Craig Walsh, artist, 'The Residents' at World Science Festival Brisbane
I am always in awe of scientific processes which enable access and understanding of a creature alive more than one hundred million years ago ...
Even if you’re unfamiliar with Craig Walsh’s name, we’d bet you’re acquainted with his work. The internationally renowned creative has carved a niche for himself in the art world thanks to his engaging and conversation-starting site-specific works, many of which utilise projection mapping to transform spaces into a canvas for moving images. From projecting apparition-like portraits onto the leaves of trees at Splendour In The Grass to using projection technology to virtually turn a shopfront into a water-filled aquarium (filled with floating fish), Craig has pioneered this innovative medium, using it to change perceptions of space, objects and architecture. Craig’s next endeavour ‘The Residents’ will see him use the gently lapping waters of the Brisbane River as his canvas, collaborating with the Queensland Museum for World Science Festival Brisbane to display 3D models of prehistoric reptiles – the creatures that once inhabited our waterways millions of years ago – swimming under the surface. We caught up with Craig ahead of ‘The Residents’ debut to see what drew him to this medium, how these works are executed and how such projects can inform and inspire.
To start, we’d love to know how you first started dabbling in projection mapping. What inspired you to recontextualise urban and architectural spaces and natural environments as a canvas for this kind of work?
In early 90s I was studying a fine-art degree majoring in Intermedia (new technologies) and sculpture at QCA. The use of projection in my work came about through my interest in developing kinetic sculpture through the interplay of projection and three-dimensional forms. I was also really interested in interventionist art as a way of altering our perceptions of the ‘everyday’, and I was experimenting with a diverse array of mediums to explore these ideas. It was whilst experiencing slide projection – that is projecting onto painted canvases, photographs, sculptural objects, architectural elements and the natural environment – that I quickly recognised the potential for this medium to transform the everyday in a way that was only possible through the use of projected content.
Brisbane in the early 90s provided endless opportunities to experiment with public space. The city and inner suburbs were full of empty buildings and vacant allotments and a whole collective of artists and organisations like the IMA embraced this opportunity. I think we were all looking for new contexts and sites for contemporary art outside the conventional forms and venues available. Brisbane City in transition became our canvas for all sorts of happenings. For me, site-responsive art in public spaces became my focus. I like to think of my works still as interventions as opposed to projection mapping. Mapping is a very technical term whereas i am far more interested in the conceptual relationship between the projection content and the space it occupies.
Are you able to shed some light on what work goes into conceptualising and execution stages of such site-specific pieces?
What’s exciting for me, is the interaction with a new site and the content that can be derived from that space. This often leads to collaboration and partnerships with many people and organisations who have direct links to the place – a sharing of knowledge takes place as part of the artworks development. Over the last 30-odd years I have developed many formal processes in response to specific sites – depending on the ideas that form around a specific project – I draw upon this history of practice and years of experimentation to develop the new work. Executing that idea is also contingent on a long time working relationship with Steven Thomasson, the technical genius who has enabled so many of my visions to take form. We experiment and test content to ensure the moving image artwork forms a synergy with the environment it occupies. For this particular project we developed the 3D model of a Kronasaurus in collaboration with the Queensland Museum’s palaeontologists. We discussed which organism we should create in response to this area and collaborated to ensure the model was accurate.
Your work has been showcased all around the world – what would you say has been the most unique or challenging space you’ve worked on up until now?
I think creating and presenting, ‘BLURRING THE BOUNDARIES’ – a public projection project in a shopfront in Hanoi, Vietnam in 2001 – sticks in my mind as the most unique and challenging. The production of the work required construction of a scale model of the shop space, live fish, pumping water and many other elements which all had to be sourced in that local environment. A projector had to be organised by the Australian embassy and rear projection material came from the local textile market after much experimentation. Whilst incredibly challenging to create and present the work, the response by the Hanoi public was extraordinary. It’s a moment in time where an illusionary projection work which created the impression of a shop space filling with water occupied by giant fish become a reality for these people – almost no one had ever seen a video projection and definitely not one that responded directly to a public space. This, of cause, also lead to whole series of projects where I virtually flooded buildings
You’ve teamed up with Curiocity Brisbane to create ‘The Residents’ for World Science Festival Brisbane 2021. We love the concept behind it! Can you tell us a bit about how you came up with the idea underpinning the work?
I have over the years developed many applications for different types of environments. One of those is an exploration of waterways as a place of intervention. I became very interested in the stories, mythologies and occupational history of specific waterways and how these stories lead to contributing to the identity of a space. As a work commissioned by the World Science Festival and Curiocity located in the Brisbane River, it seemed like a great opportunity to allow a creature known to inhabit this region 100,000,00 years ago to once again emerge.
‘The Residents’ depicts the kinds of prehistoric creatures known to have called the Brisbane River (Maiwar) home millions of years ago. What was the most amazing fact you discovered about these creatures while researching them and assembling the animation?
I am always in awe of scientific processes which enable access and understanding of a creature alive more than one hundred million years ago. Whilst there is of cause much we don’t know, we have had the opportunity to work with the Queensland museum palaeontologist Espen Knutsen to further understand the skeletal and muscular structure and assist with having the creature move in the way it should.
What do you hope audiences take away from viewing ‘The Residents’, particularly in regards to their understanding of the land’s history?
An understanding of time and space and our position in that. A greater understanding of the history of occupation relative to this site and to be transported to another time for a brief moment.
Your work has so much potential in terms of its application and the way it can help convey added meaning to different spaces. How would you like to evolve and push the limits of your craft moving forward?
I think I am always honing my craft or developing new ideas, but it is always dependent on the site and the stories that emerge from that site. I have some large-scale projects in development and not all are projection based, so I am currently enjoying working with other mediums to explore new ideas.
You can view Craig Walsh’s work ‘The Residents’ from the Goodwill Bridge from March 12–28 as part of the World Science Festival Brisbane. Click here for more details.