|© samantha krukowski
presented at siggraph 2002
explore the project alongside the text here
a fold is a transitional space. wherever there is a fold there is a specific moment where one thing becomes another: there is transformation. in mathematics this is a point of inflection. a mirror is a plane of inflection, a surface that simultaneously accepts and rejects that with which it is presented—you give it your face, it offers a distortion. a piece of draped fabric is a surface of inflection—it has multiple folds, pleats of matter with dark recesses and shining surfaces.
folded began over beer, as many projects do. i was sitting with a group of students who, like me, wanted to make something in the aces visualization facility on the university of texas campus. at the time i was thinking about painting, because i was doing a lot of it. i was thinking about the history of painting, about barnett newman’s 1949 proclamation that painting was dead, about the abundance of digital imagery and the way in which technology has so often changed visual and spatial perspectives. i was thinking about the relationship between analog and digital processes and the character of material and immaterial worlds. and i was thinking about the nature of immersion and visualization—not only how they could be achieved given extant and emerging tools, but more importantly what it meant when they were.
we put together a proposal and presented it to the directors of the vislab. by that time our group had grown to include a blind professor who works with interactive technologies and several outside advisors. during our presentation it was clear our proposal was an anomaly; in the end we got keys to the place. but what, exactly, had we gotten keys to? one night we gathered at the vislab to investigate and document the space without activating the machine at its heart. we had so many questions. was this a stage, a theater? what kinds of performances did it support? how did its blueprint relate to its function? what was the history of the shape and scale of screens? how could we manipulate the projectors? in what ways could rear and front projection combine? what were the reasons a facility like this existed? what did it look like brightly illuminated? what did its perpetual darkness convey? what were the potential positions for a spectator? how could the visualization process be mapped? when something was visualized, what was really being seen? we discovered two windows connecting the vislab to an adjacent conference room, windows that suggested a hidden audience. we noted how the the curved screen and rear-projection screens enclosed a central space, creating a structure within a structure, a box within a box. we played with acoustics--the curved screen was a sound conduit when two people on either end of the screen whispered to each other. we listened for sound changes based on location and identified acoustic nodes. someone found lighter fluid hidden underneath the computer terminal. we made physical and virtual models to decode the vislab.
our aim was to get this painting into that space. this is one of a series of paintings i’ve been working on for two years. the images in the series are inspired by a host of sources, some scientific, others cosmological, some historical, others material, some digital, others derived from the act of painting itself. this painting is the painting of derivation. if this painting is the primary source for an immersive environment, then it is an event-scape whose order and components are only suggested by the painting itself. it is a landscape of possibilities—a form field, a material experiment, a background or foreground, a place of play and imagination. not only is the materiality of the painted field interesting --its image, vibrant hues and liquid surfaces. what is increasingly interesting, given the possibilities of expanded visualization sytems, is how a painting might move into and out of itself, towards and away from its material existence, based on what may or may not be found in its home medium.
one night the folded team gathered at my studio to isolate and study hotspots in the painting. photographing the painting distorted it, focused our attention on particular forms and hues, revealed its edges and structure. zooming out increased the pressure of the surrounding context, zooming in increased the evidence of materiality and surface. we studied the architecture of the painting, its canvas skin and its skeleton frame. we tested the tightness and weave of the canvas, the fasteners that penetrate both canvas and frame in order to bind them together, the ground that seals the canvas, the appearance of the paint itself. we built physical models of the hotspots and sent them home with our colleague who could not see the painting. we visualized it for him.
