Interview with Karel Bata in ARTiculAction magazine.
Click on image to open in fresh window.
This is quite mystical. In some parts of Asia, we believe there are spirits which reside in trees. Here, the British artist Karel Bata marries the persona of the tree with the portraits of people who had inspired him. Look closely at the details as the projections are set against the tree… then watch as it blinks and morphs into another face. Ingenious.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – — – –– David Sucha, Life’s Tiny Miracles
The one that did catch my attention was The Tree that Blinked. This ghostly display uses spotlights to form a person’s face on a large Banyan Tree, which then blink and change every now and then. …the face literally pops out at you the moment you shift into the correct viewing spot. I found this to be very, very smart.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – — – –– The Scribbling Geek
My favourite of the whole festival however was The Tree That Blinked. It was amazing in so many ways, but the symbolism behind it was subjective which meant different meanings could come from this animated projection.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – — – – Kara Bertoncini, The AU Review
In 2017 Singapore Night Festival celebrated their 10th anniversary with 600,000 visitors. They had seen my earlier work and asked me to create something around their century-old Banyan tree to celebrate its antiquity. I was happy to oblige with my installation The Tree That Blinked.
It is a series of digitally manipulated portraits projected into an old Banyan tree in which I trigger and explore the mystery and myths that form such a large part of our perception of woodlands. The work moves and shifts as the leaves are blown in the wind, so facial expressions seem to change too and the faces appear to undergo transformations of age and identity. Blended with real movements in the faces, and subtle morphs from face to face, this provides a compelling illuison of something alive within the tree, of spirits within.
This was first shown in embryonic form at Gallery 286 in London. At the time viewers referenced childhood stories or experiences of mysterious forests and strange creatures, and even ideas of layered consciousness. Some saw the tree as benign. I have taken these comments on board, and the piece has grown with these ideas.
Click for video (2 mins)
Some stills (Click any image to see a larger version)
Using The Disinhibitor, an apparatus I invented as part my MA research into Stereo 3D
at Ravensbourne College, Memories Can’t Wait is a truly immersive installation – a lucid
out-of-body experience that playfully challenges our notions of the space we inhabit.
Wearing custom 3D glasses, visitors are led into a large dark room where a simple, but carefully thought-out arrangement of lasers and projectors, working with a multi-channel soundscape, create a virtual environment in which they appear to float between moving planes of stars that stretch out to infinity.
Video (1 minute) with a different selection of shots.
A taste of the audience’s reaction – which often starts as excitement, followed
by a more meditative period – can be heard here: Video (1 minute)
This proved very popular and was staged several times at Ravensbourne, each time
with the settings tweaked to create a different immersive experience:
If you have 3D glasses handy you can get a hint of the effect with some of the
images – click to enlarge, and try tilting your head.
But it’s only a hint…
The Disinhibitor has been staged several times since. It became The nDimensional Basement at Shoreditch Digital Festival 2015. This was a much smaller space, creating a more intimate environment. Without a doubt it was the most popular exhibit.
– Click any image to enlarge –
The Disinhibitor was seen again at Lumen Gallery’s ‘Supermassive Black Hole’ in London on December 7 2015.
The Disinhibitor (Lamentations)
To be premiered in London, early 2018.
Lamentations uses a motion detection system linked to custom software that interprets participants’ movements and translates them into music built from the harmonies in Thomas Tallis’ 16th Century choral composition Lamentations. The aim is to create an immersive environment rich with spritual resonances.
Note to arts curators:
Though The Disinhibitor requires some very specific components, a few of which may need to be hired in, in the right environment it is quick to set up – less than a day.
For best effect it needs a large totally blacked out room with a plain gray floor. Obviously few places are exactly like that. The video shows it done in a TV studio with black drapes. At Shoreditch Digital I laid a large sheet of translucent gray plastic on the floor.
There are five principal modes of viewing gained by a choice of two types of 3D glasses (more in the pipeline!) and the two sources of projection – the lasers and the stars, which can be selected individually or combined. Some spaces incline more to one effect than others.
The effect of floating in space diminishes as the number of people in the room increases – they, and their shadows, will block the view of the floor.
Some people – about 1% – hate it and get vertigo immediately. Well, you can’t please everyone…
This all takes place in a darkened space with lasers (though low-powered and safe) so there needs to be a responsible person in the room. I like to take advantage of this by having an ‘usher’ that leads people in and gives the event a theatrical edge.
I would love to stage this in a really huge dark space…
The Tree That Blinked is a projection-mapped self-portrait toying with notions of identity, representation, and transformation.
The work moves and shifts as the leaves of the tree move with the wind. The expression thus seems to change, and the face appears to undergo changes of age.
The illusion can be compelling. Some folks think the leaves have been individually painted. Others that the tree must have been trimmed to the shape of my head!
