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Get Lost In These Urban Kaleidoscopes

For "Citysphere," artist Eric Corriel takes live street footage and maps it onto a rotating sphere.

by DJ Pangburn
Sep 26 2014, 8:50pm

Images courtesy of the artist

How do we find beauty in the urban environment? Some do it by striking out on aimless strolls, letting the city bend their minds until their minds bend the city right back. Others opt for food and drink-fueled adventures. For those attending the DUMBO Arts Festival this weekend, New York-based interactive artist Eric Corriel's new installation Citysphere will attempt to answer this question—by turning the city on its head.

Citysphere explodes into viewers' consciousnesses with innate kaleidoscopic beauty. “Let’s say for argument’s sake that you believe the veins of an ordinary leaf or the crystalline structure of a snowflake can be said to be beautiful,” Corriel told The Creators Project via email. “If that’s true, then maybe one way to reveal an object’s beauty is to zoom in and focus on its underlying structure. Could that same principle be applied to the urban environment to reveal its underlying beauty?”

Following this line of inquiry, Corriel suggested we imagine a mundane excerpt from the urban environment, and really zoom in on it. What would it look like? “What if we treated ordinary sidewalk activity like the vein of a leaf as a fundamental building block, and multiply it many times, each time altering it just slightly?” He asked. “Could the whole be greater than the sum of its parts? And would the whole be beautiful? I wanted to find out.”

Corriel's answer took the form of Citysphere, which he describes as an “interactive urban kaleidoscope, reflecting the activity of environment in real-time." For Citysphere, Corriel uses a MiniDV from 1999 (ancient, by current standards) to feed imagery into a 2011 MacMini running custom software developed in 2014. “The reason for the 15-year old DV camera is that, believe it or not, I find it the best and cheapest way to get a quality video feed into a computer for real-time manipulation,” Corriel said.

“Why not use a webcam? Because webcams suck,” he added. “Okay, they don’t totally suck, but their lenses are generally made of cheap plastic and don’t perform well in low light, and you can’t attach a wide angle lens to them; and depending on your hardware it might not be possible to process an HD video stream in real time.” These old cameras satisfy Corriel's need for outdoor-based creative applications that can run 24/7. Some 15-year old DV cameras do have real glass optics that perform well in low light, variable lens options, and image streams low-definition enough to be handled by the MacMini. Plus, some are available on eBay for around $30.

Corriel's DV camera feeds into software he wrote in OpenFrameworks. The software essentially takes live video streams and maps them onto a rotating sphere. “The purpose of the 'sphere' in Citysphere is to take the edge off, literally,” said Corriel. “If you start to analyze the components of the urban environment, you’ll quickly notice it consists mostly of straight lines and right angles. I’d bet that if you did an inventory of the objects in your field of view right now, 85% of them are rectilinear.” In Corriel's hopes of getting the viewer to reconsider their urban environment, he thought it best to break away from traditional paradigms as much as possible.

For this year's Dumbo Arts Festival (DAF), Corriel is doing a bit of retooling on Citysphere. Typically, he rear-projects his work onto storefront windows, filling out the entire space in the process. The catch is that rear window projections aren't visible during the day. “For DAF, it made more sense to have a 24/7 presence, so it’s going to be shown on a large TV, which doesn’t have the physical presence of a rear projection window installation, but hopefully what it lacks in physical presence, it makes up for in temporal presence,” he said. Corriel also noted that there's a chance that Citysphere will appear in black and white, rather than in its traditional color display. This has to do with the film on the window pane distorting the color of the image as seen by the camera. This could change, however, since Corriel is still experimenting with possible solutions. Either way, Cityscape is sure to be a kaleidoscopic visual feast.

To see Citysphere, head to 37 Main Street in DUMBO, Brooklyn through September 28th, 2014.


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video art
Video Artist
installation art
old tech
Dumbo Arts Festival
installation artist
Eric Corriel