I'm a writer and visual artist in St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada.

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Posts tagged “A House By The Water” (page 2 of 2)

Working on a little world

I’m working on a little world, or at least a window into one. One thing I want to try is digitally merging a live video stream with other elements, such as computer-generated imagery or prerecorded video. This way I can create something that looks like a video, but that reacts in real-time to movement or sound. I like the idea of making something that appears at first to be a video loop, but is actually a computer simulation with endless variation. This is sort of how procedural generation works in game design.

For A House By The Water I want to build a small model of an island or coastline, but I’m still figuring out what materials to use, and how big it needs to be. For now, a rock will do. Today I walked to the studio along a slightly different route, past a field and a construction site, where I found a large white stone.

I spent most of the afternoon putting together some code to knock out the background from a webcam stream. A blue recycling bin made a pretty good “green screen”, and I was able to superimpose live video of the rock on top of another video (a couple of seagulls). I made a little clip of this process while I moved a light around, so you can see what’s happening.

Green screen rock

I like having the rock here. My studio desk is full of books and equipment, and the rock brings a different sort of presence and purpose. I often work with things that only exist on a screen, and it’s a reminder to stay grounded in the real world. I’ll keep it around so it can keep an eye on me.

Artist in Residence, Day 3

I arrived at The Rooms to find a team of employees evicting my roommates, the tall sculptures left behind by the previous artist in residence. So I have the place to myself now. I feel like capturing the space in some way. I’ve brought my camera, but I set up the Kinect sensor instead. It captures video and also depth information, which I can visualize using Processing. I start with Daniel Shiffman’s Point Cloud demo and spend some time modifying the code. I take it for a spin.

Point Cloud in purple

Thirty times a second, the Kinect takes two pictures, compares them, and spits back a bunch of numbers representing the distance of each pixel from the sensor. The Point Cloud script reinterprets these numbers and projects each pixel in a simulated three-dimensional space. Watching the demo in real-time, it feels strange to see yourself whirl around while the camera stays still. The script rotates the scene around an imaginary point in the virtual space.

I want to try something else. I place the sensor on top of a ladder and aim it at the ceiling, which is full of lights, pipes, ventilation and a dangling extension cord. I increase the density of the depth image, and adjust the colours used for the projection. When I end up with something I like, I export screenshots of each frame and stitch them together into a gif animation.

Point Cloud ceiling

I like this curious architectural snapshot. The virtual rotation creates a strange illusion where it feels as if the camera arcs through the ceiling and looks down through it, into the room. The depth projection is interrupted by the shadows of objects closer to the camera (the dark holes in the orange surface). This is due a limitation of the stereo vision system, but I enjoy the theatrical quality it adds to the scene, like a stage set only meant to be seen from one angle. Or as if the world has unfolded from flatness, like a pop-up book.

One of the books I brought to the studio is In Praise of Shadows by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki. Written in 1933, it’s a wonderfully ruminative essay on Japanese aesthetics, the beauty of impermanence, and shadows in architecture:

An empty space is marked off with plain wood and plain walls, so that the light drawn into it forms dim shadows within emptiness. There is nothing more. And yet, when we gaze into the darkness that gathers behind the crossbeam, around the flower vase, beneath the shelves, though we know perfectly well it is mere shadow, we are overcome with the feeling that in this small corner of the atmosphere there reigns complete and utter silence; that here in the darkness immutable tranquility holds sway.

Artist in Residence, Day 2

I’ve never been an artist in residence before. What is a residency? The act of dwelling in a place. The title of my project proposal is A House By The Water, and I love that the word residency implies an address, an occupancy, a home. Dwelling is such a beautiful word. But what does it mean to dwell? One definition is to think moodily or anxiously about something. Well! I could be quite good at this.

I’m still moving into my new “residence.” I carried a second batch of supplies to the studio today: a camera tripod, a lamp, a digital projector, a webcam. So many wires and glass surfaces. I have a list of things to try. But mostly I’m drawn to the books and the kettle. I want to dwell.

What am I here to think about? How the way people inhabit this island has changed and continues to change. I could start by considering this spot I currently inhabit, a small room in a larger Rooms. The Rooms is a daunting architectural structure, dominating the cityscape from almost any angle. Soaring into the skyline of historic St. John’s, The Rooms combines twenty-first century technology with a striking visual reference to our past. Its unique design mirrors the “fishing rooms” where families came together to process their catch.

