In succession: a digital installation

Our Digital Curator and the artist who created our latest digital installation share more about their process.

“I think Hazel did a great job drawing parallels between the catastrophic fire of 1666 and the refugee experiences today.”

Foteini Aravani, Digital Curator

Foteini Aravani, Digital Curator, discusses the commissioning process

In February 2016 the Museum of London invited students at the Slade School of Fine Art to respond to the Fire! Fire! exhibition. The proposal from Hazel Brill, MFA in Fine Art Media was selected.

Her video installation for the museum’s Sackler Hall, ‘In Succession’, focuses on the state of limbo between the aftermath of the Great Fire and the city’s rebuild.

We worked for 3 months on the concept and the production of the installation, testing it as it was progressing. I loved working with Hazel, it was really interesting to see her ideas transforming and to watch the progression of the commission. I love the end result! I think Hazel did a great job drawing parallels between the catastrophic fire of 1666 and the refugee experiences today.

“... relating to the idea of being displaced from home, I wanted to create an environment that continuously descends into disorientation.”

Hazel Brill, MFA in Fine Art Media

Hazel Brill, MFA in Fine Art Media, on her creation of 'In succession'

I was thinking about the involuntary and violent displacement of civilians caused by the fire and the idea of cognitively reconstructing spaces in the absence of physical structures. Animation felt an appropriate medium for this. Alluding to a zoetrope, a succession of anonymous disembodied feet rotate around the LED curtain, appearing momentarily between fragments of architecture in the central LCD screen.

Similar to the circular structure of the Sackler Ellipse, both a zoetrope, invented in 1834, and virtual reality software, utilise a 360 degree angle to invent new types of illusion. With a zoetrope, a succession of images blend into the perception of motion as the device is spun at at least 16 frames per second. The illusion is fragile, relying on the velocity of its structure’s spin exerted by the physical movement of the human hand. The accuracy of recollection is perhaps similarly momentary. Without directly mimicking a zoetrope or filmstrip, I wanted to allude to the use of sequences to synthesise motion, in order to reference the temporary. In terms of the use of feet, I think the movement of one foot describes forward motion in the simplest way.

The starting point for this idea came out of an interest in the inclusion and curation of digital elements throughout the Museum of London. These screens re-stage historic artefacts and animate narratives within virtual space, thus becoming aids for the preservation of the collection. The opportunity for new modes of storytelling provided by the development of technologies is something that interests me, although the necessity for using new media for engagement is, I think, an inevitability that many people feel wary of. Returning back to the title, a succession, a process of inheriting a title, means the previous position is lost, made redundant. This is where the idea of misusing CGI and referencing early animation emerged.

In the central screen, 3D scans of buildings and artefacts surrounding St Paul's Cathedral make up a non-sensical stage where a camera explores shell like structures of these depictions. I wanted to expose the immaterial and theatrical nature of CGI animation. Descending into more abstract and disorientating representation of space under stage lighting, I was thinking about absurdities and the artificial nature of reconstructing space, and likewise collating memory. I guess giant disembodied feet contribute to its ridiculousness. The architectural models were made by putting an inadequate amount or incorrectly angled photos of buildings into a 3D scanning programme, the software then stitched them together in a kind of broken way. I was handing over some control to the computer. I then collaged the models into an irrationally composed environment; I tried to do that part quickly. I actually felt super disoriented when navigating what I was making on the software, I kept losing models within the collage, so really the convolution wasn’t hard to portray.

I think that the part of the Great Fire of London exhibition that deals with the fleeing of refugees from the City, will resonate with people in a potent way due to the current humanitarian crisis. It felt inappropriate to talk directly about such devastation above a cafe. However, relating to the idea of being displaced from home, I wanted to create an environment that continuously descends into disorientation.

I had never made work for this type of commission before so it was quite a learning curve. I found it exposing to work outside of a gallery context and to the constraints of a brief, which is probably one of the most valuable things to have come out of this because it made me question what I am doing. I found it difficult to control certain traits I have noticed occurring in my work; displays of stupidity, sarcasm, banalities, methods to express a kind of self-consciousness about the given narrative. Working on such a large scale was really great and the LED curtain was an exciting material to play with. It was such a fantastic opportunity for me and an amazing experience, I feel so lucky to have got to work with the museum and in such a great space and with amazing technology. I really want to thank you for that!

Hazel Brill’s In Succession can be seen in the Museum of London’s Sackler Hall from July 2016.