Gold Coast Artist Series: Alinta Krauth

Alinta Krauth is one of a number of Gold Coast artists using the exciting potential of digital technologies to open up new spaces of interrogation. A new media and visual projection artist, she creates ‘projection maps’ on large buildings to question social and environmental issues affecting our world.

Alinta Krauth,
Alinta Krauth, “Wind blisters those who try to run” (2015), live projection mapping artwork on The Old Windmill, Brisbane. Image courtesy of the artist.

Projection mapping offers the ability to layer histories and create messages that combine the object and it’s associated stories. One of the artist’s inquisitive works is Wind Blisters Those Who Try to Run, a live projection mapping artwork on the Old Windmill in Brisbane. Created for the UR{BNE} Festival – a festival where independent artists and events coordinators seek out unused and forgotten places within Brisbane City – it highlighted the Australia’s oldest windmill and Queensland’s oldest surviving European structure. The work consists of two projections- one of either side of the windmill – composed of a montaged series of animations developed to align with the shape of concrete bricks, such as those that make up the Old Windmill. Krauth took inspiration from the windmill’s checkered history as a place of death and torture, as well as of technological innovation to provide a more positive message for the structure’s future.

To bring a hand drawn 2D effect into the mapping, she used technical drawings of 18th and 19th century windmills and maps of the area, creating an animated and interactive ‘xray’ of the windmill. Wind Blisters Those Who Try to Run animates the solid and inanimate qualities of the windmill with a historically rich-yet-jaunty projection. The work mixes a variety of different styles as it is performative, interactive and contemporary, yet draws from historical cues. The potential for audience interaction is on of the standout features for me, as Krauth remained onsite during the performance to manually change between scenes. This allowed her to manipulate the artwork by adjusting the pace according to crowd levels.

Intrigued by her ability to breathe new life into existing structures through new media technologies, I invited Alinta Krauth to share her artistic journey.

Alinta Krauth,
Alinta Krauth, “Colonise” (2015), 360° projection mapping onto hand-made sculpture. Image courtesy of the artist.

You have a diverse background in media and the performing arts, and graduated in 2006 with a Bachelor of Arts from Griffith University. At what stage did you decide to study visual arts?

Despite having a BA, the visual art classes I took were largely electives. As I was keenly studying creative writing and cultural studies, it just so happened that I took classes on digital writing – using website interfaces, images, video, and interactive elements, all to convey the narrative of a story or a poem. So this is why a lot of my works today include text and different ways to think about storytelling. But that was 10 years ago… After finishing university I ended up spending a few years in what some might consider a creative job, but it really wasn’t, and it has only been in the last couple of years that I snapped out of that lull and began enjoying making art again. I began by teaching myself to make sound art with a piano and software, which sparked an interest in the physics behind sound and anomalies in perception. Parallel to this, I was volunteering for several different environmental and animal welfare organisations. Thinking about different ways of perceiving sound and spatiality, while also thinking about the perspectives of different creatures, finally returned me to making visuals and interactive works. Of course software is a bit different now to how it was ten years ago, so I’m self-taught in a lot of ways. Re-emerging on the scene technically behind some of my contemporaries has forced me to use software in unconventional ways.

Can you tell me what drew you to art and the combination of art and digital technology?

The drawcard for me is having new ways to create experiences that relate to science and social theories. I’m interested in creating artworks that tell a story or convey a message, and allow people to interact with these issues in a different way. For example, climate disruption or animal extinction – these are themes that are seen (or hidden) throughout my work and I hope will become more prevalent in my future works. Similarly, my projection mappings onto buildings always strongly involve the history of that building – telling the story from the inside out. There are a lot of interesting ways to connect with these ideas in digital art, as data can be so easily expressed and animated. The feeling I get when I see a tech artwork that I like – it’s a rush of visceral excitement in the stomach and ribs. I imagine many people get that feeling when they see a beautiful painting, for me, I get it when, for example, looking at a sensor-based artwork that forces the user’s body to do something unexpected – something that connects directly with the viewer.

