Immersive video installation takes visitors by storm

“Typhoon coming on” at London’s Serpentine Sackler Gallery is the first European solo exhibition by up-and-coming US artist Sondra Perry. Acclaimed for her work with video, computer-based media and performance, Typhoon’s centerpiece is a 66 m wide WATCHOUT show – a bold interpretation of one of the most harrowing depictions of the Atlantic slave trade. The “apocalyptic, seething video spectacle of stormlight and doom-laden waters” (according to The Guardian review) covers three of the gallery’s outer walls, taking Turner’s "Slave Ship" painting to a whole new level.

London-based ADi Audiovisual Ltd regularly works with the Serpentine Galleries and was tasked with designing the special AV requirements for the site-specific installation. The challenges included projecting from floor to ceiling on a large area spread over three walls and in a relatively limited space with a moving audience.

“We had spoken about doing a similar project some years ago, so when the artist requested to cover the entire gallery walls in projection I dug out the sketches and then started to think about what new technology is now available,” explains Sara Smith at ADi Audiovisual. “Previously we were only going to be able to cover a portion of the wall height and there were major imitations of where the public could move around the space without clipping the image. With the recent development of UST (ultra short throw) lens what was possible now was totally different, and with Epson’s unique ‘snorkel’ style lens the magic of being able to cover the entire height of the walls was now possible!”

Dataton’s WATCHOUT multi-display system was selected for playback (“It’s our go-to choice for edge blend and high quality video playback.”) The huge format called for a total of 12 projectors (four per wall) to fill the entire area, running under WATCHPAX 4 media servers. Eight Epson EB-L1405U 8,000 lumens laser projectors with ultra-short-throw ELPLX01 lenses and four Epson EB-L1505U 12,000 lumens laser projectors with ELPLX02 ultra-short-throw lenses were deployed.

The artist had previously shown the work as a three-channel edge-blend which meant a much larger canvas had to be generated for the 66 meters of wall. The scale and quality called for several days at a render farm to output the image sequence. In the meantime, ADi Audiovisual was able to use the artist’s test five-second content to work on the physical line-up. 

“The ease of the WATCHOUT system meant when the actual content arrived we were able to upload it without needing to physically access the players,” Sara Smith explains. “The accuracy of being able to dial in the co-ordinates of each of the 11 HD video files of content ensured the physical line up was unaffected.”

The response to the immersive environment – which also includes a newly created ambient soundscape – has been extremely positive. Reviewers are moved by the message and captivated by the wall projections that course through the gallery space, "an audio visual treat" according to one enthusiastic visitor. 

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