Untitled 5 is part of Camille Utterback’s External Measures series that started in 2001. The works within this series respond to users’ physical movements to create interactive, aesthetic visual pieces. The visual results depend on the amount of people in the space, their position and movements. This iteration of the series outputs an organic-looking, painting-like visual result. The different marks left by the users resemble paint strikes left by physical brushes. The translation from physical movement to visuals is intuitive yet complex and not obvious.
This kind of kinesthetic work is becoming more and more common due to the widespread and open-source “hacking” of Kinect sensors, and the progress and availability of computer vision. However, this specific piece addresses several conceptual ideas which are not always present in this kind of work. The mark left by a previous user might still be present within the composition as a new user is in the process of creating his or her own mark. It is therefore a cumulative and collective participatory piece that creates “time bridges” between different users. On the same canvas, we then have different people, different actions and different times creating a unified composition. Individuals’ agency is also an important part of the piece as users have to the make the decision of either “drawing” on an empty space, or trying to overwrite previous users’ marks. If they choose to do so, the previous marks will be pushed away but slowly return to their original position, leaving trails where they have been pushed to and on their way back to their original position. Complexity and exploration are also key concepts of this piece, as explained by Lisa Dorin:
“Beautifully multifaceted abstract imagery creates and sustains visual interest prompting questions about what the limits of the piece are and how the system functions. These installations reveal their complexities over time. Prolonged engagement encourages a larger examination of the expectations and desires we have of our own bodies as they relate to technology.” Dorin, Lisa. Camille Utterback's Series External Measures
More than ten years later, in 2015, Utterback came up with another project - Entangled - which also uses computer vision to capture users’ movements and translate them in real time into abstract shapes and colors.
Camille Utterback - Entangled (2015)
This work expands from Untitled 5 and now offers a real time cooperation between two users who can “draw” with the same technique at the same time. They both work on opposite sides of a 3-layer semi-transparent screen. The two participants work on their own individual side and drawing but both meet and collide onto each other on the middle layer. Another twist from Untitled 5 is the perceived tri-dimensionality of the piece created by the superposition of layers, breaking away from the flat aspect and one-sided canvas of the previous iteration. Another aspect of Entangled that differs from Untitled 5 is the way other users perceive the other users that they “collaborate with”. In the former version, previous users are represented by the mark they left onto the screen. On the other hand, the latter version makes users have to see each other through the three layers of screens, giving a more human dimension to the collaborative side of he piece. People get too see each other directly as they are creating the piece together. Utter back uses this as an allusion to the way technology-mediated human interaction tends to actually push people apart:
“While the digital screens and surfaces that proliferate in our lives often remove us from our physical environment and the people around us, Entangled reminds us of our embodied relationships, requiring participants to literally view each other through a screen.” Utterback, Camille. Entangled.
This is also a reminder that the physical canvas of the piece is a mutually negotiated space.
Another artist who played with computer vision and body as drawing tool is Golan Levin, andmore precisely through his piece Interstitial Fragment Processor.
Golan Levin - Interstitial Fragment Processor (2007)
The way one can “draw” within this piece is less intuitive however. Users create shapes onto the canvas by creating enclosed shapes with their bodies. These spaces are then drawn onto the piece’s canvas, dropped, and accumulated at the bottom of the frame. This piece also adds a sonic aspect, as each shape creates a specific sound. This piece shares with the other pieces the concept of traces left by users, as accumulated shapes “reveal histories of performance and play”. Unlike Utterback’s pieces, however, the “drawing” here is ephemeral as shapes created by the user disappear from the frame relatively quickly. Therefore, instead of being a long-run collaborative drawing piece like Utterback’s work, Levin’s piece is more of a quick “plug and play” tool, yet technically using similar “drawing tools”.
Ruth and Jake Bloom, Hailey, ID
Henderson Development Corporation, Grand Promenade Apartment Complex, Hong Kong, China
Frist Center for Visual Arts, Nashville, TN. 2013
Haines Gallery, San Francisco, CA. 2013
Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, CA. 2013
Graham Gund Gallery, Kenyon College, Gambier, OH. 2011
Emily Davis Gallery, University of Akron, Akron, OH. 2010
Contemporary Art Center of Virginia, Virginia Beach, VA. 2009
Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee, WI. 2008
The Nelson Gallery, UC Davis, Davis, CA. 2008
Pratt Manhattan Gallery, New York, NY. 2008
Danish Architecture Center, Copenhagen, Denmark. 2007
El Paso Museum of Art, El Paso, TX. 2007
Art Interactive, Cambridge, MA. 2007
La Regenta Gallery, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain. 2006
Real Art Ways, Hartford, CT. 2006
The San Jose Museum of Art, CA. 2005
Transmediale Media Art Festival, Berlin, Germany. 2005
SIGGRAPH Art Gallery, Los Angeles, CA. 2005
Manwaring Gallery, New London, CT. 2005
Grand Central Art Center, Santa Ana, CA. 2005
Benesse Square, Okayama, Japan. 2005
RX Gallery, San Francisco, CA. 2004
Bank Gallery, Los Angeles, CA. 2004
Marlborough Chelsea Gallery, New York, NY. 2004
transmediale.05 Award. 2005