How has your practice developed in line with technological advances?

Now that projection mapping software is so easily available, that’s really changed my arts practice. I didn’t actually consider myself an artist before I began experimenting with projection mapping. I began with a work that projected film onto an origami bat colony, and it grew from there. It is difficult to make sure that what you’re creating is always best for the artwork itself, and not simply pandering to the technological trends of the time (despite the ‘ooohs’ and ‘aahs’ that those kinds of works receive). Of course I want to experiment with new technologies as they emerge and as software shifts and grows, but I’m not a programmer and I don’t want my computer to take over my job (as in many styles of generative computer art). Thus I often start artworks by drawing or painting the elements that I want, and I scan these pieces in. I’d like to think that this interplay between digital and hand-drawn elements is what makes my work look a bit different. It is also enticing in this field to outsource a lot of the technological work that you have to do. Sure, it’s a bit unfair to assume that digital artists have to be painters, sculptors, animators, programmers, fabricators, engineers, games designers, stage managers, and sound artists all in one, but I pride myself on the fact that I am yet to outsource these things – I try to be the modern day renaissance person from conception to install. But this is probably more to do with the social anxiety of networking than it is to do with making a statement about the role of artists!

Much of your art portfolio is available online and – being new media art – can be experienced almost as well on computer as in person. Is the ready availability of digital technology and its ability to strongly engage with audience a drawcard?

It’s a bit of give and take. On the one hand, it means I’m giving my current browser-based works away for free. But on the other hand, it means I can have the same work shown in several different exhibitions and festivals around the world, all while I sit at home in Queensland. (This is opposed to my site-specific projection mapping pieces – if you’re not there in the moment, you miss it forever.) But I really like the idea that there are people sitting alone in their bedrooms interacting with my work. Away from the structure and possible embarrassment of engaging with interactive art in a gallery space, people can view my works without any self-consciousness. I like to imagine that this allows them to become more immersed in the activity, and momentarily forget themselves and their bodies.

Your work deals with statements regarding the human condition, biodiversity and the environment. How did you arrive at these themes?

I’ve always lived here in the sub-tropics, surrounded by pets and small dwindling pockets of rainforest. So I suppose I was always going to find these things important – these things are my home. Beyond volunteering, I now also work as a mammal survey team leader, so I’ve kept fairly up to date with academic outputs on the condition of, well, the world around me. I believe (and hope) that humans are intelligent enough to be capable of change and more empathy than we’re currently seeing, so I’m hoping that by showing these themes in interesting ways, more people will realise the beauty of the world in its natural state. This is more beautiful than the artworks themselves.

You incorporate traditional materials such as paint and pencil with digital technology. Do you try to achieve a balance between the traditional and non-traditional?

I have to admit this is something that has evolved in my work without much regard for balance. I’m not very good at balance in general at the moment – my works can be purposely busy and messy and overly intricate – different sounds, colours, and ideas coming through each time you experience the work. But like many, I find painting comforting, despite not being trained. For me, traditional media is an escape, a holiday for both the mind and the hands, whereas digital media is more like work, but can include many more elements and layers. So I end up doing a bit of both in order to stay sane. Perhaps one could track my stress levels through how many traditional media they can find in my art over time…

Alinta Krauth,
Alinta Krauth, “The Roaring Borealis” (2015), kaleidoscopic projection mapping onto origami pieces. Image courtesy of the artist.

How much planning goes into a projection mapping work such as The Roaring Borealis? Is there much room for spontaneity alongside the rigour of computer programming?

