Lasers works, 2021-

Sometime between 2010 and 2011 I started a series of animations made of 100 to 400 handmade drawings, digitised and projected in a loop by lasers. They were sequences of abstract doodles almost identical to one another that create the illusion of a single fluctuating form.

After some trial and error, two versions of the lasers were build in order to cheapen and make the technology more versatile than what was available at the time. The first version was based on an outdated open-source project running on a 16-bit PC. The second was built with Kees Reedijk at the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam and included an ILDA capable MP12LX controller with miniSD input, to which we added simple DMX controls for shifting and speed. This version let us play the animation directly out of a box without any computer, making the display and the installation much easier. Later on, the controller was upgraded to connect the hardware via MIDI for external input and audio synching. As of today, the set-up takes advantage of cheap electronics, keeping the experimental nature of these works while using readily available gear.

I wanted to focus on light and time as primary elements of the moving image. The laser was the purest form of light I had access to, and because the strokes we see are optical illusions caused by the rapid movement of a single point of light, it was a simple way to show motion both as a virtue and a caveat of human perception, as the shapes are subordinated to our capacity to see changes in small intervals of time.

Time wasn’t only important for the appearance of individual images, but also for the context of the sequence. The animations run at a frequency slightly too high for us to process, a boundary known as ‘motion fusion threshold’, making stronger the self-similarity between frames, merging them into a single object of perception. Much like in this quote by James J. Gibson in Victor Burgin's Situational Aesthetics (1969): «When the observers attend to certain invariants they perceive objects; when they attend to certain variants they have sensations.»

Concerning space, the pieces were thought as sculptures, since they are the result of a mechanical performance at a given place. Their physicality applies not only to the size and brightness of the projection, but to the presence of the hardware controlling the animation in real-time and the very brain of the viewer, which ultimately creates the mental objects that constitute the image.

Something I found interesting about reducing them to the scope of experience, specifically to human vision, is that the same technology that makes it possible is also hazardous to the eye. In fact, because of the danger of the galvos freezing and concentrating the energy into a single point of light, the projections always have to be placed well above or below the average eye-height, undermining a basic convention.

Thanks to Kees Reedijk from the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten and Joachim Müller for being so involved in the development of the hardware, as well as Maarten Stapper. The project was possible thanks to the early support of Agar Ledo from MARCO and the staff of 1646. Later development was funded by the Stiftung Kunstfonds, Germany.