Sandra Luu. 11193950.
‘Dislocation’ by Alex Davies
Alex Davies is an accomplished Australian artist who works beyond the norms of interactive and digital media. According to his official website (Davies, A. 2009), his artistic works can be traced back to 1997 before he completed his Bachelor of Fine Arts. Although he graduated with honours and is a PhD candidate in Media Arts, his ‘Blasting Explosive User Licence’ is the largest indicator of the enormity of his artistic projects.
Davies’ most recent new media works focus on “new ways of representing the world” (Lister, M. Et al. 2003) through “realtime audio-visual manipulations and responsive installations” (Experienta, 2009). One of these audio-visual works was exhibited in three countries over a period of four years, titled Dislocation (2005).
Image taken from: http://farm1.static.flickr.com/114/269004191_5337afdc14.jpg
To the naked eye, Dislocation is the assemblage of a simply designed room, four small monitors and a camera located at the rear of the space. After entering the otherwise featureless room, the viewer is drawn to the monitors embedded in the wall. The viewer then bends slightly to look through one of the peepholes to find that they are looking at themselves via the camera at the back of the room. The experience becomes somewhat haunting when pre-recorded video is layered on top of the current, so that the viewer sees not only themselves but also “phantom” (Davies, 2009) people or objects in the room with them.
Although the viewer focuses on the visual aspect, sound plays a vital yet invisible role. Dislocation combines the attributes of ambience and the “blending of the live and phantom sounds within the room” (Davies, 2009) to immerse the viewer into a false reality. By synchronizing image and sound “Davies precipitates a supernatural or ‘extra-sensory’ experience” (Teh, D. 2008).
In the making of Dislocation, over one hundred short video sequences were pre-recorded to create phantoms with the aim to evoke “curiosity, discomfort, happiness, confusion, and fear” (Davies, 2009). The phantoms practiced both passive and direct interaction. Passive describes phantoms that were filmed at the back of the room, barely interacting with viewers (http://schizophonia.com/installation/dislocation/dev/lenkacry.htm)
and ones that utilized the intelligence of the system to blend in as other audience members (http://schizophonia.com/installation/dislocation/dev/lenkainteractp3.htm).
Direct interaction describes phantoms that attempt to obtain a response from the viewer (http://schizophonia.com/installation/dislocation/dev/bagtheft.htm).
The system almost perfectly fulfilled Davies’ expectations but there was one unpredictable element, human behaviour. It was impossible for Davies to alter the course of the audience members who decided to wander around the room without disrupting the illusion. So to combat this he created a “glitch” (Davies, 2009). This was done using “a tracking and collision detection system” (Davies, 2009) where the projected video would become distorted at the exact moment of collision preventing complete distraction from the illusion.
Historical & Artistic context
Morrison et al (2010) labels the work as an “Unreality installation” which upon further research is the brain child of Rene Girard who first proposed that creating a false reality would cause conflict and caution.
Davies strategically placed the four monitors “beneath eye height and set back from the wall” (Davies, 2009). The main motivations for doing so were to prevent the viewers from straying and to negate their “peripheral vision” (Davies, 2009 ). Divya Gupta (2004) explains that Dislocation implements “fixed-focus depth displays” where viewers are constrained to a set perspective of the room commanding focus on the phantoms, reducing the possibility of confusion and “fatigue”. Darren Tofts (2005) relates the use of monitors to film with the term Mise-en-scene, linking Anna Munster’s Wundernet (1998) to Dislocation as both are “built upon, but transcends, the functional connection between the computer and a user”.
As previously mentioned, Dislocation combines ambience with the merge of live and phantom sounds. Ambience is defined by Friederich Marpurg as sound used to alter “mood states and emotions” (Sonnenschein, D. 2001) but since Marpurg’s theories originate from the 1700s, David Sonnenchein (2001) redefines them as universal clichés. That being sounds that fall into categories already associated with the age-old concepts of satire, irony and suspense. Davies concurs, with the opinion that ambience was employed in Dislocation to “broadly shape the audiences initial emotional state” (Davies, 2009).
