Last weekend, June 27 to 29, REVRSE gallery continued its commitment to experimental media by hosting Interactive Mappathon. The third such event for REVERSE, the marathon-style projection mapping workshop culminated in a series of site-specific, collaboratively built installations. Held in the artist-run space just south of McCarren Park, the workshop was led by interactive visual artist and educator CHiKA and digital artist and developer Bruno Kruse.
For three days, a widely diverse group of artists, filmmakers, game designers, production technicians, and projection enthusiasts – some traveling from as far as Alabama or Chicago to attend the workshop – learned to map video projections onto physical surfaces using MadMapper and Modul8 software.
On Sunday, June 29, their efforts were on view in REVERSE, where the dimly lit gallery had the feel of a Hack-a-thon: a mess of black cables, white cords, and blue tape strewn across simple wooden worktables; the soft glow of half-cracked laptops against abandoned paper coffee cups; and the last-minute, frantic consultations between collaborators over the gentle clicking of keyboards.
While some groups structured their designs around line drawings or paper sculptures jutting from the wall, others relied on objects found around the gallery: a round metal fan, assorted AV equipment painted white, and even shards of carefully arranged, layered glass. Playfully psychadelic and immersive, the installations demonstrated the exciting artistic potential of projection mapping.
Although projecting video onto non-flat surfaces dates back to 1969 (when it was first used to create optical illusions for Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion ride), the technique has risen in popularity over the last few years. Also known as “video mapping” or “spatial augmented reality,” it has been used for a wide range of commercial and artistic purposes. In conjunction with mobile media, sensors, or other external devices, the projections can even respond to viewer movement or data input.
The same criticisms levied against much so-called “new media” art – that it relies on sensationalism and spectacle, that it fetishizes and celebrates technology rather than critically examining its social and political implications – can be said of projection mapping. In many projection mapping projects, the stunning visual effects mask works with little beyond the surface. At the same time, by freeing digital artists from the screen and from the white cube gallery space, projection mapping presents exciting possibilities for work that directly engages the public and doesn’t ask permission to do so. And, as the works at REVERSE demonstrate, projection mapping can be both poetic and mesmerizing, stunning to behold and infinitely adaptable.