Interview: Darkroom Contemporary’s s h i f t i n g s a n d s //\\ s a n d s s h i f t i n g, premieres in Cape Town, April 29 to May 15, 2021

s h i f t i n g s a n d s //\\ s a n d s s h i f t i n g  

What: immersive video installation- Artistic team: Louise Coetzer and Oscar O’Ryan of Darkroom Contemporary Premiere season: Art Bureau Collective/Act of Brutal Curation in Woodstock When: April 29 to May 15, 2021 Artist walkabouts: Lunchtime- Thursday May 6 at 12.30pm; Saturday May 8 at 11am Tickets: No charge

In these pandemic times, most of us feel un-grounded. The world has been effectively on pause– shifting – beyond our grasp. Louise Coetzer and Oscar O’Ryan of Darkroom Contemporary, Cape Town are inviting viewers to engage with and confront our realities, in its video installation, s h i f t i n g s a n d s //\\ s a n d s s h i f t i n g. How do we connect during this time of disconnection? Louise Coetzer: “In this time, it has been clear that, even though our experiences of the pandemic may be vastly different, we are all going through the same thing across the world.” For its Cape Town premiere, the work will be presented as an immersive installation in the ABC gallery -Art Bureau Collective/Act of Brutal Curation in Woodstock, Cape Town. The armature of the installation is a film which features four dancers [choreographed by Coetzer]. This film is accompanied by additional shorter visuals; screened via randomised looping. This means that the experience will be different on every viewing, as the gallery visitor confronts shifting images. Around twenty minutes is recommended to get the full sense of this work. Intrigued? Read on.

TheCapeRobyn: When we step into the gallery, we will hit ‘pause’ -from outside- the street. Insights into imaging the dance on screen and heightening that with the reality of the presentation, in a space, with people walking through?


Louise Coetzer: In this current moment, many have been grappling with the feeling that the ‘rug has been pulled out from under’ them, their world ‘turned upside down’. This seems an accurate description of the past months – the feeling that the ground is shifting underneath our feet, a reality constantly changing, unpredictable. This imagery was a starting point to inspiring s h i f t i n g s a n d s //\\ s a n d s s h i f t i n g, a visual response to this feeling. Mirroring is used to illustrate two parallel realities; with dance and film as language. Within each landscape, the character’s deliberate and repetitive actions mirror an attempt at hanging on to normality, against a constantly shifting landscape. At the same time, we realise that both realities are experiencing the same, in how they are mirroring each other. In this time, it has been clear that, even though our experiences of the pandemic may be vastly different, we are all going through the same thing across the world.

Oscar O’Ryan: Louise imagined people experiencing the work in almost a sealed audio visual bubble. With Covid restrictions and practically around public space, we worked together to create an installation that still manages to create dimension and a closeness to the dancers that is experienced either as two dimensions  or four dimensions.  Perspective plays a massive part in how the work is presented and experienced.

TheCapeRobyn: This s h i f t i n g s a n d s //\\ s a n d s s h i f t i n g installation, in Woodstock, at ABC, is set up, on a series of screens?

Louise Coetzer: The video installation consists of a series of screens, arranged so they can be viewed individually or as a whole. The modular screens show different elements of the work, like puzzle pieces fitting together to form the full picture. Some of the visuals are synced up, while others play at random, so the overall picture is always slightly different. The various screens play on a loop, but because some are synced up and not others, there is a randomised quality to the overall image – the imagery of the dancers are always in sync, while the visuals of the landscape play in their own randomised time. The work deals strongly with the passing of time, while we are stuck in a bubble of pause. This visual of nature constantly moving and changing illustrates this feeling of time passing, while shifting sands refers to this moment of constant change and unpredictability.

TheCapeRobyn: When you say randomised – does that mean that it is constantly changing?

Louise Coetzer: It is randomized in the sense that some of the visuals are different lengths. So when they loop, they would potentially line up with the in – sync ones at times, but it would be entirely random. The looping of three different visuals; all different lengths; would be always subtly different.

TheCapeRobyn: How ‘long’ is required to get a sense of this unfurling piece – which has no end point- as such – as one cannot fix shifting sands?

