Discours_Project [3]:

DRIFTING SAND - memory of three hundred years

- a multi-screen interpretation


The media-artist was given the opportunity to create a multi-screen show about the history of the drifting sand through three hundred years. It was not the factual story that should be told in a documentary way but as the client explicitly said it was the media-artists task to produce a  “... poetic and evocative interpretation of the cultural history of the drifting sand through more than 300 years.”

The context for this poetic and evocative interpretation in a multi-screen show was a new nature centre placed in the northern part of Denmark called Han Herred. In the description of the script for the whole exhibition the goal for this centre was presented as:

“The Han Herred Nature Centre is the central starting point for the experiences in Han Herred's natural- and cultural landscape. Here you get an introduction to this part of the country and an overview of whath things you can see and do in the area. The target group is the holiday visitor and the residents in all age groups but especially those who want to do something together with their children.”

The centre presents a walking through the various types of nature by representations, video, sound, and experiments with great focus on the children and on activities. When the visitor has walked through this 500 square meter exhibition space, they end up in what was the former bank box in the renovated bank building used for the new centre. Here we find the room where the architect and the media-artist start deciding on the physical frame of the multi-screen show.

The interaction of the audience
The final idea for the physical room and the placement of the multi-screens was developed with the spectator in mind. The metaphor that occurred was that of the tennis-match-spectator.When the spectator had walked into the 6 x 9 meter dark room s/he was invited to sit down on the spectator seats along the long wall. From this position the spectator could now look at the four 2 x 2 meter screens that is placed in front of her four meters ahead. This means that she can’t see all the four screens at the same time – or more correctly – that with her eyes' peripheral field she can notice that something is changing but she can only focus on one or two screens at a time. This is where the metaphor comes in because the spectator needs to move her head following the changes on the multi-screens and to change her focus field accordingly [Ill 1].

Drifting Sand model

Ill. 1: The spectator cannot see the four screens clearly but can orient herself by using her peripheral field of vision. When something happens in the room she can move her head and focus with her eyes on one or two of the screens. Those bodily movements have similarities to the tennis match spectator. See the video-clip with the Documentation from the actual site.

This thinking about interaction in a very bodily and physical way had a huge influence on how the whole multi-screen show could be developed. The media-artist very early in the process comes across the word cartoon. He clearly see the four square screens as a comic strip and in the comic strip the story told develops in this fixed format from a starting picture, a development of the story and then ending with a picture with some kind of closure (McCloud 1993). The spectator is looking at the comic strip in a rather fixed way: starting from the left and going to the right following the ordinary reading direction.
But the media-artist is not making comic strips! His multi-screen show has no speech balloons and instead the pictures are accompanied, contrasted and expanded by the use of a constructed sound. The media-artist becomes inspired by breaking the ordinary reading direction because he is not following a strict storyline but has got the task of making a poetic, evocative and interpretive show. And he is inspired by the much talk about interactivity of the spectator.
The comic strip is the four frames and that is it. But the multi-screen show has duration over time, and the one strip with the four frames is a continuous and changing visualization, which is still photos but which is also, through dissolving between the pictures, creating something new that is special for the slide show namely the so-called ‘third picture’. One can also see the continuity and dissolving of still photos as a kind of video-like movie.
The media-artist felt free to invent a special idiolect to examine and express the poetic complexity of the drifting sand. The media-artist starts making sketches of the movements between the four frames and also between the sequences that followed each other in the narrative structure [Ill. 2].


Ill 2 – The media-artist developed a terminology to get an idea of how rich an idiolect it was possible to develop. The Panorama of for example a landscape could be four pictures that were turned on successive one by one in a movement from left to right – but it could also be the opposite way around. From the right to the left. See the Reconstruction of the multi-screen show.

The media-artist digs deeply into the research material, and it becomes clear that the problematic is double: how to tell the story of a local environmental catastrophe and its influence on the people living in time and places through more than 300 hundred years? – and: where are the pictures in this story?

The four framings
The media-artist had found this project so interesting that he had archived much of the research material, he had recorded videos in the bank box at the actual site at the day of the official presentation, he had archived the various scripts and there developments, some of the correspondences with the people involved, his blue notebook with all the addresses and ideas for visualizing the multi-screen show, many variations of the architects drawing of plans and space… - so the material for the analysis here has been broad.
He must have kept so much in his archive because there was something of interest that was more than just another piece of work. He had been wondering about the process and the piece, and he ran across the book of the Mexican poet Octavio Paz where he reflects upon how the language of the poem is everyday language, yet that everyday language says things quite out of the ordinary. This revealed the media-artist:

“The relationship of poetry to language... in the poem - a verbal crystallization - language deviates from its natural end, communication. (Paz 1995:4).
Words do not say the same things as they do in prose; the poem no longer aspires to say, only to be. Poetry places communication in brackets... (Paz 1995:5).
Later, when we have overcome our amazement... we discover that the poem presents us with another sort of communication, one governed by laws different from those that rule exchange of news and information.” (Paz 1995:5).

