Lucy Raven is an artist living in New York. Her site-specific installation Tales of Love and Fear—which consists of a custom-built rig of rotating platforms, a stereoscopic photograph split between two projectors, and sound based on field recordings made in India—was commissioned by the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, and will be presented there on Friday, February 27, 2015 at 8 PM.
TALES OF LOVE AND FEAR is a cousin of Curtains, a work I finished a couple of months ago that uses a similar anaglyph technique of separating right eye from left. Curtains is a fragmented portrait of the work that goes into making Hollywood’s 3-D blockbusters, a process that, as it has shifted from production to postproduction with the disappearance of celluloid, has created a global visual effects assembly line, where one film is broken up and sent piecemeal to the lowest bidder, then composited, or reassembled, back in Los Angeles. All visual effects are achieved painstakingly, frame by frame. 3-D conversion is especially labor intensive, as it requires the digital creation of a synthetic second-eye view for every frame in the film. Big-budget films—what the people in Curtains are working on—get distributed on identical hard drives to movie theaters all around the world. You can see Superman in 3-D in Beijing or London or Omaha or Kuala Lumpur, and you’re watching identical files played in megaplexes outfitted with a thousand new features that adhere to Digital Cinema Package, or DCP, standards.
While doing research for Curtains I was also writing a series of illustrated lectures. One of these, Low Relief, focuses on a formal relationship between bas-relief carvings and 3-D images. In that talk, I look at different histories of bas-relief carvings in the US and in India—and each culture’s history of depicting spatial depth—as a way to discuss Hollywood’s outsourcing of the work converting films to 3-D, a process that’s high tech, but also on some level artisanal, done by hand, and subjective. After trips to postproduction studios in Chennai, Mumbai, and Trivandrum, I went to central India to visit some of its oldest rock-cut temples. I came to feel that I was doing very deep background research, examining these ancient reliefs that emerged from the same geography where 3-D images are now being made in virtual space. There has always been a desire to see behind the flat image.
In a way, if Curtains is about labor then Tales is about relief. I mean bas-relief but also relief from work, and a real enjoyment in watching movies. When I started talking to Victoria Brooks, the curator at EMPAC, about what I could do there, I said I was interested in creating a unique instance of cinema. A cinema made for a single film, which contains a single image. I took a lot of 3-D stills on my trip to the ancient caves and temples, and in a way the one I chose isn’t anything special. I like that there’s no figure in it and I was very drawn to the architecture in this image, which rhymes with the columns in the concert hall at EMPAC. I consider Tales to be as much a movie as it is a kinetic sculpture performing the architecture of the theater it is in. I worked in collaboration with EMPAC’s genius production team on the concept and design of the rig, and with a very talented composer, engineer, and producer, Paul Corley, on the sound. The sound, based around field recordings I made during a horror film I went to in Mumbai, takes advantage of the incredible acoustic possibilities in EMPAC’s concert hall.
Despite what Oliver Wendell Holmes says in “The Stereoscope and the Stereograph” about the verisimilitude of the stereo photograph, you are not seeing into infinite depth with 3-D. The illusion works best when it is shallow; often that’s when you’re really grabbed by the solidity of forms within it. When I started looking back to the earliest patents for 3-D, I saw that many of them spoke about the illusion created in terms of relief. As it turns out, the etymology of anaglyph is from the ancient Greek for “work in low relief.”