Thanks to Jonny Baker for flagging up Hosts - an interactive video installation by Martin Reiser and collaborators which has been showing in Bath Abbey. Reiser drew his inspiration from the Jacob's Ladder motif on the West front of the Abbey:
"Vertical screens are placed at strategic opposite points of the space. A visitor triggers the presence of a variety of unfocused and evanescent video characters through the use of positional detection devices (Chirpers) and interpretative software. Individual characters appear at random and smile, beckon or otherwise indicate that the visitor[s] should follow them and pass onwards from screen to screen, keeping pace with the visitor[s]. These 'hosts' will be of a wide range of ages, gender, social types and races, but will always appear singly to the participant. A 3D audio landscape of footsteps, acapella tonal voices and breathing sounds will accompany the visitor between the screens and form a tangible changing audio landscape... If a visitor stands for more than a few seconds in front of a particular screen, the figure will turn in the direction of the viewer and return the visitor[s] stare. The video sprite will look the visitor up and down, or turn away in distraction and then speak a series of poetic aphorisms, also seen as animated text on the screen. The piece is a reflection on human life and death, presence and absence. The 'hosts' may be taken to represent a variety of presences: from the angels of Jacob's Ladder, to the spirit of people who have inhabited the same spaces, or seen as fragments of an individual psyche... On the last part of the installation will be pictured two vertical ladders, placed on opposite sides of the space, and disappearing beyond the screen edges. On one ladder the characters are continuously climbing upwards and vanishing. On the second ladder they are climbing downwards from the top of the frame and walking off screen."
Hosts ends today at Bath Abbey but I'll keep an eye out for it touring - I've love to go and experience it. Seeing these video screens hanging in a church building reminds me of seeing Bill Viola's moving and evocative video installation The Messenger, which I've posted about before:
"Bill Viola's work fascinates me. I'm not really into video art, but his work just seems to resonate with me. It has spiritual connotations - he uses a lot of water and I'm a Baptist! I'll never forget seeing his The Messenger at Fabrica in Brighton a few years ago. After its debut in Durham Cathedral, The Messenger had toured around the country for years (and so had I) but we'd never been in the same place at the same time. Then there it was, in a gallery two minutes away from my office. Fabrica is a converted chapel, and the video screen (which was about 20ft high) was hung behind the altar. The room was pitch black but for the light from the screen, and filled with the booming breathing of the man on the screen, descending into and rising from deep water. I used to go every day and watch for 10 or 15 minutes, watching him descend, getting smaller and more blurry, then slowly ascend, getting larger and sharper until he broke the surface of the water with a desperate, roaring gasp for air which ricocheted round the room."
I got to see The Messenger again when it was included in the Prescence: Contemporary Images of Christ exhibition at St Paul's Cathedral in 2004, which I reviewed for the 24 Hour Museum website. I hope I get to see it again one day - I don't think it could fail to move me no matter how many times I see it.
Stills from 'The Messenger' video installation by Bill Viola (1996) - click on the images for larger versions