Projection Mapping – The Next Step in Public Art

As a relatively new field of artistic expression, Projection Mapping has gone from an interesting gimmick to gaining more and more traction in the art community at large as the years go on, and has become a fantastic contemporary showcase of talent and design choice.  By utilizing the space in everyday life – from buildings to sculptures and even nature itself – and mapping moving, projected imagery onto them, one is able to transform an entire landscape into something wholly alien and original.

Just what is Projection Mapping?

By utilizing everyday video projectors, Projection Mappers can project their work onto all kinds of different surfaces instead of, say, a blank white screen.  This allows the artist to map light onto any surface and can turn any object into an interactive display.  Formally, the definition for the art form is, “the display of an image on a non-flat or non-white surface.”

Projection Mapping – by Event ATX

Also known under the titles of Video Mapping and Spatial Augmented Reality, this new Projection mapping is quickly becoming one of the most vibrant and interesting ways to display a public exhibition. It delights and interests any passerby that happens to see the show.  Used by advertisers as well as artists, the form has an astounding potential to add a technical aspect to any place, on any surface.
Not only this, but artists can decide to add an audio element to their work to perform an entire experience for their audience. Sound heightens the effect and greatly expandis the range of expression for their work.

History of the Medium

Projection mapping is relatively new, but the history leading up to the current trend is fascinating and dates back little ways previously.  In the 1960’s, Video Mapping was utilized, for example, at Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion ride where they used the technique to animate disembodied heads – a perfect use for a spooky ride!

Human Face – Video Mapping By Samsung (2012)

Even with these humble beginnings, the genre has grown into a huge advertising space for many name-brands, such as Nokia, Samsung, Unilever Pakistan, Pakistan Tobacco company, Bank Alfalah, Brighton Paints, Benson & Hedges, John Players Gold Leaf and BMW.  The spectacle and interactivity of the form are almost impossible to ignore, leaving passersby with an intense urge to watch the show and take part in the spectacle.

The Ongoing Artistic Legacy

Of course, Projection mapping has been utilized by serious artists as well as a significant form of self-expression.  All new technologies bring to them artists creative, adventurous, and eager to use them, and Projection Mapping is no different.  Urban centers, such as prominent locations in New York and London, have been the hosts to many impromptu art exhibitions.  Utilizing this method is actually a perfect way for an aspiring artist to been seen and experienced – because the artist is merely using light, they can ‘paint’ their art onto any conceivable canvas with absolutely no repercussions at all: this enables anyone to have, essentially, free gallery showings anywhere, at any time.

Empire State Building New York City - Projection Mapping by Obscura Digital
Empire State Building New York City – Projection Mapping by Obscura Digital

This has been used in recent years not only for art, but for activism.  The Occupy Wall Street movement has recently projected a display onto the Verizon Wireless building in order to show people that the movement was still alive in New York.  Certainly, we will be seeing more of this kind of artwork as the technology becomes more and more available to the general public.

Projection Mapping Displays

All around the world cities have been using projection mapping displays for their citizens.  Some of the most dramatic have been recurring festivals that are definite crowd pleasers, but there are more somber and intimate ones as well.  Not only that, artists continue to utilize the medium for all kinds of specific needs.

The Sydney Opera House

Sydney Opera house (2015) - Projection Mapping
Sydney Opera house (2015) – Projection Mapping

Every year, one of the most famous opera houses in the world hosts a brilliant event that decorates the entire structure with beautiful, moving artwork.  In 2015, for instance, the Opera House enlisted the aid of Universal Everything, a UK-based animation studio, in order to perform their show.  Universal Everything decided to utilize 22 different artists, each showcasing 30 seconds of individual animated material.  The Projecction mapping was seen as a kind of visual Fantasia-like feast and delighted everyone in the vicinity.

Speaking of the event itself, Universal Everything Founder Matt Pyke told press that, “due to the use of traditional animation techniques, this film could have existed in 1920, albeit with a 21st-century twist — bringing our influences of global pop culture, modernist graphics, and physics simulations into a playful exploration of this iconic building.”

