article: Jennifer Steinkamp, Leonardo/MIT Press (San Francisco, CA: April 2001).

Artist Statement
Jennifer Steinkamp is an artist who works with new media and video in order to explore ideas about architectural space, motion, and perception. Drawing on the ideas of recent technological initiatives, such as physical computing, and avant-garde sound cultures, her work offers a dialogue between minimalist conceptions of spatial experience and the reformatting of space/time relationships in new media, from video to digital environments. Her animated installations have been televised and exhibited internationally, including through gallery representation in New York, Los Angeles and London. Her studies in Design, Experimental Animation, Structuralist Cinema, and Fine Art at Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, and Calarts, Valencia, California introduced her to a series of interdisciplinary interests that became foundations of her teaching and art practice. Theories, histories and intermedia realizations of motion and space lie at the center of Steinkamp's aesthetic and philosophical concerns. She is a professor in the Department of Design | Media Arts at UCLA.

My Only Sunshine 
[Installation Art; Experiments with Light, Space, Sound and Motion]

Light consists of waves of energy that excite the eye.
X - The Man with X-Ray Eyes [1]

My artwork uses computer animation to craft immersive interactive projection installations. Three dimensional computer graphics are the basis of my animation; animations that take full advantage of the computer's ability to create motion and points of view that are not available by any other means. Projectors are strategically placed in a space, and the projections of the animation are then fitted or remapped into architectural situations; the art can then be experienced physically in relationship to one's movements through the space.

The first installation I executed was a multiple site work titled Gender Specific (1989), a piece created for my undergraduate thesis at Art Center College of Design. It began as an installation for a house in Pasadena that was an artist run alternative gallery space called Bliss; subsequently it was also exhibited in a storefront at the Santa Monica Museum of Art, California. Both pieces ran simultaneously in different parts of the city and viewers would have to drive across town to experience the entire installation. Issues surrounding the cultural specificity of gender in relation to domestic and consumer architecture were addressed by bifurcating the architecture and sites across town.
(Fig. 1)


Fig. 1 Gender Specific, 1989, 8x6, 8x6 & 10x8, 10x8  feet, (Photo courtesy of ACME., Los Angeles).  My first site-specific installation, a pair of animations were rear projected into the windows of two sites. A spinning polka-dot tunnel was positioned next to multiple orbiting earths. Ideas of the feminine and masculine in architecture were playfully manipulated in order to blur the distinctions between gender demarcations.

I use light to dematerialize space.
As my ideas and the work developed, I found I could dematerialize architecture by combining light, space and movement. I had always been fascinated with the light and space artists such as James Turrel; his perceptual light illusions transform our experience of architecture.  Following this tradition, I investigated how light could create an illusionistic sense of space and dimension.  Unlike the light space artists, I added the component of motion to my light projected illusions that made the architecture appear to dematerialize. I first came across this visual phenomenon when I created Untitled (1993), a floor projection piece. A colorful water animation was projected from the ceiling down across the floor. The inanimate floor seemed to breathe; the architecture was transformed by light. The viewers perceived the non-physical components of the imagery and light corporeally. People actually experienced the physical sensation of seasickness. Ever since creating Untitled, I set out to investigate illusions that transform the viewer's perception of actual space in a synthesis of the real and virtual.(Fig. 2)


Fig. 2 Untitled, 1993, 18 x 7 feet, (Photo courtesy of ACME., Los Angeles).  A 'river' of light cut across the floor of the gallery.  Water imagery seemed to breathe, destabilizing the viewer's relationship to the normally solid architecture;  some actually felt seasick.


Fig. 3. SWELL, 1995, soundtrack by Bryan Brown, 12 x 26 feet, (Photo by Joshua White, courtesy of ACME., Los Angeles),   The walls of the gallery were huge, in response I created an underwater feeling in the space, a virtual camera floated through a sea of multi-colored particles. The same animation was projected twice, one horizontal, from the front, the other vertical, from the rear. This piece taught me to consider our perceptual relationship to physical scale. The large projections enabled the wall surfaces to dematerialize convincingly. This piece happened to work well with many viewers, as they could watch each other play and perform with their shadows. The apparent solidity of both projections was disrupted when a viewer would step in front of the rear projection.

