We spoke to artist Chris Shier about his upcoming project for Façade Festival 2016.
Burrard Arts Foundation: Your existing body of work focuses on the very contemporary mediums of GIF and interactive animation. What do you want our readers to know about these art forms in general, and your work with them specifically?
Chris Shier: What I enjoy most about working on the web, and especially with interactive animation, is returning to the feeling of freedom that once existed online. That you could create a place entirely as you saw fit. As ugly or beautiful or useful or useless as you’d like. We’ve traded that control for convenience with a side of corporate surveillance. Making interactive animation for me has been about carving back something for myself and hopefully being able to provide tools for users to feel free to play and create. And, since the source code for all the works is easily viewable and editable using tools already built in to standard web browsers, anyone can iterate, modify, or remix as much as they’d like.
The GIF seems to be undergoing a redefinition by the main social media channels. Rather than the traditional (now possibly archaic) low colour-depth short animation loops, it is more often used to describe muted video files of indeterminate length. It’s a shame because the original GIF file format provides exact pixel and time precision over how an animation is rendered, while video compression discards as much detail as possible in pursuit of small file sizes resulting in muddy messes. So, what was originally an ideal tool for screen based animation has been drowned out by goofy reaction faces and pratfalls. It is probably too late, but the format deserves eulogizing.*
BAF: What inspires you?
CS: Learning new tools and techniques motivates me most consistently. Beyond that, watching planes at night through venetian blinds. Really though, it’s the work of artists like Andrew Benson, Sara Ludy, Adam Ferris, Sabrina Ratté, Andrej Ujhazy, Ezra Miller, Vince McKelvie, Ricardo Cabello, Jules Welter, Tangible Interaction, Altered Qualia, and so on.
For this project specifically, I have fond childhood memories of visiting Science World and the exhibit where a flash of light leaves a frozen shadow.
BAF: How does working in projection mapping fit into, and contrast with, the work you’ve done in coding and animation before? Much of your previous work has an interactive element – will that be a component of your upcoming project, as well?
CS: I’ve been wanting to work with projection mapping for quite some time now. Façade provides an excellent chance to investigate interaction between the user and the work beyond a web browser interface. Creating work for the web has been an asset, though, in that pieces must be adaptable to a wide variety of dimensions, hardware, and interaction modes (mouse, touchpad, touchscreen, webcam, head tracking, etc).
BAF: Describe your project for Façade. How did you come up with the idea, and what kind of effect are you hoping to have on the viewer?
CS: It is a code-based work with an interactive and a non-interactive element. On the arch and columns a vibrant petri dish based on cellular automata simulated life will ooze and grow, while in the wings and recessed face of the VAG, live video of Robson Street and the audience will be churned through digital feedback effects and projected.
I’m looking forward to people shadow-playing as they realize it’s their own forms and movements being represented on the VAG façade.
BAF: Were there any challenges in this process?
CS: Integrating live web-based works into the projection mapping pipeline, especially when running two in parallel and using webcam input, was the main challenge. Much thanks to Patrick at Go2 for his hard work in that area.
It has also been an interesting process adapting effects originally developed for the one-on-one experience of a webcam and laptop to the scale of half a city block.
BAF: What have you learned about your art through this process?
CS: It has opened my eyes to some of the possibilities and opportunities available when interactive works are moved from the online space into the public urban space. I’d like to explore those ideas further.
BAF: For Façade, we partnered with Go2Productions to bring the festival to life. Go2 specializes in content and installations that marry technology and art – what was it like working with them to complete your vision?
CS: It has been an extremely positive experience working with Go2. I knew going in to the project that there would be technical hurdles to overcome and Go2 have been enthusiastic and adaptable partners in realizing the work.
BAF: How did you come to collaborate with us here at the Burrard Arts Foundation?
CS: Jeff Hamada of Booooooom was kind enough to put my name forward into the nomination process. I should also thank him for pushing me to incorporate interactivity into the Façade festival format.
Chris’s project will be displayed Saturday, September 3rd from 8pm to 12am on the Robson Street side of the Vancouver Art Gallery. His work will also be shown on September 4th and September 5th for the encore and Grand Finale evenings. Façade Festival 2016 runs from August 30th to September 5th featuring the work of Rebecca Chaperon, Barry Doupé, Renée Van Halm, Eric Metcalfe and Chris Shier. Learn more about Façade Festival here and follow online #facadefest @burrardarts.
Text by Genevieve Michaels and Chris Shier