Sometimes all it takes is just a little shift in perspective to reveal surprising and illuminating insights. In the case of ExR3, a new installation from media artists Kyle McDonald and Elliot Woods, which debuted at NODE 2013 in Frankfurt, Germany last week, hundreds of rotating mirrored squares reflect and refract geometric shapes and patterns as viewers move through the gallery space.
The effect is playful and surprising as the viewer explores the space to discover a multiplicity of differing forms and realize that this seemingly haphazard arrangement of mirrors is anything but accidental. ’To realise the project, McDonald and Woods designed an algorithm to determine where to place the mirrored pieces in order to achieve a variety of shapes.
We spoke with McDonald over email about their process and tools of choice. If you didn’t make it to Frankfurt for the exhibition last week, check out their video above to get a glimpse of what it looked like and find out how it works in the interview below.
Carefully placed wall decor transforms into geometric shapes upon reflection through corresponding mirrors.
The Creators Project: This project is a bit of a departure from some of the other work we’ve seen from you guys. What inspired it? What led you to choose this particular approach?
Kyle McDonald: This project is effectively the result of throwing all our ideas on the table, taking the one we were most excited by, and removing all the superfluous technology. We spoke with the curator and organizer behind NODE about what kind of space was available, then we brainstormed ideas surrounding optics, computer vision, structured light, even computer-guided, human-powered fabrication, trying to figure out the best way to fill the space. We settled on an idea about creating an unusual display from mirrors, allowing visitors to catch complete images from multiple perspectives in the room. As visitors entered the space, they would see one image reflected in the mirrors. When they moved to another location, they would see another.
Because the things that got us excited most was the interplay between the chaos on the walls and order in the mirrors, and the multiple perspective scattered throughout the room, we dropped all our plans regarding projectors and cameras in order to make something more sculptural that still captured the essence of what we were interested in.
What sort of new creative or technical challenges did it present?
The original idea would have required us to use a familiar technology to both of us: structured light scanning. With structured light we would be able to project onto the walls, and then view that projection as reflected in the mirrors in order to calibrate the system for a single perspective. Once we had that mapping, we could synthesize an arbitrary image for that perspective. This way, we could focus on creating an interesting visual relationship between the content as viewed on the walls, and the content as viewed in the mirrors, instead of worrying about things like manually mapping 200 mirrors onto their projected positions.
However, we’ve both seen people write off work because it feels impenetrably complex or technical. So we decided to simplify to the point where people are forced to ask themselves how the images they’re seeing are being created. It actually backfired a little, now instead of writing it off as wizardry, some people walk in and say “this looks like decorative placed tape and randomly oriented mirrors”. Someone said it looked “like MoMA.” But most people will notice there’s something unusual going on, and search out the perspectives that make sense out of the piece.
Virtual models, mapping the requisite angles for the installation’s geometric outcomes.
The team projected shapes onto the wall to calculate the precise placement of mirrored squares when constructing the installation.
How would you explain what an “anamorphic analogue interactive installation” is in layman’s terms?
Anamorphosis refers to a technique that requires the viewer to use a special instrument or viewing position in order to understand the image as it was meant to be viewed. This just means that you’ve got to explore it a bit for the image to make sense. When we say “analogue”, we just mean that while it’s interactive, it exists without the usual aid of computers or electronics. It was quite a pleasant change to not have to “turn it on” in the morning.
Can you tell us a bit more about the tech powering this project?
During installation we had two computers driving four projectors. At first, we were just projecting a reference pattern that we generated in openFrameworks which provided a good arrangement for the 200 mirrors to fit the space we wanted to fill without too much overlap or regularity. Once we had all the mirrors up, we projected all four images from their respective locations, and rotated the mirrors to avoid certain tape patterns we didn’t like. The tech was incredibly minimal. Next time we install it, it might make even more sense to use “less” tech (for example, slide projectors instead of digital projectors.)
Photos via Kyle McDonald.