Ashok Sukumaran on Tue, 14 Nov 2006 21:01:48 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Re: VideoWhale project.. from Pakistan

Dear FN,

thanks for the link, there are a couple of great outdoor pictures     
on it. I am tempted to ask the question: what might the video         
wall be used for? The website mentions using the video wall for       
classroom purposes. Im wondering if that makes economic sense, if     
your competition is an lcd projector that can be bought for less      
than INR 60,000. None of what follows here is to be overly critical   
of what I would support as worthwhile hardware calisthenics, and      
an interesting extension of gstreamer. I guess what im trying to      
suggest is that the now significant history of video-wall use and     
abuse could serve as a guide as well, for such projects. I wanted     
to share with you a story about a videowall built for an artwork by   
the well-known American video artist Dara Birnbaum. This is perhaps   
a familiar example for some, from the "critical history of new-media  
public art". Its a sobering account of pressures faced by technical   
infrastructure built for non-commercial use, especially those         
embedded in commercial contexts. (which means practically everywhere, 
to varying degrees). The Rio Videowall story is documented by Anna    
McCarthy in her unique and important book Ambient Television. (Duke   
University Press, 1999, p. 240-251) Most of the below is condensed or 
quoted from her text.                                                 
Dara Birnbaum was selected, in 1989, to create a permanent artwork for
a mall in Atlanta. The mall, called Rio, was itself part of attempts
revitalize a poor area of the city, quite close to downtown. Birnbaum
proposed a video installation on a 5X5 videowall, to be placed in the
central atruim. "Rio Videowall" used now-familiar keying techniques to
layer video from two sources... live Atlanta-based CNN, and footage
of the site of the mall before it was built...a small inner city
green. When a shopper entered the viewing cone of any of several
surveillance cameras placed around the atrium, their outline would
be used as a mask for one or the other video stream, creating "human
shaped keyholes" in the image, in which the other video would play.
McCarthy praises the artwork for "the way in which the video-wall's
presence implicated the space of the mall within local and global
economic processes of capitalism. Its image of the lost landscape
produced a chorographic sense of the mall as a place, that is, a sense
of the mall as located on a particular, unique point of the earth."
I am less convinced (having not seen the work, or even a video of it
but still), partly because I think such techniques related to ?the
body" in video have aged poorly, in the age of surveillance. Also, as
McCarthy herself points out later in the text, the artist's conception
of the "place" of the mall was incomplete in a crucial sense, being
unable to anticipate conditions in and around the mall that would
force the artwork's own demise.

In any case the work, or rather the videowall became a contested site
even before installation. The developer claimed that the videowall was
their property, and could be used to show other images if need be,
such as commercials. After a "bitter negotiation" it was agreed that
the artwork would play, as the artist had imagined, for six days a
week in Rio's normal operating hours, for seven years.
In early 1993 McCarthy visited Rio and found the video wall dark,
the mall practically empty. Rio had not succeeded in attracting a
"yuppie audience", and was on its way to being sold, and eventually
demolished in 2000. In the intervening years the videowall was
probably used most by Hoops, a sports bar next to it, before it broke
down completely. In the absence of the expected throngs of shoppers,
the keying effect would not happen very often, leaving the video that
was supposed to be intervened in, unmolested. As McCarthy puts it,
"The success of the video's critique of commerce depended, in other
words, on the success of the commerce all around it." Rio Videowall
was also marginalized in other, subtler ways. When the unsuccessful
Rio was sold, it became a black business and cultural centre: Hoops
was bought by ?a young African-American radio personality, Youngblood,
and renamed Youngbloods?. Then it became a radio broadcast location,
and at one time the entire mall was enjoying an unplanned, short-term
?revival?, as a cultural space. McCarthy argues that the actual cycles
of change at this site, (including perhaps an earlier, forgotten
destruction of a black inner-city neighbourhood), left the artwork?s
one-step, ?pastoral idea of the lost natural landscape?, somewhat
unconvincing. By this time the hardware was already dysfunctional and,
as a final indictment, none of the employees at the mall in its final
year, ?particularly lamented its passing.? It would be simplistic to
criticize the artist or even the developer for this eventuality. But
these are concerns, perhaps, for many people attempting a lasting
technological or otherwise non-commercial presence in the public
sphere. I am not, here, advocating a retreat to purely wireless,
handheld, or other non-contact sport. I am suggesting that we
need to rethink strategies for physical presence, in terms of the
inextricability of our own highly fluid, yet ?embedded? states. The
video-wall format is now used as much, to my knowledge, to gather
video from discrete sources onto one screen (in a security function,
for example) as to present a large single image split across screens,
a function taken over by brighter and cheaper projectors. The
video-wall, despite its good politics (here) of reuse and aggregation,
is trapped within a broader problematics of infrastructure, of a
large, hard-to-install visual surface, bound by conditions and
economics of its visibility. I?m afraid a lot of the current hardware
interest in large-scale led grids or displays, for example, falls into
a similar context. Sorry if the above is a dark story, perhaps someone
here knows a happy one. Here is mine... albeit not exactly a video
wall, and temporary, but Shaina Anand/ Chitrakarkhana's project used
the potential of a screen grid to create tactical "micro-media" and
quite interesting communication possibilities, in Delhi, using cheap
surveillance technology:
and here is a streaming version, using gstreamer and icecast. and finally, for people who
still have good ideas about what to do with video walls, (or have
fond memories of them) here is a great-old-school example that I
happened to come across at the wonderful kiberpipa, in ljubljana. this is unfortunately
in slovene, and i cant find a translator, but a brief description from
Bostjan is here:
ASCII VideoWall by Kiberpipa, technical description.


The wall is made of 12 complete and original IBM PS/1 computers, with
monitors arranged in 3x4 layout, to produce a true 16:9 picture screen
- the so called "big screen TV". The computers use 486 processors
and are thus quite slow, so we use them as 'thin clients' in a LTSP
system, with a network boot from a dedicated Pentium III server. The
server uses modified version of AALib, to split the already converted
video in the appropriate slides and send them to appropriate clients
via UDP connection. The monitors are stripped to gain space and the
computers are stripped to motherboards and connected in quadruples
to three power supplies, to enable simpler power-up procedure.
It takes three skilled technicians to power the thing up without
losing power or setting a house on fire. and here are some pictures
&include=view_album.php The rolling video-wall on fire seems like a
great idea, (im thinking of that early drive-a-car-into the stacked
TVs video? remember who?) Such yet-unforseen uses will hopefully
debunk my theories above.



Date: Sun, 12 Nov 2006 16:03:02 +0530
From: "Frederick Noronha" 
Subject:  VideoWhale project.. from Pakistan

Could you please tell me what you think of this project? Sounds interesting....


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