Sunday, January 13, 2013

Science Meets Art: Details of Horses on a Treadmill Fill Screens of Chaja Hertog's "Four Riders" Video Installation

Nothing much happens but there's plenty to look at. Hoof Blog readers may be mesmerized or bored or inspired or exasperated by this two-minute excerpt from a video artist's interpretations of disembodied but parallel equine details. Best experienced in full screen mode; click the embiggen icon between "HD" and "vimeo".

The Hoof Blog talks a lot about science. The anatomy and physiology of the horse's hoof are combining with locomotion and biomechanics; slowly, but surely, a field of science is emerging.

But is it art? Creative video artist Chaja Hertog thinks so...

As a video performance, "Four Riders" was projected on four screens for the audience. The horses were large as life...and coming at you in the view that, previously, only a anatomist or biomechanics researcher would  see in a viewfinder. Where they saw science, Chaja saw art; she took the horses out of the laboratory and projected them in an empty room in urban Amsterdam.

Chaja and her co-creator Nir Nadler decided that horses on a treadmill would make a perfect performance video for her graduate project.

What they envisioned required no jumps, no dressage arenas, no racetracks: these are real world horses and they are simply walking or trotting on treadmills, maybe even breaking into a canter at one point.

But the seemingly pedestrian gaits, blinks, ear swivels and chest muscles that the audience watched look very different when viewed far from stables and paddocks. Disembodied details of these unnamed, unadorned horses filled four separate giant screens erected in a hall in urban Amsterdam. Each horse was suddently life-sized; nondescript shades of gray and dun and bay were suddenly full of warmth and color in stark contrast to a plain monochromatic city space.

Click the play icon to flip through some production stills shot during the filming of Four Riders.

Chaja created a brief excerpt of the performance tape and has very kindly agreed that it should be shown on the Hoof Blog to celebrate the new year.

What intrigued me about my interview with Chaja was how art was imitating life--or, her art was imitating the lives of many Hoof Blog readers, at least. Sure, she's an artist and she has her own vision of what the video installation would express. She mentioned being inspired by the pioneering early filming efforts of Eadweard Muybridge and the woodcuts of Durer.

But she couldn't get to where she wanted to go, artistically, without the help of science. To film what she wanted to film, she had to head to the lab, and in true Hoof Blog Hero form, she invented a camera that strapped onto the horse's head and focused directly on the horse's eye. She could stand back, and film close-up. But she had to build it herself.

Production sketches from Chaja's notes show some of the cameras she attached direcly on the horses' bodies. She never intended to video the horse, only the horse's details.

So, just as the artist George Stubbs had a dual role as a painter and as an anatomy documentarian, Chaja the video artist left her camera mount technology as a legacy for the horse world when her video sessions wrapped, along with a disembodied, parallel way of contemplating--or comparing--anatomical details of horses.

The full-length version of the film mesmerizes, and for horse aficionados even the excerpt, if looped, could become the "Maria Folding Towels" video for an Auto-Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) experience. If the play stats start sky-rocketing on the video, we'll know that people find the gentle thud of the hooves calming on a deeper level.

Filming took Chaja and Nir to Le Centre Européen du Cheval equine and equestrian research center in Belgium (attached to researchers like Didier Sertyn and Isabelle Caudron, among others) and Niels Henrik Huskamp's Tierklinik Hochmoor vet clinic in Germany, as well as the ivory towers of equine biomechanics expertise at Utrecht University in The Netherlands.

But it brought the horses to an audience who knew little or nothing at all about biomechanics or horses or science, but one that knew art when it saw it.

Bravo, Chaja. It looks like art to me.

--written by Fran Jurga

Hoofcare Publishing thanks Chaja Hertog for over a year of correspondence and colloboration to make this video post possible. Hopefully, Chaja will be commissioned to install the full video (and all the huge vertical screens) for an equestrian-immersed audience somewhere in the world.

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