"Atmospheres" Ambient Video Sculpture

Beck with “Atmospheres” at ARTEC Nagoya, Japan

Venue: ARTEC 91, a stellar presentation of art and technology in Nagoya, Japan, in 1991
Commissioned by H.I.H. Prince Tomohito of Mikasa, Japan (RIP 1946 - 2012)*

Title: "Atmospheres" ambient video installation

Materials: 36 cathode-ray tube (CRT) video monitors; Japanese maple wood, pebbles, sand, and salt; with original sound score composed, performed, and recorded by Stephen Beck. Two tons of ocean sand and river pebbles, stones, and raw sea salt.

Description: This work depicts my resonance to experiencing the Shinto Gardens on Mt. Kurama, Kyoto, Japan.

A series of images is presented on four islands, each ranging from one to three meters in width and one meter high, and constructed of Japanese maple wood, filled with natural materials obtained near Nagoya (river pebbles, beach sand, sea salt), with multiple CRT video monitors buried in the materials. The four islands represent the classical elementals: Water, Earth, Fire, and Gaia.

The piece was inspired by a visit to Mt. Kurama near Kyoto, on my very first trip to Japan in 1990. Japanese pebble gardens have always fascinated me, and I encountered several of them while climbing Mt. Kurama, which is a sacred shrine Shinto mountain.

Along the route, shrines appeared with the gardens of stones. As I climbed and passed these shrines, an image came to my mind of partially burying light sources, such as video screens, under the pebbles and stones, so that the light from the CRT screens would pass through the stones, which in turn would act like optical filters or lenses.

To add an element of motion to this light, I decided to place images of waves, water, flame, plasma and other electronically produced, video-synthesized images on the various CRT screens. This kinetic light would not only modulate the materials but also appear to be modulated by the materials themselves.

As a result, in the Water island, images of water waves appearing beneath the pebbles might also resemble water flowing in a stream. Or in the Fire island, CRT images of flames and plasmas might appear to transform the pebbles into red hot coals.

In the Gaia island, a single, reflecting sphere rests on the CRT surface, which is covered by sea salt mixed with crystals of silicon, gallium, and other materials used to produce the electronic integrated circuit chips contained within the video synthesizing and display equipment. Viewers can not only observe themselves viewing the work, their focus will also be attracted to the kinetic visual motion displayed at the meeting edge of the reflecting sphere and the glass surface.

The "Atmospheres" ambient video installation sculpture is now in the private collection of Prince Tomohito

Special thanks also to my good friend and colleague in Japan, Mitsuhiro Takemura, Media Aesthetician, Sapporo City University.


* Prince Tomohito of Mikasa (寛仁親王 Tomohito Shinnō, 5 January 1946 – 6 June 2012) was a member of the Imperial House of Japan and the eldest son of the current HIH Prince Mikasa and HIH Princess Mikasa. He was a first cousin of Emperor Akihito, and was formerly sixth in the line of succession to the Japanese throne and the heir apparent to the princely house of Mikasa-no-miya and the title "Prince Mikasa" (Mikasa-no-miya). Prince Tomohito was the first member of the Imperial House of Japan to sport a full beard since Emperor Meiji, thus earning him the popular nickname of the "Bearded Prince". He died of cancer on June 6, 2012, aged 66. (Source: Wikipedia)