S h if t s a n d D e c e n tering
I have used various methods to decenter or reconsider subjectivity; another installation titled, The TV Room, for the Santa Monica Museum of Art: the image formed a disorienting parallactic shift as the viewer moved through the room. Three wall strips stretched horizontally across a room in the museum; animated water streams were projected on each strip. The wall behind was filled with a multi-colored waterfall. The back surface and the wall strips interlaced to form the image, somewhat akin to the scan lines on a television set. Further shifting occurred as the animated imagery tilted, consequently, the architecture, virtually destabilized, it felt as if it were tilting as well.  The viewer, unable to decipher the half wall, found the experience disorienting. (Fig. 4)


Fig. 4. The TV Room, 1998, soundtrack by Andrew Bucksbarg, 18 x 13 x 60 feet, (Photo by Alex Slade, courtesy of ACME., Los Angeles).  I feel this is one of my most important works to date.  The installations have become more architectural since this piece.  We built three wall strips stretched horizontally across the gallery of the museum.


Fig. 5. X-Ray Eyes, 1999, 34 x 7 feet, (Photo by Jay Venezia, courtesy of ACME., Los Angeles). This is a permanent, site specific installation, utilizing a curved window detail suspended off the super truss roof of the building. When I first met with the art consultant and architects, they asked me, well what would you like to do, I found this a rather daunting question, and here was this enormous building and many large-scale possibilities. I noticed the window detail hanging off the roof of the building, at the time it was more of a grid, somewhat akin to the taillight of a Chevy. I decided the window would be a perfect location for some sort of piece. I developed three animations to play during various events held at the Staples Center in the evening.

With many of the installations, the viewer's shadow becomes part of the image as she passes through the projection, partially disrupting the image, breaking the illusion. The projectors are often placed low so the viewer has no choice but to become part of the work. Children immediately understand that they are expected to play in the projection. Humor and play are important aspects of the art; these are further ways of involving the viewer as part of the work. As the viewer internalizes the image in her mind, she also experiences it physically and narcissistically (though their shadow) in real space.

Some of the imagery I use tends to be more abstract, I am intrigued with abstraction because the point of view in abstraction is complex and perhaps not fixed. You could ask, where is the point of view in abstraction?  What is the viewer's relationship to an abstract image? This thought has had a profound effect on my contemplation of abstraction and subjectivity.

My work has evolved out of a deep interest in issues of feminism. My site-specific installations set up complex relationships between the viewer and the viewed. With the environments I create, the relationship between viewing subject and art object is recast. My work engages with the spatial politics of vision. It breaks down standard -- often male coded -- modes of seeing to create a more open physical state of pleasure that includes all genders. My work is influenced by the pioneering feminist film theory of the seventies, especially Laura Mulvey. I am interested in investigating ideas such as the patriarchal gaze, point of view and objectification. With the help of virtual technology, my work sets out to de-center and reconstitute the viewing subject as we know it.

I have collaborated with three composers over the years. Their music is a very important part of the work: music creates the atmosphere, adds mood and emphasis to certain visual elements. The soundtrack creates a sonic dimension to the space; the physical space is transformed by the audio. For example, the interactive piece titled Phase=Time, exhibited at the Henry Art Gallery, Seattle: composer Jimmy Johnson and I placed 8 speakers around the perimeter of a large square room, the sound traveling across each speaker transformed the square gallery into the sensation of a circular space.

To date, I have collaborated on twenty-three pieces with Jimmy Johnson who had an electronic music group called Grain. [2] I have also collaborated with Bryan Brown whose band is called Blue Bird, additionally, he is the drummer for surf guitarist Dick Dale; I have also collaborated with an experimental composer and artist named Andrew Bucksbarg. When collaborating, I come up with the structure, or space for the piece. I usually create a virtual scale model on the computer, and then discuss the ideas behind the work with the composer. We get together a few times testing the sound in relation to the space and image.

My first collaboration with Jimmy Johnson was part of an exhibition and symposium on photography. [3] You might say our work was a far extreme of photography, especially since I never use imagery from the real world; everything is synthesized in the computer. On the other hand, Jimmy used highly manipulated sound samples of Helen Keller speaking to an audience, by the time he was finished the sound sample was unrecognizable. I conceptually linked the work for this exhibition to photography by utilizing three intersecting landscape topologies that moved in and out of focus on a grid. A "photographic" aerial view of my constructed landscape was remapped into the space.

As I mentioned, the imagery, synthesized is derived from software tools, not the world. I use Alias Maya Software, a 3D animation package used by the film industry for special effects; Adobe After Effects for compositing; and Macromedia Director for interactivity. As new virtual reality software tools develop, my work effectively changes; in a sense the software developers are collaborators. I often use particle dynamics and paint effects, a set software tools created to simulate natural phenomena. These are interesting because they are unpredictable; you can assign the particles a life span, tell them what color to be over their life, and attribute how they will respond to environmental variables such as gravity, turbulence and wind. You dial in these variables, and then run the simulation for a few hours. It can be a pretty random process and it can take a couple months to complete an animation. Because particles were created to simulate physics, they synthesize a very realistic quality of motion.  I have long since been interested in "life-like" motion. This is always the challenge for an animator or anyone who thinks about movement.

