I was lucky enough to attend a drop in at the V&A Museum where one of the leading UK digital artists, Susan Collins, gave a talk about her work. She works in both gallery, public and online spaces, and for the last few years she has been working on a series of extremely long digital exposures, which are built up pixel by pixel over the course of a day. She calls them Time Landscapes.
A pixel is scanned from a 320*240 webcam image and sent to write over a live image in a gallery or online inexorably updating. The position of the next scan is advanced left to right, top to bottom – a second passes – and the next pixel is captured. It takes 76800 of these seconds (or 20.33 hours) to send an entire picture. Images are regularly saved into an archive. And so it goes. Collins has left cameras in situ for over a year and described the difficulty of searching through hundreds of thousands of screen dumps for something unexpected.
The three images below are from May, August and December 2005 from a piece called Glenlandia. The view is of a Scottish loch which although looking pretty natural is actually a man-made lake servicing a hydro-electric dam. The black bands on each image represent night-time. The differing thickness vividly showing the different length of the day at different times of the year. The way in which the winter day briefly looms through the darkness is concisely demonstrated. When she first saw the middle image she didn’t understand what the white smear across the black was, but soon realised it was a sketchy long exposure of the moon scrawling across the night sky.
Glenlandia (May 2005)
Glenlandia (August 2005)
Glenlandia (December 2005)
The ability to reveal new ways of seeing the familiar is what fascinates Collins about using new technology, although she is keen to avoid common tech strategies. The idea initially came about as an attempt to transfer an image using the tiny amount of bandwidth left over from a full screen live video conference which Transported Skies between Cornwall and Sheffield. Pragmatically one pixel per second was chosen – and in that simple decision a new art work was born which would over the years create millions of images of landscapes, seascapes, cityscapes and even ghostscapes.
The picturesque blandness of the chosen landscape lends itself to the ‘dumb looking’ web camera and the painstaking accretion of image. Yet despite all this limitation the set up still caters for an unexpected combination of pixels – and an occasional alchemy of information.
You can read all about this piece and others on Susan Collins website.
All images copyright Susan Collins 2005-7 not to be used or reproduced in any form without prior permission from the artist.