The media-artist was struck by the thought of placing communication in brackets – and the powerful saying that the poem no longer aspires to say – only to be; thinking that the very strong semiotic bond between the photograph and indexicality has been so strongly underlined because of this thinking in terms of communication.
In the process of production the media-artist had his severe crises but in the archive this thinking about placing communication in brackets and more seriously looking at the multi-screen show in terms of being and thereby in the field of an artwork does not seem very dominant. In the day-to-day practice he seemed rather convinced that he was on the right track and that his unformulated concept of poetic and lyric interpretation was sufficient for him to act adequately.
His anchor in this fairly ambiguous situation was his trust in his own resources – but more concrete: he must reduce the possible amount of information he meets in the written research material and in the physical meeting with the landscape and the human beings. His most important anchor was making frames, obstacles and limitations restricting what he could practice. This well-known experience of creativity is that the ideas, concepts and new innovations develop more powerfulyl with some degrees of limitations and frames.

“Framing… is a result of our desire to organize our experiences into meaningful activities. Following the ancient Greek saying that the man who sees everything is blind, it can be claimed that frames, by directing our focus, makes us notice what is important, therefore ensuring that frames, by directing our focus, makes us notice what is important, therefore ensuring clarity and simplicity in the definition of the situation.” (Misztal 2003:82).

For the media-artist the development of the more rigid frames that could help him towards innovative and surprising ideas and concepts led him into the four main frames like: space, metaphor, time – and production technique.
The first framing was the physical space: In collaboration with the architects the former bank box (6 x 9 meters) was developed with the four-screen each 2 x 2 meter on one long side of the room. This frame served as a very productive catapult for developing visual ideas and constructing the narrative of various picture resources and construction of sound. This framing immediately involved the spectator in seeing her- or himself sitting on the stairs-like seats at another long side of the room with a distance of four meters to the multi-screens and was transformed into what the media-artist called ‘a-tennis-match-spectator’.  
The second framing was the metaphor of the comic strip: This frame was a way of anchoring the development of the visuality in what the media-artist called the ‘single strip’ and the relation between the around seventy strips. This framing was extremely provocative and the media-artist felt he was inventing something quite new in this field of projection and narration. He took the metaphor of the comic strip and twisted it and transformed it into pristine fields.
The third framing was time: It was determined from a spectators point of view that the multi-screen show had to be under eight minutes long. That was one sort of time framing. But the time framing was very decisive in the production process where there were very strict deadlines for the research, the script, the photographing on the spot, the picture research, the scanning of slides, the digital manipulation, the new script, the sound production, the shooting of the digital images to slides, the control impulse… all within two months.
The fourth framing was the production technique: on the visual side the chosen very grainy film for the slides, the selection of scanning the slides into digital images to be photoshoped, and then regenerate as slides placed in eight Kodak Carrousels and controlled by dissolve control units. The sound-scape digital recorded and manipulated in the mixing process from various sound-creating objects. 
The four framings were obstacles for the media-artist and at the same time his preparation to meet the unexpected gifts from the detour there were in the production process.
The multi-screen show no longer aspires to say, only to be.

McCloud, Scott (1993): Understanding comics. The invisible art, New York: Harper Perennial.
Misztal, Barbara A. (2003): Theories of Social Remembering, Maidenhead: Open University Press.
Paz, Octavio (1995): The Double Flame: Love and Eroticism, Orlando: Harcourt Brace & Company.

Production team:
The multi-screen show for Han Herred Nature Centre was produced by Bruno Ingemann / Communication. Script, photography and photoshoping by Bruno Ingemann. Specialized consultant was Hanne Mathiessen. Music by Christian Glahn. Sound studio with Henrik Øhlers. Programming by Nicolai Vestergaard-Hansen. Digital pictures shot as analogue slides by Colorgruppen.




A deep analysis of the creative process in the production of this multi-screen show will appear in Ingemann, Bruno (2012): Present on Site. Transforming Exhibitions and Museums, Lejre: VisualMemory Press.