Trying to give the work any specific ‘meaning’ is elusive, perhaps even pointless, as viewers bring their own strong personal interpretations. Generally they reference ideas of layered consciousness, and childhood stories of journeys into the forest. Some see it as actively benign, and The Wizard of Oz is frequently mentioned. Somewhere between these interpretations lies some kind of meaning…
It was first shown at Jonathan Ross’s Gallery 286 as part of an exhibition of self-portraits (he does have the perfect garden) and received an enthusiastic reception captured here by videographer Viral Mistry:
There is a blog about the Singapore installation here –
The Tree That Blinked at Singapore Night Festival (WordPress)
Note to arts curators:
The installation needs a roughly suitably shaped tree, along with very low ambient light – in total darkness it is amazing (really!).
The projector needs to be relatively close to the tree (ideally as close as a fully zoomed out projector lens allows) above head height, and as close to the eye-line of the visitors as possible. As you move away the effect breaks up, but this works in its favor when as you approach the tree there comes a point where visitors suddenly ‘see’ a face! The video shows that.
This installation only works in the dark after sunset, and many trees lose their foliage each year. In the UK this limits usage to autumn, though it will work well on a suitably-shaped Christmas tree.
At Gallery 286 we used my own 2.8K lumens projector. At Canary Wharf 6K. At Singapore 18k. The level of ambient light is the biggest factor determining the power required.
Once installed this can be left running. Power can be switched off to the whole set-up during the day to save the bulb, and my custom media player will boot itself up on power-up. Someone just has to switch it on and off.
Seen and Not Seen was a projection mapping installation created at Studio 308, Greenwich in September 2013.
Here is a 3 minute video record: https://vimeo.com/81094390
During the event visitors were led into the studio in total darkness guided by LEDs to stand in front of a ‘welcome’ sign. The show then consisted of projections on to a screen and on to masks suspended by fishing-line which gave the illusion of faces floating in space.
I’ve always had a deep affection for the Talking Heads song. It may be about someone who seems a bit unhinged, but the themes are pretty deep. On the surface it’s about appearances – about how we superficially look. But underneath lie our anxieties about how we present ourselves to others, and are perceived by them.
The challenge with creating a video of a performance staged in darkness is that you’re forced to show the smoke and mirrors. During the performance the audience stands in the dark and you hide as much as possible from them. The video has to do the opposite. If you were to just record what the audience saw it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to the viewer. Without some context it would appear to be just faces appearing and disappearing against a black background: the viewer, unlike the audience, is not there to experience the magic of it happening around them.
This is common with other videos documenting Projection Mapping installations. They will show the site – perhaps a building – during the day, and then show the performance at night. Without this there is nothing by which to judge scale and tell what’s going on – the show would lack impact. In short, you have to show how it’s done, and do so at the outset.
This project took a lot of work, but I’d love to do it again, and I have several ideas for other subjects and approaches.
A Projection Mapping installation staged at the Phoenix gallery in Brighton as part of Alex May’s Painting With Light event in December 2014.
There is a very convincing illusion here of a light moving around inside the room and illuminating the piece. However there is only the one projector, and the effect of this absence is disjointing. Some see it as creepy, some as beautiful. (Few are left unimpressed.)
Click to play video Out of Darkness
note: the flicker visible in the video above is due to camera frame-rate. Likewise the color has been reproduced inaccurately. The live piece is creamy white and free from any flicker or artifacts.
The music here was added during editing for Vimeo. The piece itself is silent.
This installation has also been shown at London Decompressed (Burning Man), Gallery 286, and Flux.
Note to arts curators:
Much of Out Of Darkness can be prepped off-site. But because the specific geometry of the venue is important here the final assembly and filming needs to be done on site. Providing that rigging the projector is straightforward, this would take the best part of a day.
The venue does not have to be blacked out, but the darker it is the better.
I would welcome the opportunity to create a much larger version of this!
My experiments with image presentation led me in 1981 to create Another Grey Area. This used a Meccano-built rig housing a mirror linked to a motor, the whole married to a Sony Portapak video camera. As the mirror rotated the field-of-view covered 360 degrees. I filmed a dancer in Sadler’s Wells Theatre’s rehearsal space dancing around the rig. The video was then transferred to film and this was put in a projector, which replaced the camera on the mirror-rig. This would then project an image of the dancer that moved around the room, creating the illusion of a portal into the original rehearsal space.
As far as I know this was the first Projection Mapping installation in Europe. There had been PM experiments in the US by Disney, and (unknown to me then) Michael Naimark used a film camera mounted on a turntable in 1980.
Another Grey Area was shown at Sadler’s Wells, and the London Film-Makers Co-Op in 1981.
For 30 years the projection rig sat in a cupboard under my gas meter(!) until I attended a talk
by artist Alex May on the history of Projection Mapping and realised that I had been one of the pioneers. Whoah! Below is the rig as it came out of storage. The motor is detached because it was used for something else about ten years ago. The mirror broke long ago, but its rectangular frame was still there. In subsequent pictures it has been replaced with a circular one.