Once the mood was set, the viewer would be drawn further into the experience through schizophonia, “the ability to dislocate sounds in time as well as in space” (Cox, C. And Warner, D. 2004) representing both musical and phantom sounds. Live sound is excluded, as it does not implement “the splitting of an original sound and its electro acoustic reproduction” (Wikipedia, 2011 ). Raymond Murray Schafer (Cox and Warner 2004) has impacted Davies’ overall works as seen through Davies’ official website, schizophonia.com  and the installation Dislocation since he not only dislocates sound but also image.
The aim of implementing phantoms was to arouse the audience into acting differently than they would if they were alone since “human beings respond strongly to the presence and behaviour of other humans in their immediate surroundings” (Davies, 2009). The model for this behaviour is the Hawthorne effect (Wikipedia, 2011 ), which is based on experiments and research carried out by Henry A. Landsberger. The findings of the experiment were that workers overall would improve their efficiency and postures when attention was paid to them but when the attention was removed, they tended to be less productive and slouch. Therefore when viewers sense either real or virtual humans watching them, their reactions will change.
Image taken from: http://www.eaf.asn.au/graphics/mgal01-s.jpg of Mathieu Gallieu’s Flesh Hunger
The Hardware and Software
Behind the walls of preconceived normality, were intricate connections between monitors, speakers, cameras and chroma key software helping Dislocation flow seamlessly from reality to illusion. The key point for the fusion was chroma keying, where green screen was applied to allow the pre-recorded video to be layered on top of the live feed. In chroma keying both green and blue screens are used and an artist that knows this well is Mathieu Gallieu through his work, Flesh hunger (2001). The installation exhibited a “desert oasis” (EAF, 2001) with palm trees and a luxurious tent, all in chroma key blue. The meaning behind the colour of the installation was metaphorical. The aim was to create a “mirage” (EAF, 2001) because it would be an invisible oasis.
The final stage of the chroma keying process involved depositing the footage into “Max /MSP, Jitter and Soft VNS” (Davies, 2009) software specifically tailored for Dislocation. The green screen made the footage usable and the software applied the footage to the final projection. At this point sound was inserted taking advantage of the eight installed speakers to make the illusion more spatially realistic.
Influence and Significance
Davies’ later works
Although Dislocation was exhibited throughout the world over a period of four years, Davies still found time for other projects. Three works subsequent to Dislocation that inherited some of its qualities were What Survives (2006), Flutter (2006) and The Black Box Sessions (2008). All of which were concerned with the idea of presence.
- What Survives (2006) studied old buildings looking closely at the “sonic residues” (Priest, G. 2006) left behind. This is pure and natural schizophonia where the old inhabitants of the building, spoke, screamed or even whispered and unintentionally embedded the sounds of their voices and daily activities into their surroundings. Priest (2006) explains that infrasound subconsciously triggers “symptoms associated with fear” while sonic residue replays sounds of the past leading people to believe in the presence of ghosts.
Image taken from: http://schizophonia.com/installation/flutter/image/Flutter02.jpg
- Flutter (2006) was a simple installation piece that also played with the idea of sound and presence. It was based on the game, Chinese whispers. Davies took voice recordings of people playing the game and played them in a hollow space with a ring of sixteen speakers circling a seat in the centre. Lizzie Muller (2006) describes the whispers that surrounded her passing from speaker to speaker as “a sense of presence that lives at the nape of the neck and sends shivers through my shoulders and over my scalp”.
Image taken from: http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3144/3074165525_cc0d9101d7.jpg
- The Black Box Sessions (UTS: Gallery, 2008) is the clearest example of influence between Davies’ works. This installation piece is the pitch black version of Dislocation. The process is still the same with the viewers entering the room to find a screen. When looking through the screen, the viewer sees themself and superimposed footage of a phantom. The key distinction between Dislocation and The Black Box Sessions is that the latter is an individual experience taking place in a pitch black room. Davies substitutes illusion for real sight making the phantoms more believable.
The works of others
In the years following the emergence of Dislocation works began to appear also playing with the concept of presence, sound and even mixed realities.
- Self Promotion (2006) is a Christopher O’ Leary work which has its own perspective of phantoms. The artist himself is the phantom. Viewers will enter the empty white space to find that the screen on the far wall is a projection of the same room. With every entry of a viewer, there is an addition of another person (a clone of the artist) on the screen. An example is that if there were five entries into that space, there would be five people standing together on screen, all being the artist himself. If the clone has already been added to the screen and the viewer has not yet left the space, the clones will clap in unison making the viewer feel uncomfortable enough to leave the space. This particular work not only adds a phantom to shadow the viewer but it also evokes emotion using these phantoms.
