Interview with Karel Bata in ARTiculAction magazine.
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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)
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:
It was a major part of Singapore Night Festival
There is a blog about the Singapore installation here –
The Tree That Blinked at Singapore Night Festival (WordPress)
And here it is at Light.Move.Fest in Łódź, Poland
Blog – The Tree That Blinked in Łódź
Note to arts curators:
The installation needs a suitably shaped tree, along with very low ambient light – ideally total darkness, where it is amazing (really!).
The projector needs to be just 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 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 4K lumens projector. At Canary Wharf 6K. At Singapore 18k. And in Łódź 21k. 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, and my custom media player will boot from cold when powered-up. Someone just has to switch it on and off.