Every night from 11:57 PM to Midnight, from March 1 to March 31, the sun will rise over a mountain in New York City. Created by Canadian new media artist Lorna Mills, this continuous animated GIF, Mountain Light/Time, appears across 15 electronic billboards in Times Square. A simulated, digital sunrise in the middle of the public intersection seems appropriate, given that the district is essentially a simulation of the New York City that people come to see from across the world.
Mills’ Mountain Light/Time was produced by Moving Image and Times Square Arts as part of a monthly presentation called Midnight Moment, which has previously featured artists including Peggy Ahwesh and Sebastian Errazuriz. The Creators Project had the opportunity to speak with Mills about her stimulating simulation.
The Creators Project: When asked to contribute a work for Midnight Moment, did you know immediately what you wanted to do with the electronic billboards?
Lorna Mills: Kelani Nichole, my gallerist at Transfer Gallery, and I were invited to submit the piece we were showing at the Moving Image Fair for consideration by the selection committee. Since that particular piece didn’t contain the usual internet filth I work with, it seemed like an opportune time to apply. All I really had to consider was how I would handle the vertical screens that are in the mix.
What is it about Time Square that interests you?
I’m focused on the multiple giant screens, more so than the context of Times Square itself. The work shows late at night so a lot of the visual action is the signage, it’s a totally different feeling from Times Square during the day.
Can you talk about the process of creating the GIF?
I work with screen capture GIFs that I find and collect every day. I have thousands from various sources stored on my hard drive. Most of my current work involves altered and collaged compositions of animated GIFs that I have culled from the less refined corners of the internet. Several years ago I got bored by the relentless four edges on my GIFs and wanted to make them occupy a web page in a more interesting way, so I started marqueeing out the backgrounds at right angles, frame by frame. It’s a very laborious process. For this particular piece, the source is a GIF of a mountain sunrise, highly accelerated. I cut out the parts of the landscape that I thought were extraneous to the action of light moving across and down the rock, and added a deep golden color to the negative space.
Why did you want to temporally pair the animated GIF to a long inhalation and exhalation?
Animated GIFs are mercifully short, and loop repeatedly. Personally I’m not interested in perfectly seamless loops, I like looping GIFs with abrupt rhythms that emphasize the jerkiness. To me these abrupt rhythms suggest human vital signs, heartbeats and breathing, so it wasn’t too much of a leap to use that temporal metaphor to accompany a moving image of a mountain.
What do you hope people see and think when they encounter the GIF in Times Square?
Most video works have a beginning and an end, some sort of visual conclusion. My animated GIFs start and stop—that’s a major aesthetic distinction to be made between the two mediums. The unlooped animation I’m showing is only about nine seconds long. The viewers won’t see it end, they’ll see it stopped, suggesting that it was meant to play into infinity.
Lorna Mills' Midnight Moment is organized by Times Square Arts and Times Square Advertising Coalition (TSAC) and will be on display through March 31, 2016. Click here to see more of Lorna Mills’ work.