Directed and Animated by Yo-Yo Lin, Produced by Will Cherry, Music by Michael Matchen, Sound Design by Elle Callahan.
Project Summary: Ricerca, which in Italian means “search,” is a cinematic installation experience. As human beings we are constantly looking for signs, meanings, patterns because ultimately these images and memories make up what we each call our lives. In Ricerca, we follow the life of a man on this search, traveling through different memories and worlds to find something he has lost, or what was never his to begin with in the first place.
This film is experienced on five different projection screens in a gallery space with custom-designed surround sound, effectively creating a space for people to be immersed and actively participating in their own individual experiences of searching through time.
Through the construction of the space, the viewer gets the sense of looking through someone’s memories, at times scattered and fragmented on different screens, and at times a cohesive flowing image displayed simultaneously on all screens. There is a narrative present, but it is but an abstract one that relies on repetitive looping animations and vivid, impressionistic photographic images. The film is made up of a combination of ink blotchy hand-drawn 2D animation, analog stop-motion photography, and painting on film leader to create an aesthetic design that would capture the ethereal and nostalgic, though in certain moments visceral, memory-centered themes of the film.
As we went about making this project throughout the past year, it became clear to us we needed to develop a language when making cinematic installations. We were creating something where the film exists not simply in one direction in a room on one plane, but in multiple directions on multiple planes- 10 if you counted the images on both sides of the 5 rear-projection screens. Film language would not be applicable in this context. The viewer is allowed to move through the “theatre” and can choose where they wish to view the piece. Thus, we designed the room so that the film could still be sonically and visually experienced anywhere– though each watching experience could be very different. There is no single correct way to view the piece– the viewer is allowed to join in on the choreography of the piece by lending their bodies to the space where the installation resides. The concept is driven primarily by viewer interaction with the work.
We began to adopt the term “abstract narrative” because storytelling in a multi-screen set-up was no platform for a traditional story. The five screens are used to shape and inform the narrative. By allowing a story of a man in pursuit to be fragmented and disjointed on multiple screens gives the viewer a different way of immersing themselves into the work; almost as if they can peek into the frantic cognition of a man on a search. The entire exhibit is on constant loop and the narrative has no clear beginning or end, therefore viewers can walk in to the exhibition space any time, enter the brain space of the main character, and derive meaning from the piece based on the events and order of events they have so far witnessed- altogether creating one's own unique experience of the work.
As mentioned, I chose to use a combination of ink hand-drawn 2D animation, photography, printmaking, and painting on film leader to create an aesthetic design that would capture the ethereal and nostalgic, though in certain moments visceral, memory-centered themes of the film. It was important to me for the film to look like it was handcrafted because of how heavily the story centered on memories– every image had to be personal and visually reflective of traditional image-making. The textures and nuances of traditional mediums also lent itself well to the large high-definition screens.
Along with creating a visual style that would look appealing in the space, I also needed to figure out the best way to pace the film for physical viewing. I adjusted the duration of the animated scenes, having the same animation lasting on a screen for minutes at a time. This is because unlike film where one can expect the viewer to pay attention to every second of it, a multi-screen installation moves at the pace of a moving, observing, talking, potentially distracted human being that is absorbing both the film and also their surrounding space and social environment. The animation I created is much more slow-paced, meditative, and visually saturated than most typical films– I treated each scene almost like a painting, in which viewers are invited to gaze and ruminate on an image for a longer time. And because the there are so many screens, camera moves have to be slow and steady, colors are chosen with care so as not to overwhelm but to draw people in, subtle animation effects are added to give slow-moving scenes life and beckon viewers to look more closely.
Sound plays an enormous part of the installation as well, as each screen has its own speaker for sound design. With five speakers mounted above each screen for the hard sounds, my sound technician can move a sound effect, like a spinning bicycle wheel, through a digital music spatialization software from speaker to speaker, creating the illusion of a man biking through the space. I encouraged my sound designer and composer to collaborate and create a soundscape in the space, utilizing the five speakers but also three other speakers located on the edges of the room to provide low-frequency ambient sounds and a musical score. Through the use of this audio set-up, we would be able to achieve a compelling, multi-layered listening experience; an audio landscape that one can explore as they move around the room. This set-up also lends exceptionally well to helping direct the viewers attention through the narrative, as viewers can be prompted by sound to look in a certain direction, or follow their gaze on a character as it moves sporadically onto different screens, grasping a cohesive emotional experience through the musical score from the surrounding ambient speakers.
Through trial and error and constant experimentation we were able to outline, to an extent, the language of animated cinematic installation work. But the reality of it is, although most people are unaware of how installations are designed, everyone knows implicitly how they work because there is nothing we are more familiar with than experiencing happenings and objects in real space and time. The rules of moving one’s body in a space, observing our surroundings, and perceiving meaning in a physical environment are ingrained in us as human beings, but the nuances to creating content that could be effective in this environment and state of perception is infinitely complex. It is this push and pull between a universal bodily understanding and individualized cognitive experience that ultimately appeals to me as an installation artist, and most importantly, inspires me to create cinematic installation works like Ricerca.
UPDATE: With the help of virtual reality, we were able to showcase the installation at SXSW 2016, Los Angeles Pacific Asian Film Festival 2016, First Frame 2016, and New York Film Festival 2016.