Pop Optics


Quite a few of these better-than-a-poke-in-the-eye-with-a-stick things going on at the moment.

Eyes, Lies & Illusions
2 Nov – 11 Feb 2007, ACMI Melb.
Awesome exhibition freshly loaded up with a giant collection of pre-cinematic optical inventions and illusions. This means lots of actual weird mechanical devices, tilted rooms with false perspectived viewing holes, and other settings designed to fool the eye. Much of the vintage gear has been gathered by collector and German experimental filmmaker Werner Nekes, and is as delightful to observe as the effects it produces. Some device words to google? Zoetrope, praxinoscope, phenakitascope, thaumatrope, kinetoscope, mutoscope, chronophotography.

A few contemporary artists and visual inventors have work integrated into the show, and a highlight of these is the
stroboscopic thriller dancers built by Sydneysiders David Lawrey and Jaki Middleton, within a piece called
‘The Sound Before You Make It’ ( 2005 ). A large circular spinning plate hosts about 10cm high dancers around the perimeter, each of the hundred or so dancers modelling a sequential pose from Michael Jackson’s zombie thriller dance. With beats blaring, the giant overhead strobe transforms the display into a scene of zombie re-animation – each of the dancers appearing to be physically moving – dancing – as the combination of strobe and spinning plate bludgeon the brain into a grinning awe at the spectacle of these little dancers, a sight heightened by their flickering dancing shadows on the nearby walls.


Tezuka : the Marvel of Manga
Melbourne : 3 Nov 2006 – 28 Jan 2007, Ground Level, NGV International.
Sydney : 23 Feb – 29 Apr 2007, Art Gallery of NSW

Astro Boy & Kimba the White Lion are the west’s gateway into the world of Tezuka Osamu, heralded as an icon of the Japanese manga movement. As well as these popular works though, he has an enormous body of illustrative work which straddles both youth-oriented and more seriously-toned adult narratives. Visual culture fiends can get up close, with this exhibit of original drawings, designs for manga covers and posters, and see the liquid paper spots and careful re-workings of many original images, quite a gorgeous and inventive collection, even if necessarily only a fraction of a fraction of his output. A special cinema retrospective ‘Focus on Tezuka’, is being held by ACMI alongside the exhibition, from 7 to 17 Dec 2006.

Robin Fox’s Rave-A-Licious
Oscilloscope laser performance projects are rarer in the 21st century than the nineties warehouses would’ve had us believe. Undoubtedly all roads in this terrain eventually lead to 1 x Robin Fox, a Melbourne based electronica / noise / experimental music performer who has gradually shifted his soundmaking to become servants of a giant green laser. In practice this means he tweaks specific frequencies and patterns onstage with a laptop, which in turn cause a very responsive laser to carve out surprisingly dimensional shapes in a cloud of smoke and inevitably leaves audience jaws on the ground for the duration of his show. Very much something that needs to be experienced more than described, but is also well documented online:

Video of panel @ Electrofringe 2006 : with Robin discussing his work – the technicalities and creative processes.
Synrecords(.com) – where Robin’s Backskatter DVD of green-lasered 5.1 surround sound can be purr-chased.
Rob gets down with the academic peeps too, having submitted a “PhD in composition, at Monash University, focussing on the development of multi-channel performance ecologies and the design of interactive electro-acoustic situations that explore the dynamic between performer, space and computer.”
Pretty Flickr photos of shiny green lasers on a hypnotised crowd.

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  1. One of the few tangible insights beyond the often shallow decontextuelised outsider perspectives that I got into the complex world that is japanese culture out of the all too short 20 months that I spent there teaching english was that astro boy is a major influence on the last few generations of japanese engineers, designers & scientists, & a definate factor in japan’s position as a world leader in technological innovation in the field of robotics. Just as Jules Verne’s flights of fantasy inspired the creation of submarines, Tezuka Osamu’s visions of an intelligent boy robot have inspired Japan’s continual exploration of the possibility of humanoid robots. Another, slightly lesser, but even more fascinating inspiration is “Doraemon”, the robot cat (perhaps Japan’s most loved manga and anime)… so much so that Hitachi (or maybe a different large corporation, my memory is a little hazy right now) actually issued a press release a couple of years ago, announcing that they were comitted to realizing the creation of a “real” doraemon robot within the next decade (sans his magical abilities like the “Doko demo door” which is basically a teleportation device, and his kangaroo-like pouch from which he can pull out almost any object imaginable).

    It might sound like I’m stating the obvious here, but I found it interesting to hear many many japanese people directly cite Tezuka’s influence in this way.

  2. Pingback: Robin Fox » Blog Archive » Laser

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