Louise Coetzer: The main film of the dancers is around seven minutes long and looping, with the additional visuals shorter and looping. I’d say 20 minutes would be sufficient, to see the main visual repeat twice through and also see some variation in the accompanying visuals.

TheCapeRobyn: This video installation “invites viewers to experience dance through altered reality (XR) modes of ambisonics and an immersive viewing experience”. Should we bring our headphones?

Louise Coetzer: The presentation of the work explores XR modes of ambisonics and impressiveness within a gallery context. Similar to the experience of wearing a VR headset -which focuses your viewpoint and allows for a 360 degree viewing- we wanted to make the entire gallery space this headset. So while it is not arranged in a 360 degree manner, the installation does attempt at placing the viewer in the space with the dancers – allowing you to ‘look up/down’ and experience the environment the dancers were filmed in. The ambisonic experience is surround sound – the sound score is directed into the space from opposite sides. As you move around the space you would hear one side of the score more prominently than the other. The gallery space becomes an enclosed viewing pod in that sense. No headsets required. The interaction with the work is not physical in the sense of pressing buttons. It is more to do with where you place yourself in the space to view and listen, and how long you choose to spend within the space.

TheCapeRobyn: Insights into the score and sound design?

Louise Coetzer: The score was developed by composer Franco Prinsloo. The sound score is created through recordings of the composer playing the prepared piano and bowing the piano strings, then manipulating these sounds and combining them with electronics. The work required a sense of repetition and minimalism and Franco’s score has achieved this beautifully with a combination of the organic piano recordings combined with synths. The score is then transposed into the gallery space -from two directions to create an ambisonic listening experience.

TheCapeRobyn: Can you talk about Darkroom’s exploration of spaces: Site responsive public art/performance in the city, shows in theatres; digital stage using telematic performance; a gallery as you are doing with s h i f t i n g s a n d s //\\ s a n d s s h i f t i n g?

Louise Coetzer: I think this stems from the interdisciplinary nature of our work, and also our strong interest in audience development. I believe that you reach an entirely different audience demographic within a gallery versus a theatre versus a public square in the CBD. By placing works underlined by dance within these different contexts, we get to share dance with new audiences constantly. Simultaneously, I think each project demands its own approach and location – some ideas work better for theatre and others are meant for alternative sites – and this approach aligns with the experimental nature of our work too.

TheCapeRobyn: shiftingsands is being presented at the Art Bureau Collective/Act of Brutal Curation in Woodstock and association with the Art Bureau Collective? The art of brutal creation?

Louise Coetzer: Darkroom Contemporary occupies a shared studio space within the Side Street Studios complex, where the ABC Gallery is located [Art Bureau Collective]. Owner Elad Kirshenbaum is an avid art collector and supporter. Over the years we have staged a number of activations around the Woodstock area and at Side Street Studios. With the Art Bureau Collective/Act of Brutal Curation, the space is about artists sharing their work and viewers giving their feedback on the work – hence the ‘brutal curation’. The ABC ethos states: “Taking it back to the street, there is a certain brutality that dictates the way scenarios play out. Mostly there is very little explanation.”

TheCapeRobyn: s h i f t i n g s a n d s //\\ s a n d s s h i f t i n g, is being presented live, in a gallery, as video installation. Can it also be viewed on screen?


Louise Coetzer: While the work was specifically developed for this type of physical installation, we also hope to transpose it to the digital space – ie two dimensional screen. We will also be submitting it to festivals. The work has been included in this year’s (Un) Infecting the City public arts festival, on May 11 and 12 in Cape Town.

Louise Coetzer of Darkroom Contemporary, talking about s h i f t i n g s a n d s //\\ s a n d s s h i f t i n g: “In this time, it has been clear that, even though our experiences of the pandemic may be vastly different, we are all going through the same thing across the world.”Image credit: Oscar O’Ryan.

Related coverage: https://thecaperobyn.co.za/video-installation-s-h-i-f-t-i-n-g-s-a-n-d-s-s-a-n-d-s-s-h-i-f-t-i-n-g-cape-town-2021/