Darkness and light at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery
Immersive AV has been deployed at London's Serpentine Sackler Gallery in a modern artwork inspired by a 19th century painting.
In the greenery of London’s Hyde Park lie two contemporary art galleries within a short walk from each other and linked by a bridge over the Serpentine Lake.
The original Serpentine Gallery has been running for almost four decades and in 2013 the Serpentine Sackler Gallery was opened, featuring an adjoining restaurant and housed in a Victorian building once used to store gunpowder.
It was this gallery that American artist Sondra Perry chose to host her exhibition, a multifaceted installation which would fill the 900 square metres of gallery space with sound and visual content to create an immersive experience for visitors. Perry is an interdisciplinary artist who works with video, digital media and performance.
As part of her work exploring African American identity, heritage and femininity, ‘Typhoon coming on’ is inspired by J.M.W. Turner’s 1840 painting Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing overboard the Dead and Dying—Typhoon coming on). The painting depicts the drowning of 133 slaves by the captain of the ship to claim compensation under the salvage clause of the ship’s insurance policy.
The content to be displayed would be Perry’s animation and a digitally manipulated image of the painting with an accompanying soundscape being delivered into the space.
The manager of the gallery called on ADi Audiovisual, a London-based integrator that works primarily with artists, to design and carry out the installation.
“We work with the Serpentine Gallery quite a lot and about five years ago we discussed a very similar project, an edge-blended wrap around on the perimeter walls,” explained Sara Smith from ADi Audiovisual.
“That didn’t happen, but when the gallery manager got the idea from the artist that she wanted to fill the gallery walls with projection he called us up to go ahead with it.”
The concept would be to project video onto the outer walls of the gallery from floor to ceiling.
Sara explained: “The space around the perimeter walls is only about four metres wide so we didn’t have much throw distance at all. We didn’t have any extra ceiling height either so it had to be ultra short throw. There was only one choice; no one makes a lens like this other than Epson. Other brands do ultra short throw but with a large offset and that was never going to work.”
It its entirety the outer wall consisted of 66m of edge-blended projection over three of the gallery’s walls. ADi used eight Epson EB-L1405U 8,000 lumens laser projectors with ultra-short-throw ELPLX01 lenses and four Epson EB-L1505U 12,000 lumens laser projectors with ELPLX02 ultra-short-throw lenses. This is the first UK installation to make use of the X02 lenses. The soundtrack is delivered through the space using eight Fohhn AT05 speakers, and two 10” subwoofers.
The resulting effect immerses visitors as they wander around the ‘U’ shaped outer space
Budget constraints did mean some efficiencies had to be made.
“There’s two extra spaces in the gallery that the artist wanted to fill with projections as well, so we were initially looking at about 17 projectors for the installation,” she said.
“But the reality of the budget kicked in and we had to scale it down a bit. The back wall is slightly longer than the two side walls so I needed the make the images slightly bigger to still maintain the edge blend. But we managed to do with four projectors on each wall which meant I could use three media players all synced together so it was fairly straightforward in the end.”
Cameras built into the front of the projectors enabled ADi to calibrate multiple projectors and colour match one to another for the edge blend.
The gallery features two inner chambers. The first uses two EB-L1505U projectors with ELPLU03 short-throw lenses to cover the entire wall with two Fohhn AT08 speakers providing audio to provide a similar but different experience from the outer area. The other inner chamber features ‘Graft and Ash for a Three-Monitor Workstation’ , an exercise bike wired up to three adjacent monitors where an avatar of the artist questions productivity and efficiency culture.
The project was not without it’s challenges but these fell on the side of content creation rather than the installation itself.
“We had about two weeks to carry out the installation and the most stressful thing was a month before the show opened was when the artist tried to output her films,” Sara recalled.
“Obviously the films are very long - they are about 11 HD films wide - and it took her a week to output five seconds of film. She calculated that to make a minute would take 75 days so putting out ten minutes worth was unrealistic. So at this point we had to call around and find a render farm, which we did, and the films came through with a few days to spare.”
While delivering artistic projects for galleries is nothing new for ADi Audiovisual, Sara said the scale of this installation set new boundaries of what was possible through use of Epson’s ultra short throw lenses.
“It’s been great to have a budget big enough and a project of this scale to be able to push the technology,” Sara said.
“You can stand very close to the wall before it starts making a shadow. Everyone’s loved it and is very mesmerised by the technology.”
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