Video as a Tool for Production and Narrative Expansion with Art Research Enterprises
The use of video to produce and share art continues to grow in importance in the wider spectrum of the art world. Across all media, artists, galleries, and producers rely heavily on video, in addition to still images, to present a complete, 360-degree view of an art object and its environment. Art Research Enterprises (AR), a 40-year lead producer of fine-art castings and fabrication, has used video to capture their process since it was first accessible to consumers - when cameras were 50 pound shoulder-pieces with grainy resolution, and VHS tapes were brand new. The company now has their own in-house production team, using footage to aid in the creation of sculptures.
Video can extend a piece through narrative, pulling together aesthetics, history, and social context, allowing for different viewpoints and an artistic flow of ideas to be presented together. Video also invites fans, viewers, and patrons into the production process, capturing the alchemy of creation, the sparks, pours, grinds, and welds that give art its form, revealing the process of material transformation. AR has a reputation for producing bold projects that stretch the boundaries of technical fabrication. Incorporating video as a committed tool for development allows them to work more easily with clients, thinking in terms of innovation, and sculpting the story around the work as it develops.
Three 60-foot high identical waves bend and ground reflected light, drawing viewers in over miles toward the MGM Resort and Casino. Their verticality draws our eyes from the horizon to the sky, suggesting an energy made both concrete and changeable through steel and its mirror-like reflections. “Unity”, fabricated by AR and designed by artist John Safer for EKA Monumental Sculpture, LLC., gives us a subtle play on perception, drawing attention to the way our mind makes sense of depth, height, and distance. As a landmark it highlights what’s around it, while offering a gentle counter-movement, a predictable bend that separates space into knowable parts, with a bit of mystery and a nod to the celestial within them.
Safer designed the piece by creating an original 18” model, which was scanned to digital form, wind-tunnel tested, and further designed on the measurements of engineers. AR fabricated and installed three identical monumental wave forms and additional wind dampers for each piece. “Unity” is vastly successful in its scale and visibility, with a pleasurable simplicity that complements its environment. To get to these elegant, large forms, many pieces of technology came together, including 3D-scanning and CAD design, as well as drone footage to quality-check the sculpture from the studio. All this happened virtually and at a distance, facilitated by video-based collaboration.
Working long-distance over technology like Zoom and Facetime has become common-place, thankfully now more ubiquitous and accessible. It has allowed production under difficult circumstances to proceed, in pieces like Blessing Hancock’s project for the Robert Crown Community Center. The piece was installed over three days, just after lockdown, in the midst of a 500 kid day-camp, with children flowing in and around the entrance where it lives. In moments like this, the art process is dynamic, constructive, exposed and integrated into the community that will receive it. AR’s Ben Blaney notes that as the caution tape came down, there was a kid standing on the sculpture within seconds. Through video, the artist and community hangs on to a living history, the precious moments where art is taken over by the public it now serves.
For Hancock’s sculpture and others, video is a particularly helpful means of working out lighting and color schemes, changing elements of timing, and enhancing control over how an artwork is highlighted. Using video as an exchange, AR can assist with lighting to improve angles, draw out intensities, and bring out more details and features of a sculpture. Their inspiration comes from clients and artists whose knowledge base and skill sets enhance and challenge the conventions of what might be built. High definition footage allows for more scrutiny, a double-edged sword that challenges artists to meet new, higher quality expectations. But regardless, the use of digital technology, including video, has also allowed for a greater democratization of access, to be able to take an idea from concept to reality, from digital file to three dimensions. From that realized piece, video may continue the story, adding life and opening up future opportunities for the life of the work and its artist.
Video can be used for many aspects of development and quality control. A client might take on a certain level of sculpting and work with AR over video to make decisions on molds, making sure things are buildable, refining the process and mitigating costs. Working creatively behind the lens, AR filmmakers can capture the livelihood of production, from metal pouring to molds breaking out of shells, moments of action and moments of planning. The process of creating art is exciting and a great way to engage fans, and it’s also productive to have in the hands of potential clients and commissioners. Not everyone might be able to experience a sculpture in real life, but through the extension of video, many more can access these wide-spread ideas and inspiration from anywhere.
Most recently, AR has been engaged with a bronze Buffalo Soldiers Memorial sculpture and accompanying video work. Historically, America’s “Buffalo soldiers” were members of the all-Black 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments of the American Civil War, named so by the Native Americans they encountered. Buffalo soldiers remained stationed in the West post-war, still marginalized and yet made peace-keepers during Westward expansion that included the marginalization of the Natve American people. It’s a complicated history, and one important to flesh out and acknowledge. Video will help to do so, capturing elements of the past and new living history, as the sculpture is to be escorted by several Buffalo Soldier motorcycle groups, traveling from Art Research Enterprise’s facility in Lancaster, PA to its destination in Lakeland, Florida.