This post explores various research and ideas behind my recent moving image project Tales From the City (1 Minute)
The video is made up from many different visuals and interconnected strands of research used to layer, collage and filter memories of the contemporary city.
Underlying themes embedded within the final work and notes about experimental digital processes are recorded here in the form of a digital sketchbook, to illuminate my practice rather than explain the work as this must stand alone as self-contained artwork alongside the briefest synopsis.
Whilst work is in progress, each visual graphic, photo, audio-clip or map fragment holds personal significance leading me through the process of making. But once the work is complete, only glimpses of these fragments and their origins remain; this is an attempt to rewind and unravel some of the concepts and processes behind the work.
Drawings and Notes
I currently now work almost exclusively as an on-screen artist and no longer keep a ‘proper’ sketchbook in order to work through ideas.
However, occasionally I do make sketches
However, most of the time I don’t create sketches for moving image projects, preferring the spontaneity and risk involved in evolving new forms and ideas directly on the screen.
More often than not, my visual ramblings appear more like this
Below, another pencil drawing for Tales From the city (1 minute)
Collage & Texture Mapping
Tale from the City (1 minute) continues my interest in how collage may be reconsidered in light of digital media’, using 3D modelling to build upon approaches within my large format digital prints to create 3D sculptural assemblages that are rotate-able in the space behind the monitor screen.
The models used in the video and their many different facets use a technique called ‘texture mapping’ where visuals may be pinned to the surface of the models. For texturing, I used mainly camera-phone photos rapidly shot whilst walking through the city and borrowed online maps, such as Google Earth and Street View.
Although I had been experimenting with texture mapping for some time in previous works, for this work I reconsidered the different facets and transparent image-surfaces as memory-membranes: Forming a kaleidoscope of continually altering visuals that recall the city in a tumbling stream-of-consciousness.
The City Scene 1
The video begins with the camera rapidly descending into a cluster of multi-coloured models depicting a futuristic and anonymous looking city space; this could be many 21st Century city spaces but the scene is actually based upon Canary Wharf, London.
I used Google Street View maps of the area to construct the models, the flattened perspective of the aerial maps acting as a guide to trace out and elevate the various rectangular structures. The tower block surfaces are textured mapped with Street View images of nearby much older residential Poplar housing estate that exists in the shadow of these wind-swept, glass and steel towering structures; highlighting the shift between old and new development existing cheek-by-jowl in the city.
Then, as the scene proceeds, a small rectangular graphic in rapid motion positioned in the bottom left corner of the video frame pops-up and sweeps the viewer into the next contrasting subterranean-like scene.This flickering mini-video depicts Street View in action captured in the moment when the viewer pushes through the virtual streets using a mouse within the browser window.
I am fascinated by Street View’s illusion of reality that is seductive and convincing until a glitch or error in the the seamless panoptical view occurs by way of a blurred-out road, gap between structures or a mis-matched building; reminding us that this is really a kind of collage put together by code and algorithms.
Scene 2 - The Heygate Estate
Work on Tales from the City (1 minute) originally began after a visit to the soon-to- be-demolished Heygate housing estate in Elephant and Castle, Wandsworth, London. The estate was home to more than 3,000 people but only a few of the residents now remain. I spent a sunny afternoon in October 2012 meandering around the estate with it’s striking Brutalist buildings, furniture discarded outdoors, boarded up windows and barricaded elevated walkways all pointing towards the Heygate’s imminent demise.
I expected to find a foreboding place but discovered activities taking place such as Parkour in a clearing beneath a dense canopy of old trees and a lush community garden with it’s own irrigation supply, endless wall paintings saturated the walls.
Overall I was fascinated by the cycle of decay already set in motion due to the relocation of many of the previous tenants. The photos taken on that day were eventually used in the 2nd scene to texture map the labyrinthine 3D model (see sketchbook drawing 3, above)
At the time of my visit in October 2012, the Elephest festival was also in full flow and various artist’s site-specific installations added an extra layer of interest to the estate; these artworks were also incorporated into the video
Shortly after my visit I discovered Anna Minton’s page-turner Ground Control as an illuminating, impassioned account of contemporary urban gentrification and loss of personal, and psychological space in 21st Century UK cities – A critique of heavily surveilled, squeaky clean and ordered new city spaces such as Canary Wharf, and Liverpool One.
The book confirmed my own negative perception of over-large oppressive and depersonalised shopping malls that lack the lively/ human cacophony of noise and activity present in the irregular networks of open-air, ground-level city streets. These concepts eventually permeated the video by way of the contrasting upper and lower level spaces in scenes 1 and 2, via juxtaposition of organic/ geometric forms and austere/ bustling spaces.
Making the Models - SketchUp experiments, process & Low-tech
Tales from the City (1 minute) also results from experimenting with a free 3D modelling program called SketchUp designed so that anyone who is not an expert CAD trained designer may make detailed models of real-world building or objects.
SU is not able to render such dense high resolution animated frames such as Maya but I do really enjoy the challenge of co-opting software such as this and adapting it for my own practice. My approach is to avoid using the software in the more usual ways by dispensing of pre-set tools in favour of finding and exploring small corners of the software in which to work: Using a rather go-against-the-grain approach in relation to what the software is supposed to do. In this case using SU to create intuitive, abstract and organic models texture-mapped with collage-based visuals.
Unfamiliarity with new digital process at the start of a project is an advantage as I then avoid the repetitive pitfalls of becoming a technical expert in specific software packages, therefore my practice remains stubbornly low-tech to keep the focus on experimentation and serendipity.
