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Video Installations : Watch (1995-2008)
Commissioned for the Info-Art show at the 1995 KwangJu Biennale

  A moment from "Watch:Richmond and Spadina (2008)"

For years I have been constructing artificial perception systems, electronic systems that are able to see. Usually, the actual images are seen only by the system, which replies to what it sees with interpretive sounds or music. While I am continuing to create works in this vein, I have started presenting the live processed images that result from the first levels of these simulations of perception. Due to the nature of the processing, these images already show an interpretive bias; the processing adds weight and apparent significance to the initially banal live video source imagery. To paraphrase a character created by the british novelist Nicholas Mosely, "I don't know how I feel about images but I like the fact that we can see." One of the most striking sensations I have experienced while working with interactive technologies is the sensation of sculpting time itself. When working in more traditional time-based work such as film or video, the artist places events along a linear time line. Because I work with real-time behaviours in my work, I am no longer just positioning events, but defining the texture and flow of time itself. "Watch" is a reflection of such altered experiences of time and movement. While most of my work has involved direct interaction with the audience, in this work, the audience views the world through the distorting surveillance system of the work. The work is live (in real-time), but not interactive.

  A moment from "Watch:Broadway and Houston" at the Holly Solomon Gallery in New York City 1996

In "Watch", public sections of the exhibition gallery or of exterior public space, separate from my installation, are watched by surveillance cameras. These images are processed in real-time and projected onto the wall of the installation space.

The video processes both present distortions of the perception of time. In one, the only things visible are things that are standing still. The effect is that of long-exposure photography, except that the image is truly live, changing subtly at every video frame. People that are moving are blurs or fogs across the image. People that are still are seen clearly.

The second process is the conceptual inverse of the first. People are only visible if they are in motion. They float as outlines of themselves in a dimensionless void, and disappear again as soon as they are still. The two images are projected with the first image beside the second, and with the second image flipped horizontally to mirror the first image.

When the images are in this state, they are mutually exclusive. A person cannot exist in both images at once. The relationship between the two images may in fact be difficult to discern.

In the 2008 version, the processes changed again. One one side, things that are moving are blurred and things that are still are in focus. On the other side, things that are still are blurred and things that are moving are in focus. The motion and stillness sides switch channels at regular intervals, causing a cross-fade in which moving things fade into the future and where fog of motion condenses into visibility.

  Watch at Kunsthaus Graz in 2003

The artwork is a live perceptual filter through which the audience watches. The system has embedded itself into the feedback-loop of perception, transforming the process of looking. What is most interesting to me about this transformation of looking is that it invariably also involves a transformation of the apparent "meaning" of what is being watched. (Next)


"Info Art", Kwangju Biennale, Kwangju, South Korea.

Ottawa School of Art, Ottawa, Canada.
Inter/Access, Toronto, Canada.
Holly Solomon Gallery, New York City, U.S.A.
"Interactive", Salina Arts Center, Salina, U.S.A.
"European Media Arts Festival", Osnabrück, Germany.
"International Symposium of Shadows", London, U.K.

"Impakt Festival", Utrecht, Netherlands.

"Giver of Names", MacDonald Stewart Art Centre, Guelph University, Guelph, Canada.
"Interface", Canadian Museum of Contemporary Photography, Ottawa, Canada.
"Festival International Nouveau Cinéma Nouveaux Medias", Montréal, Canada.
"12emes Rencontres Vidéo Art Plastique, le Centre d'art contemporain de Basse-Normandie, Hérouville, France.

Presentation House Gallery, Vancouver, Canada.

Einbildung, Das Wahrnehmen in der Kunst, Kunsthaus Graz, Graz, Austria

Oakville Galleries, Oakville, Canada

David Rokeby: Silicon Remembers Carbon (retrospective), FACT, Liverpool, UK

Plotting Against Time, Art Gallery of Windsor, Windsor, Canada
Plots Against Time, Pari Nadimi Gallery, Toronto, Canada

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Copyright 2010 David Rokeby / very nervous systems / All rights reserved. 11/25/2010