In 2015, Auckland-based new media artist Joseph Michael travelled to Antarctica to capture the pristine scenery of one of the most remote corners of the world. Earlier this year, these images were finally projection mapped onto the entire exterior of Auckland’s War Memorial Museum, recreating the colossal scale of Antarctica’s icebergs in a cinematic collision of nature and architecture.
You’ve described yourself as being interested in the balance between technology and fine art. What drives your fascination between these two fields?
Technology is so rapidly changing. Every new project creates the opportunity for me to implement interesting technology in the work I’m creating. Having said that, I think it’s important to be mindful that the technology is only there to support an idea.
How did the idea for your Antarctica project come about, and was it always your intention to projection map these images?
A friend spoke to me about the remoteness of Antarctica, citing the huge changes happening in this environment, and asked how I would respond to that as an artist. Over the course of the development phase, it became apparent that projection mapping would be the most appropriate tool to convey my idea. I wanted scale to play a major role in my representation of this environment.
What kind of technology and methods did you use to projection map the Antarctica images?
We had to anticipate how the imagery we captured might be used when we came to the projection stage. There was a lot of planning that occurred before the trip to Antarctica, and the selection of a team with the right skills to enable us to capture a variety of textures, audio and video that could be used in the installation.
The photographic maps of the icebergs are kind of like a huge orange peel that we peel off the iceberg and put back onto the building. This huge photographic map is combined with visual effects and video elements to create the final installation. In order to digitise the museum, a 4-billion-point scan of the building was taken and then simplified in order to get the exact dimensions of the building in a digital space. We then placed various cameras around the building in a virtual environment. The final installation is the equivalent of placing eight 4K feature films side by side, with each film in sync to the one next to it.
What sort of challenges did you experience in executing this project?
Firstly, I settled on two simple ideas I wanted to convey - creating a sense of scale and creating a sense of awe. Any creative or technical hurdles were solved by referring to those principles. A lot of thought and discussion was had in the pre-production process to develop a data workflow that would work across the many systems and software platforms that we were using to create the project.
The other major challenge was budget, with such a large project, getting people to believe in a such a large vision takes a lot of patience and perseverance. I’m incredibly grateful to those who have supported us along the way.
What was your thinking behind the audio/music component of this project?
I decided to take a sound recordist down to Antarctica early on in the project. But it wasn’t until we got down to Antarctica that we discovered the unique and incredible sounds each iceberg was producing. Dave Whitehead worked with the amazing sounds Mark Michel had recorded and I worked with Rhian Sheehan to create a soundtrack that would translate how it felt to be in Antarctica.
What do you think is unique about projection mapping that doesn’t exist in other forms of exhibiting art? For example, on the walls of a gallery or through a digital screen?
The major thing I think projection mapping helps convey is scale. Having said that, I really enjoy that it creates an environment that people have to experience in the real world. I felt this was the closest way I could get to transporting someone down to Antarctica to experience it for themselves.