ANIMAL’s feature Artist’s Notebook asks artists to show us their original “idea sketch” next to a finished artwork or project. This week, artists Shane + Kevin talk about their series Have you seen Mr. Brown?, animated gifs created by hand-cut, halftone analogue screens. The profits will go to the family of Mike Brown.
As artists, we’ve repeatedly explored projects that have engaged visual phenomena, and more specifically, spaces and objects that affect our optical experience of the world.
One such phenomena is moire, which can be understood as the overlapping of two regular patterns in order to create a third effect. The resultant complexity of the overlapping and transparent patterns intensifies as one pattern moves with respect to the other.
As the relationship between the patterns changes, so does the moire: either growing more dense, or in some cases more transparent, depending on how the openings align. In the past, we explored this exact phenomena with our proposal for street tents on the Bowery in New York City. Our project – entitled NEW TENT – was intended to animate our experience of the city, not only by transforming the way in which we saw it, but also by producing a dazzling play between light and dark, and simultaneously concealing and revealing its own interior workings.
Collaborating with Depict on this project, it was our intention to explore this same effect through animation rather than built form.
On August 9th, 2014, Mike Brown was shot dead in the streets of Ferguson by a white police officer. The precise circumstances of his death are disputed, and have been further muddied by the media’s coverage. In many ways, the facts are not clear, but are instead veiled, by the overall lack of information and multitude of misinformation.
Frustrated with the unknowable and obscure circumstances surrounding Brown’s death we decided to create a work that would make manifest this veiling of reality.
To illustrate this idea, we created a work where the singular, iconic image of Mike Brown looms present but is constantly obfuscated, and the obfuscation occurs through the action of a moire. In order to achieve this, we created two nearly identical patterned screens produced by halftone images cut from white museum board.
The halftone was a device that allowed us to simultaneously abstract Brown’s image while creating a pattern that could easily be mechanically and precisely produced. Halftoning is a technique that has been referenced and employed by many artists, such as Roy Lichtenstein, Sigmar Polke and Andy Warhol.
Lichtenstein image (detail) with halftone dots.
However, in order to achieve our desired effect, we had to optimize the halftone dot pattern for our specific purposes: its circles are at once both varied enough to render Brown’s depiction, while also regular enough so as to create a recognizable and repeated pattern that allows for the moire effect to take place.
Once we achieved a pattern that was effective in both ways, we transferred it onto the museum board by using the circles as the machine path for a laser cutter.
The resulting holes (the absence of laser cut material) reference the bullet holes left in Brown’s corpse.
To make matters even more complicated – and because a moire requires two overlapping patterns – we knew we had to split the halftone dot information up onto two separate screens.
The result is that each patterned screen contains only half of the image’s visual information: when perfectly aligned they construct Brown’s image in full, but once dislodged the interaction between their patterns creates the moire.
The animations are visual documents of our explorations of this dislodging: they are residues of our explorations of the screens’ interactions through specific and varied physical trajectories. In order to create the animations we shot over 200 stills of the sheets in varying positions.
Between each shot, we shifted the screens incrementally so as to create a continuous stopmotion animation. We designed the lighting for the individual photographs to be frontal and even, with the result that the physicality of the screens as objects became secondary and the two dimensional patterns (of both mike brown’s latent image, and of the moire) instead became the primary focus of the resulting images.
In the end, we were satisfied with the animations that resulted from this process and with the mesmerizing effect that the moire produced. It’s our hope that this effect draws the viewer in, leading them to consider both the visual optical content as well as the complicated likeness of Mike Brown and its significance. We strongly felt that it would be inappropriate to profit off of Mike Brown’s image and we are really excited about donating all the profits from the sales of these animations to his surviving family members.