Soft Rains is an installation that includes 7 different tables topped with varying miniature sets, much like one would see accompanying a model train set, that are watched over by several micro-cameras and lights, attached to moveable arms. These sets are comprised of model houses, people, vehicles, and foliage. The only consistent feature between each, tiny set is a solitary, model-woman in a red-painted dress.
There are over 50 cameras and lights present in this installation. Each of the cameras are trained on certain “scenes” or angles of a scene on their respective table-top or set. The live footage is transmitted to a central computer that controls editing. This editing program allows for these stationary scenes to come alive; though none of the models move; jump-cuts, cross-fades, and transitions allow the viewer to imagine narrative and movement.
Each of the sets represents a different genre and time period of film: Horror, French New Wave (homage to Jean-Luc Godard), Action, (particularly James Bond), and Film Noir. Film is a large part of the McCoy’s body of work. They discuss this in an interview with New York Magazine, “Our take is a little different in that we’re not making continuous spaces, but different spaces in proximity to each other, and the technology of film stitches them together.” Berwick, Carly (2005, Jan. 3)
When looking at the work conceptually, one can see that the McCoys are trying to answer the question, “How do we make sense of a world that subjects us daily to a barrage of different technologically processed versions of reality?” Johnson, Ken (2004, Jun. 4) Scenes are witnessed from varying angles and times and create a different story dependent upon how, when, and where things are viewed. With the randomization of which shot the viewer witnesses, we can come to a different conclusion about what is taking place in each scene. Consider if we are shown the woman in the red dress, a car, then back to the woman? It would be fairly obvious to think that she is considering taking a drive. But if the computer had shown these in a different order and added a different image into the mix, the audience could draw a completely different conclusion. The framing of the camera/editing software is dictating the narrative. This can be distilled down to the idea that through the filter of technology, we experience the world in a totally different way than we would from our own perspective.
That being said, this work primarily focuses on time and the building of meaning through narrative. Each vignette the viewer is shown is viewed as a piece of this story and can be constructed into a narrative. The order of the shots is irrelevant if the viewer is willing to grant new meaning when they are put into a different order. The McCoys point out what in cinema is a construction and show the viewer how the magic we see on the screen is made. This is a deconstruction of the fantasy world represented by movies.
Ken Johnson for The New York Times discusses the work:
“If this all sounds confusing, it is, and you may spend much time just trying to figure out what is going on. The gee-whiz factor is not as great as you'd expect given the technological ingenuity that has gone into it; indeed, it all seems oddly primitive. But it is still an engaging show, and what it suggests about the fragmentation and multiplication of reality by technologies of representation is worth pondering.” Johnson, Ken (2004, Jun. 4)
Actor, Bill Paxton discusses his purchase of one of the McCoys’ scenes:
“It appealed to me in its theatricality and originality. In my work, miniatures are still used—even though CGI is taking over—going back to Aliens and pictures like that. It’s an old Hollywood craft that the McCoys are using. The illusion of perspective and the framing of the master and close-up—the way you see it happening in real time is like a mini-education in filmmaking.” Paxton, Bill via interview with Carly Berwick (2005, Jan. 3)
Playing off of what Bill Paxton discusses in the quote above, the McCoys utilization of miniatures is a very beautiful and interesting way to portray concepts related to how we interact with the world of technology. This work gives the viewer a way to compare their experience with television and film and how it frames how we perceive things. The further we dive into the age of technology, the less we spend on understanding how our world views are affected by how we choose to experience our environment.
Soft Rains is comparable to the McCoys’ recent work Northwestern Passing, as they both deal with perception. Though they are vastly different in how they are viewed, both pieces question what is actually occurring in reality; in Soft Rains, the viewer witnesses a random sequence of vignettes picked by technology. In the work Northwestern Passing, the viewer is again given information seemingly arbitrarily put together and then presented as fact.
For the performance of Northwestern Passing, several different actors were selected by the McCoys to give a gallery tour of a collection of famous Northwestern paintings. Their role was to tell the audience what they understood was happening in each of the works. The setting and manner in which the information is provided creates trust in the audience; they believe what the tour guide tells them even if what they are saying is manufactured nonsense. These tour guides “passed” as experts on the subject.
Soft Rains and Northwestern Passing were related in this way; the viewer is given visual and audio cues to take the information provided to them and create a truth, or what the information given seems to be telling them is the truth.
This work can be contrasted with Tony Oursler’s Guilty from 1995. In this work, a mattress rests atop a head shaped pillow that is attached to a dress, all of which are resting on the floor. Projected onto this head-shaped pillow, is a woman’s face. She yells at the viewer, “I know what you wanna do!”
Both Soft Rains and Guilty have a strong connection to memory; while the former reminds the viewer of classic cinema, Guilty brings to mind memory of confrontation. Both create a space to inject memory; while Oursler conjures unpleasant, realistic memories, the McCoys remind us of theatrical film, one’s escape from reality.
Documentation of Guilty, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago:
Soft Rains has been shown at these locations:
- Land-E-Scape, 2005, Postmasters Gallery, New York, NY
- Soft Rains, 2004, Postmasters Gallery, New York, NY
- Learning to Watch, 2004, Sala Rekalde
- Robot Films, 2003, FACT Centre
- Soft Rains, 2005, The Joseloff Gallery
- Soft Rains, 2003, FACT Centre