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Colors 2005 takes the form of a video projection within the gallery space. Its displayed dimensions are variable. The departure point for this work is American actor and director Dennis Hopper’s (1936–2010) film Colors. Made in 1988, the film is about violence between the Los Angeles street gangs the Crips and the Bloods. For his work, Arcangel wrote a computer program that plays the movie one horizontal line of pixels at a time, starting at the top of the screen and working its way down. It presents the breakdown of cinematic images into data, as a dynamic field of abstract colour. Each line of colour is stretched to fill the screen, resulting in animated vertical bands. To run through every row of data, the two-hour film must repeat 404 times, and takes more than thirty-three days to play from beginning to end.
On his website, Arcangel has commented:
A couple years ago I made a very small video application called Colors. This video came out of my interest in wanting to make something using slit-scan. This is a very common and quite easy technique where basically something is photographed through a slit. After spending some time trying to teach myself how Quicktime works and how video is displayed on a modern computer, I finally ended up with Colors.
(www.coryarcangel.com, accessed 27 November 2010)
The slit-scan photography technique is a photographic and cinematographic process where a moveable slide, into which a slit has been cut, is inserted between the camera and the subject to be photographed. Originally used in static photography to achieve blurriness or deformity, the slit-scan technique was perfected for the creation of spectacular animations, enabling the cinematographer to create a psychedelic flow of colours. Though this type of effect is now commonly created through computer animation, slit-scan is traditionally a mechanical technique, highlighting Arcangel’s interest in the tension between newer digital and older analogue technologies. Arcangel’s early work took the form of experiments in hacking and internet-based interventions; he also used obsolete, analogue technologies, such as vintage video games.
In the post-industrial age, computer-generated images and animations are a dominant part of daily life. Using a combination of such new and old technologies, Colors scrambles Dennis Hopper’s cinematic images, transforming them into a dynamic abstraction and acknowledging the susceptibility of images to digital manipulation.
Raphael Gygax (ed.), Cory Arcangel: Beige, Zurich 2006.
‘Cory Arcangel and Dara Birnbaum in Conversation,’ Artforum, March 2009, pp.190–9.
Ruba Katrib, Cory Arcangel: The Sharper Image, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami 2010.