What do you do with an empty, 112-meter high, former gas tank?
The large black cylinder known as the Gasometer Oberhausen looms over the Rhine. Once the pressure valve between early 20th Century oil industries, this industrial petroleum holder, now an exhibition space, stands today a giant, tar-coated question mark to all artists with the scale and scope to fill its astounding volume.
Before Bremen-based, site-specific projection mapping collective URBANSCREEN got their hands on it, they first had questions of their own: "Who is the storyteller in projection mapping?" asks creative director Thorsten Bauer in our documentary, viewable above. The answer led to 320° Licht, a projection-mapping installation in which the colossal tank is the canvas for large-scale visual virtuosity, part of the exhibition "The Appearance of Beauty" at Gasometer Oberhausen.
"As artists, we want to restrain ourselves to transform buildings from objects into subjects," said Bauer. "The building itself explains a story," he decides.
It's a decidedly simple solution that provided the projection mapping eightsome that is URBANSCREEN with an even more complex challenge: how to breathe art into a space originally constructed for maximum function (storing gas, in this case), and minimum functionality? "We didn't want to make a show out of it," says art director Till Botterweck, "We wanted to play with the emotional impressions you get when you enter the room for the first time."
Part of the upcoming exhibition “The Appearance of Beauty,” exhibition at Gasometer Oberhausen, that runs through December 30, the installation feature 21 high-powered Epson projectors, displaying graphic animations on the interior walls, stretching a cumulative surface radius of 320 degrees. It even includes sounds that play to the unusual acoustics of the structure, creating an immersive experience that challenges the spectator’s perception of the surrounding space.
Taking advantage of the Gasometer's pre-established parameters, Urbanscreen even made a few important discoveries in the process. Says Botterweck, "Through loads of tests we found out that you don't see the surface and that the space has a depth which can be controlled with the projection of shapes. You can create illusions that wouldn't work on a white surface."
Backed by the sparse, ambient soundscapes of Urbanscreen sound designer, Jonas Wiese, the results are as immersive as they are extraordinary. "This experience is based on the vastness of the Gasometer. We tried to work with that expression to make the space bigger and smaller, to deform it and to change its surface over and over while not exaggerating and overwriting the original effect of the room," Bauer tells us. "The age of the screen is coming to an end, digital interfaces will dissolve and merge into the social space [...] we poetically contribute to this through art."
Whatever the future of installation art may hold, be it in 320°, or a full 360°, you can bet Urbanscreen will be leading the charge.