All posts tagged: Statue of Liberty

Chris Jordan : A Bold Light Artist Hits Iconic Icelandic Church

Rafmögnuð Náttúra: The Hallgrimskirkja Church in Reykjavik, Iceland

It’s not that light artist Chris Jordan didn’t find the sweeping supersonic jet-shaped façade of the church inspiring. He just wanted to make it visible again to the people in town.

Hallgrímskirkja, the Lutheran church in the center of Reykjavík, with it’s soaring steeple and outstretched wings it has been an architectural icon since it’s completion in 1986 and anyone first laying eyes on the largest Icelandic church is usually impressed by it’s command and design.  And yet, somehow even pivotal architecture can disappear before our eyes due to familiarity and it may take a visionary talent like Jordan to bring it back to our attention with animation, mapping, color, and pattern.

Marcos Zotes and Chris Jordan “Rafmögnuð Náttúra” (photo © Enki)

From his home in New Yorks’ Chinatown, Jordan, who teaches interactive design at Baruch College and New York University, talks about his work in the same way that Street Art is often credited in the urban environment: art as activation.  “Activating is about changing people’s perceptions of overlooked or invisible spaces. A building can become an archetype, invisible, like for a New Yorker, for example, the Statue of Liberty. You look at it, and it disappears into the thousands of times you’ve already seen it. So for me, this light project was so exciting because here’s this massive landmark church that this whole town can’t see anymore.. made completely fresh and new. To see that reflected back at me through the faces of viewers was exhilarating.”

Marcos Zotes and Chris Jordan “Rafmögnuð Náttúra” (photo © Enki)

That observation perhaps was the pinnacle of his Icelandic experience in February when he camped out in front of the church over four days in the back of a box truck with his collaborator Marcos Zotes, a handful of computers, three projectors, and a low budget. Together they created a series of site-specific video performances that brought to life Zotes’ idea for a project called Rafmögnuð Náttúra.

The two had met while Jordan was performing his 24 hour timelapse of Hurricane Irene inside an engineered cloud at New York’s Bring to Light Festival last October. Zotes asked if Jordan would like to collaborate on a project to illuminate the 150 foot wide façade of a church in for the Winter Lights Festival in Iceland.  Since Jordan has over the last decade created installations appearing at MoMA, The New Museum, The Whitney, The Museum of Natural History, The Chelsea Museum, in Times Square, and many unusual places in between, he had a good idea what cool stuff he would like to do. With the free help of other artists, software designers, and even NASA, Jordan brought a mind-blowing façade to the church that Zotes had only imagined.

Marcos Zotes and Chris Jordan “Rafmögnuð Náttúra” (photo © Enki)

“We collaborated on how we could, with a very limited budget, create something spectacular for the festival,” explains Jordan.  “We knew that the majority of the budget would be going for projectors so we called our friends up to help us with creating animation sequences that could be mapped to the facade, in triple-HD resolution.”

“We developed a workflow and a template for each animator to follow; then compiled the animations together into a final 15-minute composition. In addition, I contacted friends at NASA for solar imaging data, and created animations using graphic and solar elements. The dream was to have northern lights over the building with the accompanying solar data displayed. Although the solar and earth weather didn’t collaborate, the animations of the sun in a dark cold city on this Norse façade were very appropriate and powerful.”

Marcos Zotes and Chris Jordan “Rafmögnuð Náttúra” (photo © Enki)

Jordan’s work over the years has included explorations into memory, and elements of photography, film, interactivity, and projections. We talked with Jordan about traveling to Iceland, transparent ideas, the importance of community, and what a light artist has to go through to reactivate an icon.

Brooklyn Street Art: Can you talk about the trip to Iceland?
Chris Jordan: We went to Iceland with just one day before the opening. The Icelandic people were incredibly accommodating, and set up three massive projectors inside a box truck, with a massive piece of glass mounted on it. The box truck became our projector-heated cabin in the center of Reykjavik for four days. Location is everything! It was a great setup. The projectors were aligned and from there I mapped the content using the software MadMapper by Garage Cube. Garage Cube are also friends of mine and they  helped me troubleshoot the tech issues the day before. The opening event had the band For a Minor Reflection accompany us, right after the mayor of Reykjavik introduced the festival to the audience.

But the day before this we went through myriad technical issues. Many times I thought this was going to either look horrible, or crash altogether. There was no budget for a backup computer, or to test the entire setup beforehand. Luckily, Iceland has an early sunset, so we gleaned a couple crucial extra hours to configure everything. The mapping was completed literally seconds before the mayor spoke. It all went off smoothly and the people that braved the intense horizontal-downpour cheered.

Marcos Zotes and Chris Jordan “Rafmögnuð Náttúra” (photo © Enki)

Brooklyn Street Art: You managed to transform a landmark into a completely different light using your creativity.  Doesn’t that feel pretty powerful?
Chris Jordan: Yes. It was pretty fantastic we were able to do this on such a small budget. It absolutely required a community to make happen. When our main computer failed, the Icelandic underground came to the rescue. One person there offered graphics cards he’d had in a drawer. Another brought us snacks from a nearby cafe. That community effort is really what made this project powerful for me.

