Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The other night, I grumpily hauled my ass over to campus at 8pm on a Friday. I knew I wanted to see Miwa Matreyek perform at the Rhythms & Visions event at the School of Cinematic Arts, but I did NOT want to drive all the way down to campus, find parking, or deal with crowds. But as with most things in my life, the more I don't want to do something, the better it usually is. This event was no exception. I walked into the darkened SCA courtyard and immediately started beaming with joy. Because I'd recently made a pact with my friend, a pact I mentioned a few blog posts back: "we made a pact that this would always be our life, that we would always show up spontaneously at places and events that would blow our minds, that we would feel as often as possible that sense of sheer joy, gratitude, and amazement at how goddamn lucky we are that this is our life, that things like this happen not rarely or even occasionally, but frequently." And that's exactly what happened Friday night.

Walking up to the gates, I noticed a lot of people wearing glow sticks. I thought, those people definitely aren't coming from the event I'm supposed to attend. Then I heard music. Electronic music. Good electronic music. Like a at a night club, but a classy night club, not the kind of nightclub where they pile a bunch of sweaty drunk strangers into an already over capacity space. I turned to my right immediately after I entered the courtyard and was greeted with one whole wall of the SCI building that had come to life.

Everywhere I looked, I saw beautiful projections on a variety of "screens". Some projections utilized the architecture of the buildings, other projections appeared on suspended screens, and others transformed giant white balls into glowing orbs of digital animation. The whole courtyard became a gallery and the audience was forced to interact with and exist between the projections. I mean this literally. Every time you walked from one end of the courtyard to the other, your shadow was cast somewhere on some wall, interfering with or adding to a projection. Some pieces took the interaction aspect more seriously and used Kinect technology to grab your image and transfer it onto a screen as you passed by. Most people used these two pieces, "Full Body Scrubber, v.1," as an opportunity to play. People were dancing in front of the screen, doing jumping jacks, kissing, running, flailing about. The people themselves became part of the exhibit, not only in the image of them that was translated onto the screen, but in their embodied reactions to the artwork. Half the pleasure in these specific installations for me was watching the users fling themselves across this outdoor corridor in the darkness, under the few stars that appear in the Los Angeles sky. It was like an updated version of the campfire. A source of light and community interaction in a space of darkness. I posed in front of each installation, and my favorite by far was the one that transformed me into legos. It's been my life dream to be a lego. It's the best portrait ever done of me, if I can be so bold.
That's me! I'm legos!
Self portrait as flowers holding my water bottle.

Here are some of the other pieces that were on display:

My favorite pieces were the ones that used the building's architecture as their projection space. Two dimensional surfaces were transformed into three dimensional spaces through simple tricks of light and precise animation. The buildings came to life. In the first video in this post, bright white light is used to highlight and mimic the bricks that make up that face of the SCI building, then the entire image is stripped away, as if the whole building were just an illusion, as if bricks ceased to exist, disappeared into thin air leaving only a black emptiness. These pieces force the viewer to consider the building as material, as the physical objects that constitute the architecture in front of us, and ironically, the pieces accomplish this through digital, non-material means. Digital projection, simply images cast through the air and onto the wall, draw more attention to the materiality of space than then materials themselves do. The invisible Mediterranean Revival architecture I pass by everyday took on a new identity and surpassed its practical functionality, becoming instead a surreal space for the imaginary. Parts of the building would solidify in the projection, and would then transform, alter, float away while retaining the trace shape of the material architecture that constitutes the physical building. 

And then there were the performances. Particularly Miwa's performance of her piece, "Myth and Infrastructure." [Click there to watch Miwa's 4 minute trailer for the performance.] Miwa had actually just spoken to my Digital Studies Symposium earlier that week, and her talk got me so excited to witness her work in action that I dragged myself the 8 miles away from my house just to see it. It was worth it. This crowd of glow stick headband wearing folks... 
...sat together and watched Miwa's shadow interact with dual front and rear projections of beautiful animations set to music. 
Miwa's work is collage in the most drastic and wonderful sense. She places her own shadow, her live performance, her real body, behind a screen. The rear projection both displays her animations and captures her shadow and her movements, while the front projection casts animations over her shadow, allowing her to do things like insert real, colored images of her hands over her shadow hands to create the illusion that her shadow is breaking through its two dimensional world of silhouette into the three dimensional world in which some of her animations exist. It also allows her to turn herself into an island in which trees have taken root and to walk through San Francisco in the pouring rain alongside hot air balloons and stars.
Miwa's work compels the audience to consider what's embodied and what's animation. She integrates herself so well into this gorgeous, projected world that we sometimes lose track of where the woman ends and her animation begins. 

And really, most of the projects at Rhythms & Visions investigated this same question. The question about the material world and the digital world, where they intersect, where they depart, how they can reinforce, manipulate, and completely transform each other. What more could you ask for from art but to allow you a space in which to explore your assumptions about the spaces you inhabit and the technologies that exist all around you every day? So many of us take space for granted unless or until that space is brought to our attention, and when it's brought to our attention by something immaterial, something we cannot physically grasp, well then that's all the more intriguing. 

This piece, "Quayola & Sinigaglia," was playing as I left the courtyard. 

As I drove home listening to my new favorite Modest Mouse song, "Trailer Trash," wearing my neon purple glowing headband, I felt my thoughts drifting into a more melancholy space. I looked to the left as I crossed over the 101 and I saw glittering Hollywood. I looked to the right and I saw downtown LA, standing tall, saluting the glowing full orange moon that floated above it. I thought about where I'd just come from and all the things that brought me here, and I just laughed. This city is pulsing with inspiration. My skin is dripping with it every time I walk outside and see the lights and feel the ocean air. I can't imagine a better place to be in the entire world. This city is up to amazing things, my school is up to amazing things. How can I do anything less than amazing things here?

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