ONE Night, many months.
by Michael J. Masucci
All still photography by Lauren Sanchez
(classic 1981 work by Ron Hays on balloon, and Rebecca Allen’s 1989 ‘Steady State’ , on library wall)
EZTV’s three-month long retrospective series, sponsored by USC’s ONE Archives & Museum, ended in an outdoor park on a clear and temperate Saturday night, May 31st, 2014.
Produced in conjunction with LA ACM SIGGRAPH, and supported through the City of West Hollywood, ONE Night celebrated the achievements of pioneering site-specific projection artists, and the role that digital projection has taken in multimedia performance. We attempted to articulate the key role that the 1980’s played in expanding the world from a merely analog existence to today’s digital real world/virtual world reality. And show how West Hollywood was the experimental proving grounds for many seminal digital art projects.
ONE Night was the result of many months of work, mostly by volunteers; artists, both visual as well as performing, producers dealing with logistics and fundraising, and a highly skilled and sensitive technical team, all coming together, resulting in the audience greatly appreciating a collection of classic as well as current projection art works, as well as a live multimedia dance piece and a musical performance.
The event took place in the same park, where back in 1982, the community center was the location for a series of DIY independent video screenings where the name “EZTV” was first publicly used, by founder John Dorr.
When the event day had arrived, over $40,000 in in-kind donated equipment and services and over $16,000 in cash had been raised, with only five hours to unpack, set-up, align, tune, check and balance.
In addition to the four event producers (Joan Collins, David Frantz, Kate Johnson and I) a core team of about 17 technical support, began the day locating and setting up the electrical generator, constructing the projector towers, and elaborate 4600 watt sound system, and mounting the 20,000 and 8,000 lumen projectors, generously supplied by leading projection manufacturer BARCO. The placement and inflating of a 12’ aerial balloon, re-imaging the work that Ron Hays and Joan Collins created in 1988 just across the street at the Pacific Design Center, was both nostalgic and seeming as current as the most modern artworks present.
Rigging and sound checking three musical acts, testing a camera equipped drone, and connecting it to the an elaborate double video switching system, customized on site to work in tandem, and handling concurrent data streams from both obsolete analog as well as several versions of modern digital formats, came next.
Technical Director (and show guru) Marc Rosenthal, and Kate Johnson, had only the night before to digitize, conform the various codices from several obsolete formats, and program Marc’s Watchout system.
(critical alignment of projectors took place just as sun was setting, minutes before ‘showtime”)
And as we just had that one day’s access to the park, there was never ever the possibility of a ‘tech’ or a run-through. The video projection team, hired from the excellent production company ShowPro, would not be able to do the necessary keystoning and other tricky projection alignment until the sun went down, literally minutes before our official start time. We knew that going into this, and that we would not know until minutes before ‘showtime’, if the exhibition would work, in visual as well as technical terms. Somehow, despite an opera of multiple little dramas which popped up throughout the day, as well as occurring just beforehand backstage, when all was said and done, the audience was thrilled when the opening projections, 45’ wide began.
(my old ‘piece of large scale sculptural graffitti’, the West Hollywood Sign, 1986-91, still remembered by local residents, lived again as a projection for the event’s opening title)
A selection of 1980’s projects:
(Dave Curlender & David Goodsell’s 1985 student film, “Larger Than Life” begins with a homage to Edweard Muybridge, and evolves into their early example of motion capture)
( Shelley Lake’s 1988 classic work of feminist satire ‘Polly Gone”)
(converted from its original 9 monitor installation, Vibeke Sorensen’s 1988 “NLoops”)
When I first came up with the concept for Fly By last year, I never realized how it would evolve and turn out. What began as a section of an evening length piece, in collaboration with Kate Johnson, Donna Sternberg and physicists Prof. Gregory Tarle of University of Michigan and Dr. Brian Nord of Fermilab, the projects’ objective was to explore artiscally the current theories surrounding dark energy. What it became was an experiment in collaboration between disciplines, time, space and virtuality.
(Vanessa Blaylock & Co’s avatars, transmitted from The Hague onto the West Hollywood library wall, dance live with Donna Sternberg’s self-illuminated dancers, below in the park)
Everyone seemed to appreciate the melding of physical and virtual space and performance.
