Eyebeam Afternoon

A Multi-Channel Animation by Marina Zurkow

A Multi-Channel Animation by Marina Zurkow

I was wandering around Chelsea this weekend and discovered that EyeBeam has open studios where you can talk to residents and research fellows about their work. I saw two projects that really struck me as potentially relevant to a discussion of  new uses of media and technology in museums.

The first works, a series of animations by artist Marina Zurkow is based on the Ecosystem Engine –  an open source development platform that she created for multi-channel animated scenes. The works are basically ‘living’ digital worlds in which large casts of animated characters, static elements and landscapes interact dynamically to create never ending sequences, relationships and possible meanings. For several years I have been searching for a new medium/ technique that could approximate the power of the diorama’s ability to describe complex ecosystems. I see some of that potential here. The projections are quite large and some of here work is quite architectural in scale. I talked to her for a while and asked if she had ever worked with a museum. She said that she preferred to keep her work lyrical and not subservient to any particular messaging. This makes sense. Any overt messaging would definitely detract from the work. The illustrations are beautiful and well rendered. Much like a diorama, you want to project yourself into these worlds as another character in the scene.

The second project, Immaculate Telegraphy, by artist Jamie O’Shea was a kind of reality show/ documentary video and blog following his attempt to construct a working telegraph using only materials he finds naturally in the wilderness. He creates the simple tools he needs to make other more complex tools, sources and refines materials, even to the point of building a smelter for making the copper he needs for the conductive wire. Eventually we presume that he will assemble a rudimentary telecommunications network. I really liked the image of a man the woods taking on the internet by starting from nothing but knowledge and more than a little patience. Here is the statement from the artist: “Could humans at any point in history, given the right information, construct an electronic communication network?” What would Ted Kaczysnki think of this project? It just so happens that the wilderness that he is working in is in Montana.

Both artists occupy an interesting territory with their work that spans the realms of both art and science. Their use of media (in totally different ways) brings a level of accessibility to rather complex scientific ideas. I suspect we will see a generation of artists like these two working within scientific museums as well as art museums, retaining status as artists but providing an inquiring and interpretive entry into the world of science.

Tim Ventimiglia

4 responses to “Eyebeam Afternoon

  1. I really like this idea of artists working with and commenting on science. At the very least it can get people thinking about how much we take for granted, that a lot of what we believe is the product of conceptual construction (ie. someone worked it out, but it exists beyond us and out tidy reasoning). With new media, museums in the future may have the luxury of elasticity that allows them to show different ideas in provocative new ways.

  2. I work with web development when I’m not in school and have been curious for the past few months as to where scripting would go next. At first glance I was skeptical of the ideas presented by Marina Zurkow but after researching the project further I think this is where museums are at right now or are going to be in the upcoming months. I believe these projects not only represent diaramas but take existing methods and ideas to a whole new level by crossing categories and showing relationships between the ‘natural’ and man-made (technologies).

    An example from the official website for Zurkow’s projects is the biological relationship of airplanes, elephants, and plankton. While it may seemed far-fetched at first glance the artist completely validates the design through extensive research and the use of technology.

  3. Accessibility is a large issue with museums. How a museum breaks down large complex ideas into visual messages is an important part of the museums communication with its audience. In the American National History Museum, the use of interactive “living” digital worlds would bring immediacy to the visitors and a fun, interactive way to create large messages about our world.

  4. The idea of the Ecosystem Engine seems that the environmental controls “(gravity, wind speed and direction, rain, etc.)” are literally environmental.

    When scripting/programming – one devises the limits of a man made virtual environment.

    This engine makes the controls users can alter mimic variables that exist in the Earth’s environment.

    It makes me think of the computer game, Spore, but instead of designing a creature (micro) you can design the variables that control an entire ecosystem (macro). The idea of making it an animated diorama is brilliant!!

    This could be a very useful tool in helping us understand our own ecosystems better – I do wonder how accessible the platform is and how “accurate” the controls are (are they better for making pretty animations that sort of mimic environments? When users change variables, are the differences easily discernible? – I’m thinking of a lot of issues brought up in the David Rockeby article)

    Her blog is inspiring me with ideas for my Environmental Design project!!

    This blog is great for looking at artists using interactivity/technology and everything in between
    Talk about information anxiety – I could spend hours a day reading this blog, some of the projects are really complex and it is constantly updated

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