"Let us imagine a straight line," a new multimedia installation, opens today at the Cogut Center for the Humanities. The work, by Joseph "Butch" Rovan, an associate professor of music and the co-director of Brown's computer music program, combines cinema with a 19th-century machine aesthetic.
According to a press release, "Let us imagine a straight line" was inspired by the work of French physiologist Etienne-Jules Marey — who contributed to the study of movement and the development of cinema — and by the writings of philosopher Henri Bergson. As viewers enter the room where the piece is installed, they see an original machine, a wood-and-brass board with two pedals at hand height. Designed by Rovan, this electrocardiogram-like device combines two of Marey's most celebrated inventions: the sphygmograph, the first machine ever to record a pulse, and the chronophotograph, which advanced the creation of film by producing the first multiple exposures on glass plates.
Viewers place their hands on the two pedals and hear the sound of their pulse projected while an image of their EKG appears on a screen.
"Marey was the first person to study motion, and this project is all about movement," Rovan said at a press opening for the work on Wednesday. "This project shows how various approaches reflect ideologies."
Turning a corner into a second room, viewers see videos of South African dancer Ami Shulman projected onto screens. The time-lapse videos show Shulman's movements broken down into discrete motions.
"I find it so inspiring to see movement that can be seen in so many ways. I get to see the internal life of a movement," said Shulman, who collaborated with Rovan on most of the work. "You can't access this kind of thing on stage."
The project combines art and science with elements of sound, such as the staccato, choppy telegraph typing, the sound of the heart monitor and texts by Bergson being whispered overhead by the recorded voice of Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron.
Shulman said she and Rovan first met at a talk he gave at McGill University in Montreal. The project took about a year-and-a-half to complete.
Rovan said he hopes to continue the project and install it in Montreal next spring. He and Shulman also plan to collaborate on more dance videos.
"Let us imagine a straight line" will be on view at the Cogut Center through Nov. 6.