Eduardo Lytton
Jose Angel Olivares

portrait of a memory in vhs

Sometimes people look to video to act as memory for them, but sometimes video images supplant our memories and a new reality is created--another plane that exists in the blippy edges of video. "portrait of a memory in vhs" is a video sculpture that explores the relationship of video and memory.


Frame By Frame: Creation and Manipulation of the Moving Image,Interactive Screens and Cinematic Objects

"Portrait of a memory in vhs" is a video sculpture that shows the image of a 12 year old girl projected through and reflected off of several different layers of surfaces. This girl is presented in the realm of abstraction: her image represents a memory, or may be an extension of the past as an idea. This "ideal" state and her pure nature is also reflected in sound: three simple musical bell tones repeat, gentle suggestions of memory...

This girl represented is from a different era, a more “analog” era– the 80s, the time of VHS video. She is presented without context but yet she seems comfortable within it. Through her actions we see that she seems content with herself and may be slightly tentative at times but her independence is still intact. We can see by the way her gaze and smile extends out of her that she is filterless– She is someone who has either not learned boundaries yet or has lived a sheltered life and has not learned to distrust strangers.

With different iterations this memory becomes distorted or less defined, each impression reflects or influences the other and each image (or memory) takes on different qualities, different textures, and begins to take a different form.

For this project, Jose and I tried to look at video from various time periods, trying to understand the technology and the particular look that came with the implementation of that technology. For us, it was important to research and understand the basic workings of early tube TVs, the work of Paik deconstructing video, and video cameras and VHS from the 80s, and digital effects of today that mimic these looks (primarily in After Effects).

This project is for everyone but will most probably resonate with those that grew up with technology that is now being phased out such as analog video and television, VHS. It is for anyone who thinks of memory and how our mind works--anyone who has ever looked at photographs and could not remember if the photo created the memory or if the photo was just a bookmarker to a memory.

User Scenario
"Portrait of a memory in vhs" is meant to be looked at from a distance of 6-12 feet, where someone can take in the overall look of the effect of the projection, with all the layers of the projection surfaces together. Then, as a secondary item, the reflection from all the projection surfaces runs across the ceiling in different ghostly grids and sea-like shapes of bright light. Hopefully people will be intrigued and will walk over to see the projection surfaces from many different angles.

Jose and I are thinking of perhaps exploring "capturing" the last, most abstract reflection that usually occurs on the ceiling (finding a way to point it out as something intended in the project). In addition, Jose and I have considered making the video sculpture interactive by placing proximity sensors by the projection surface. In order to further illustrate the elusiveness and detrimental quality of memory, as people approach the sculpture the amount of "noise" and "blippiness" will increase, possibly rendering this memory unattainable...

Images are projected onto a stack of vertical planes supported by a framework of metal and wood rods affixed to four free-standing poles using tape and fishing wire. Each layer has a different texture and reflects differently. One layer is transparent acetate. The projected image on this layer both projects through and is also reflected off of it, leaving an image on the plastic, but also letting the image fall onto the next layer, a layer of vellum. Most of the image is retained on this more opaque surface. However, some light escapes through and is reflected onto a layer of more opaque vellum. The effect on these last two “base” layers is similar to that of early frosted glass televisions, with an image that is pretty clear surrounded by a ghostly light. In front of the plastic reflective layer is a layer of mesh (a fiberglass mesh that is used for casting). The projection on this layer is superimposed on this cross-work pattern and becomes abstracted (in patterns that may simulate fields or pixels). Because of the porous nature of the mesh and of the highly reflective nature of the acetate, a last “ghost” image is reflected up towards the ceiling.

The framework and the manner in which these layers are shown are supposed to be as minimal as possible, stylized to represent the abstract plane of mind and memory. The vertical layers are meant to bring to mind video fields (the basic components of video signal). Different impressions of one ideal become slightly distorted and less an original in a chain of reflections, similar to the decomposition that happens over time with video playback. These different layers can also be representative of different emotional "overlays" in which we may see someone, each of them is tempered and distorted in its own way, but contributes to the overall look and our "truth" of how we might see someone... This person is calmly confronting us, letting the audience gaze at her while this process happens and unfolds before her.

Overall, we felt pretty happy with the effect “Portrait of a memory in vhs” achieved. When we originally presented this for class, it was an intense process in the sense that it didn’t always feel so “nailed down”, with concepts and ideas on how to solve things flying around and not having much time to let things flesh out. In a weird way, I think the pressure let much more happy accidents happen (some of the "blips" in the video) along the way and a certain energy was conveyed in the first iteration that other iterations may have lost a little. We want to try and experiment with this project, producing several different iterations (that will make for a longer continuous view on the same display) that will play on the same subjects of memory and vhs. We cast a wide net and it will be interesting to shear away, to carve out, with that same sort of initial zest, something more focused and and to explore what else happens along the way.