Bus Obscura is a passenger bus
converted to a multiple aperture camera obscura using a rear projection technique that allows the individual images to flow into one another. As the
bus moves down the street a 360 degree animated panorama is created inside.

Passengers sit in the seats as usual
but instead of looking out on the real scene as it passes by, they see a real time projection of the same scene. The exterior view from the bus is projected onto the interior of the bus and the individual apertures create images that merge into each other and create a real time animated projection of the world outside.
The bus becomes the camera and the projector and the audience sits inside.

Bus Obscura’s sound track
reinforces the cinematic quality of the piece. Sound artists Colleen Burke
and Walter Sipser have made soundtracks for each city the bus has visited. Because the bus is being realized in different cities and environments with different images, light, ambience and history, a new soundtrack is made for
each venue.

Bus Obscura was first made for
Art Basel-Miami Beach 2004. From the outset the piece has been conceived as a multiple with the intention of taking it to different venues all around the world. In addition to its first outing in Miami, Bus Obscura has been installed at the Armory Show NYC 2005; the Kampala International Film Festival 2005; in Pittsburgh PA as part of the Downtown Cultural Festival courtesy of the Wood Street Gallery; and in London courtesy of the University of Hertfordshire.

A short written interview about Bus Obscura
with John Le Kay as published in Heyoka magazine.
April 2005

Please tell me a little about your art background and your previous work.
I became interested in making projected images when I collaborated with a physics teacher in a high school. We co-taught a class where we took science into the art studio and art into the science laboratory and mixed things up a bit, (not necessarily as dangerously explosive as it sounds) and one of the subjects we tackled was ‘light’. As a consequence I began to learn more about the physics of light and its complexities and mysteries, and it gradually became a central media in my work. I began looking for and documenting the natural projections that occur because of the juxtaposition of everyday circumstance -- a large windowed bus moving down the street reflecting light into a darkened room etc -- and because I so enjoyed the quality of these images and the subliminal information that they contained I began to figure out ways of using similar projections in my installations.

Where did you get your inspiration for Bus Obscura?
I was working with first generation live projection, but had rejected making a camera obscura because it seemed so ubiquitous and already investigated The idea for the bus came when I finally realized that I should at least experiment with the camera obscura phenomena, and after a couple of false starts ended up building a large multiple aperture camera obscura with back-projection screens that sat on top of a pick-up truck and could carry about five people lying on the floor and experiencing what was essentially “cinema’. It was called Truck Obscura and I thought about how to present it more conventionally for more people, and which mode of public transit (bus, boat, train, plane etc) would be the most flexible as a live action camera/projector.
I settled on a bus because it moves through the world at street level with all the vagaries of traffic and pedestrians and so travels amongst us more intimately than a boat on water or a train on tracks; plus a bus is more able to stop/start and change direction and speed at will giving it more flexibility as a camera that can roam. So I began to see Bus Obscura as an instrument that was camera, projector and theater, and that could be used anywhere that a bus can go to make live animated projections to a live audience -- and that each outing would be like screening a film. I asked Colleen Burke (musician) and Walter Sipser (musician and artist) if they’d be interested in making soundtracks for the Miami bus and the New York bus, and they agreed and came in as collaborators and developed and produced a major element of the piece. We are now working on ideas for having live sound on the bus -- like the silent movies would have a live piano player in the theater.

How does the image taking process actually work?
I suppose one answer to this would be -- in exactly the same way that the image taking process works in any non-digital camera, light enters a darkened chamber and is focused on a plane etc. There is a rational explanation for the phenomena, but it’s not one that we take on board very readily. I’m sure that some people get off the bus thinking that they have just watched a video (I know this to be the case because people often ask where are the video cameras). I am as incapable of explaining how a video camera works as I am of explaining how a camera obscura works despite their disparity in sophistication -- though if I told someone that the bus was all a video projection they would accept that as sufficient explanation and if I told them it was made by a 1000 holes and some plexi-glass they’d probably feel they needed further explanation.

Here for the record is Leonardo da Vinci’s explanation:

All bodies together, and each by itself, give off to the surrounding air an infinite number of images which are all pervading and each complete, each conveying the nature, colour and form of the body which produces it.

It can clearly be shown that all bodies are, by their images, all-pervading in the surrounding atmosphere, and each complete in itself as to substance, form and colour; this is shown by the images of the various bodies which are reproduced in one single perforation, through which they transmit the objects by lines which intersect and cause reversed pyramids from the objects, so that they are upside down on the dark plane where they are first reflected.

The images of objects are all diffused through the atmosphere which recieves them; and all on every side in it. To prove this, let a c e be objects of which the images are admited to a dark chamber by the small holes n p and thrown upon the plane f I opposite to these holes. As many images will be produced in the chamber on the plane as the number of the said holes.
Leonardo da Vinci. Notebooks.

Can you tell me some annecdotes about your experience working on this concept, or an interesting experience with the passengers? Please elaborate as much as necessary.
Because the bus is something of a hybrid, part bus and part artwork, some people treat it like they would any bus and point things out and talk to each other, and some people treat it more like a projection in an art gallery or cinema and quietly watch the performance.
Here is an excerpt from Ricoh Gerbl’s text for the catalog about the bus that will be published in July:
“……The retired couple from Chicago said to me, as I stepped out of the bus, blinded by the bright sunlight: I wish someone would explain to us what the artist wanted to say. I could not even look out of the windows.”

Where else do you plan on taking the bus ride?
So far the bus has been out for only a few days -- 4 days at Basel-Miami Beach and 4 days at the Armory Show NYC. It got a great response and now there are tentative plans to run the bus in Pittsburgh, Kampala, Georgia, Connecticut, London and Saigon.
In Miami we tried operating as a shuttle bus between art venues, but that felt far too constraining, so in New York we told people that we were going nowhere and that we would be back in 10 minutes -- and that worked much better.

What other projects are you working on?
Ideally I want to show the bus as one part of a show with the other part being a separate piece inside a gallery -- the bus is a great tool to extend a show outside of the gallery. This worked quite well recently with the bus running around New York (albeit briefly) while I was showing a live video projection, How Beautiful is the Turning Cabbage, at Pierogi in Brooklyn. Right now I’m working on several gallery projects -- some painted photographs on lightboxes, a series of iron shadows (which I’m presumptuously assuming will be amongst the first cast iron films ever made), and a video of a rabbit a chicken and a goat crossing the Williamsburgh Bridge one bright spring morning……..any of which would make interesting sister pieces to the bus running outside.

© Heyoka Magazine 2005

bus obscura