Over the past couple years, my collaborator, Jimmy Johnson and I have been adding the component of interactivity with sensors. We completed a large-scale piece titled Stiffs (2000). I knew almost immediately that I wanted to create large floor to ceiling monoliths, the forms would fill the space while referencing some of the existing proportions of the gallery. I imagined the monoliths as a forest of tall figures or trees. We further emphasized this by arcing the animation and sound around the viewer as they approached each monolith; the image would envelop the body. The viewer has always been an integral part of the artwork - their shadow disrupts the image, breaking the illusion of the projection. Their playfulness and movement though the space creates the experience. With Stiffs we explored spatial interactivity, using ultrasonic sensors to track the viewers relationship to each monolith. As the viewer approached the monolith, the animation would speed up. Another couple of sensors at the far ends of the gallery sent the image and sound into a chorus; all the monoliths sang together in unison. It is an interesting challenge to construct interactivity in a large space for many viewers without loosing the impact or experience of the work of art.


Fig. 6. Stiffs, 2000, soundtrack by Jimmy Johnson, programming by Sarah Rosenbaum, each monolith 3 x 17 x 1 feet,  room 70 x 38 x 17 feet, (Photo by Steven Heller, courtesy of ACME., Los Angeles).  We built large floor to ceiling monoliths. Following a little research on the phenomenon of monoliths in nature, and quarried obelisks from Europe, South America, North Africa, and the Middle East,  I was intrigued by their mysterious long lost ritual and memorial significance or their practical use as sundials, calendars, or boundary markers. All these possibilities imbued these forms with incredible significance and openness simultaneously.  I imagined Stanley Kubrick and Author C. Clarke discussing similar thoughts while considering the monolith as a symbol for the film and book 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Genres and Influences
The question is often raised about what genre these art works can be said to inhabit. They obviously can be considered part of the new media art genre because of their origins in, and reliance upon, computer based technology. At the same time they are part of a long evolution in installation art. These are the two most overarching genres; but there are many other ways to categorize this work; and it has been included in many types of exhibitions, including: feminist, video, digital, interactive, photo, and abstract painting.

3D computer graphics, virtual reality if you will, is a new medium for artists. I find it extremely gratifying to work with these adept tools. Works of art can be created that have never been experienced before, although this can also be all too tempting. I feel a great responsibility to create artwork that engenders poetic resonance. Artwork should perform on many levels; it can be accessible and interesting to an untrained audience, as well the cultural vanguard. One of my greatest challenges is to create a work where complex ideas can be best experienced as works of art.

References and Notes
[1] X - The Man with X-Ray Eyes, film director and producer: Roger Corman, screenwriters: Robert Dillon and Ray Russel, AIP, 1963. Ray Milland plays Dr. Xavier, a researcher who is seeking a method to increase the spectrum of man's vision. He has the notion that man is only capable of seeing ten percent of the visible spectrum. Dr. Xavier comes up with an eye drop that allows him to see through things. He manages to kill an associate and become an outlaw. As the plot develops he is able to see through more and more, until the end when he can see through everything, to eternity, and of course it is painful.

[2] Jimmy Johnson's group Grain has albums out on Fragrant, Astralworks and Moonshine Records.

[3] The symposium and exhibition Photography and the Photographic, were held at the California Museum of Photography, Riverside, CA, curated by Amelia Jones.

Jessica Benjamin, The Bonds of Love, Psychoanalysis, Feminism, and The Problem of Domination, (New York: Pantheon Books, 1988).

Bruce W. Ferguson and Louis Grachos, POSTMARK: An Abstract Effect,  (Santa Fe, New Mexico: SITE Santa Fe, 1999).

Hal Foster (Editor), Vision and Visuality, Discussions in Contemporary Culture #2, (New York: Bay Press, in association with Dia Center for the Arts, 1988) Chapter by Martin Jay, Scopic Regimes of Modernity, pp. 3-23.

Diana Burgess Fuller, Parallels and Intersections: A Remarkable History of Women Artists in California 1950-2000, (Berkeley, California: U.C. Berkeley Press, 2001).

David Hickey, Ultra Lounge, The Return of Social Space; With Cocktails, Art catalog, (Houston, Texas: Diverseworks Artspace 1998).

Peter Lunenfeld, Snap to Grid: A User's Guide to Digital Arts, Media, and Culture,  (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2000).

Laura Mulvey, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, Art After Modernism, (New York: The New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1984, reprinted from Screen 16, no. 3, Autumn 1975).

Rochelle Steiner, Wonderland, (Saint Louis, Missouri: Saint Louis Art Museum, 2000).

Lyn Zelevansky, Made in California, (Los Angeles: Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2000).