I have always taken the approach of being consistently perfection-adverse in all chosen media including previous printmaking where I exploited the unpredictability of chemical lithography or etching to alter and layer found photographic imagery.
Of course, the drawback to taking such a fly- into-the-unknown software approach is that it can take a long time to find that relevant small corner and along the way, many rejected test pieces occur that remain unseen! Concepts tend to arise as projects progress via ‘thinking through process’ rather than starting at any precise starting point; although I do frequently revisit themes such as the urban environment or today’s media saturation.
SU, originally owned by Google then Trimble, encouraged model production by the public in order to populate Google maps in the form of crowd sourcing: This is indeed a pretty clever way for Google to populate their online map apps for free
‘Google held a yearly “Model Your Town” competition. These promotions certainly have added to the amount of 3D data in Google Earth, but the world is a big place and it would likely take centuries of such projects before the data was collected in one country, let alone the world.‘
As a result of the past connection to Google, the current version of SU still has a very useful tool via a pop-up window that can connect with and download images directly from Street View without leaving the actual program window; a feature that I used to directly grab Earth visuals and attach them to the surfaces of models.
Creating a Model
SU is really quite user-friendly even for beginners to make basic geometric models onscreen, facets can be grabbed and extruded using a ‘push/pull’ tool (See handy diagram below)
Eventually I found a way to sketch out more fluid line drawings using a graphics tablet on screen and then extrude and elevate the lines into forms that were much more organic and unpredictable.
As I progressed with model making and texture-mapping I discovered that a camera could be ‘taken for a walk’ around these virtual models to form an animated sequence viewable in SU. Finally discovering that these sequences could be exported to Quick Time and worked on in video editing software to produce the final video.
I always start new work in the same position of anxiety thinking that I should know exactly where I am going. However, aside from vague starting points and intentions on the peripheries of mind, I never do; work has to evolve gradually through process resulting in a convergence of many different elements over time.
By shifting visuals from physical reality ‘out there’ (in the form of the Heygate photos for example) into digital space and transforming online Street View maps, and drawings of Google Earth into digital models: I am interested in exploring how digital tools may be used to filter reality through memory and the imagination, and how these new online spaces are continually forming new realities.
*Texture mapping is a method for adding detail, surface texture (a bitmap or raster image), or color to a computer-generated graphic or 3D model.’
**Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion map projection on Wikipedia
Many of my camera phone photos taken at the Heygate can be found on a previous post HERE
View Tales From the City (1 minute) HERE
Southwark Notes Whose Regeneration? blog by Southwark residents about the Heygate estate development and imminent demolition.
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(2-4pm) as part of Bermondsey Art Trail on Saturday 12th July
Curated by Rebecca Fairman
Image Credit: Shortwave Cinema
Artists and Films
Helen Schell – Bloodsmock
Barbara Monteiro – Walking
Anton Hecht – Tango Master
Rua Acorn – Sharing Spaces
Liam Rogers – This is Not a Test
Trish McRae – What do We See
Michael Davies – Unsettled
Rebecca Fairman – i-phone Madness
Rebecca Fairman – Telling Tales
Sandra Crisp – Tales from the City ( 1 minute)|
Bada Song – SEND-IT
Richard Miller – Scratch
Image Credit: Shortwave Cinema
Art Trail Details:
11am – 5pm Saturday 12th July (free)
Saturday 12 July
Meeting point : The Horse Shoe Inn
26 Melior Street, SE1 3QP
(4 mins walk from London Bridge Station)
Tour 1 @ 11.00 am
Tour 2 @ 12.30 am
Pick up a free large scale map at London Bridge Customer Service desk next to
the Rail ticket office or from the guides at the meeting point. Or HERE
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Very please to contribute towards a collaborative project with good friend and fellow
artist Sumi Perera RE
Universal Artist Book Scroll
A tribute to James Joyce & his collaborators
by Sumi Perera & Company
I had fun creating my contribution or ‘block’ for the project which had to completed
quite rapidly by return of post to be included in a forthcoming exhibition in Cyprus…
Sandra Crisp: Block for – Universal Artist book Scroll
Computer code/ inkjet print/ rubber stamps, collage
‘Blocks’ received by each contributor ( delivered by hand or by post) are blank embossed
sheets of heavyweight A6 paper, with a simple 2-colour printed gradient – from transparent grey to gold.
Photo Credit: Sumi Perera RE
Universal Artist’s Book Scroll (detail) by Sumi Perera RE at LOOP
The project will be installed at:
Hadjigeorgakis Kornesios Mansion, Nicosia, Cyprus
16th May-28th June 2014.
Facebook page HERE
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In 2013, I received the Printmaking Today award at Print International exhibition, Oriel Wrecsam, N Wales.
The award included an editorial on my large format prints entitled Manipulating the Media, as part of the Artist’s Eye feature of the magazine which was published in Spring 2014 issue of Printmaking Today.
Read the full article here (.PDF)
Sandra Crisp: Opening day at Print International 2013; Oriel Wrecsam, N. Wales
Sandra Crisp: (1st work on the left) Soft_Terrain (Inverted) Digital print, 110 cm x 110 cm; Print International 2013, Yale College gallery, Wrecsam, N.Wales
Sandra Crisp: (left to right) 5Ways Filmstrip [inverted] Digital print, 110 cm x 110 cm and The Bigger Picture, 110 cm x 110 cm