Interconnection

The distinguished winner of the Jury’s Choice Award and the People’s Choice Award at iMapp 2016, one of the largest international Projection Mapping competitions – this brilliant display brought an intricate fusion of design and contemporary art direction onto the Romanian Parliament Palace, where it covered a total of 22, 000 meters of surface. The piece combined elements of architecture, physics, chemistry, sacred geometry, and more, and presented the audience with a unique and gorgeous five-minute display.

Romanian Parliament Palace Projection Mapping (2014)

Box

This brilliant short film by Bot & Dolly presents the viewers with a unique, robot-powered projection mapping onto moving objects. The results are stunning and the blending and transporting of objects and shapes is absolutely stunning to behold.  The intricacy of the machinations behind the exhibition is a marvel in itself and the short film is a great example of the power of the Projection Mapping medium.

A combination of various different technologies and styles, including robotics, mapping and computer generated imagery, Bot & Dolly has created a mechanical, artistic, and design-oriented wonder that truly shows the power of this new art form.  This mixed-media presentation is one of the many different ways which Projection Mapping can manifest itself.

Dr Blighty

Inspired by a World War 1 story wherein the Royal Pavilion Estate became a military hospital, this beautiful, free, public show depicts the tale of the thousands of wounded Indian soldiers that were brought to the temporary hospital from the Western Front.  A touching and important tribute, this historic showcase is a brilliant way to blend technology, art, and history in order to tell a story that’s important to Brighton’s history.  “Visitors to Royal Pavilion Garden can experience a dreamlike environment of immersive installations,” the festival details, “inspired by the letters the soldiers sent back home.”  This installation is truly an interesting way to envision history and a touching tale.

Dr Blighty projection mapping at Brighton’s Royal Pavilion Gardens (2016)

One of the most interesting things that Projection Mapping is capable of is speaking to a large audience all at once, making installations like Dr Blighty not only a spectacular sight to behold but also tell a story to thousands of people all at the same time.  Truly, this unique story would be much more difficult to tell if not for this technological medium.

Speed of Light

This clever projection uses the artists’ desks and office space for their work – showcasing the fact that one doesn’t need to use an entire building to make great art!  Having created the presentation, “Address is Approximate,” Sharp & Jenkins have established a great way to utilize Projection Mapping and have cleverly visualized a story involving an escaped convict, a stubborn policeman, and a police helicopter – all contained in an inches-wide projection over their office!
The projections were filmed on a Canon 5d MkII and an HD MiniCam and truly do look like miniature versions!  This clever display is a perfect example of the power of the medium – you don’t need to blow up a presentation to building-sized proportions when a simple desk will suffice.

Omnicron

Seen exclusively at the Hala Stulecia Museum of Architecture in Wroclaw, Poland, this installation is one of the few permanent Projection Mapping installations in the world and can be seen all throughout the year.  This re-imagining of the space and the building itself is a worthy and artistic tribute to the architectural prowess that went into the construction of the building and to the style of architecture itself.

Omnicron Art installation – Projection mapping (2012)

The minimalistic themes in the projection mapping presentation are seen throughout, and heard in the alien and surreal music that accompanies it.  By utilizing a palate of black and white (and a splash of red), the presentation does much with very little, transforming an aged dome into a vibrant and stimulating display.

An ongoing and vibrant artform

The varied and unique uses of Projection Mapping are merely beginning and the art form as a whole is very young. It gives it ample opportunity to grow into its own significant force in the art scene.  Artists have been utilizing technology to push the boundaries of their art for millennia and it is certainly no different in contemporary times.  By giving artists more tools to hone their vision, we all benefit – especially if they decide to make a public presentation!  Projection Mapping is one of many burgeoning art forms and will continue to make impressions around the world, astounding and entertaining entire crowds at a time. At the same time, it simply showing a few people something amazing on an office desk space.

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