R James Healy
May 28th – June 25th, 2011
Opening reception Sat 28th May, 3 – 8pm
What It Is presents M.16.2 a new zoetrope by UK based artist R James Healy. This exhibition is the culmination of a three-month residency at What It Is. M.16.2 is the sixteenth of twenty-two optical machines that Healy has conceived, developed and produced. Drawing upon his background as a visual effects artist in the film and advertising industry M.16.2 represents a synergy of state of the art digital fabrication with animation techniques first pioneered in the Victorian era. Healy’s investigation is an ever-growing exploration of motion devices that make animation without a screen or a projector. Healy has documented the prototyping stages and production of M.16.2 on his blog http://rjameshealy.blogspot.com.
Healy’s work deceives the eye in real-time. His art works are optical perception devices taking cinema and making it into an object. He notes that
“…when you make a film you make an idea, but with the zoetrope the movement, the narrative is absent until it spins. It’s an alchemical transformation…”
Sometimes referred to as “the devil’s wheel” the zoetrope is an animation device that predates cinema. It consists of an open topped drum with 12 vertical slits. A sequence of drawings is placed inside. The drum is spun, and the viewer looks through the slits at the drawings. The strobe effect caused by the slits allows the viewer to perceive motion.
Healy’s zoetrope updates the concept including lights, a motor and a change in the [technical] design. Rapid prototyped 3D models are used instead of drawings. Outwardly the device functions in the same manner as a beautiful piece of furniture.
The animation began as a meditation on the Stars and Stripes. The flag is an important symbol of America. It’s many things all at once, full of contradictions and an emotive object for many people. Healy has traveled extensively in the USA, first as a tourist and later working for a UK based company to San Francisco and Los Angeles. He wanted to pick an image for his starting point that would both resonate with a lot of people and allow for a lot of interesting variations visually.
“When imagining a flag it is typical to think of a rectangular piece of cloth, however, flags are seldom ever seen like this. The motion of a flag in a breeze can be hypnotic. Constantly changing the wind creates all manner of shapes, displaying red and white lines in all directions.”
Over the course of about a month Healy painstakingly transformed the motion of the flag blowing in the wind. From a clearly recognizable sequence of images he created an ambiguous composition of ribbons and shapes. Rotating around a central hub it is reminiscent of a magnetic field, a vortex or whirlpool.
At the heart of Healy’s practice is an overriding interest in perception, specifically associated with the phenomena of the moving image. How we see something, how we experience it, how we inscribe it and how we remember it are central to this investigation.
“… if you record your voice, when you play it back, it doesn’t sound like how we imagine ourselves to sound. And yet it is an exact recording of the voice, reflective, autobiographical…”
For Healy travel is another important aspect of this investigation into perception. The idea that through travel we can see things differently, that this activity breaks the mundane everyday experience and that new places instigate change. He became interested in multiple perspectives, in terms of how multiple people might see situations differently, and started drawing over images of the same object or location from a different point of view. Healy’s interest in the phenomena of the moving image was sparked by exposure to automata by artist Martin Smith in 1994. Prior to his formal studies Healy experimented with many different types of animation techniques and automata. He was at the forefront of the home computing revolution in the UK writing programs, designing graphics and producing short animation sequences on his Acorn Electron and Amiga 500 and 1200 computers. He talks about this process as “bedroom auterism” – or the idea that with a computer one person can become an orchestra or a film studio. Fast forward to 2011 and with the aid of rapid prototyping and laser cutter equipment the same person can manufacture complex machines and devices. For Healy this is also a key point about perception, combining immersion in technology with access to information, it becomes possible to make something out of something that isn’t really there.
“…With film it’s very literal, but with the zoetrope it’s very abstract, there’s no narrative. With most time-based media you are expecting a payoff but with a piece of music you don’t necessarily expect it, and yet there is this expectation with film that something is going to happen, I guess I’m more of an experimental film maker, my sequences don’t lack narrative as such but the narrative that exists is an interaction between forms and shapes and color so that’s not exactly traditional either…”
R James Healy lives and works in London (UK). He was born in Huddersfield (UK) in 1975. Healy received BA Hons from the National Center of Computer Animation (NCCA) at Bournemouth University in 1998. His 2008 short film / music video Clark: Herr Barr for Chris Clark on ground breaking independent record label Warp Records, home of Aphex Twin, Autechre, Chris Clark, LFO, Nightmares on Wax, Squarepusher; won first prize in the 2007 The Radar Festival. Clark: Herr Barr has been screened world wide at over 20 animation, film and music festivals including Prix Ars Electronica, OneDotZero, Lovebytes and Siggraph. Healy’s career as a visual effects artist includes collaborations on productions including Alien vs. Predator, Bjork; Harry Potter Three, Four and Seven (notably supervising the “Three Brothers” sequence in the Deathly Hallows part 1; corporate work includes advertising campaigns by Audi, Guiness, Smirnoff, DHL, Old Spice, Pringles, Vodafone, O2, Becks and Baileys.
What It Is, is an artist run gallery and exhibition space in Oak Park, IL. Founded by artists Tom Burtonwood and Holly Holmes. What It Is provides a venue for installations, happenings, dinners, garden parties, screenings and so forth. Artists are invited to interact with our home and create temporary art works in conjunction with the domestic space we inhabit. Occasionally we take this show on the road appearing at art fairs and expos in Chicago and further afar. To stay abreast of our activities please join our email list below. R James Healy is the inaugural artist in residence at What It Is.