Me, Myself and MRI

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As well as being the sound artist on the project I also had responsibilities as lead artist. In some ways this was the more important of these two roles, but thanks to the team of people I was working with, was also the one requiring the least effort!

After my very first discussions about the possibility of a project based around MRI imagery with Mark Hildred [Technical Producer] and John Oxley [Video Artist], which came about after my own experiences of undergoing an MRI scan, I helped to focus and articulate our creative ideas and promote them to other people. This helped to bring together both our final project team and the partner organisations we would need to fulfil our aims and objectives and realise our goal of a unique interactive digital portrait exhibition.

As the project developed this role changed and became one more related to creative management - although there was still a lot to do to promote the project to others, by this stage we had more people on the team to do it! With three main artists working on the project (including myself as a sound artist), together with our technical producer who was responsible for bringing it all together, and our project manager who also developed considerable 2D and 3D visual editing and presentation skills, someone would have to be responsible for the final look (and sound) of the finished exhibition. Therefore I would help to keep us all on track towards our final goal, and would advise where necessary on aspects of the content and delivery of the exhibition itself.

The Design of the Exhibition

Particular decisions had to be made as to the aesthetics of the final exhibition - what would a visitor to the exhibition see, hear and feel as they entered it? I helped to direct our discussions in this area and ensured that they were true to the original ideas we all had while the project was in its infancy. There are a few examples evident in the final exhibition:
  • The visitor to the exhibition should initially be surrounded by images of brains 'floating' on the screen. This would both look good, stimulate interest as to what these portraits were of, and help to remind us that despite the evident individual differences between people, we are all physically very similar, and yet exhibit very different personalities - we are all unique.
  • The digital portraits are supposed to be a modern interpretation of the traditional idea of what a portrait is. The visitor should feel as if they are looking at a portrait, either painting or photograph. The screens we used should not be perceived as monitors or televisions - we needed to do our best to present our digital portraits as they would be in a traditional portrait gallery. This implied eye-level presentation, the use of a frame to mask the origins of the screens as televisions, and in particular one very important decision I insisted on - the original exhibition had been conceived on much smaller screens. I suggested we actually needed a much bigger presentation screen so that they portraits had as much presence and impact as a typical large painting would in a traditional gallery. This had an implication in terms of budget, the presentation of the images used and the computers used to drive each digital portrait. However in retrospect, given some of the venues in which we have exhibited, if a smaller size had been used, the portraits would have been 'lost' in the spaces they were trying to fill.
  • The audio presentation would be particularly difficult - all six portraits had to have an independent soundtrack and they could not be synchronised with each other. They would also be positioned in different locations in our different venues. It would have to be long enough to maintain interest for the listener, and not be too repetitive. In fact there should be no indication of looped material if we could possibly manage it. Imagining the first person entering the otherwise empty exhibition, the sounds used would have to draw them in and encourage them to explore further the individual portraits that were presented. I had set quite a task - and one that I had set myself as the sound artist! It was solved by having two soundtracks for each person, one as a backing to draw people in, and one that revealed the detail of the individual. The backing tracks were designed to work together, heard as a 'live mix' consisting of a different component from each of the six portraits. The more detailed tracks were designed to be heard close up to the portrait where the sound 'interference' from the other portraits would be less noticeable, as the visitor's attention would be focused on the individual directly in front of them. I was able to work with our Technical Producer to help realise this idea using the interactive technology that drove each of the digital portraits.

Project Direction

Ultimately, I had few major decisions to make as Lead Artist due to the close working of the project team, and the level of trust and expectation we had placed in each other. I can think of no real moments when I had to overrule another decision or insist on something that was an unreasonable technical or artistic request - each member of the team knew what they had to do, realised that we had set the bar particularly high, and in each case surpassed expectations. However, I am sure not all projects run as smoothly, and so it is absolutely important to have someone tasked to keep people focused on the creative and aesthetic goals, and who can take responsibility for any relevant decisions made and the delivery of the final result. The were a few occasions where a reminder as to our direction was needed - in a project as multi-faceted as Me, Myself and MRI, where there are workshops to be planned and delivered, publicity to be prepared, partners to be liaised with, blogs to be updated etc., sometimes everyone would need to be reminded that we were nothing without a final exhibition that fulfilled all of our initial hopes in terms of how it looked and sounded and the experience it offered the visitor. I am delighted to say that we did indeed fulfil and far surpass this expectation and that this had little to do with my artistic leadership and much more to do with having a good and trusted team of people to work with.

Next section: Damian's Role - Sound Artist