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The stuff of dreams

Dreamscapes, an innovative art exhibition at IPFW, puts the viewer in control

By Michael Summers

michael_summers@fortwaynereader.com

Fort Wayne Reader

2011-02-20


Before launching into the motivations, the technical aspects, and the artistic intentions behind “Dreamscapes and the Subconscious,” an exhibit opening at IPFW’s Visual Arts Gallery on Monday, February 21, it’s important to make one thing very clear — the “wow” factor is very high with this show.

The exhibit is subtitled “an interactive experience,” and in this case, it really is interactive; viewers can affect and somewhat control the video sequences, time lapse journeys, and surreal landscapes that make up the multimedia show.

Basically, you can touch the art. In fact, Allen Etter and Andres Montenegro, the two professors in IPFW’s Department of Visual Communication and Design who created “Dreamscapes…,” want you to touch the art. That’s the whole point of the show.

“Most viewers are very shy, very hesitant, to interact with pieces in a typical art show,” says Andres Montenegro, assistant professor of 3D computer animation, 3D modeling, and advanced rendering. “The idea here, is we want them to feel confident enough to interact with the pieces, to cross that boundary. It’s not a passive show. We want them to engage and be part of the show.”

“Besides, all they have to do is clap, or snap their fingers, or breath into a microphone,” adds Allen Etter. “We’re not asking them to break into a dance.”

Clap? Snap your fingers? Breath into a microphone? Well, yes, that’s all it takes. And the reaction — the change you see happening in real-time on the screen you’re looking at — is as dramatic as the action is simple.

An example: one of the pieces Etter and Montenegro show me is called “Sleepwalking,” a sequence of a woman somnambulating down a dark, indistinct hallway. Etter claps once, and just as quickly, the woman appears to react in some way to the sound. In one instance, she abruptly turns her head around, as if startled by the noise. In another, the lighting dramatically changes from a soothing blue to a fiery red-orange. In another, her hair appears to suddenly “frizz out…”

The transitions are seamless and striking; like the title of the show says, the overall feel of this particular piece recalls a strange and even disturbing dream. “I haven’t had very many sleepwalking experiences, but in one I can recall, I knew what was happening but couldn’t control it,” Etter says. “I felt like someone was in control, and it wasn’t me, and it was very frightening.”

Another animated piece, this one by Montenegro, is a series of different animals moving across a surreal landscape. “These are computer-generated idea of graphics, not the classic renderings,” Montenegro explains. “It creates this illusion of the flesh moving on the animal.”

Montenegro explains that the viewer will manipulate the camera angle, pan across the landscape or move closer to various objects by using a similar “trigger” as in “Sleepwalking” — making a particular sound, or just breathing into a microphone. “The camera will be in a certain position, and it will be up to the viewer to manipulate this camera,” Montenegro says. “You’re the director, you experience this world and navigate inside it.”

“It’s almost like daydreaming, controlling the direction it’s going,” adds Etter. “With the sleepwalker, something else, is controlling her. In this, it’s almost like you’re controlling the direction.”

Yet another piece shows two people moving towards each other for a kiss, except Etter stretches what in the real world would be a matter of a few seconds into a 20-minute sequence. As the viewer moves closer to the screen, the action speeds up. “In this show, we’re touching on everything from sleepwalking to recurring dreams to time-lapse in dreams, how some dreams tend to go by really fast and others are painfully slow,” Etter says. “Sometimes you feel you don’t have control in those dreams. With this, we’re allowing viewers to have control of the dreams.”

“Dreamscapes…” came about when Etter was working on some short films exploring dreams and started talking to Montengro about his project. Montenegro happened to be working on the animated dreamscapes with landscapes and animals. “We started discussing artists like (Giorgio) de Chirico and different surrealists, and we both realized we had this sort of ‘connection,’ Etter says. “We realized we could put together a show that could be interactive so that people could interact with the videos and some of the animation and explore the dream realm.”

On an artistic level, Etter and Montenegro say they would like viewers of “Dreamscapes…” to consider the fact that though we speak different languages and have different cultures, everybody in the world dreams. “It’s a way of kind of opening up and sharing, because there’s a certain lack of control that you have when you’re dreaming, and everybody tends to experience that, whether you’re falling or flying or being chased down a hallway by a giant cat,” Etter says. “It’s something you can share with each other and bridge gaps.

But they also just want people to have fun with the pieces in “Dreamscapes…”. Etter and Montenegro achieve the effects — the “real world” trigger and the immediate reaction in the piece — using various software, but frankly, neither of them seem all that interested in going into detail about it. That might be because these tools, or things like them, have been around for several years now; Montenegro, for one, has used programs in various animation projects before (and anyone wanting to know a little more about what goes on behind the curtain can attend a symposium on the exhibit on Thursday, February 24).

In fact, these effects are becoming more common in, for example, music and dance performance, where sound or movement can be meshed seamlessly with video images. But, as teachers as well as artists, Montenegro and Etter say that with the “Dreamscapes…” exhibit, they hope to show how artists can use these tools in their own work. Even among the visual arts community, where working with computers is pretty much the norm, Etter and Montenegro encounter people who don’t really “get it” or don’t see the potential. One student who saw a bit of the “Sleepwalking” piece insisted that Etter was just clapping along with the video… until she tried it herself. And according to Etter, another person who saw part of the project said “wow, neat… but so what?”

Allowing people — especially students and artists — to actually get their hands on this stuff opens up a whole new range of storytelling and communication possibilities, and lets them answer the “so what” question for themselves. “When you’re able to show someone, ‘look, here’s how it applies…’ it becomes much more exciting, much more than just neat software,” Etter says.

“It’s something we’d like to eventually incorporate into the classroom, so students can say ‘I want to do something interactive, I want to do some storytelling where if somebody makes one kind of noise, the story goes off in one direction; if they make a different noise, it goes off in another direction’. A student’s project might never be the same twice.”

The show runs through March 20; Etter and Montenegro will discuss techniques and answer questions at a symposium on Thursday, February 24 at 6 PM in VA room 204.

Dreamscapes and the Subconscious: An Interactive Experience

IPFW Visual Arts Gallery
Visual Arts Building

Opens Monday, February 21
Symposium Thursday, Feb. 24 at 6 p.m. VA 204, with a reception in the gallery immediately following

The free exhibition can be viewed daily in the Visual Arts Gallery from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

For information call the Department of Visual Communication and Design, 260-481-6709 or visit our website at www.ipfw.edu/vpa/finearts.

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