Marcos Zotes and Chris Jordan “Rafmögnuð Náttúra” (photo © Enki)

Brooklyn Street Art: You were given no budget whatsoever, aside from a plane ticket and 3 projectors. How do you plan for a live performance with the inevitable technical issues?
Chris Jordan: Years and years of failure. I read an Edison quote the other day, “If you want to succeed, double your failure rate”.  I’m also a huge proponent of transparency, modularity, and scale. These tenets allow me to see unique solutions to problems, and find compelling solutions. Light art is still maturing as a public medium, as last November’s Occupy Wall Street “Bat-signal” projections attest. It’s a wide-open field for creative expression.

Marcos Zotes and Chris Jordan “Rafmögnuð Náttúra” (photo © Enki)

Brooklyn Street Art: Without revealing your trade secrets, is it true you plan to introduce more community interaction into your future work?
Chris Jordan: Always. There’s an axiom I live by: “There is no art without politics”. You either choose to engage it, or you choose political apathy. This ties in with ideas around real-time performance and feedback. I hate the word “rendering”, as it equates to “pouring concrete” on ideas that demand continuing dialog. “Trade secrets” imply hoarding of knowledge. I only want to work with transparent ideas and accessible technologies that ‘spotlight’ the individual’s role in society through creativity. I try to live an open-source life.

Brooklyn Street Art: What role does community play in this project and in your philosophy?
Chris Jordan: I love interacting with communities and to give them the control to create dialogue. This fascinates me, and informs my work constantly. My next long-term outdoor installation is on Governor’s Island, where I’ll be engaging the broadest spectrum of people on the planet (New York) in playing and building, using buckets and stop motion photography. For me it’s all about the community. Without it, we are making monoliths to our egos.

Marcos Zotes and Chris Jordan “Rafmögnuð Náttúra” (photo © Enki)

Marcos Zotes and Chris Jordan “Rafmögnuð Náttúra” (photo © Enki)

Marcos Zotes and Chris Jordan “Rafmögnuð Náttúra” (photo © Enki)

Marcos Zotes and Chris Jordan on the back of their box truck. (photo © Enki)

Marcos Zotes and Chris Jordan “Rafmögnuð Náttúra” – Chris at work on his live creations. (photo © Enki)

Marcos Zotes and Chris Jordan “Rafmögnuð Náttúra”. Mission control trailer. (photo © Enki)

Marcos Zotes and Chris Jordan “Rafmögnuð Náttúra” (photo © Enki)

Marcos Zotes and Chris Jordan “Rafmögnuð Náttúra” (photo © Enki)

Marcos Zotes and Chris Jordan “Rafmögnuð Náttúra” (photo © Enki)


With very special thanks to Enki for sharing this incredible photographic story.

Rafmögnuð Náttúra, a concept by Marcos Zotes created by Marcos Zotes and Chris Jordan

We would also like to recognize the other creators and contributors to the project:
Animators Thessia Machado, Noa Younse, Andrea Dart and Steven Tsai
Performer Coco Karol
Videographers Azmi Mert Erdem and Raghul Sridharan
Photographer Enki
and the music group For a Minor Reflection



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A Night At The Opera With The London Police ; “Who Cares Wins”

Opening tonight, “Who Cares Wins” cares enough to make you laugh.

Bathed in the warm lucid glow that is the music of Pink Floyd, Bob and Chaz put finishing touches on their new New York show at Opera Gallery, compelled to sing along with two assistants while tightly touching up pieces with a brush or marker. The show is almost ready to be hung. On the sparkling white walls of this Soho gallery the everpresent LADS characters will be floating and cavorting throughout Manhattan space-scapes while handpicked celebrities, friends, and cultural icons bob into the frame. Among the active characters The London Police themselves are happily participating- like truly interactive players in their own pristine video game stills. After 13 years and 35 countries and a few personnel permutations, the LP lads are very happy to be making new art for you and having a bit of fun while doing it.

The London Police. Puppy love. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

On the floor are stacks of completed paintings leaning against the walls, waiting to be framed. We’re not used to seeing their canvasses, large and small, with black simple and elegant wooden floater frames.

“We thought it would add an architectural element to the work,” explains Bob.

It’s quite usual for London Police to use the symbols and architecture associated with the city they are in when creating new works for a show, always in crisp linear black and white. What’s new this time is their use of color – employed here as washes of pastels, backdrops that evoke uneven city walls and incorporating graffiti tags; an homage to New York and their own roots. It’s the first time they’ve done color together on canvasses, and they are taking it slowly, happily.

The London Police. Bob working on a piece. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: You went from dreaming in black and white to dreaming in color?

