Discipline: Interdisciplinary Art – multimedia installation

Brent Watanabe

Discipline: Interdisciplinary Art – multimedia installation
Region: Seattle, WA
MacDowell Fellowships: 2011, 2013

Ever wonder what life is like inside a video game? Seattle-based artist Brent Watanabe’s installations process the sights, sounds, and movements from the natural world into an immersive computerized environment. He does this using custom computer applications, motors, sensors, and video projectors to react to surrounding phenomena and direct the movement of images along sculptural surfaces. The result is a mash-up, equal parts technical wizardry and whimsy, of the high-tech (coding, robotics, projection), the low-tech (ladders, cardboard, whistles), and the completely natural (birds, leaves, eggs).

At MacDowell, the birds, animals, foliage, and man-made machines outside of Watanabe’s studio influenced, played with, and directed the behavior of his latest creation. The resulting work uses an algorithm to translate outdoor bird song into text messages that are read aloud by computer-controlled voices. A simultaneous soundtrack is generated by a series of fan-powered horns, whistles, bird calls, and noise makers triggered by the movement of visitors through the installation.

These messages and impulses will be interpreted by a variety of characters and objects inside of the installation in much the same way characters in a video game respond to the player of the game. One element might be a machine sorting newborn chicks, another a hapless ukulele nervously rocking and serenading itself in the corner, and more. The goal is to create an ecosystem in constant flux, with the characters, objects, and environment directly or indirectly influencing one another.



Brent Watanabe worked in the Adams studio.

Given to the MacDowell Association by Margaret Adams of Chicago, the half-timbered, stuccoed Adams Studio was designed by MacDowell Fellow and architect F. Tolles Chamberlin ca. 1914. Chamberlin was primarily a painter, but also provided designs for the Lodge and an early renovation of the main hall. The studio’s structural integrity was restored during a thorough renovation in…

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