The Celebration by Iris Piers

A Chamber of Dreaming

Dutch filmmaker, and resident in Sweden, Iris Piers has constructed, in the large dark multi-screen space provided for her by HUMlab at Umeå University, a visual and aural environment where visitors play with, watch and are watched by filmed subjects celebrating.

According to the description that accompanies the work, The Celebration “combines a circular display of flatscreens, reminiscent of a giant zoetrope, containing amateur film footage from the 1910’s-1940’s with different soundscapes that can be manipulated by the audience” (Piers).

How the audience manipulates the various audio and images, and how they combine to create an interactive and immersive space, makes The Celebration an engaging work of interactive digital art.

The visitor enters a darkened space, where the only available light comes from the 10 screens showing the films of The Celebration. By moving around the space and judging their own distance, speed of movement, posture and height in relation to the (largely invisible) Arduino trackers, a dance begins with the audio and the cracked black and white images from almost a century ago.

Each of the screens that make up The Celebration has an Arduino tracking sensor attached, which maps the movements of the body of a visitor, and implements pre-programmed changes in the presentation of images and sound.

Unknown faces stare out from the screens, mostly laughing, talking (unheard) and often looking straight at the camera, and at the audience. As these faces watch, the visitor dodges and weaves, hops and slides, while the images and sounds change. At the same time the visitor is watching the faces, along with their bodies, their families and friends, competitors at sports events and classmates, neighbors and colleagues. It is according to this arrangement that a circuit of movement and gaze is achieved by the programming of The Celebration.

Thus a third, mixed-reality, space is created through the interactive possibilities granted by the combinations of the darkened, cave-like chamber, the large (42”- 250”+) screens in a surround formation, the pervasive and hypnotic audio soundscape, and the unseen tracking by the Aruino devices.

Memories you have never had, and a sense of nostalgia that ends when you leave the chamber result from the immersive experience of The Celebration. Such sensations are consistent with dreams. In dream states voluntary consciousness melds with our deepest sense of awareness. The traces of experience, the fears and desires, and the memories we retain (or bury) are brought to the experiential surface. In The Celebration images of archetypal situations (birthday parties, family gatherings, sports events), weave around the visitor, immersing him in an imagined past that is media.

While Piers acknowledges some debt to the material beginnings of film culture, particularly the mechanical chambers of the zoetrope, the experience of The Celebration provides us with something more digital than filmic. The visitor dances with the work, moving their body according to the invisible lines of the Ardunio trackers.

The visitor to The Celebration is not just a viewer; she is part of the sequence of representation. A dream-like experience results, similar to the dreams of the recent film Inception (2010), where control is not totally given over to the dreamers, and agency is manifest according to the skillful architecture of the work.

James Barrett


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