Camille Utterback Shifts Time in Airport Installation
When the city of San Jose commissioned multimedia artist Camille Utterback to provide an installation for the new Terminal B of the San Jose Airport, Utterback's first impulse was to create something distinctly San Jose. "I feel like airports can be so impersonal, and I have these moments of terror where I don't know where I am or what airport I'm in, so I wanted to create something familiar and welcoming," relates Utterback, who designed an interactive media installation called Shifting Time—San Jose.
The movement of the viewer standing in front of or walking by the installation affects the temporal behavior of the scene being displayed. As viewers walk closer to the projection wall, the surface disrupts, pushing deeper into time in the pre-recorded video clips. Viewers, then, are able to travel back and forth through time by moving toward and away from the projection wall.
"If you imagine the video as a flipbook, stapled at the top and cut into a bunch of vertical slices, different strips can go forward and backward in time independently of each other," the artist explains. "You get this strange effect where you see multiple moments in time in the same place, right next to each other. You can scrub through time based on your movement, and where you're standing in that space is what's controlling that shift."
Interview with Camille Utterback
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A Watec surveillance camera is positioned over the space, in front of the screen. A computer program written by Utterback analyzes the output from the camera to extrapolate information about where people are standing and how they're moving, and uses that data to fragment the footage accordingly.
Shifting Time uses contemporary footage mixed with archival film and video. Utterback's assistant, Genevieve Hoffman, did much of the archival research, contacting libraries and historical societies, "but the problem with those places is that the archival footage was all on very poor quality VHS tapes. That's how we found our way to Oddball. Their footage was of much higher quality," Utterback notes.
About 75 percent of Shifting Time was sourced from Oddball Film + Video in San Francisco. Utterback chose her vintage subjects first, then went out with videographer Thomas Eugene Green to capture the corresponding modern content. "We'd go and find the exact location and frame it the exact same way as in the archival footage," she recalls. "Hopefully the buildings would line up so you could see which things had vanished and which things were still there."
Some of the more abstract pairings deal with work and culture. Utterback uncovered footage of women working in fruit canneries in San Jose, with close-ups of their hands moving and sorting. She paired that with footage of programmers at Cisco typing on their computers. Another archival scene depicts a man in his orchard picking fruit, which she linked with a contemporary woman at Adobe pointing to Post-it Notes on the wall. "It's a totally abstract connection, but the gestures and the textures match up," she comments.
All the new footage was shot with a Canon EOS Rebel T2i DSLR at 1920x1080, while the old footage had been digitized as standard definition 4:3. Both sources were cut down and reframed in the canvas' slightly wider than widescreen 2.5:1 aspect ratio, according to the airport specs, which dictate the placement and orientation of the installation.
Shifting Time can be found on the ground floor of Terminal B, between ticketing and baggage claim, so anyone can walk in to view it. "My goal was to create an experience, which is different than sitting and watching a video or a painting," Utterback remarks. "Those are both amazing things to do, but I'm more interested in creating an environment where unexpected things happen."