Palmtop Theater – Report from V2, Rotterdam

Palmtop Theater

The combination of old and new media can create surprising results. ‘Palmtop Theater’, invented by artists Jitsiru Mase and Tom Nagae is a good example of this. By translating a nineteenth century magic trick known as ‘Pepper’s Ghost’ into contemporary mobile media Mase and Nagae manage to make content literally rise above the flatscreens of smartphones and ipads. In the 1860’s Pepper’s Ghost was launched as a special theatre illusion technique that made objects appear and disappear on stage with the use of mirrors and light. Mase and Nagae designed a miniature version of such a stage, consisting of three small, partly see-through mirrors that were placed on top of a flatscreen, the i3DG. Dutch art institute V2 and curator Maki Ueda invited various artists to make works especially for this experimental device, and the results of this initiative were exhibited during the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR).
An illusion like Pepper’s Ghost works best in the right environment, a setting that is most often created through narration, music, or sound effects – all firmly within the functionality of the smartphone. When viewing the 16 works in the exhibition it becomes clear that soundtracks play an influential role. Works that have none, like Lia’s ‘SIM05’, struggle to keep your attention. Lia’s iPod application uses a different method to engage the audience: the work, a typical Lia animation of subtle and dreamily dancing lines, is reset and altered by shaking the phone or tapping the screen.Only two other works have such a physical interface. The collaboration between Lina Kusaite, FoAM and Performing Pictures produced a surreal, filmic piece called ‘Immanentia’ that is also influenced by moving or touching the phone, as is Emmanuel Flores Elias’ ‘Disperse’. ‘Immanentia’ is especially suggestive of an undiscovered universe inside the iPhone, yet its ‘story’ seems rather thin. The i3DG seems to ask for a specific aesthetic, one that is bold rather than subtle.
The strongest works in the exhibition combine a very bold visual aesthetic with an appropriate soundtrack. ‘XorC’ for example by Robert Pravda and Kasper van der Horst, an abstract film made on an Amiga, works very well, as does the work by Arno Coenen, which did not make it into the mini-catalogue. Also Geert Mul’s ‘Trailscape’, a dreamy ‘railroad movie’, seems a perfect fit for the i3DG. It would be interesting to see this experimental screen ‘interface’ mass-produced for small phone screens to increase the diversity of usage. The one thing missing in all works at the Palmtop Theater show is: a network application!

Josephine Bosma

Curator: Maki Ueda in collaboration with Nae Morita.

Artists: Joost Rekveld (NL), Geert Mul (NL), Lia (AT), Arno Coenen (NL), FoAM [BE] + Performing Pictures [SE], Noriaki Okamoto (JP), Mitsuo Toyama (JP), Tajuta Mikage (JP), Shuhei Shibue (JP), Masashi Yokota (JP), Mitsuo Toyama (JP), Emmanuel Flores Elìas (MX/NL), John Fanning (US/NL), Pablo Dias (BR/NL) + Luciano Leite Barbosa (BR/US), Ronald Schelfhout (NL), yy (CN) + Tom Laan (NL), Robert Pravda (NL/YU), Kasper van der Horst (NL), Bonne Knibbe (NL), Shihui (CN/NL), Ludmila Rodrigues (BR/NL), Amelia Kaczyńska (PL/NL), klaravat (SP/NL), André Carvalheiro (PT/NL), and Yolanda Uriz (SP/NL)