Chaz: I think the point is we always felt that there’s a whole world to explore. When we were ready to start with the black and white work we knew that once we opened  the door to the world of color it would be a whole new world there too. Such is the way in London Police. We take something and we try to explore it fully before we move on.

Bob: Slowly as well, not jumping in and go too crazy. We like a slow evolution.

The London Police. Chaz working on a piece. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: Change can advance very slowly sometimes.

Chaz: It is not just that, it is also about exploring that which you have already. We haven’t even discovered everything we can do with black and white. Just holding  back so color does not overflow yet. We felt ready to go into color. It’s a big show. Erik from Opera called and say “hey guys we’d like to see something with color,” and we said to each other “we make mostly black and white, are you sure?” He said, “Just bring in a few pieces with color and let’s see what happens.” We are quietly pleased with the results. We’d like to take it further, explore it. We’d like to dive in.

Bob: It does not mean that if you are doing a big show you should lose control and say, “Oh yeah everything should have color. Loud and bigger.” We like the black and white because I think we can leave it in itself in a few things.  Just like Chaz said we have not yet explored it fully. To be honest, with the color works, we just wanted to have fun.

Brooklyn Street Art: The colors are muted, pastels.
Yes the palette is muted in all the works with color simply because we like nothing to fight against the black and white subject. You never really see dark blues. We didn’t want to do a black and white and colored in some big scene. We felt that we wanted to try a different approach with the color, not drastically different.

Brooklyn Street Art: So the color in this case serves as a background?
Yes like wallpaper.
The color gives some sort of a context to the characters. These swirls that Chaz makes are like tagged over. These layers on the canvas give the same context that the street gives – it’s a reference to the street.


The London Police. Detail (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Chaz: It is like graffiti really – specifically New York doorways always inspire me. There’re doorways around the world that are tagged but with New York doorways, there is that beauty in seeing 50 tags on top of each other, wheat-paste being thrown off and a tag on top, and then stickers. These doors are rich with life. That’s why I always feel sort of romantic about graffiti.

I know that there’re a lot of people that have said it but I concur that I’d rather see a bunch of New York’s throw ups on a rooftop than a full commissioned color piece that is nice…in a way it says more when you see stuff on the street that is raw. Because we have not done so much stuff on the street in the last few years – we have been doing gallery work it is nice to revisit that style and hopefully, by doing a show like this we might make enough money that we can take a few months off and do other projects, get back on the street and work on other things.

The London Police. Bob and an assistant putting the final touches on a piece.  (photo © Jaime Rojo)

In addition to incorporating color, there are a number of languages being bandied about on these new pieces; new scripts and characters – their curvilinear characters bold and swinging, sharp and smart in the whirling pieces of New York City, seemingly placed by the settling of a shaken snow globe. The appearance of other languages is again appropriate for the melting pot that is New York, but what does it say?

Brooklyn Street Art: Here’s a new color piece with the Statue of Liberty on the foreground. Can you talk about the words written in Arabic?
There are different languages. We have the gift of Google Translate. We translate The London Police into every available language that has a different alphabet and different fonts. Being that we are two people and that I mostly work on the characters it is a way for me to really enjoy another part of art. Making all these different fonts and enjoying different languages. I like it a lot. That’s one of my things to do. Bob does everything else.

Bob: (in jest) I don’t like it personally but I’m glad he is happy.
He just wants to see me smile.

And The London Police want to see you smile, so they are planning a number of twists on the typical gallery opening tonight in hopes that you’ll break out in a big LOL, and sing from the choirbook; 17 songs about dogs that will be handed out at the event. Included with the charismatic Abner Preis performing, telling stories, and changing his voice. Additionally, there is some talk about the dog singers.

Brooklyn Street Art: What about the performances we’re hearing about at opening night?
We are going to sing 17 songs about dogs… It is The London Police Dog Singers and a surprise guest appearance will be singing with us as the back up singers.

Why? Why not?

“It takes off the serious edge off the gallery art show because it is a little bit too serious some times,” says Chaz. “This is what is so special about making performance and making art: It is pure entertainment. If you are going to worry about what people think about it if they like it or not you are thinking wrong in my opinion.”

The London Police. Detail (photo © Jaime Rojo)

The London Police. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

The London Police. Detail (photo © Jaime Rojo)

The London Police. Detail (photo © Jaime Rojo)

The London Police. Detail (photo © Jaime Rojo)

The London Police. Bob at work. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Looks like the Thanksgiving Parade is about to start. The London Police. Detail (photo © Jaime Rojo)

The London Police. Chaz and Bob. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Mr. Einstein peers back at you from this new canvas by The London Police. Detail (photo © Jaime Rojo)

The recently departed Steve Jobs in a new piece by The London Police. Detail (photo © Jaime Rojo)

The London Police. Detail (photo © Jaime Rojo)

The London Police floating in full color through a galaxy of tags. Detail (photo © Jaime Rojo)

For further details about tonight’s LP opening click here

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