Mercurial Refractions 1994

Computer controlled interactive video, live image capture and digital satellite data and imagery. Collaboration with Jim Campbell.

Mercurial Refractions creates an image of the Earth through the layering of digital video images collected real-time from the Internet. The piece is based on the philosopher Martin Heidegger’s The Age of the World Picture. In this essay Heidegger charges that the world has become completely objectified by technology that we are no longer able to discern our participation in the world. We also cannot see our objectified position relative to the world.

The video image is projected to the dimensions of one wall of the space. The computer retrieves weather information from cities across the U.S. It filters this information to structure a narrative by selecting images stored in the computer and sequencing them. In addition the viewers’ movements in the space are followed by video surveillance camera and digitized. The computer renders the viewers’ movements as patterns of noise that float across the surface of the image and as a wind-like sound.

The viewer enters the space and sees a round image of the earth projected to fill one wall of the space. There is a pattern of noise running across the surface of the image. On the shadow side of the Earth image there is a view of an empty room with a chair. As the viewer moves her/his movements can be seen as perturbations in the noise pattern. The perturbations float across the face of the globe. Movement is also translated into a wind sound. The movements of the viewer reveal a figure in shadow moving in the room on screen. The figure constantly changes position within the shadow of the Earth.

The software connects to the Internet at half-hour intervals throughout the day. At these times the computer retrieves satellite images of the Earth and weather information such as temperature, wind speed, humidity from the city in the U.S. where it is currently noon. The satellite image changes throughout the day creating a sense of the rotation of the Earth. The shadow side of the satellite image is layered with an image of a room in shadow with a figure that moving about it. Images with the figure are retrieved from the computer’s memory and sequenced according to the weather conditions the software last observed.