Projection-mapping artist Bart Kresa recently undertook a permanent installation of the iconic Shogyo Mujo skull at AREA15 in Las Vegas.
In an interactive experiment, the installation itself has been live-streamed over several days, interspersing the assembly of the 12-foot skull with chats by Kresa and the BARTKRESA studio team. There were also sessions with guests from Panasonic, AVIXA, Blooloop and Ahead Of The Curve. The event culminated in a virtual celebration featuring the completed installation.
Shogyo Mujo, a geometric skull sculpture created by digital artist Joshua Harker, is the canvas for Bart Kresa’s animated, music-driven projection designs.
The creation’s name reflects Buddhist tradition, representing the first of the three marks of Dharma, which state that all things are impermanent. It was first presented at Burning Man in 2014. Subsequently, it has toured to Adobe MAX and SIGGRAPH Conferences, the Life is Beautiful Festival, and has featured as a temporary installation at trade shows.
As a flagship installation at AREA 15, the Shogyo Mujo skull serves as the visual centrepiece.
Bart Kresa, an award-winning Master Projection Designer working in large-scale, high-end projection mapping, has over 25 years of industry experience. A trained musician, composer, photographer, and designer, his diverse range of experience inspires his creations.
BARTKRESA studio is his premier projection mapping company, specialising in developing unique experiences on a global scale, combining artistry with industry-leading projectors to develop immersive projected environments.
Kresa partnered with American artist Joshua Harker on Shogyo Mujo. The collaboration, initially for Burning Man, was suggested by a mutual friend, Veronica Pittman, and involved Harker’s Crania Geodesica sculpture, overlaid with Kresa’s projection creations.
The creative process behind Shogyo Mujo
Speaking with Blooloop during the live stream, Kresa explained the process of creating Shogyo Mujo:
“We started working in 2013 when I met Josh Harker. Since then, it has evolved. We’ve added a number of layers, just to make the whole piece more…shiny.”
Each of Kresa’s pieces either tells a story or casts a spell to evoke a response. With Shogyo Muju, that story centres on the cycle of life, death and renewal.
“We started working with the concept of how we could have a piece that can be enjoyed as a sculpture during the day; that will then, at the sunset, start coming alive, until sunrise, when it will die.
“Burning Man is a 24-hour-a-day festival. Not everybody participates day and night: some people choose to be active at night; some in the day. So every day we have those moments when the sun rises, and the skull can be seen dying slowly. And with the sunset, slowly [a whole dimension of] projected light appears.
“The name Shogyo Muju reflects all of that. It comes from a Buddhist tradition of the cycle of life and death.”
The meaning behind the project
Shogyo Mujo is a 12-foot-skull brought to life by 360-degree projection mapping. The name, “Shogyo Mujo,” represents the first of the three marks of Dharma, which states that all things are impermanent. Each iteration of this piece represents a distinct experience for each guest.
During this global pandemic, the semiotic connotations of mortality conjured by the skull have particular relevance. “When I’m with the skull, it’s all about the skull. It’s about that balance, that cycle,” says Kresa.
The skull that is the canvas for Kresa’s projected art is the 12-foot realisation of Joshua Harker’s signature digital design, Crania Geodesica. Commenting on the collaborative experience of working with another artist on a project like this, Kresa says:
“It’s an interesting process; every artist has very strong ideas and a distinct vision. Honestly, it was not the easiest experience, for me. But during the coronavirus crisis, we have been stronger together than ever.”
Safety procedures installing Shogyo Mujo
On 14 May, as part of the live-streamed installation, Kresa demonstrated the meticulous process by which he and his team institute and observe safety procedures in terms of disinfecting and cleaning during each step.
“When I agreed to come here, I wanted to work out a way that we could do it safely – at the level of a hospital. We disinfect everything, every step of the way. I don’t tell anyone what to do; I just practise my own way of keeping us all safe. This whole trip here, for me, is about sharing how we can do this safely. I think that ensuring safety has been the biggest challenge.”
It was a challenge he and his team met with pragmatism:
“We decided to build a camp. It’s something that would be absurd in a normal situation. But then, I think, the whole world is absurd right now, so it doesn’t matter. It’s RVs and trailers and campers and trucks. It’s a strange kind of mix of corporate/Burning Man: a clean, clinical mechanical process, that is also a camp.”
