The Darkest Color Infinitely Amplified: notes for an installation

By Tony Oursler
Published in
Jan. 1, 2000

The Darkest Color Infinitely Amplified notes for an installation by Tony Oursler The over all structure of the work is based on the dynamics of the camera obscure. First documented in china in the 2nd century BC, the camera obscure has closely mirrored our bodies (eyes) and psychics. I view this apparatus a signifier of the relationship between the viewer and virtual representation of experience through virtual image production.The camera obscure is the source of the evolution of mimetic media technology, the phantasmagoria, the camera, cinema, television and in some ways the internet. A physical description of the camera obscure is essentially two spaces one dark and one light, divided by an aperture which allows light to pass or project from the lighted area into the dark chamber where a virtual moving image of the lighted space can be seen. This installation is inspired by the metaphors of dark and light implied by this system.

As light passes through the aperture representation is separated from reality and a mimetic play-space is created for the viewer to test their positioning in a world system. The way a viewer codes and decodes within this play-space reveals as much about the viewer as it does about our world.

While working with DMA I noticed the similarity between their invention and the camera obscure which consists of a patented apparatus which projects images of video or objects through an aperture into space where they seem to hover in midair. In this installation the formal element of the aperture as divider between virtual play-space and the viewer is emphasized by the emanation of images from a 5 ft hole at one end of the room. A classic light cone spreads from the aperture envelopes the viewer in virtual or media perspective.

A mosaic of separate video images float from the aperture creating one segmented image and alternately fracturing into many.These images will use the form of a composite visual test to directly involve the viewer in coding and decoding images. For example instructions for the production of standard media special effects such as smoke, fire, and explosions act as a media culture ink blot test. Demonstrations of classical make-up techniques of archetypal figures such as devils and angles are presented as well as pseudoscientific tests of the afterimage effect based on the work Jan Purkinje in the 1820's. Also included are references to important visual experiments such as Goethe's account of the visual experience of a dark room after his instructions for the sealing of the aperture, locating perception with the subjectivity of the viewer. He writes in Theory of Colors :

The hole being then closed , let him look towards the darkest part of the room; a circular image will now be seen to float before him. The middle of the circle will appear bright, colorless, or somewhat yellow, but the border will appear red. After a time this red, increasing towards the center, covers the whole circle and at last the bright central point. No sooner, however is the whole circle red than the edge begins to be blue, and the blue gradually encroaches inwards on the red. When the whole is blue the edge becomes dark and colorless. The darker edge again slowly encroaches on the blue till the whole circle appears colorless.

Finally the computer is depicted in this installation by the duality of digital space, its essential binary code, zero and one, continues the metaphor of good and evil into cyber space. The internet, a new portal into the domestic arena has evoked images great riches and information as well as those of the malevolent hacker and sexual predator. The numeric code of computer graphics are made visual and stream through the installation. The technology of zero and one, yet again inspires a magical response from the public and in this installation, is demonstrated to be an extension of conjuring techniques; which have been historically linked to virtual play-space. Now you see it.. now you don't! The figure of the magician can be seen a bridge between mythic representation of icons of good and evil and contemporary gothic entertainment. Magic also played a part the technological development of the early tools of cinema and populates some the first reels ever produced. Two magicians, The Astonishing Velma Queen of illusions and Steve Rodman Bewitching Magic were videotaped for this installation. As their performances are altered through standard special effects of slow motion and reverse-action gestures take on new meanings. By deconstruction the tools of media and magic the viewer is invited to position themselves in the endless system coding, decoding and recoding.

In the age of spectacle the struggle to assign meaning to the endless procession of images and the technology which presents them the viewer may morally polarize elements of the system. Claims of good and evil have always accompanied the development of any technological innovation. Regardless of the source of spectacle; TV, hollywood, or the internet these mimetic systems can be seen as amplifiers of human drives and as site of psychological projection on the part of the viewer. The personification of fears, as in the appearance of the devil in relation to the evils of technology. Technology can be seen as the fear of the unknown and thus as a mirror of the viewers fear of their own potential. In this installation I trace this human tendency throughout a loose media time line. Early graphic representations of the camera obscure often included depictions of demons, I used these images as a starting point in the popular depiction of the devil. From these simple horned figures, with the help of glass artist Jonathan Christie, I have create transparent hand blown glass devils which act as sculptures as well as lenses for this installation. These glass figures are also mapped into a computer graphics system and animated to be included in the installation.

The virtual video images are combined with the glass sculptures to be projected, by the DMA technology through the aperture of the camera obscure into the gallery space. These images optically change and distort as the viewer moves through the space. The projected elements of the installation counter pointed by real sculptural objects throughout the space. These objects include references to optical and electronic apparatus such as colored glass lenses, photo electric cells, a talking devil which incorporates video projection to present a poetic and humorous interpretation of the media entity of personified evil.