AV Case Study: Works of Nature, ACMI
Marshmallow Laser Feast’s ‘Works of Nature’ is a collection of large-scale and interactive works that epitomise the best of immersive experiences.
Text:/ Christopher Holder
Using technology to get more in touch with nature is, ‘by nature’, paradoxical. But for the current generation of artists, technology isn’t an option, it’s in their DNA. But so is the innate human desire to connect with something bigger and, perhaps, something transcendent.
Marshmallow Laser Feast is the name of an artist collective that produces digital work with the aim of revealing interconnections between us, nature and the cosmos. Often these works are interactive, combining large-scale projection, sensors, and immersive audio.
ACMI in Melbourne is the first gallery in the world to curate a full-blown Marshmallow Laser Feast exhibition – four of the five major works are digital… and there are no physical objects.
“That’s a first for ACMI,” comments Keri Elmsly, the executive director of programming at ACMI, whose job it is to ensure ACMI’s output matches the break-neck speed of change in the screen culture it’s tasked to represent. “One of the goals is to see the program evolve. To get there, we need to stretch our technical capabilities, allowing our in-house team to learn with the artists we engage with. The more ambitious we become, the more ambitious the artists and collectors we work with will become. It’s a virtuous cycle of innovation.”
ACMI did, indeed, stretch its technical capabilities. For starters, Marshmallow Laser Feast’s technical rider required 4K projection. Glenn Willey, ACMI’s Exhibitions Technical Manager, explains the technical challenge and how it was met: “The scale of everything in the exhibition is a standout. The scale required some specific lenses. Moving into 4K territory was new for us and meant engaging with Panasonic to acquire new hardware.
“The Panasonic projectors are a brand new stock item, which is exciting because you have all the new bells and whistles and the exciting new features. But they weren’t officially released, so we were especially reliant on Panasonic to confirm throw calculations and the like.”
LASER PROJECTION FEAST
Works of Nature uses five 4K 1-chip DLP laser projectors from Panasonic’s new PT-REQ Series. Being laser, the projectors are just as happy being mounted in a portrait orientation as landscape, point up or down.
“We’d done some portrait projection in the past,” continues Glenn Willey, “but it was always using mirrors to rotate the image. Even still, Works of Nature is at a totally different scale and meant we had to come up with different projection rigs. We engaged Visual Fidelity which provided us with with those solutions. We also got to use a couple of Panasonic’s brand new ultra short-throw lens. The Journey of Breath projection is a good example. The ceiling projection has a diameter of eight metres with a throw distance of four metres. Distortions in Spacetime is another example – we’ve got a 6m-wide image from under two metres, which is just incredible.”
The new lenses arrived just in the nick of time – fast tracked from the Panasonic factory floor to ensure the Works of Nature exhibition preparations weren’t unduly delayed.
We’ve exhibited all around the world, but never at this scale
4K OR 4:3
For computer-generated animations, such as those produced for Works of Nature, 4K makes a lot of sense – there’s detail for days, even at scale.
“Having 4K projectors makes a lot of sense for us,” says Glenn Willey. “Increasingly the creators are asking for it and it doesn’t stop us displaying legacy content, even 4:3 content. It was a good opportunity to upgrade.”
Marshmallow Laser Feast delivers its content in 4K ProRes format, which is obviously bandwidth heavy – in fact, too heavy for its usual go-to media players which likes its 4K content to be compressed. Instead, Glenn and his team had to turn to NUC-style computers to take care of delivering the content. QLab controls the cues.
The Works of Nature exhibits are intended to instil awe in the viewer, and bigger is mostly better for ‘awe’. ‘Bigger’ is also better for visitors to share an experience – and these large-scale Marshmallow Laser Feast works can be shared by a room full of people.
Ersin Han Ersin is a Marshmallow Laser Feast director and represented the collective for the rollout and launch of the exhibition: “Without doubt, virtual reality is currently the most immersive media, but it’s for individuals. The idea of catering to a larger group and collectively experiencing media is powerful. Seeing others interact, feeling your own agency in interacting with it, and sharing an experience or an epiphany is the best we can hope for – for Marshmallow Laser Feast, which itself is a collective, it’s what we’re all about.
“We’ve exhibited all around the world, but never at this scale – never in a gallery at such scale containing this many of our artworks with one coherent narrative. It’s incredible. It’s been a real privilege to work with this large team of people at ACMI who are very specialised in their fields all focussed on bringing the best out of the artworks for the audience, and creating a coherent journey without diluting the meaning of every piece as one unified journey. I think we accomplished something quite extraordinary together with them.”