The impact of COVID-19
The crisis, Kresa says, is sending the art of projection in new directions:
“Things are tending towards a smaller set of experiences. We’ve gone to a number of places and set up projection experiences – a layer of projection inside of hotel rooms, smaller venues. We cannot congregate. So, when people go to a venue, they need to be spread out. There need to be ways of doing that – fewer people, with smaller, more personal experiences in separated spaces.”
Rising to the challenge
Kresa feels the current experience of being separated will alter perceptions of space and communal experiences in the long term:
“I think, from my experience, it has changed. There is a focus on more personal exhibits; on smaller experiences. One example is the way some restaurants have addressed the situation.
“There is one, Mediamatic Eten [a vegan restaurant] in Amsterdam, that has added small greenhouse-type cubicles along the waterfront to allow people to enjoy a meal while maintaining social distancing. I think we’re going to see this sort of innovation everywhere, over the next couple of years.”
Shogyo Mujo and AREA15
For the moment, the plan is that Shogyo Mujo will remain at AREA 15 for the next three years: “We’re just figuring out its future, and are discussing the possibility of staying here longer.”
Outlining future plans, Kresa says the studio is working towards creating its own gallery. The idea is to showcase some of BARTKRESA studio’s key works. He details four of them:
“Number one, of course, is Shogyo Mujo; our baby, and really close to my heart. After the deployment of the skull, I felt that I needed to create another one.”
“The second one, Sviatovid, is, technically, very similar: a sculpture with 360-degree projection. It appeared at five shows in three or four countries. There was a moment when we had to figure out how to make two of them available at the same time.”
Like Shogyo Mujo, Sviatovid has its roots in mythology, explains Kresa: “We went from the Japanese tradition to Poland, where I was born.”
Sviatovid, a fifteen foot-tall, 360-degree projection-mapped sculpture, is inspired by a 9th-century Slavic god and medieval sculpture of the same name: a four-faced, all-seeing figure. BARTKRESA studio designed a library of interactive animations to be a reflection of its distinct perspective and journey.
In February 2019, Sviatovid premiered at Integrated Systems Europe (ISE), the largest AV and systems integration show in the world, dazzling 100,000 attendees. Since the premiere, it has captivated audiences in four countries.
After ISE 2019, it travelled to Lublin, Poland, for an exhibition at the Centrum Spotkania Kultur (The Centre for the Meeting of Cultures).
“Then I wanted to kind of step away from it,” says Kresa. “We discussed what the next piece should be, and I felt I didn’t want to do another 360-degree sculpture. We had done two of them, already, so the third experience, [called, very simply – C8] – is a room that you walk inside. You become your own VJ; the movement of your body generates visual experiences.”
C8 and The Fountain of Light
“It’s basically like a really colourful psychedelic mirror of yourself; in some ways abstract. I want you to feel like you see yourself, but at the same time, you’re different, transformed. That piece is called C8. I talked to my team and decided to simplify the names.”
“Then the fourth one goes back to dimensional sculpture that is projected on. It’s more like a huge chandelier, inspired by the work of Gaudi [Spanish architect and leading exponent of art nouveau in Europe]. It has four wings, hanging in space. We went back to very organic shapes. The title of this one is The Fountain of Light.”
Shogyo Mujo, art and technology
Commenting on the ways in which the fusion of art and technology will facilitate a transition towards a new way of participating in art-driven experiences, Kresa says:
“There is flexibility in the online space, with virtual content. As an example, if for the next two years we have to social distance, venues will open up, but now only a quarter of people can go and visit.”
“The rest of the audience will be part of the experience online. And, rather than go down the explicit digital, VR, avatar-driven route, it’s about how to figure out how to do it with a light touch in an old-school, analogue way.
“We want to give people an impression, rather than assaulting them with technology. It’s about the personal touch; about human contact. And that’s what we’re doing right now, during this live stream.”
Music and creativity
Kresa began as a professional musician and composer, and music remains an integral part of his creative process.
“Music is such a big part of my life. I use it for everything. When I’m dealing with a problem, for example, I almost feel like I have a concrete block on my shoulders, bending my knees with the weight. In those moments, in my head, I hear an army orchestra of thousands, marching.
“If that is not enough, I bring orchestras from Asia, Europe, Africa, with my mind: a million soldiers marching, being pushed on, as I am, by the music. I live with music, and have music playing in my head when I design.”
Shogyo Mujo is at AREA15 in Las Vegas from June 2020.