The Rooms

Like any city landmark, The Rooms accumulates nicknames. My favourite is The box the Basilica came in. From a distance, the building resembles the kind of house a child might draw: a square box with a trim triangular roof, one big door, one big window. All that’s missing is the chimney. I like how the facade over the entrance seems to play with this motif.

So I sit in this enormous house and think about enormous houses. When I imagine the way the visual landscape of the island is changing, they’re the first thing that comes to mind. We were hiking in Maddox Cove on the weekend, and there they were again: a cluster of huge new houses overlooking the water, looming incongruously over the smaller buildings below. Older homes in Newfoundland can be remarkably tiny, so low and humble it’s easy to imagine the island was once populated with hobbits. Then there are the modest saltboxes of St. John’s, and more suburban homes like the one I grew up in, a medium-sized split-level in Pasadena. There’s the new subdivision my parents live in now, full of houses slightly taller and wider than the older parts of town. And then there are the giants, which are mostly found wandering outside the city grid, jostling for position in a scuffle for the best view of the water.

Maddox Cove

They jut out, ostentate, occupy the horizon in a new way. They’re signs of prosperity and wealth, and as such, they’re easy to begrudge (or difficult, depending on which side of that equation you’re on). But perhaps that’s the laziest reaction. What interests me is how our collective landscape is changing. What does landscape mean, exactly? An expanse of scenery that can be seen in a single view, but also an extensive mental viewpoint. How do these structures reflect the new ways that we view and engage with the land? Surely these dwellings are worth dwelling on.

Artist in Residence, Day 1

Let’s begin with a walk. I packed a bag full of books, blank notebooks and art supplies and walked to The Rooms, which isn’t far from home. One of the front desk people smiled and said to the other, Oh, this is our new artist in residence.

Studio desk

Mireille met me in the Elbow Room studio. The floor is a constellation of paint streaks and splotches, and Mireille knows who left each one. I’ll have to be sure to leave some lines on the floor as well. For now I swept up a little, dragged tables around, went through the cupboards. The previous artist’s sculptures are still here, so I have roommates for a few days: three tall columns of concrete, foam and silicone. The studio has a constant hiss from the ceiling ventilation that asks to be drowned out, so I put on some music, louder than I usually would. The room is isolated and soundproof, and it feels as if it is my responsibility to make noise.

When I dropped by last month to see the space, my first impression was that the view from the studio windows was boring. Today I see it differently. The wide vista is mostly taken up by an adjacent blocky office building, and otherwise looks out over a cross-section of parking lots. The scene is enlivened a bit by busy slivers of Harvey Road and the harbour. Today I notice new details: a walking trail follows the fence below, and a row of trees stretches up to the windows, the tip of each branch daubed in green. The monolithic office building has a wooden deck on the roof, and I can see a few people smoking up there. A few of the Rooms employees take breaks beside the loading dock just below, which seems pretty busy this morning, delivery trucks coming and going. The studio is shaded and when I photograph the view my camera reflects brightly in the window.

Studio window

Let’s start by writing. I should write a proper introduction.

I will be the artist in residence at The Rooms in St. John’s, Newfoundland, for the next three months. My art practice usually involves walking, writing and making photographs, which I assemble into books or other interactive works. My plan this summer is to work on a digital projection exploring the changing landscape of Newfoundland, especially the impact of the oil industry. How do vagaries of global geography and economics affect the local cultural and architectural landscape? How does the history of a place change how we see it?

Those questions are from the project proposal I wrote in January, and I can feel things shifting already. My inquiries will begin with a few practical things I want to try. I’ve been working with Processing to make interactive digital projections, and I want to try using a Kinect to detect motion and depth. I’ve been writing lately about walking in St. John’s, especially the North Head Trail, and these walks will dovetail with my research here. I want to fill notebooks with fresh air and ink, I want to write code en plein air. I want to grow moss on a rock and greenscreen it into an island. I want to make computer-generated houses fall from the sky. I want to find old blueprints and draw on them with watercolour. I want to meet people, to dig through books and brains and turn my questions into new questions.

Auspicious beginnings: I needed electrical tape and I went for a walk yesterday and found a roll of electrical tape on the sidewalk. I was going to ask Mireille for one of the catalogues from a recent exhibition, and when I opened the studio cupboard, there was a copy on the shelf.

I make a list of things to find on future walks: moss, blueprints, a blender, a USB hub, a lazy susan.

Content ©  2019 Matthew Hollett. RSS