The following is a chronological (oldest to newest) selection of works by artist Chris Welsby who has been making work since the late 60′s and is heavily influenced by Cybernetics, networks and systems.
Welsby considers himself to work primarily with film/video as a medium. His work demonstrates quite well (we don’t usually associate Cybernetics with film) how concepts of Cybernetics (connectivity, feedback, systems etc.) can be employed to influence it in a number of ways during conception, production and exhibition. This trend has evolved throughout his career, initially using external forces from being an influencing factor in the creation of an experimental film (single version) to currently being a live aspect in the creation/exhibition of the work (continually variating versions of the work depending on input) – something now common in new media.
Wind Vane (above) is one of Welsby’s early works which employs the camera as a object, connected to and influenced by external forces (other than the film makers decisions and movements). These tended to be natural forces e.g. wind predominantly. The artist describes the work as follows:
Two cameras mounted on tripods with wind vane attachments were positioned about 50 feet apart along an axis of 45 degrees to the direction of the wind. Both cameras were free to pan through 360 degrees in the horizontal plane. There are three continuous 100 foot takes for each screen. The movements of the two cameras, which were filming simultaneously, were controlled by the wind strength and direction. The sound was recorded synchronously with the picture track and consists mainly of wind noise. Each screen has its own soundtrack when projected.
Seven Days (above) is a stop-motion film compressing imagery and sound from seven days capture into a 20 minute 16mm film.
The seven days were shot consecutively and appear in that order. Each day starts at the time of local sunrise and ends at the time of local sunset. One frame was taken every ten seconds throughout the hours of daylight. The camera was mounted on an equatorial stand which is a piece of equipment used by astronomers to track the stars. In order to remain stationary in relation to the star field, the mounting is aligned with the Earth’s axis and rotates about its own axis at approximately once every 24 hours. Rotating at the same speed as the Earth, the camera is always pointing at the [sic] either its own shadow or the sun. Selection of image, (sky or Earth; sun or shadow), was controlled by the extent of cloud coverage, i.e. whether the sun was in or out. If the sun was out, the camera was turned towards its own shadow; if it was in, the camera was turned towards the sun. A shotgun microphone was used to sample sound every two hours. These samples were later cut to correspond, both in space and time, with the image on the screen…
The final shape of the film is consequently a product of the interaction between the predictable mechanistic nature of technology and the chance-like qualities of the natural world…Seven Days invites the viewer to contemplate the complex relationship between the structures we invent in order to observe the natural world and the structure we perceive as a result of those observations. The resulting sequences of images suggest a relationship between technology and nature based on principles other than exploitation and domination.
Changing Light (above) is an interactive video installation
The installation is comprised of a series of eight, three minute takes of a small alpine lake, all shot at the same oblique angle to the surface of the lake. The water surface fills the frame…Each take, recorded over a period of several hours, depicts the complex variations in the water surface as the breeze rises and falls. The sound mixes the mesmeric sound of water lapping on the lake shore with the distant, and somewhat ominous, sound of a jet aircraft passing high overhead…The image of the lake is projected, via a surface silvered mirror, onto a horizontal screen measuring approximately 10 ft x 9 ft and raised about two feet above the gallery floor. Seen from a distance, the surface of the water appears to be miraculously suspended in mid air. Close up, this rising of the screen gives the water the appearance of having depth.
Viewed from one angle, as the viewer enters the gallery, the perspective of the water surface and the reflected trees makes sense spatially since the viewer’s angle to, and distance from, the water surface is very similar to that of the recording camera. As the viewer moves around the “lake,” however, the spatial coherence is disrupted, since the reflection will not move as they move. The water reflects only the image of the trees and rocks, that surround it, and not the image of the gallery. A close inspection, staring straight down into the water, reveals not the bottom of the lake, or the reflection of the viewer’s face, but only an abstract pattern of light and shade mixing with the electronic components of the video image. It seems that, through the process of representation, the lake has lost its ability to reflect the world around it. But, given time and contemplation, another reading is made possible.
The DVD recording has eight distinct tracks or “chapters” corresponding to the eight takes of original footage. The “chapters” are programmed to alternate in relation to the movement and presence of participant/viewers in the gallery space. In this installation “nature,” as represented by the lake, is not seen to be separate from the technology that re-produces it or the people who observe it. The viewer is invited to participate in a model in which nature and technology are seen to be one and the same thing, inextricably bound together in a playful dance of colour and light.
Tree Studies (above) is a three screen digital media installation.
This Installation is an ‘expanded’ version of “Trees in Winter” and was developed specifically for exhibition in the 2006 Gwangju Biennale in South Korea…The combinations of imagery and sound generated in real time is unique at any given moment and is part of a continuously evolving process fueled by the operating system’s interaction with the planetary weather system. In the sciences, this generation of image and sound is often described as an “emergent” property. “Emergence” is a term used to describe self-organization in all living systems and on a planetary scale this is recognized as the dynamic origin of biological life, cognition and evolution. The weather systems which track across the surface of the planet are likewise described as emergent and are the driving force which fuels all biological life and an integral part of the cosmologies of both the ancient and modern world.
The ‘shape’ of the work, at any particular moment in time, will be governed by the weather systems, which are constantly circling the planet. Just like the trees in the landscape, the representation will change its form and appearance in response to input from the weather. The flickering ephemeral nature of the projected image will combine with the changing winter light to create an uneasy equilibrium between the power and presence of the tree, the transitory nature of the light and the clouds, and human presence in the landscape. The over all feeling of the work will reflect the vulnerability and transitory nature of all living systems.
Drawing on the ancient concept of the earth as a living system, combining the traditional Eastern concept of Yin and Yang and the systems theory from contemporary science the work will suggest a new post Romantic form of landscape art with relevance to the issues of our own times. The installation will use modern high speed communication systems combined with customized soft ware and computer technologies to harness the energy produced by the rotation and tilt of the planet and transform that energy into an open, self regulating and interconnected system. The system will monitor weather data from four different continents, Australia, Europe, North America and Asia, and use this real-time information to edit three files of pre recorded movie footage of a tree seen against the background of a stormy winter sky.
Originally seen as part of the article Technology, Nature, Software and Networks: Materializing the Post-Romantic Landscape in Leonardo, Volume 44, Number 2, April 2011.