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About Reiko Kubota

Polyluminous Imaging

Polylumious Imaging

Polyluminous Imaging is a video sequence constructed with a set of photographs capturing the images on an LED light display, called Saccade-based Display. I composed the sequence of individual images pictured taking into account the unique saccade eye movement characteristic of this form of display.

Some time ago slide projectors were used to present photographs in public to an audience. I once saw a visual presentation using two slide projectors which displayed images on one screen in such a way that it created the impression of a figure in motion by projecting one image followed by a second to blend for a time with the first as it gradually faded away. Over the duration of the projection a subtle and memorable rendition of the figure was portrayed in a graceful time-lapsed sequence.

I decided to experiment by combining these two display techniques to invent with a sequence of static images composed from photographs taken from Saccade-based Display projections, causing them to transform into images sequentially as you look, without the individual images themselves moving. This approach to composing with time-sequenced and overlapping still images derived photographically from the Saccade-based Display allows me to compose time based art works with the elusive images that it presents.

Saccade-based Display

The mechanism of the Saccade-based Display uses features of perception associated with eye movements. In reality, its manifestation is a tube of LED lights that flicker at certain intervals and can be programmed to generate discrete images which become visible as one's eyes move around and across the LED display. However, as soon as your eyes stop moving and you gaze directly at the display the images disappear leaving what appears to be a flickering light source.

The visual challenge posed by the display is that one cannot look at the projected image at any length and it is this very characteristic that I am curious to explore. The virtual existence of the temporary image limits the viewer, in terms of the degree of control over the frequency and the distortion of the projected images, as they are only viewable while induced by eye movement.

Visual challenges of the Saccade-based Display

As an artist I produce visual images which invite viewers to look, explore and hopefully be intrigued by, and which require time to engage with.

Saccade-based Display presents a challenge to this approach but at the same time its attraction is in the very nature of the display. It is intriguing that the viewer cannot return to the image they have just seen in a split second and thus the image of necessity resides in the memory. The LED will continue to project the same design for a certain duration, but the next eye movement will not replicate exactly what was just seen, nor will what is seen next be a replication of what was seen before as the distortion to the image correlates to the distance of the eye travelling across the display which varies for each movement. The images that have passed cannot be repeated and the image cannot be halted for longer inspection.

Capturing images of Saccade-based Display

A camera, however, is able to capture an image from the LED lights and freeze it in time as a still image. The images captured by the camera are different from those detected by the human eye. The duration of human eye movement is 50 milliseconds, and the time required to read one horizontal line of pixels (each LED equates to a pixel) is 0.5 millisecond, so during 50 milliseconds (i.e. one eye movement left or right) 100 pixels can be read horizontally. Consequently, to give viewers one static image in one flicker of the eyes using the saccade technology the LED is programmed to project one image of approximately 120 pixels per 50 milliseconds. This speed equates to a shutter speed of 1/20 second. Therefore, a photograph of the Saccade-based Display taken in the dark with a shutter speed of 1/10, one shot per 100 milliseconds, results in the camera capturing two projected images in one frame.

To capture the images I have used the camera in a way that follows the experience of looking by eye but with a slightly extended shutter speed (typically 1/4 - 1/8 seconds). During this exposure the camera is moved through space and across the LED display capturing to some extent randomly the Saccade image generated at that time. This process may be repeated many times creating a series of photographic images recording the experience of 'looking' at the display.

Transcribing the experience of 'ephemeral' vision

As an artist my motive for creating the Polyluminous Imaging, a time-based artwork, is to be able to express ideas about the process of looking. The resulting artwork is a succession of still photographs which overlap and change in a way that render them viewable over time, which is in contrast to the fleeting nature of the images generated by the Saccade-Based Display.

In the time-based layering of my photographs the intervals and image overlaps are set to regular intervals. What viewers perceive may seem to conflict with expectation for while looking at a static image it appears to 'move into' the next, also static, image, although none of the images actually 'move' during the overlap and as they pass through a time sequence. This is a fusion of opposites, a way to explore the transient and the random, to create images that translate the experience of looking at them while still seeking to capture the essence of what it is to experience saccade. Although the still images are revealing, it is in the further combining and layering of these images that the ephemeral vision created by the Saccade-based Display, including the experience of seeing and the memory of what has passed, becomes apparent and offers scope for greater invention.

Considerations for colour and form for the Saccade-based Display

The aim of the designs for the Saccade-based Display is to make the images memorable at a glance. In making decisions on colour and forms I relied on both my experience of the experiments conducted at the NTT laboratory in Atsugi, Japan, and of Dr. J. Watanabe, a co-inventor of the Saccade-based Display, who had found that shapes constructed from linear elements leave a more memorable impression as an image than solid blocks of colours.

