15 May 2013

Sam Meech is an artist and 'videosmith' who works with old and new technologies to create dynamic video systems, projections and performances. He is also a co-director of Re-Dock and often Skypes his dad to catch up on the football and family news.

Please can you tell us a little bit about what you have made for Can You Hear Me? I Can See You!

I have been designing a Skype Video Portal - an interactive installation riffing on the ideas of telepresence, time travel, holograms and the communication technologies we use today, namely Skype.

It a sci-fi inspired video answering machine, inviting users to Skype in and leave a video message for the future or the past, which is displayed within the exhibition as a 'Peppers Ghost illusion. The messages form a database that is randomly accessed and presented as fragmentary 'hologramatic' video missives within the gallery.

Anyone can skype in to the gallery and leave their message - just call "adviceportal", however, who will receive it, and then, well that's another matter...

You met with the residents and showed them an early prototype of the device you have made - could you tell us about that experience?

Skype has been a really important tool in our workshops with the residents, so they already had a strong idea of where the piece was coming from. We've been exploring it in increasingly left-field ways than the conventional video phone; playing tele-present bingo, inviting interesting professionals to give Skype presentations about their work (including scientists, musicians, designers), and even role-playing Skype as a time-travelling device - contacting historical figures. The residents have always shown themselves to be up for trying something out and having an honest discussion about the exercise or technology, and how it relates to their own experiences, as well as the future possibilities.

That didn't stop me feeling nervous about showing them the prototype for user testing - they are honest critics! It was a great process - even though there were some technical hiccups.  They took time to figure out what was happening and how it could be made better. One of the key things to come out of the user-testing session was that I'd over-complicated the Skype-user-experience, so I've since made it much simpler, friendlier and I have worked with the residents to record short welcome messages. I've also toned down the visual effects in the display of the video recordings so they're easier on the eye.

Does the Skype Advice Portal you've made for this show relate to other works you have made previously?

I like creating video 'systems', using lots of cables and convertors to connect hardware and software in dynamic and complex yet lo-fi installations.

For a while I've been interested in how you can collect video contributions from the public and present them in a non-linear way. Skype Portal builds on previous work creating database installations in a software called Isadora, to present video interviews as a 'cut up'  - randomly playing back fragments of accounts to create a new text. I recently created a video installation in Egremont that used two differing accounts of a mineshaft collapse to create an evolving 'mythical' narrative of the event.

I've also been trying to understand how to create the Pepper's Ghost illusion with video, and it wasn't until this project that I've been able to crack it.  Neil Winterburn (Re-Dock) and Dave Lynch have been helping me out as they have a better understanding of it, and I also had a great Peppers Ghost 101 with Chris Barnett from MOSI.  I then built on this with my own research into materials. I've worked with some unusual projection techniques and surfaces before, but this illusion is something else - so simple (and ancient!) yet incredibly effective. I'm really excited about how this will look in the show. 

Interview by John O'Shea, artist and co-director of Re-Dock

The exhibition launches on 17 May as part of Light Night.