john slatin later wrote about his experience with these models: It's hard to know how to talk about the models I have in front of me. In the old saw about the blind men and the elephant, a group of blind men cluster around an elephant, running their hands over different parts of its huge body. They are unable to reach agreement about what animal it is, unable to construct a description of it: each one knows only what's within the compass of his own hands. No one uses this parable anymore--it's wrongheaded and offensive in its assumption that these men bring no prior knowledge to their task, as if none of them had ever touched an animal before and none of them had ever had the experience of trying to build up a sense of a whole from a scrutiny of parts. But the minute a model was in my hands the other night, the image of that story popped into my head. And the more I ran my fingers over the individual models, the more I felt like one blind man trying to reconstruct the elephant. dr. slatin wrote this about one model in particular: I like this one. It has a kind of pleasing almost rectangular shape, except that there's some little angular point at the "top" end (why do I want this to be the top?). It's about 3 or 4 inches wide at the widest point, I think. Along the right hand side (assuming that the angular "point" is at the top left, that is) there's a kind of key-shaped hole cut into (out of?) the cardboard, an empty space; a lock? but I don't think so. Just to the left of that is a spoon-shaped thing that seems to be glued to the surface of the cardboard, so that it sticks up a ways though it can't be more than 3/8 of an inch or so. Then I notice that there's a similar thing on the other side, as if this solid spoonshaped thing existed on both sides of the plane. And to the left of that is another hollowed-out space, this time with a thin end toward the bottom and widening out toward the top. But I notice that it's not cut all the way through, unlike the first space, the key-shaped thing. So this cardboard has lots and lots of layers, or seems to. Yet I can't read the shapes. Suddenly it occurs to me that these shapes are pretty similar and I run my fingers back over them, trying to tell. I wish I could pull them off and fit them over each other to see what would happen. dr. slatin’s observations inspire consideration about the relationship of part to whole, the nature and construction of direction and position, variations in the perception of scale and dimension based on different sensory input, mechanisms for identification and naming, material recognition, and the relationship between seeing, reading, perceiving and inhabiting space.
ascii painting 0 and 1
the painting became a ground for treatments. here the painting is converted to text. any string of text characters stands in for the imagery but carries the colors of the painting. since any text can be overlayed, the painting becomes a coloring agent for all texts.
ascii painting text
the painting is replaced by letters that, in combination, approximate its forms. the resultant text is simultaneously a text about and text of the painting.
painting and pattern converge. hotspots are applied to simple geometries—there is an increase in dimension and decoration, a declaration of edge and volume.
quicktime vr 1
quicktime vr moves us through the painting for the first time. it falls in on itself, stretches beyond itself, it comes forward and retreats back. the warp and weave of the canvas creates sight lines in this moveable perspectival system.
the painting is converted to grayscale and overlaid with an 8 by 11 grid. the number 88 refers to the number of keys on a piano. the 88 spaces that result produce specific zones of reference for the origination or destination of mined or superimposed elements. the piano is a ghosted layer, an echo in the background with a ready range.
color is banished. the painting is reduced to line and contour. topographies appear, paths wind and extend, scale differences are amplified. this geography demands inventions of orienteering.
from the contour painting, and based on the 88 space grid, 88 shapes are isolated, numbered and repositioned. each of these shapes is identified with one of the gridspaces and believed to inhabit it.
the shapes are activated such that their morphology is numerically progressive, continuous and mutating. one moves to two, two moves to three, but now there are tweens, shapes that emerge from the spaces of transition, loose agents in the folds. if there are forms between one and two, what is between gridspaces one and two? what does the edge there contain?
the shapes are magnified and made into icons. they are letters in an alphabet, notes in a score, characters in a code. what would it be like to write with them, to make sound out of them? this is note one, from the upper left corner of the grid, located in gridspace one. this sound, also located in gridspace one, is one potential rendition of its contour.
note 1 sound
this is note seven, second from the right on the top line of the grid. this is the sound of its traced contours.
note 7 sound
some history. in the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, a tradition of drawn scores emerged in connection with a revolt against traditional and academic composition. drawn scores flourished in connection with Futurism, Dadaism, and Surrealism, where artists often worked with music and its representation. the score began to include not only drawings, but also other forms including artifacts, collages, and typography. some better-known examples of these scores include Erratum Musicale by Marcel Duchamp and the Ursonata of Kurt Schwitters. drawn scores emerged again among the circle of composers and artists associated with John Cage in the 1960’s. the notes you see in front of you, notes 1-10, constitute a very basic drawn score. the score, when played, sounds like this.
