Projection art began with small surface areas, low level light, ingenious imagery and intimacy. As lights became more powerful, lenses sharper and projectors more robust artists like Hugh McSpedden flourished, particularly at a time when musicians were wanting to make sensual impact with both their music and what ever visuals were possible, otherwise known today as psychedelia. Hugh shoved all sorts of stuff between beams of light and lenses, he poured dyes, all forms of heatable fluids over glass plates to have them shatter until the right combination of materials were harnessed. Bands were drenched in colourful, oily patterns and audiences were, like, “wow”!
Those days, and we’re talking about the mid to late 1960s, are akin to the early days of film where invention, modification and in some cases, destruction caused new ideas to arise from the ashes, from the malaise of ideas and broken pieces of glass and metal. In the films we shared with you at The Light Show a lineage of innovation is described in the work of artists who aspire, as does Hugh, to carve into the 2 dimensional world of projected light, layers of intrigue, mystery and curiosity.
Some of these film-makers and artists have gone on to work with projections, such as film-maker and artist David Nerlich’s early 1980s Super 8 animations that were projected onto inner-city buildings during the hedonistic art parties of the day, who also went on to work with the Fairlight CVI, the computer visual instrument invented by a couple of blokes in Sydney, made infamous by Severed Heads; Kim Bounds and John Power with whom I worked with over numerous projects in Taiwan, Korea, Central and Eastern Europe, we screen a sample of John’s epic avant-garde documentary, STUNT, of the only tour ever made by my Austrian based trio, the Electropathological Consort, layering VHS recordings of previous performances onto the next, recording and layering – a stack of VHS recorders and analogue vision mixer his ever present tools through the late 1990s and early 2000s; Dale Nason, co-founder of the Cyberdada Collective whose radical projection works in the mid-2000s saw him create projection devices that were powered by batteries slung to a belt and ridden from location to location on push-bikes, we screen his untitled stop-frame animation work that records an entire year of ephemera and found objects. Melbourne film-maker and now San Francisco resident, David Cox’s early films combined hand-made puppets and stop-frame animation, we screen Tatlin which features a voice-over by John Flaus; Kim Bounds who incorporated installation and sculpture into her 1993 student film, Autarky; former Sydney musician and a kind of all media artist Adrian Symes documenting his charcoal drawings using time lapse techniques and innovative use of sax and turntables in Visions of the Underworld; and my Light Show co-producer, Chip Wardale, who came from a world of synchronised slide projectors and super 8 film, using the detritus of city landscapes to animate in his digital masterpiece, Altered Landscapes.
I attempted to argue, through the course of every evening we staged The Light Show, that in spite of the gains of technology, the significant innovations in projection mapping for instance, may distance us as creators from the novelty that comes from breaking things. Projection mapping and other such innovations require intensive collaboration, and we all love to collaborate, but for those of us who develop ideas in isolation, it is simply not feasible to learn so many new skills, to take from what our hands may transform directly in front of us, to the capacities of the mind is a leap many will make, but for others… well, let us continue to enjoy and relish in the making of things with what ever is at hand.
Presently, we rely on technologists to further our ideas within the digital realms and this can, combining many different approaches and aesthetics, create outcomes beyond the dream horizon, but one needs the willingness and resources to harness the capacities of such people and we don’t always have the where-with-all within reach.
That aside, artists such as our very own Hugh McSpedden continue to teach me that creativity is about curiosity, experimentation and the daring-do to break things and start again – that is where innovation and novelty are birthed, not always from behind a desk with a mouse or wacom in one’s grip.