.::..Nicholas Sagan..::. …:.::..artworks and experiments…::.:…nicholassagan@gmail.com


This project was created in collaboration with Nicolas S. Ruley and Mary Mazurek-Khan and was installed in Gallery 916 (Chicago) during the month of October 2009.

Short Form

Using the black box as a setting for an immersive environment, Phantoms engages the audience in a dialogue that addresses the cultural residues that we find in contemporary art and projections of identity onto objects. In a darkened room, video of the model is projected in triplicate (red, green, and blue) through two polyvinyl sheets creates an illusion of a hologram. Audio lectures discussing famous works of art are played at different points in the room, drawing the viewer to different locations and allowing them to see the work from a different perspective. The audience begins to attach the audio to the specter which allows for a broader exploration of being, humanness, and art.


3 high-lumen projectors (color balanced)
3 HD-DVD players
1 surround-sound DVD player with parabolic speakers
translucent plastic sheets (painters drop cloth)
1 small electric fan


The subject was filmed sitting in the position where the layers of plastic sheeting were placed.  Three video cameras were set up in the same locations as the projectors, which replicated the same perspective.  The subject was prompted to remain as neutral as possible in an attempt to allow the subtleties of “sitting still” to come through.  Those small movements and expressions were chosen as replacements for the standards of object placement and metaphor from within traditional portrait making.

Each of the three video sequences were distorted to match the angle of projection, so that when they aligned on the projection surface there was minimal perspective distortion.  There were two forward-facing images projected onto the front surface of the plastic and a rear-view projection on the back side.  As the viewer circled the projection surfaces the image would shift giving the illusion of dimensionality.

Additionally, short benches were placed on either side of the projection screens where viewers were invited to sit and contemplate the “portrait”.  During those moments audio specific to each angle of the portrait was projected into the viewers’ space.  Each audio track featured excerpts from audio tours of portrait galleries from around the world.  The guided juxtaposition of vocal descriptions of other famous portraits with the image before the viewers was designed in such a way to highlight both the strengths and weaknesses of traditional portraiture.

Project Notes

So together with Nic Ruley and Mary Mazurek-Khan, we set off to address issues of light (projection), meta-narratives within pop culture (the subject of portraiture) and experiment with controlling a space with sound (surround sound). As it turned out, we had some leftover painters plastic from black box-ing the installation lab we were assigned so we used that as our projection surface. Initially we did some testing with video feedback and projections but ultimately decided upon using a sitter for our portrait. We filmed her sitting from three different angles, each of which represented the positions and angles of three color-assigned projectors (that just means one was filtered blue, one red and one green).  A little tricky image scaling and we had our surface and a clear image!

The audio is borrowed from podcasts that were distributed during museum tours, each describing a specific portrait in a collection. In order to tease out some highlights of the text, we edited out all of the instances where an artist’s name or title of the work was uttered. By abstracting the audio we were able to recontextualize it by way of creating a new interpretation of contemporary portraiture.

While the history of portraiture goes back a long way and much of art history canon is grounded upon the practice, there is almost a necessity to re-evaluate it’s presence within an era that is continuing to define a concept known as posthumanism. That’s right. We may not have been explicit about some of the ideas that fit into this more recent (1960′s, arguably) cultural movement but they were there when we began this piece. Portraiture is typically (or stereotypically) intended to portray the subject at a specific moment surrounded by signifiers.

We wanted to change or challenge that idea in light of many of the modern devices and methods of transmitting the “self” and “others” via that media. If structures such as Facebook exist as nodes for social interaction, then surely it the essence of portraiture…think about it: you post pictures of yourself in a variety of contexts, you surround yourself (profile) with all sorts of signifiers, etc, etc…The nature of this genre has evolved into something beyond, into something posthuman, where the physical body means less and less, as opposed to the digitized self rising to dominance.

Some people argued that we didn’t provide enough of an “in” for the viewer to get to know the subject. Those misunderstood because it wasn’t so much about representing someone in more modern interpretation of the genre of portraiture but that we were using this format, and simple technology mind you, to address the dynamic of subjectivity versus objectivity with regards to the responsibility of the viewer.

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