notes 1-10 sound
pile of parts
when the painting is reduced to contours, it offers up linear characters or notes. these characters are more easily recognized and isolated when the painting appears as a line drawing, because when it appears as a painting, it offers a surface richness and mutability of form that hinders distinctions of contour. recall the italian renaissance battle between florence and venice, between disegno (drawing, form, clarity, purity) and colore (sensuality, surface, gesture.) line and color, reduction and addition, were placed in opposition, the florentine and venetian camps each claimed superiority for their mode of representation. regardless of one’s position relative to these battle lines, separating out elements in a color field occurs in a looser and less systematic way than in a contour field. this is a pile of free radicals that were physically cut out of a color print of the full painting. they are floaters, not assigned to any particular gridspace, approximations of accumulations in the painting itself. they are unfixed characters, the airstreams of folded.
as such, these free radicals have a very different character than the contour notes, and even when they are stripped of their color they present shapes that are more about mass than embellishment, more about solidity than flourish. they are footprints for itinerant structures, plans for wayward buildings, orbiting agents of a traveling world.
free radical extrusions
it is here that architecture comes into being. walls are constructed, joints and angles are expressed. form is an incentive for building or for vacancy, earth and sky touch structure that connects them. a quote from James Turell is valuable here: "The qualities of inside out and outside in are important in the manner that the boundary of landscape to sky is worked or made malleable. In the end, we are gardening or tending the sky. Making malleable the physical boundaries is analogous to working the boundaries of self. It is unimportant whether the picture plane is passed through physically or merely with the penetration of vision. It is the same quality of border whether accomplished physically or through the sense of feeling that moves out through the eyes. For this reason landscape as allegory for thought becomes this tending of the sky through the shaping of the landscape which borders it. In this sense you are not so much looking into a garden as you are looking out from one."
individual physical extrusions inspire a wholesale virtual extrusion of the painting. the contours are deepened, the distance between ground and sky is increased, the topological map is built up.
city extrusion detail
we go in. we find mazes. where there had been lines there are enclosures. where there had been curves there are arcing walls. where there had been angles there are points and sharp edges.
city extrusion 2
a deeper extrusion reveals the mirage of a city. increased shadow and surface area together yield heavier and more substantial landmarks.
city extrusion 2 detail
and yet, turned another way, this deep city is a city of lace, porous, delicate, easily penetrated. it is a multidimensional cosmos, gravity-less, unbounded but by the base line still left by the edge of the image from which it originates.
new architectures are generated after these extrusions are completed. pods appear, all generated from various combinations and extrusions of the previously isolated contour notes. aviation capsule? filtration system? carnivorous plant?
folded easily spins into productive multiplicity, and mechanisms for structure and synthesis balance wider gestures and intuitive responses. the painting with its overlaid grid of 88 spaces inspires two maps, both of which cut apart the grid spaces and put them back together so the old image of the painting is simultaneously fractured and fully represented. one map marks limits by emphasizing the physicality of the grid. it has wells and highways that anticipate the marks of a cartographic system.
another map is a palimpsest; the ascii painting is its base layer, the painting gridspaces are aligned with another grid defined by alphabetical characters, numbers, and typographic symbols. scattered events take place across the map, connected and disconnected moments.
map detail 1
in the lower left corner there is a pile of contour notes, overlaid, tangled, newfangled string on the line of j between i and k.
map detail 2
in the lower middle a redrawn contour note connects to an extruded form. both are linked by a long diagonal line that reaches across the map from lower left to middle right.
map detail 3
just below this last detail is another, a note turned pier extending into a swath of blue between a question mark and cents.
video also serves as a synthesizing agent for the multiple parts of folded. the video you are about to see is a response to a discussion about the term post-cinematics, which i coined to describe the process and preoccupations of the folded project. post-cinematics anticipates the simultaneous structuration of landscape, architecture, cinema, material field, object and narrative. it is guided by a process that shuns effect and the the spectacle of content by focusing on a series of considered and intuitive, yet derivative and anchored, steps.
ecosystem 4 detail
and so, i am at the end of this sketch. my new paintings are showing the effects of folded, and the notes and free radicals and extrusions and maps are finding their way onto seemingly unrelated canvases. we have much to do and many questions yet to answer, but what you’ve seen is the beginning of a long term investigation.