- Unveiled Presence (2008) is the joint work of Natalie Bewernitz and Marek Goldowski. This work represents the audible version of presence by recording the soundscape of the Manhattan Bridge using “hydrophones and contact microphones” (Bewernitz, N. and Goldowski, M. 2008). The image conjured when listening to the long groans and creaks of metal is the Titanic, in its final stages just before sinking. The sound is haunting and causes a feeling of suspense much like the introductory sounds and music in Dislocation but when put in context, the sound of a bridge is something that is inaudible to everyday passer bys.
- Human Avatars (2005) by Andrea Zapp was exhibited the same year as Dislocation demonstrating the artistic trends of 2005. Human avatars consists of two separate spaces. The first is a small cabin that the viewer peers into to see another person inside and the second is a large space replicating the inside of the cabin where the viewer sees the person outside peering in. The two spaces allow audience members to interact with each other not knowing whether the human avatars inside or out of the cabin are real or virtual. It is a strong example of where an artwork plays with mixed realities and in this case, it takes reality, turns it into illusion but is still reality where schizophonia is not used to distort time or sound. Dislocation was different in that it took reality, added illusion and led the viewer to believe it was reality when it was not.
Dislocation is an innovative work that was created by Davies to evoke emotion in the viewer by implementing schizophonic image and sound. In this way, R. Murray Schafer has heavily influenced Davies’ projects and many others which either motivated the creation of Dislocation or were inspired by Dislocation.
- Davies, A. 2009, Schizphonia, viewed 5 April 2011, <http://schizophonia.com/>
- Experimenta, 2009, Alex Davies Australia Dislocation 2005, viewed 5 April 2011 <http://www.experimenta.org/vanishingpoint/davies.htm>
- Sonnenschein, D. 2001, Sound design: the expressive power of music, voice, and sound effects in cinema, Michael Wiese Productions, USA
- Gupta, D. 2004, An Empirical Study of the Effects of Context-Switch, Object Distance, and Focus Depth on Human Performance in Augmented Reality, for the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, viewed 5 April 2011 <http://22.214.171.124/scholar?q=cache:UeZYR0G9aQUJ:scholar.google.com/+distance+and+focus&hl=en&as_sdt=0,5>
- Teh, D. 2008, Alex Davies, for MIC| Toi Rerehiko, viewed 5 April 2011 <http://www.mic.org.nz/artists/alex-davies/>
- Tofts, D. 2005, Interzone: media arts in Australia, Craftsman House, Fishermans Bend, Victoria.
- Lister, M. Et. Al. 2003, New media: a critical introduction, Routledge, London
- Cox, C. And Warner, D. 2004, Audio culture: readings in modern music, Continuum, New York
- Wikipedia, 2011, Schizophrenia, viewed 5 April 2011 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schizophonia >
- Wikipedia, 2011, Hawthorne effect, viewed 6 April 2011 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hawthorne_effect>
- EAF (Experimental Art Foundation), 2001, Exhibition Program 2001, viewed 6 April 2011 <http://www.eaf.asn.au/ex01.html>
- Priest, G. (2006), What Survives: Sonic Residues in Breathing Buildings, viewed 6 April 2011 <http://www.snagglepussy.net/images/whatsurvives_cat.pdf>
- Muller, L. (2006), A hundred tongues…Flutter by Alex Davies, viewed 7 April 2011 <http://schizophonia.com/installation/flutter/muller.html>
- UTS: Gallery (2008), The Black Box Sessions, viewed 8 April 2011 <http://www.utsgallery.uts.edu.au/gallery/upcoming/alexdaviesblackboxsessions.html>
- Morrison, A. et al (2010), Designing performativity for mixed reality installations, viewed 8 April 2011 <http://www.formakademisk.org/index.php/formakademisk/article/viewFile/64/91>
- Bewernitz, N. And Goldowski, M. (2008), UNVEILED PRESENCE (secret sounds), viewed 11 April 2011 <http://www.isea2008singapore.org/abstract/m-r/p220.html>
- Cerysmatic Factory (2006), “StoryRooms” – Interactive Networks, Media Art + Installations., viewed 11 April 2011 http://www.cerysmaticfactory.info/durutti_andrea_zapp_media_art_project.html