krinkl-o-tron - background and contextual research

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I will create an installation that attempts to integrate many ideas I have explored during my time at ITP, including immersive environments, sustainable energy, human computer interface, re-contextualization of time and space, real-time video manipulation, and the creative hackery of available technology to facilitate the production and presentation of media that exceeds the boundaries of what is currently possible.

The installation will consist of three main components: a cylindrical rear-projection screen, a human powered carousel, and a slit-scan camera. I call this installation the Krinkl-O-Tron.

Slit-scan imaging techniques are used to create images of time-based phenomena. In traditional film photography, exposing film as it slides past a slit-shaped aperture creates slit-scan images. In the digital realm, thin slices are extracted from a sequence of video frames, and concatenated into a new image.1 The process of slit-scan imaging has been experimented with since the 1960’s and has lead to the development of many custom-made cameras, usually made by modifying traditional film cameras or repurposing other imaging equipment including flat-bed scanners and video cameras.  The resulting image of the slit-scan process can be extremely large. For example, Michael Aschauer’s Danube Panorama Project slit-scanned the entire shoreline of the Danube River while traveling down it in a boat. The resulting scan created a continuous panorama hundreds of feet long and has only been displayed in fragments. Slit-scanning is a process of spatiotemporal displacement, each point in the scan having the potential to represent a separate moment in time and space. Slit-scans can be as simple as extending a narrow slice of camera’s spatial perspective along the display’s horizontal axis representing time, as in Danny Rozin’s Time Scan Mirror. Slit-scans can also be very complex, interactive and nonlinear as in Alvaro Cassinelli’s Khronos Projector, an interactive video installation designed to explore the possibilities of physical interaction with time-based media. At the core of The Khronos Projector is a rear projection video screen made out of spandex. By pushing back on the flexible screen, image sequences such as a city skyline at sunset are seemingly pushed back in time as day turns to night under the participant’s hand.

The Khronos Projector seamlessly integrates slit-scan imagery with a nontraditional display format and physical human interaction. Like The Khronos Projector, the Krinkl-O-Tron’s combines slit-scan technology with a nontraditional display system.  The Krinkl-O-Tron will take the form of a rear-projected cylindrical cyclorama surrounding the participants. Cycloramas were originally used as early immersive environments, displaying media much larger than conventional display systems would allow. Today there are very few remaining examples in the world of traditional cycloramas, an art form that was popular at the end of the 19th century, before the advent of moving pictures. A "cyclorama" was a cylindrical room or building that featured a painting on the outer wall of the room and the patrons seated (or standing) in the center. The paintings were large 360-degree panoramas that immersed viewers in landscapes and scenes that they would never be able to experience on their own. The cyclorama of The Battle of Atlanta is housed in a specially designed building known simply as The Cyclorama, located in Atlanta’s Grant Park. Painted in 1892, the battlefield depiction stands 60 feet high, with a circumference of 360 feet, occupying over 21,000 square feet of painted area.

As an art form, cycloramas were relatively short lived. Motion pictures played an important role in the decline of the cyclorama, but there were other problems as well. The unusual display room, a need for large numbers of visitors, and high production and transportation costs all contributed to the end of the cyclorama era.2

In the digital age, artists again find themselves attempting to create immersive experiences with media that exceeds the dimensionality of current display systems. Photographer Clifford Ross, disappointed with his inability to capture the true visual experience of his Rocky Mountain vacation using a traditional camera, built his own camera that was 500 times more resolute than any currently available digital cameras. There was no display system large enough to show Clifford’s entire “gigapixel” image at full resolution. What Ross had in mind was a cyclorama—a theatre in the round, which would, he hoped, vastly improve on the one at Epcot, which is over twenty-four years old and, in Ross’s view, “technically very unsatisfying.”3 Ross formed a group of designers, engineers and technicians, who called themselves the Big Picture Summit (BPS), to investigate the possibilities and technicalities of creating large display systems. The group made very interesting points about creating a setting for viewing high-resolution images that also promotes interaction with people, drawing the viewer into the imagery without being impeded by the technology displaying it, and putting the imagery within reach so its various parts can be easily and physically investigated. The BPS also proposed the design for a human computer interface in the form of digital binoculars that extend the visual capabilities of the viewer and expose additional data within the image, at higher resolution, even including text and video. The BPS suggested that the binoculars, in order to be inviting, should be easy to use, ergonomic, and even beautiful.4

BPS’s investigation into large immersive display systems discovered many advantages inherent in the physicality of the cyclorama as well as the importance of hiding the technology from the viewer’s experience. In “Virtual Reality vs. Immersive Environments: Choosing the Right Computer Interface for the Future”, author Victor Lombardi argues that immersive environments have far greater advantages for immersive media interaction than body-worn virtual reality systems. Lombardi states,

“Immersion is an extension of the technique known as information hiding, where computing is done behind the scenes, insulating the user from the computing equipment. The user, by virtue of being inside the computer, does not form the otherwise obvious preconception that he or she is interacting with a computer. The primary functional difference between body-mounted virtual reality schemes and immersive environments is that virtual reality tries to replace conventional perceptual input with alternate, computer supplied perceptual material, where immersive environments endeavor to complement the conventional environment, or at least to replace particular objects and actions within the present environment.” 