However, when viewing a set of linear images that had been created for testing I noted that while some linear forms, such as a face or a bird, were quite difficult to interpret in the fraction of a second they were visible on the display. Often this was not the case with more complex photographs of similar subjects which were more recognizable. This also informed my designs.

My initial experiment creating images specifically for the Saccade-based Display utilized forms derived from my earlier paintings, digitally manipulated and simplified to basic geometric elements randomly distributed across the picture plane. When projected in Dr. Watanabe's NTT Atsugi laboratory the limitations of the design became apparent. The geometric shapes, which were in blocks of colour without a distinct outline, became indistinguishable and confusing when appearing for the fraction of a second the Saccade-based Display allows.

While conducting this initial experiment photographs were taken as a record of the event with a digital camera by moving it in front of the LED to imitate the eye movement capturing the image being generated. Subsequently, on viewing the series of photographs it became clear that the camera captures the images and how they appear in space in a way the eye cannot see. Each photograph captures a number of images which, depending on shutter speed and how the camera pans across the LED light tube, can cause interesting and unpredictable overlapping of the projected forms.

Following the initial experiment I sought to create shapes that are more instantly recognisable. I began by looking for shapes derived from familiar, referential and descriptive forms but that could also be abstract and direct, resulting in images that have been described by others as 'flower like', 'spiky sun' or 'star in circle'.

Colours were chosen to give maximum contrast and support the linear elements of the shapes so they would stand out from one another. For instance, when concentric circles are used the colour value of each circle is considered in relation to the adjacent circle, to give the most visually contrasting hue and tone, e.g. bright orange versus yellow green versus magenta. I also rendered the forms as vivid and intense as possible ensuring every line stands out against the black background. The black background allows for the image to be transcribed to an LED display, black reading as nil light, enabling the linear shapes to be projected into space independently. Consequently, the combination of intense, vivid and contrasting colours and apparently 'identifiable', albeit quite abstract, forms has resulted in seemingly 'recognisable' and more memorable images when projected using Saccade-based Display.

Having established the design strategy, my artwork is now developing towards achieving visually intriguing and stimulating images that create an aesthetic experience for viewers, an experience which will leave a lasting impression and allows for greater interpretation.

I have looked at natural objects for inspiration in developing memorable and, I hope, beautiful forms and colours which may appear 'familiar' to most people relating to experience of observed forms in everyday life. When viewers describe in words what they see in these artworks they are inevitably referencing images which relate to their personal experience of the world and in so doing bring an added dimension and life to the visual experience of the artwork.

Development of Polyluminous Imaging

Having considered the design of compositional elements I then invented the process of using the photographic images sequentially and layered to create a counterpoint to the momentary way we experience the images projected by Saccade-based Display, the resulting Polyluminous Imaging rendering it into something one can fix an eye upon, look at and explore.

My artwork has been influenced significantly by polyphonic music, particularly its early manifestations, when the form of the music was developing. I am particularly intrigued by some examples of early polyphony in which several unrelated songs are sung with different lyrics simultaneously creating harmony and discord at random intervals. I have taken great interest in this as I believe contrasting dissonance enables an appreciation of balance and harmony, just as light needs darkness to shine through. A most interesting feature for me is the layering of the voices, resulting at times in harmony and at other times dissonance.

In my paintings I invent with layers of imagery and have developed a technique of working with transparent and opaque materials to achieve this, reflecting the interest I have for polyphonic form and seeking to capture both harmony and dissonance within my artwork. With this experience, I began to develop the idea for layering the photographs of the Saccade-based Display projections, transforming vision from the momentary to static and then time-based.

Art & Science collaboration

I first came across the Saccade-based Display by way of an introduction by Prof. Susumu Tachi to its developer, Dr. Junji Watanabe, in the darkness of his laboratory located at the time at Tokyo University. I immediately recognised the visual potential of the display and have been working with it since, in collaboration with Dr. Watanabe, to produce works of art. This is in contrast to the research presentations or information displays for which the system was originally intended, or had been used at that time, to serve as visual effects for live music and staged theatre performances.

Subsequently, I read an article by Dr. Watanabe in which he explains his research related to Saccade-based Display. He describes how when one is consciously looking at something, while the eyes are fixed on the object of the gaze, the brain registers as 'looking at it'. However, when the eye travels to another static point, the brain does not register the data collected by the eye during this movement. I interpreted Dr. Watanabe's article as being concerned with what I would call the 'in between time', when the eyes are capable of seeing but the brain does not respond. In this regard Saccade-based Display renders opposite the normal experience of looking. Images are viewable only when the eyes are moving and I find this research and the development of the LED display intriguing.

Reiko Kubota
August 2013

More information on the Saccade-based Display can be found atthe link below: http://www.junji.org/saccade/