A few years ago Gabriel Barcia-Colombo started collecting his friends in jars. Thankfully not literally, but through projection mapping he created a series of video sculptures where his friends appeared stuck inside various sized containers. This piece, which he called Animalia Chordata, was also interactive. By using sensors the people in the jars would react in different ways when you approached them.

He took this interaction even further when he projected a 1950s housewife into a blender; the audience were perfectly free to turn the blender on. Barcia-Colombo’s work is inspired by  the human need to memorialise moments and objects – taxidermy being the most extreme form. He noticed how this desire has turned digital in recent years with the rise of social media sites such as Facebook, where people can collect their friends online. Humans Invent spoke to Barcia-Colombo to get an insight into the ideas and technology behind his work.

Farm: an ant colony replaced by archetypal humans.

How long have you been working on video sculpture?

It’s been about 8 or 9 years now. I was a film major before, I used to do commercials, music videos and animation but I got frustrated doing 2D work and decided to start working with projection mapping.

Are there many other people doing this kind of work?

There are a lot of people doing projection mapping, putting projections onto buildings and that kind of thing but I don’t do so much of that stuff. I do sculptural work, looking at video as a medium for sculpture rather than as 2D medium.

I’m fascinated by nostalgia and the idea of collections and its resurgence again with social media.

Where did the idea of capturing memories in digital art come from?

I’d always been really obsessed with nostalgia and collecting, whether that be photography or physical collections. I grew up very near the Museum of Jurassic Technology in LA, which is a crazy repository of objects. Some of them are completely made up artifacts and some of them are actually real. I went there a lot as a kid as well as going to the Natural History Museum.

Jitterbox: digitally dancing to 1940s music.

Looking at how obsessed we are in our day to day lives with collecting things online, such as friends on Facebook or archiving photos from our daily life, I thought about how I could create a physical sculpture version of this. That is why I started making these pieces, collecting friends in jars or memorializing certain periods of time like I did with the Jitterbox piece – a 1940s radio that only plays 1940s music. I’m fascinated by nostalgia and the idea of collections and how this older tradition has had its resurgence again with social media.

How does the actual projection mapping work?

It’s a two step process, I film all the people myself, usually on a green screen and do all the keying and editing of the footage, then, as in the case of Animalia Chordata – the people in the jars – I composite in After Effects and then I either use a programme called MAX/MSP or MadMapper. For the interactive elements I use Arduino, which is an open source, physical, computing and engineering environment, and hook up different sensors.

I also did an ant farm, except I projected people onto it instead of ants

I use a couple of IR sensors to detect distance as well ultrasonic sensors. I experiment with lots of different things, sound or midi or any kind of physical control I can work with.

How have your ideas progressed?

The people in the jars was the first thing I did and then from there I’ve done larger scale pieces. I did this clock piece last year which was called For Those Who Wait, which is a bunch of video mapped clocks that you can control with a giant crank and I also did an ant farm, except I projected people onto it instead of ants.

Cage your angel: A piece Barcia-Colombo did for Jim Beam.

I also co-curated a show last year at the Museum of Television and Radio. I curated a show called Luminence which was about bridging the gap between analogue and digital television. An analogue image would emerge as a digital form – as a projection – out of the TV. I found this great 1950s TV that I bought on Craig’s List.

Are you working on anything new at the moment?

Yes, I’m working on a project that is not video, which I haven’t done in a while. I’m working on a DNA vending machine. The idea is to collect people’s DNA, extract it as a powder form and then sell it in a vending machine so you could actually buy other people’s DNA. Again, it’s to do with collections of people but as physical objects just like you buy a candy bar in the street. I think it is interesting that we have the ability to do home genetics and how easy it is to extract DNA and I’m also interested in the idea of who owns your DNA. There have been a couple of legal cases in the US about who has the rights to your actual DNA, so thinking of DNA as an open source material is a really exciting idea.

For more information go to Barcia-Colombo’s website.

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