michael nagle about large projects personal projects

with veronica barron

summer 2011

In early 2011, I spent a few days at Natalie Jeremijenko's Environmental Health Clinic. the clinic is in a way the name or brand for her artistic practice -- of trying to use artistic interventions to bring a liveliness to the modern problems of the environment and human health. Saying I spent a few days at her clinic is really saying I spent two days with her at NYU and then a few days hanging out at her office and talking to students of hers.

While there, Natalie pointed me at The Operation, a piece of sci-fi erotica shot with a thermal camera. The brilliant thing about The Operation, for me, is the combination of a thermal camera -- where you can image heat, and touch -- with the erotic, which is intimately tied up with touch and the sensations of the body. This image of a hand (later removed to reveal a black handprint, the result of the touch) really stayed with me:

A few months later, I was talking to my friend Veronica at sprout, and we were talking about The Operation. Somehow, someone there knew someone who had recently found a military-grade thermal camera in the cruft left at MIT. (The amazing thing about communities an networks. Also, creepily enough, the thermal camera could barely focus at near distances, but was quite good at focusing say 20 to 25 ft out, which I interpreted to mean that was the ideal distance for tracking down human life.)

We ended up producing a short theater piece with a friend of Veronica's, as part of a flashmob festival, the Nightmarket, in Boston. The idea of the festival was everyone rents a truck, and meets at an unknown-to-everyone (including performers) location the night of the event. So we got the U-Haul, and prepared a dance piece, and projected the thermal image on the wall of the truck.

One thing I loved about this performance was that viewers could see both the real image of the dancers (and the props they were working with, like ice cold water), as well as the thermal image (making touch look black and cold look white) in front of them. Sometimes I feel like computer effects can cause people to zone out because they're not anchored in a clear referent -- whereas here, the mapping was visible and visually tangible.