Large-scale projection on urban surfaces is their creative company's field of activity. They conceive and produce custom-made, site-specific media installations using high artistic standards and an interdisciplinary approach to stylistic devices. The main focus of their approach is to take up existent or inherent structures of architecture, its thematic context and surroundings. Through an architectural staging, they examine the intersection of a site’s concept of space, location, and appearance. Tailored site-specific projection procedures enable them to interlink various media – such as computer-generated imagery, artificial illumination and dance performance – in order to characterize architecture and the versatile levels of it that can be experienced vis-à-vis a building itself.
Please find additional information concerning our artistic approach within our READER (PDF).
Q: Tell us about the formation of URBANSCREEN. Also, what sort of creative activities have you aimed for since then up until now?
USC: We are an association of enthusiastic people, who are inspired to investigate the capability and versatile field of site-specific projections mainly within the urban area. In the beginning it was a more playful, non-directional approach: experimenting with the artistic devices, trying different kinds and styles of projections and ideas. We blessedly didn't lose that in the meantime but focused and concentrated on a certain field of examination. The main aspect today is the adaptable scope of spatial context, human perception, architecture and methods to enhance them through our artistic approach.
Q: How many members do you have? What are each of the roles/departments?
USC: We are currently eight permanent members focusing on quite different disciplines like architecture, music, scenography as well as visual activities like motion graphics and 3D. As these productions need to be well-structured, some of us do assure organizational, technical and economic aspects of course.
Q: While surely it varies by the project, tell us about your general work process from the preparatory stages to initial film, graphic processing, film editing, and projection.
USC: At first we evaluate the whole idea and circuit’s basic concept. In addition we perform an early initial organizational / technical check whether the production is feasible in terms of time, technique and financial energy. During the first steps of the project phase, it is essential for us to be accepted due to the way we work and to find consent for our artistic approach. With these basic aspects we continue and elaborate the further steps: visiting the place of performance in order to gain some valuable impulse and to identify possible technical solutions or additional conceptual aspects (plus exact measurement of the architecture / object / location). The subsequent production itself normally takes place in our "visual laboratory" in Bremen (Germany). The production procedure contains ongoing conceptual activities. With this basic storyline the visual interpretation is done via motions graphics / 3D, rebuilding of the façade (virtual or real), filming of dancers or artists as well as postproduction for the final renderings.
Q: Does each of your projects have its own theme or concept?
USC: Yes, we conceive each object and its surroundings as a main starting point for every concept. Existent structures and aesthetics represent a basic visual and contextual guideline as well as the main source of inspiration. The final storyline merges both: a visual interpretation evolving from an initial idea and the characteristics / structure of the façade.
Q: Where did you come up with the idea to turn buildings into screens and make use of their structure?
USC: The idea arose from several media projects which took place in the urban area. With this starting point it was a quite logical step to leave any use as a screen behind in order to develop an approach using the entire façade as an active part of the projection. Each element is located site-specific and correlates with the architecture and its shape (a procedure we named 'LUMENTECTURE'). In result the element of virtual imagery and the static façade merges in order to reveal a unique experience.
Q: Do you select the building first and then come up with the piece, or do you search for a building that meets your ideas? Also, what are the criteria by which you judge a building for projection?
USC: Both. Sometimes we are asked to stage a specific building (regularly in combination with a comprehensive context such as anniversaries or festivals) but usually we prefer to identify an adequate and inspiring architecture ourselves. We are passionate about certain modern and contemporary architecture as it offers clear structures and interesting characteristics. Technically, it is important to find a light, uniform-colored facade. As you can't project on glass, these parts have to be avoided or prepared in order to integrate them into the projection area. Another quite important aspect is the surrounding location: the ambient light must be reduced and we strongly recommend a convenient residence for the audience.
Q: Tell us a bit about your image-making process. Do you give your ideas shape according to a set plan, or do you build upon them as you go along?
USC: Each artist does follow up his specific procedure, but mainly there is a basic idea around, before we execute the creative realization. We normally go with the strongest impact, squeezing it in order to investigate strong influences and intersections. The aim is to sieve for the inventive nugget. None of our productions were built 1:1 compared with the original storyboard. The production process allows us to enrich and enhance the original essence and is essential in order to achieve the final artistic statement. We do name a responsible Artistic Director for each production – but the whole process is discussed and shaken during several meetings integrating the whole creative team.
Q: What sort of unique techniques have you used to bring the ideas in your head into the world as images?
USC: Two examples: for one piece we casted and trained leaf-cutting ants on a small model of a building. The later process of destruction, where the ants took down the façade, was filmed in a zoo and projected back afterwards (this production was called INSEKTION). For one of our productions, What is Up?, we built a special construction that allowed us to cancel valid principles of gravity. It was a complex handshake of a rotating box with a fixed camera. This led to the moment where we were able to redefine physical limitations, following the idea of the artist and his concept regarding the spatial experience in that box.
Q: What sort of communication do you think your creations build between you and the viewer?
USC: There are several interesting perceivable effects within the urban area and the passerby. At first in most cases you can't really be sure who will attend the staging. Different people may pass by in all different moods. We faced that people share and respect our approach not to directly teach or to sell something. We try to offer a condensed compilation, which is integrating itself into urban surroundings and takes care of the given spatial context, therefore it is not aggressive or dominant. With the merge of the virtual and the existing layer people are surprised, irritated or impressed of the possibilities that this technology offers. What we are really heading for is to catch the audiences’ attraction, leading them into another urban storytelling. If they accept and are not disturbed by excessive realization, the audience can be magnetized as if they were watching a touching movie or theatre piece.
Q: What type of project would you like to try next?
USC: Last year we performed our debut within the opera. This was a very interesting experience as most of us performed in context with theatre, but quite new aspects had to be considered during that projection mapping and stage design in combination with a wonderful orchestra, singers and actors. We assume that this was not our last rally with the more classic crafts. As we are inspired by the spatial influences, we do follow up some new ideas within the scenographical context. Another influence is an intended cooperation with a film director or musician. Apart from that there are some very stunning buildings (mainly modern or contemporary museums) that would allow a perfect combination of architecture and virtual theatre - as we had the chance to stage the unique architecture of the Sydney opera house, the Hamburger Kunsthalle, the Leopold Museum in Vienna and the building of BAUHAUS in Dessau.