site giving rise to more opportunities for discussions about what we are doing with the projector/computer medium. Some of his photos were used in this report and more can be found on his blog.
VJ Dr. Moe (aka Mauritius Seeger) materialized and pulsed through his speedy and smooth motion stabilized sequences of various buildings of London and abroad. Anat ben-David showed up with some of her music and collaborating with the resident DJ’s enmeshed her voice adding a slight edge to the atmosphere that in my mind re-calibrated the experience of the event from a light party to an experience with implications.
Deep Visual (aka Gary Oldknow) is a seasoned visualist who has been doing projections when it was still about using slide projectors. If you have been reading this blog or have been browsing for modul8 related clips on YouTube you will know him from his highly informative video demonstrations of modul8 and other related live video and image processing hardware. Having interacted with him mainly via email and some phone conversations it was a treat to finally meet him in person. His initial reaction was surprise as he thought that as a software company we spend most of our time at our keyboards writing code. I had quite a few questions about Gary but my time was constrained a bit with running around playing with projector settings. The following day I received an email from Gary with a link to a post he wrote to the VJ Forums. It’s really nice to receive such feedback from a peer.
Artist Anat ben-David appeared at our invitation along with the bare tracks from her latest CD. Just as the party was feeling a bit too light she jumped in with the Lido DJ’s who smoothly blended her vocals and tracks into the evening. Her voice injected an edgy atmosphere that was revelatory.
Summing things up a bit
There are many little moments that comprise of my week at the Lido. Conversations with individuals from the Exyzt collective, guests on any number of topics ranging from architecture, politics and the environment be it the state of the globe or the transformation of the immediate one. I really don’t think there was a defining moment and to be honest that is a huge statement. So many events these days are somewhat based on anticipation of one moment perhaps lasting 45 minutes at the most. Not that that is a bad thing. I find that what Eyxzt does is create an environment where the anticipation is perpetually interfered with by all of the extraordinary moments that comprise of what constitutes living within our actions with one another.
I feel that there is necessity to expand this article quite a bit. I have consulted with Ana Carvalho from VJ Theory who has invited me to post a more complete article about this project in relation to VJ’ing. When it is done I will be sure to make an announcement about it. Until then if you have never checked out VJ Theory and have the time and interest to read the web site features articles of many prominent artists working in the VJ medium.
Stay current with this blog and at some point another Exyzt project could be announced that you may have the chance to see one of your yourself!