THE ACTUAL LIGHT IN A VIRTUAL SPACE: A Micro-Interview with Adam Hurwitz
ES: Adam, I experience these short computer generated videos much like that of reading a poem. Both reward the reader/viewer who pays attention to tiny incremental shifts, and the time required in order to fully appreciate how complex a simple or casual scene can be. It is easy to forget that these CGVs are created and composed of hundreds of hours of code work, not simply documenting a scene in nature or in a room of a house on video. This is particularly appealing where the light and details like dust are concerned, as in “Sick Day.” We can marvel, the way one might in a hyper-realist painting that this is not “real” but made. Would you say a few words about what inspired you to create or recreate the three scenes we are featuring here?
AH: I think the work is poetic in that the videos are often short (sometimes looping), non narrative, and intended to evoke the texture of memory. My goal is for the scenes to be specific to a particular time and place, while still suggesting a universal experience. I have also been interested in the idea of finding the poetry in a medium that is more often used for bombastic special effects or slick car ads.
The process is definitely painstaking in its approach and I often feel that you have to be a real masochist to be well suited to working with computer animation. That said, I also find I have to resist my own impulse to obsessively recreate the known world in all its details, rather than focusing on constructing only what I need to make the video.
I do think there is a connection to Flemish painting and its hyper-real, uncanny, imagery. The reflection of the room and child in the TV screen in “Sick Day” is a reference to the convex mirror in Van Eyck’s Arnolfini Portrait.
In “Sick Day,” I wanted to suggest the childhood feeling of dislocation that comes from being bedridden on a summer day, while hearing the world through an open window going about its business without you. “Clipper” was inspired by the familiar sight of radio masts seen from a highway at dusk. I’ve always been struck by the haunting monumental quality of the towers, and the loneliness of their blinking lights. “May” was inspired by recently finding myself awake during the spring dawn chorus of birds in the country.
ES: In our studio visit I learned you were formerly a painter. Would you share some thoughts on composition, the role of time in your process, you shift from working in a media that came together fairly quickly compared to this work that takes, I believe you said, up to a year to make?
AH: These pieces are definitely informed by my work as a painter in terms of composition, color, and light. It’s been interesting to go from depicting light to creating the actual light in a virtual space. I think the pieces evoke different experiences from people depending on their disciplines. My painting friends see these in terms of an evolution of painting, writers recognize the poetry and architects I have spoken with, see them as immersive installations.
The time it takes to create a video from start to completion can vary depending on the complexity of the piece. “May” came together in less than a month, but “Sick Day” took at least six months and there’s one that I have been working on, off and on, since last summer. So many aspects of the scenes have to be considered: the modeling, lighting, textures, animation, and sound, that it inevitably takes time. In any case, I was used to painting very quickly and arriving at the conclusion of a work often in one sitting. The benefit of working over longer periods of time on each video is that it gives them a chance to evolve, as ideas change or new ones present themselves. The nature of the medium is, in some ways, more like traditional photography or print making in that you invest a lot of time and thought in the process before you get to the alchemical moment of creating an image. And because the files are digital, it means I inevitably keep tinkering with them.
ES: Time slows down in the few minutes we give over to this work, we are aware of time in the way it seemed sometimes intolerable slow, and practically endless in childhood. You call this work, “Reflective Nostalgia.” After seeing this body of work I thought of Edward Hopper, the solitary and melancholic mood, drawn from the light, the time of day, some of the settings. Would you say a few words about your relationship to nostalgia? Is there a particular time of day that suggests nostalgia?
AH: The term “reflective nostalgia” comes from Svetlana Boym’s excellent book, The Future of Nostalgia. She usefully divides nostalgia into two types, restorative, which “attempts a transhistorical reconstruction of the lost home” (think nationalism and religious revival) and reflective nostalgia, which “thrives in algia, the longing itself, and delays the homecoming — wistfully, ironically, desperately.” and is more personal and melancholic in nature. I think I recognized her notion of reflective nostalgia in my desire to recreate, from scratch, remembered time and places in a virtual world.
Hopper was brilliant at expressing an emotional experience through how he painted light, whether it was the long shadows of late afternoon or the cool light of offices at night. Like Hopper, I am also interested in the moments between moments. The interstices of time.
I think don’t the experience of nostalgia is limited to any particular time or place.
Adam Hurwitz is an artist living and working in New York City. His current focus on computer generated video comes out of his knowledge of and experience in painting and drawing. He received his MFA in painting from Yale University School of Art and has exhibited in numerous solo and group shows in New York, Boston, San Diego and elsewhere. Adam Hurwitz received a 2014 fellow in Digital/Electronic Arts from the New York Foundation for the Arts and is a recipient of a MacDowell Colony Fellowship for Spring 2015. For info on the artist: adamhurwitz.com