- Media Art
- Artists and Artworks
David Rokeby was born in Tillsonburg, Ontario, in 1960 and now lives in Toronto. He studied Experimental Art at the Ontario College of Art and Design. Since the 1980s, Rokeby has been working with computers and video cameras as well as programming his own software. By creating interactive sound and video installations, Rokeby's artworks immerse the viewer both physically and conceptually in a dialogue with technology.
Rokeby's artworks have been exhibited across North and South America, Europe and Asia. He has won numerous prizes for his artwork, including the first Petro-Canada Award for Media Arts (1998), the first BAFTA award (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) for Interactive Art (2000), a Governor General's Award in Visual and Media Arts (2002), and the World Technology Award for the Arts in San Francisco (2004).
Seen examines visual perception and the passage of time by mapping the movement of people and pigeons in the famous Piazza San Marco (Venice, Italy). This cinematic installation consists of four video projections displayed horizontally on two angled walls.
Seen is heavily dependent on its computer programming. Developed by Rokeby, the computer software allows each of the four projections to present a variation of the same real-time footage recorded in Piazza San Marco.
The computer programming of Seen stems from an earlier artwork entitled Watch (1995). Recorded on a busy street in Toronto, Watch is a study of motion through time. The same image is depicted in two projections that are displayed side by side: the first projection shows only the still elements of the street (such as the street and lamp posts), while the second presents the moving images (such as the cars, buses and people).
Computer, 2 projectors, Video Graphics Array (VGA) cables, custom software, digital source footage, 2 adjoining walls with a center angle between 190 and 220 degrees
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
Photo MMFA, Christine Guest
Video: David Rokeby, Seen (2002), at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts' exhibition e-art: New Technologies and Contemporary Art – Ten Years of Accomplishments by the Daniel Langlois Foundation (2007).
In this section, we will look "behind the scenes" to understand how Rokeby's computer programming functions and the proposed solutions for the installation challenges.
Seen is composed of the following materials:
The software that Rokeby developed allows each projection to show four different versions of the same footage:
The video sequence lasts for six and a half minutes and then loops back to the beginning.
In the following video clip, David Rokeby describes how Seen (2002) functions.
Installation view of the exhibition
e-art: New Technologies and Contemporary Art - Ten Years of Accomplishments by the Daniel Langlois Foundation
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts
September 20 - December 9, 2007
Seen made its debut at the Venice Biennale of Architecture in 2002. The artwork was shown internationally before making its way into the permanent collection of the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA). In 2007, the MMFA held the exhibition e-art: New Technologies and Contemporary Art – Ten Years of Accomplishments by the Daniel Langlois Foundation. At the end of the exhibition, the MMFA acquired Seen.
A number of installation challenges arose when Seen was exhibited at the MMFA:
Rokeby wanted the complete width of the projections to measure ten metres. The exhibition space at the MMFA was not deep enough, making it impossible to obtain the desired dimension with the projector's lens.
The technician working with Rokeby installed two large mirrors behind each projector so that the images would be reflected off the mirror and onto the wall in the desired dimension. Because the mirrors were suspended from the wall, the projected images were slightly distorted. Rokeby had to adjust his software many times in order to achieve a satisfactory projected image.
Each morning, the computer would not work and the artwork could not be projected.
For reasons that were never understood, the computers had to be rebooted every morning.
Although Seen's functionality depends on its technological components (computer and projectors), these elements are not of primary importance to Rokeby. As long as the visual features (size and quality of video projection) are respected, future technological modifications are acceptable. This will make conserving the artwork easier for the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA), as it will be able to introduce new equipment when necessary.
At the time of Seen's acquisition, the MMFA was faced with a choice of two different versions of the artwork:
Seen's computer program entails regular modifications with each installation. Rokeby, the programmer of the software, typically performs these adjustments. However, if the computer version is acquired, the MMFA will become responsible for these complex alterations. The dependence on Rokeby for future modifications is not a sustainable long-term conservation practice.
Seen has always been exhibited using the computer version. However, to avoid future computer programming problems, Rokeby recommended that the MMFA acquire a Blu-ray disc version, which would contain pre-recorded sequences of Seen. A newer form of the DVD, Blu-ray discs can store more data and play high-definition video. As this technology is replaced by a newer one, the MMFA can easily migrate Seen's footage to the desired storage version.
In the end, the Museum decided to acquire both versions of Seen – the computer-based version and the Blu-ray version. This will ensure flexibility in ways to conserve the artwork over the long term.