(as self illuminated real world dancers perform in the park, a camera-mounted drone transmits in real time during “Fly By, live avatra transmissons of Vanessa Blaylock & Co dance on the projection surfaces and also included my pre-produced video art of Sternberg’s dancers)
The first thing anyone attempting live theater should learn is to ‘go with it’. Making adjustments in real time and often in mid-stream are routine skill sets for any performer or live event producer. A costume mishap, minutes before showtime, demanded that the schedule be instantly switched around, and the 40 minute long program of classic videos begin the show, instead of “Fly By” a 12 minute live collaboration between EZTV, Donna Sternberg & Dancers, Vanessa Blaylock & Co , and composer David Raiklen, which was to play at the opening as well as middle of the evening.
Drone captain Nina Rota had her work cut out for her when on the day of the show, the drone pilot scheduled to perform had to cancel. Nina rose to the occasion and not only found a replacement pilot, but broke him into the piece, and worked with the tech team to modify the existing cabling/interface with the already rented switching system. It was a miracle that with only a few hours, Nina made sure that the new pilot’s rig was integrated into the complex analog/digital live production switching being system designed on-site.
In order to allow Marc Rosenthal, Kate Johnson and other key team leaders stay focused on the setting up of the projection system, we had a last minute volunteer show up to help set-up the laptop for the live avatar transmission via Second Life, from The Hague, by Vanessa Blaylock & Company. During this, I’ve been setting up to play guitar live for Fly By’s composer David Raiklen with violinist Nancy Kuo and saxophonist Ken Luey.
(composer David Raiklen, and ‘the Fly By Band”)
Meanwhile the tech team was working ‘on the fly’ re-routing the complex cabling from Fly By back to the classic works. I’m not big on mainstream entertainment events, but the team we got onboard normally do gigs like the Grammys, the Super Bowl, rock concerts, Oscar related events, government as well as major museum events. They know what they’re doing, and because of the short set-up time that was given us, we really threw them a lot to juggle. And they juggled well.
The result was the Fly By did fly, and they audience really seemed to like the flight it took.
A Tribute to Ron:
(Oscar winning sound artists Frank Serafine, right, performs live dedication to his collaborator, pioneering media artist Ron Hays)
In addition to Fly By, a tribute to the late Ron Hays, who made a significant contribution to the evolution of projection art took place. Academy award-winning sound artist Frank Serafine, who had worked with Ron throughout the 1980’s performed live to projections of Hays’ classic work.
Hays worked with giants: Frank Gehry, Nam June Paik, the LA and Boston Philharmonics, and yes, mainstreamers like Madonna. This Emmy award-winning multimedia pioneer was a collaborator with LA ACM SIGGRAPH’s Joan Collins. And he was my friendly ‘competitor’ both vying for gigs in the burgeoning LA underground club scene (later to be called ‘raves’). When Ron got sick with AIDS he turned me on to one of my most enduring and cherished collaborations, with the late choreographer Zina Bethune.
In so many ways, Joan Collins, Kate Johnson (who never had the privilege to know Ron) and I approached David Frantz with this event idea especially to celebrate Ron. And we hope we did him proud.
(two images from the libray projections of Kate Johnson’s “Core” created especially for this event, which turned out to be an unexpected highlight for many of those attending)
This sense of remembrance, legacy and rediscovery was encapsuled in a new video art piece created especially for ONE Night by Kate Johnson. “Core” was an unexpected hit of the event, and audience members called it ‘profound’, ‘inspiring’ and ’emotive’.
All these projects pay tribute to the artists, scientists and thinkers who saw ahead of their time to today’s media revolution. The oldest work in the show, from 1979 was Ed Emshwiller‘s “Sunstone”. Although by no means anywhere near the beginning of computer art history, Sunstone still marks, at least for me, the turning point after which the direction in which the emerging digital arts would be taking for decades to come. This was the point in which so many pieces of the digital puzzle would come together: animation, image processing, sound design, use of 3D space all integrated into the newly emerging medium which drew its roots not just from the so-called ‘traditional media’ but from the sibling electronic art forms of video and computer graphics.
(the earliest piece in the exhibition, Ed Emshwiller’s 1979 masterpiece “Sunstone” )
There were many angels involved in pulling off this project, including not only the people already mentioned, but also Michael Wright, Victor Acevedo, Dave Curlender, the Cultural Affairs Department of West Hollywood’s Andrew Cambpell and Michael Che, 18th Street Arts Center’s Jan Williamson, Anu Vikram and Lauren Meshako, Andrea Foenander of the Royal College of Art, London, Susanna B. Dakin, Russel Mulock, all the artists, dancers and musicians involved and especially the amazing team at Showpro who did the impossible with a deadline that few would be able to meet and helped us put on a show that seemed ‘EZ’. Thanks to all.