A Projected Sculpture That Bathes The Audience In A Pool Of Shadow

<p>Robert Seidel&#8217;s <i>Tearing Shadows</i> turns light and dark into texture.</p>

Mar 14 2013, 3:39pm

Robert Seidel‘s experimental animations are a curious hybrid of abstract shapes wrought from biological entities and scientific processes. Strange forms flit in and out of view, catching the corner of your eye. To look at the films you wouldn’t immediately notice the scientific connection, but once you know you can see that some of the shapes have an ancestry with the weird lifeforms that float around the ocean and live deep underwater.

His latest piece is a projected sculpture called Tearing Shadows currently showing at the 401contemporary gallery in Berlin, which looks like the living skeletal frame of some ancient lifeform. As visitors walk around it, they experience different audiovisual compositions—bathed in the shadows of the piece they also become part of the artwork as their shadows mingle with the sculpture’s and the two become inseperable.

To learn more about how Seidel created the piece, I emailed off some questions.

The Creators Project: Lots of your visuals are based on biological forms—is that the same with this piece?
Robert Seidel:
For this installation I decided not to work in fully digital terms with regards the sculptural forms and the projection. For the latter I went back to some old “real world” painting experiments—like in my animations E3 and Futures—and explored the painterly qualities of everyday objects. So in that sense it is "biological", or "physicochemical" even, since it deals with processes like thermodynamics and chemical kinetics.

Different vignettes of these natural but visually abstract processes were composed into an experimental film, which was then refitted to the sculpture to create different tableaux vivants for Tearing Shadows. The film essentially reshapes the object with the help of projected light (two synchronised beamers). Since the sculpture and the projection are developed organically I wouldn’t call it “projection mapping” but more “spontaneous mapping”. I love the idea that images and shapes come together and influence each other. To tie everything closer together there are a lot of “fake shadows”—some on the wall are real, others are projected. The projected ones are moving slowly to it seems the sculpture is constantly moving.

How does the audience become part of the artwork? Is it reactive to them?
The audience is allowed to walk within the installation, so people become projection surfaces or shadows themselves. Overall the structures are so light, that they move by even the slightest wind of the audience walking around. And the shapes are very open and staggered, from different viewpoints you see a radically different sculpture—so wandering becomes an integral part of the artwork. This is true for classic sculpture as well, but the changing audio and video helps motivate the exploration of the spatial dimension. The documentation video pushes this idea even further with lots of dolly shots reimagining the visitor's trails.

The music in the trailer seems to have a slightly sinister tone to it. Is this the same as the audio in the piece? And what was the intention behind this?
The sound of the piece and the documentation are basically the same. They are based on different field recordings and compositional sketches I did occasionally over the last two years. It’s quite dense and changes mood abruptly over a period of 10 minutes. Since it’s not synched to the projection video of six minutes, it creates quite different constellations and blurs the dimension of the video loop.

I think my entire body of film and installation work shares a sinister or dramatic tone—for this work it might be more obvious since the musical mood skips like an old record. Also, the changing stereo placement is not for capturing the viewer in the black box of the cinema, but to explore a space and follow these audiovisual trails.

How did you go about creating the actual shape of the sculpture itself? What influenced its design?
First I did drawings to find general shapes, like I usually do for all my projects. Their influences are varied, but mostly from nature and travelling. Then they were sketched on and cut from plastic foil. This time I decided not to use laser cutting like in Black Mirror, but to cut the pieces by myself, which influences the visual vocabulary a lot.

The drawn lines on some of the shapes add another layer to the complexity of the pieces, which makes the installation a three dimensional drawing as well. Some of these pen traces are leftovers of the original sketches, others are created to change the compositional weighting of the forms. Most of the fragments were reshaped by heating or burning the foil—creating holes, bends, and shrinkage.

In the end I had a lot of single pieces created in my studio, which were then arranged and hung in the gallery space. So the final composition of the installation came to live there for the first time. Changing an installation based on the architectural and structural conditions of the place keeps the work fresh for me, making the setup part of the artistic process, not just a necessary evil.