Experimental Film Takes A Field Trip

Site-Specific Installations on Mudd Ramp

By Abby Lee | alee2@oberlin.edu | April 27, 2018 @ 1:43 pm

Margaret McCarthy constructed water beds and positioned them directly under the Mudd Library ramp.

Photo by Abby Lee.

If you entered or exited Mudd on Thursday, April 12th, chances are you probably heard the sounds of synthesizers, whirring machines, and recorded voicemails. If you set foot on the library’s main ramp, you might have caught sight of a large piece of fabric in the foliaged and unused area at the base of the building, with dreamy projections lighting up its surface. If you saw this and didn’t investigate any further, allow me to shed some light on the event.

This pop-up art piece, along with another work hidden underneath the ramp and one in Mudd’s fourth-floor shooting studio, were part of an installation series created by students in Professor Rian Brown’s Experiments in Moving Image and Sound II class. Throughout the first two weeks of April, Brown’s students set up site-specific experimental film installations in a series called Field Trips I-IV. The installations occupied various locations around campus, such as Hall Auditorium and the basements of Noah and Hales.

Thursday’s installations under the Mudd ramp, by fourth-year Cinema Studies major Josh Blankfield and fifth-year TIMARA major Margaret McCarthy, brought forth an exciting opportunity for the Oberlin community to engage with experimental film, whether they intended to or not. Blankfield’s piece, a three-channel video installation, projected distorted footage of sunlight onto white fabric arranged like a three sided cube. Spectators could fully immerse themselves within the cube, while listening to a loop of ambient music and sentimental voicemails, like this one from someone’s mother: “Mumsie here, missing you, thinking about you. We’ve got these beautiful yellow and red tulips… It’s finally starting to be spring, I think we’ve had the last cold day. Can’t wait to see you, we love you. Bye, my darling. Be good.” Blankfield says of his intention with the installation, “I wanted to make something that felt nostalgic and intimate that would be nestled in a very open and public space.”

For her piece, McCarthy constructed water beds and positioned them directly under the ramp. Viewers were meant to lie down on the beds to look at a projection directly above them, showing fuzzy, unspecific moving imagery, reminiscent of aquatic organisms. The film was coupled with a looped soundtrack meant to reflect the sounds of water using only electronic tones. “The idea of my project was to make an immersive watery space. I wanted the audience feel like they were underwater, but in a surreal way. I was also thinking about the idea of human-made versions of natural spaces, and the boundary between synthetic and natural,” McCarthy says. The piece offered a full body sensory experience; the plastic beds filled with cold water recreated the sensation of jumping into a freezing pool.

One of the main goals of public and interactive installation is to destroy our ostensible concepts of time and space.  It’s certainly not every day that one comes across an interactive installation on the way into the library. This event broke the boundaries of space that students and members of this community are accustomed to viewing art in. The art scene at Oberlin exists in somewhat of a vacuum, with student work mostly housed in the various art buildings on the eastern side of campus. Art Walk, the typical end of semester event that invites the community to view what studio art students are doing, has been cancelled this semester, with many rumors circulating around the reason why. A few groups and collectives on campus put on events that showcase non-class associated work, but those events can feel inaccessible for some students.

These installations, where no one needed an invitation to participate, created an accessible space that encouraged self-reflection through active engagement with the pieces. Even the artists were delightfully surprised by the level of interaction that occured. McCarthy says, “It was especially exciting when community members and other students came who were drawn in by the sounds and lights of both Josh's and my pieces. It was nice to see people who probably hadn't expected to encounter these installations engaging and interacting with them.”

In a way, the site specificity creates a different kind of space vacuum: one where the concrete walls of our main library become the place for light and sound to provoke personal introspection. Additionally, these public installations offered the people who visited an unplanned communal experience. Together, they witnessed Blankfield and McCarthy’s art as individuals, and as a whole, creating a unique community of spectatorship. Then, after two and a half hours, the whole thing disappears and Mudd returns to its status as just a library.

The class will exhibit four more site-specific installations from May 1-10, so if you missed this one, keep an out eye for those coming up next month.

Contact contributing writer Abby Lee at alee2@oberlin.edu.

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