 In addition Lombardi adds that technology is always manifested in a physical form and therefore it is necessary to interact with technology in a physical manner.5 In the Krinkl-O-Tron, the cylindrical cyclorama will immerse the participants in the images captured by the slit-scan camera while hiding all obtrusive technology from view. The third component of the Krinkl-O-Tron, located in the center of the cyclorama, is the human-powered carousel. The carousel will provide not only a physical interface device for interaction with the displayed imagery, but also the required electrical power for the installation.

Both human-powered generators and carousels have been prevalent throughout history. Human powered generators are commonly designed to transform the movements of a single person into electricity, usually though peddling or cranking. Carousel-like generators, which have the advantage of utilizing the motion of multiple bodies for the generation of power, have historically been harnessed to beasts of burden to turn the contraption. A recent initiative proposed by PlayPumps International, however, has taken the massive kinetic potential of human-powered carousels and created a playful way of pumping ground water into elevated reservoirs, providing easily accessible clean water for entire villages in Africa. The PlayPumps have already demonstrated their substantial advantage and ease of use over the typical hand pump.6

Examples of human powered carousels can be found in undeveloped parts of the world and at festivals like Burning Man where living “off the grid” requires creative ways to have fun and meet essential survival needs.  Artist like Robert Wechslen, who built a circular bike carousel that seats nine riders, not only created an environment for group participation, but also raised the question of sustainability in art. In the exhibition “Beyond Green: Towards Sustainable Art”, Stephanie Smith compiled work by artists dealing with the questions of environmental impact and sustainable practices throughout the art world. Only a few pieces in the exhibition, however, made limited use of solar and wind power, and none used human power to generate electricity.

In addition to generating the power for the entire Krinkl-O-Tron Installation, the human-powered carousel creates a situation that promotes the ideal interaction for slit-scanning within the cyclorama. The simple design and ergonomics will allow anyone who sees it to understand instantly how it works and be motivated to hop on and begin turning. The vertical posture of the riders corresponds neatly with the vertical scan-line of the slit-scan camera. As the riders spin around within the cyclorama, continuously moving in front of the slit-scan camera, their slit-scan portraits will develop in real-time and dynamically scroll in relation to the carousel’s rotation, resulting in an experience both fun and profound.

Bibliography

1. Levin, Golan, An Informal Catalogue of Slit-Scan Video Artworks, 2005
http://www.flong.com/writings/lists/list_slit_scan.html

2. Roadside Georgia, The Cyclorama
http://roadsidegeorgia.com/site/cyclorama.html

3. Paumgarten, Nick, Bad Ass Camera
The New Yorker, August 21, 2006
http://www.newyorker.com/talk/content/articles/060821ta_talk_paumgarten

4. Ross, Clifford, David Rogers, Carl Diegert, Michael Hawley, Bran Ferren and Eric Rosenthal, Big, Bigger, Biggest: Inventing Systems For Immense Digital Images (and Beyond), December 2004
http://www.cliffordross.com/R1/R1-BPSpaper.html

5. Lombardi, Victor, Virtual Reality vs. Immersive Environments: Choosing the Right Computer Interface for the Future, April 20, 2004
http://www.noisebetweenstations.com/personal/essays/evol_of_tech.html

6. PlayPumps International
http://www.playpumps.org/

Aschauer, Michael, Danube Panorama Project, 2006
http://www.danubepanorama.net/en/Main/About?from=Main.Index

Cassinelli, Alvaro, The Khronos Projector, 2005
Department of Information Physics and Computing
Ishikawa-Nimiki-Komuro Lab, The University of Tokyo
http://www.k2.t.u-tokyo.ac.jp/members/alvaro/Khronos/

Dentzel Dot Com Carousels, Census of Dentzel Carousels
http://www.dentzel.com/census01.htm

Jaschko, Susanne, Space-Time Correlations Focused in Film Objects and Interactive Video
ISEA Papers, Nagoya/Japan, 2002
Cinema.The Cinematic Imaginary after Film. Edited by Peter Weibel, MIT Press, 2003
http://www.sujaschko.de/en/research/pr1/spa.html

Manatee Love Society, Spinning Anemone Carousel
Burning Man Festival, 2001
http://www.burningman.com/whatisburningman/2001/01_art_theme.html#carousel

Rozin, Daniel, Time Scan Mirror, 2004
http://www.smoothware.com/danny/timescan.html

Smith, Stephanie, Beyond Green: Toward a Sustainable Art
Independent Curators International, 2005
http://www.iciexhibitions.org/Exhibitions/beyond_green/Beyond_green.htm#

University of Utah School of Computing, Locomotion Interfaces
http://www.cs.utah.edu/research/areas/ve/Locomotion.html

Wechslen, Robert, Circular Bike Carousel
http://www.robertwechsler.com/thebest.html

Wind Stream Power, LLC, Human Power Generators
http://www.windstreampower.com/humanpower/hpginfo.html