Emerging Artist Pick: Lucy Raven (b. 1977, Tucson, Ariz.)
This week we picked emerging artist, Lucy Raven as one to watch.
Lucy Raven’s wide-ranging practice encompasses animated film, performative lectures,
sculpture, and television broadcasts, all of which engage an interest in how technologies
operate and impact the world. In 2010, Raven began collecting projection test patterns:
images used by the Society of Motion Pictures and Television Engineers in Hollywood to
calibrate film projectors before screenings. These images are specifically designed to aid
in adjusting the focus, aperture, steadiness, and framing of a particular projector to
ensure optimal image quality for the film projection. Every projector model requires a
different test pattern, which is then rendered useless once a new model is released.
Raven is drawn to these patterns, which she describes as “images you’re not supposed
to see, made to make you see better.” Created to standardize and enforce prescribed
aesthetic standards, they are not intended to be aesthetic material themselves or to
have any meaning beyond their function, but each is nonetheless visually compelling,
reading as a modernist exercise in shape, pattern, and abstract composition.
In the 2012 Whitney Biennial, Raven presented RPx, a digital projection work comprised
of all the test pattern images she had collected thus far, accompanied by an audio track
of sound tests meant to calibrate speaker systems. The work serves as a baseline
repository for her growing collection of patterns and is programmed to project the images
in an infinitely randomized order. More recently, Raven created RP31, an extension of
her investigation into these images. For this work, she gathered together thirty one test
pattern films meant for projectors of different gauges of film–including 8mm, 16mm,
35mm, and 70mm–and removed stills from each loop. She then edited the stills together
into a fixed sequence and had the final configuration printed onto 35mm film. The result
is a fast-paced abstract animation that is equal parts kaleidoscope and structural film.
The exuberant starbursts, concentric patterns, and symbols flash hypnotically across the
screen, transforming these utilitarian images into something approaching the mystical.
By presenting the work as a 35mm film, Raven also brings the projector itself into the
space, a reminder of the near-obsolete technology that these patterns catalogue.
Lucy Raven’s 2012 video titled “RP31”. It is a 4:48min looped color video on 35mm film.
Installed at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles from September 2012 to January 2013, RP31 is an animation composed from 31 film projection test patterns and calibration charts.
In Hollywood, the Society of Motion Pictures and Television Engineers (SMPTE) develops image standards that can be used to test the quality of a film projection. The charts test for focus, aperture, field steadiness, and framing. RP40 is the most common chart, where RP stands for “recommended practices.” RP31 is the second iteration of RPx, an ongoing archive and exhibition project displayed in multiple formats and contexts.