Disney, Engineers and Contemporary Art

Just a little reminder that Brent Green's show, To Many Men Strange Fates Are Given, is up in New York for one more week! We've gotten a few really nice write ups about the sculpture and even a really strange video someone made as they pawed around it trying to figure out what exactly was going on...? One thing that a lot of people seem to think about the piece is that the layered screen effect is a projection...and it's not! I am only bringing it up because of all of the hard work that went into making the layered effect (think live action animating on glass? <--Walt Disney instructional video!!!)...all of the tedious, raw fingers scraping glue, broken glass, brain storming work I should say! So I thought maybe I should give a little run down of how this thing works exactly...!

First off, the main components of the piece are lcd monitors, that's right, simple flat screen tvs! The way these monitors work (in an oversimplified/I-am-not-an-engineer/thank-you-engineers-who-helped-construct-this-project explanation) is that a grid of little electrical pulses of information beam around a liquid crystal solution, twisting them to let light through, turning pixels on and off. This configuration is sandwiched between two paper thin sheets of glass and then sandwiched again between two sheets of polarized film (like sunglasses!), film that, along with a light source (a backlight/the glow of your screen) helps make the crystal patterns visible. Think of it this way, the resolution of a screen is the number of pixels across and down that are being turned on and off through little electrical switches moving liquid crystals to let light through everytime you use an lcd monitor. The data in an image or video is just manipulating (turning on or off, bending, structuring) the tiny building blocks of information arranged in simple grids, patterning into every imaginable shape and size! Or something like that (if I am understanding any of this correctly!)? For this piece we took apart the lcd screens in a way that made information visible on two staggered screens  at once (like if you had a computer in front of your computer and could see the information on both screens at the same time) a see through technology that they are now in fact manufacturing!

So, the back "screen" is made up of 6 smaller lcd monitors set up in a grid while the front is one large lcd monitor. By removing the polarizer on one side of the rear screens and removing both layers of polarizer, in addition to the light source, on the front screen we were able to make the little pulses of information on the screens appear invisible- without the light passing through the layers of the polarizer we removed you can't see anything! It looks like a big old light beaming box at first glance! We then took the  missing polarizer and stationed it throughout the gallery- on a pedestal like stand (with machine milled wooden phonograph horns!), in a pair of laser cut glasses, in a large welded viewing screen. When looking behind the distanced polarizer it compliments the remaining polarizer on the back screens and renders both sets of images, on the front & back screen, visible at the same time! The front screen also relies on the lightsource of the back to complete the visibility making the front mechanism nearly transparent- a free floating piece of glass whose video is only revealed when stepping behind the polarized film!

Now let's just say that the polarizer is not meant to come off of these here lcd screens causing hours of nerve wracking work peeling the glued surface up, applying enough pressure to not break the paper thin glass display, trying not to tear the polarized layer into sharp little shards of sticky plastic it so wants to become...! And then there is also the task of dividing the image on the back screen so it is displayed across 6 screens as one image (we couldn't afford a huge screen for the back at the time but they have since come down in price so we might change this at some point!), using a combination of tripleheads & qlab to synch the video on the 7 total screens, and also the TONS of time it took to adjust the contrast since some images will just disappear from lack of light caused by our hacked polarizer set-up, all this without even mentioning the hand drawn & stop motion animation (2 separate layers deep &, for some of the scenes, layered in production as well!)! O, and the beautiful, heart wrenching story (which you can hear a demo of here!) that kind of mimics the very elements that make the sculptural form, waxing on the seeming intangibility of truth and the way we control our fate...A very complicated contraption for sure! Well, I hope my little tutorial helped out a little in terms of understanding the way this thing works?! And for those of you unable to make it to New York: we're coming to San Francisco in the Fall of 2012 as part of the San Francisco Film Society's Kinotek series where we will unleash the wonders of hacked LCD technology on the many makers of this fine town- cannot wait!



Donna K. lives in the Midwest and on the internet. Mostly she writes about her interest in the offline world.