There’s actually a huge amount of room for spontaneity in my projection mapping works. This is because I generally map onto wall-hanging sculptures that I have made out of recycled bits, rather than completely relying on the architecture of a building. So the outcome is completely dependent on how I decide to arrange the wall hangings, and how I feel they best interact with the space/room/building they’re in/on. Generally, I work with visuals and audio that I’ve pre-made for each particular artwork – often abstract combinations of film, animation, and glitched data, but it is the pattern that those visuals take when applied to my sculptures that can be a surprise. In projection mapping in general, some artists and VJs (visual jockeys) like to work with live visuals or live electronic audio – moulding the piece as the night goes on and finessing based on audience reactions. This is why, currently, projection mapping seems to be inherently connected to the idea of live music or nightclub VJing. This is different to what I do. I did, however, do interchangeable semi-live visuals for my piece ‘Wind blisters those who try to run’ on the Brisbane Windmill, where I controlled two different computers running each side of the windmill projection. Each night I scurried unseen around the windmill, shifting back and forth between these two computers to rearrange the visuals manually depending on audience engagement at the time.

Are you challenged by your medium, i.e. the availability of exhibition spaces or the collectability of your artwork?

I’ve generally found it comparatively easy to find exhibition spaces both locally and internationally, but I would always love to see more importance being given to this kind of art in my local area. If I feel challenged in this way, it simply forces me to come up with an alternative answer. That might mean projecting in public spaces that haven’t been used that way before, or bundling artwork and equipment together. I’m keen to start working more often with local councils to create projection works in alternative spaces. I tend to get my artwork in a lot of big festivals here in Australia. I’d like to see Australia very seriously consider new media art as something for beyond the festival crowd, as we don’t want to create an artistic digital divide by making these works easily accessible only to certain groups.

How have you found the South East Queensland New Media Art Scene? Are you excited by the opportunities here or are you looking further afield?

I like to do both – I’m interested in opportunities here as well as those further afield. I’ve had my works exhibited overseas a few times now, and have exhibitions coming up in Canada, Norway, and Germany over the next year. I do two fairly different strains of art – the projection mapping works, which are mostly local (within Australia) as I need to be on site a lot, and the browser-based and App-based works, which I can easily send overseas, so I’m doing different things for different audiences. I’m really excited by the opportunities here, because SEQ has some amazing areas and buildings and rainforests and parks that are just screaming out to have site-specific works made about them. I can hear the buildings and trees calling out to me as I walk by! And I’m sure my partner is sick of hearing me say, “I could project onto that” (which I probably say about 5 times a day). And because this is a budding style of art in this area, these things have never been done before – it’s not like the MCA building in Sydney, which gets projected on each year for Vivid Festival, and the theme doesn’t necessarily match the building or say anything too site-specific. I’ve done local projection mappings for The Old Museum, the Brisbane Windmill, and The Brisbane Powerhouse, as well as a beautiful and grand old church in Melbourne – these heritage-listed buildings are full of amazing history that hadn’t properly been explored through projection mapping before. Similarly, there are areas of SEQ ripe for having more art apps and augmented reality artworks made about them. I see potential in every street I walk down, and I know I’ll be joining just a handful of people who are currently thinking the same.

What’s next?

I think my spurt of artistic diarrhoea needs to come to an end soon – I’ve spent the last year creating a lot of artworks in tight time frames. So the future is about paring back; producing less, but spending more time on each piece. I’d like to spend more time experimenting, investigating, learning, connecting, and hopefully improving. More nature! More physics! More perception! More love! Coming up in the rest of 2015 I’m doing artworks for Gertrude Street Projection Festival and Queensland Poetry Festival, as well as a collection of works commissioned by the Ipswich Art Gallery. My commission for the Brisbane Powerhouse, ‘Un[tram]melled’, is still on show for the next couple of weeks, and a work co-authored with Jason Nelson called ‘Entropic Texts’ will be in ISEA2015 (International Symposium on Electronic Art) exhibition in Vancouver. I also have net art on show at two different conference exhibitions – ELO2015 (Electronic Literature Organisation) conference, Bergen, and DRHA2015 (Digital Research in the Humanities and Arts) conference, Dublin. I also have an artwork shortlisted for the Sunshine Coast New Media Art Prize, the winner of which will be announced later this year. Phew! Things are looking peachy!

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