Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Projections on a Waterfall?

In a recent conversation with Ellen Hagney at the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation we discussed the possibility of my Museums and Public Memory class (Brandeis University) in Spring 2009 doing some sort of multimedia installation around the museum and the site of old mills along the river. We are already planning a digital audio walking tour along the river banks, in which walkers would be able to call in via cell phones to hear edited recordings of community members sharing their memories of the river over the years, supplemented by recorded soundscapes of the river and perhaps electro acoustical music inspired by the river.

The idea that has especially intrigued us is developing some sort of video projection installation, perhaps in conjunction with the 2009 Boston CyberArts festival, projecting a video montage directly onto the Moody Street waterfall. (See our proposal on line.) This drop in the river in effect powered the initial creation of the American industrial revolution, providing the energy for the turbines of Francis Cabot Lowell's 1814 textile mill. The surface of the waterfall (and the water vapor generated by the churning waters) might provide an effective “portal” into the city’s history, perhaps going back to precolonial Native American timescapes through histories of colonization, industrialization and the demographic transformations of the community.

At this point, we are imagining some sort of creative compilation of old family and archival photographs of the river, art works inspired by the Charles perhaps videoed interviews of community members reminiscing about the river over time. This might be done in collaboration with some students in Ellen Schattschneider's Visuality and Culture course. Although the actual multimedia projector would be a relatively new piece of technology, the act of projection would hearken back to 19th century visual technologies, including magic lantern projection, such as the Haliotype of the 1850s. (We’d be interested in learning when magic lanterns projections first came to Waltham and what the subjects of this early displays were.)

More broadly, I hope our class learns more about the historical relationships between technologies of optical projection and emerging concepts of psychological projection. William James, for instance, uses the term “projection” extensively in reference both to external projection (in the sense of displacement) of interior psychological states upon an outer object, and internal projection on a kind of mental screen in the case of introspection. Was James specifically inspired by magic lantern displays? Visual projection dates back to at least the mid-17th century: to what extent were emerging modern conceptions of mind and interiority conditioned by these technologies?

In turn, is is interesting to ponder the increasing use of water vapor projection screens in many venues around the world: what precisely is the pleasure of these sorts of ephemeral surfaces? If the reigning experience of modernity is, in Marx’s terms (made famous by Marshall Berman) that “All that is Solid Melts into Air,” then are projections on vapor the purest expression of a modern, or postmodern, sensibility? At the same time, does the impulse to see into a wall of water evoke a primal desire to return to a uterine space, powered by what Freud long ago termed the "Oceanic feeling"?

In any event, we are eager to elicit thoughts from local community members on what might be imaged and imagined through projection installations on and around the waterfall.

1 comment:

bjonpeake said...

The idea of projecting on the Charles River fall is especially interesting in that you're projecting images that re-imagine the memory on top of the "echoes" of the industrial revolution. That is to say that the waterfall becomes both imaged and imagined in the sense that it is an image of the revolution with imaginings of the revolution mapped on top of it.