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Indiana University’s Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art Designs Ultra-Immersive Contemporary Art Space with State-of-the-Art Native 4K Laser Projection

Posted on February 2, 2021 by Paul Wilkie

This month’s sponsored article comes to us from Epson, which partnered with Indiana University to install three Epson Pro L12002QNL native 4K 3LCD Laser Projectors and Epson ELPLX02W (V12H004Y02) ultra-short-throw lenses in the on-campus museum’s contemporary art studio. This is the first installation in North America to leverage Epson’s native 4K Pro L12002QNL projectors.

The Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art on the Indiana University campus is the new home to one of the most advanced multichannel 4K projection-based installations available at any university museum in the country.

The museum itself was designed and built by master architect I. M. Pei in the 1980s. Its triangular shape and concrete-and-glass materials are juxtaposed against traditional limestone structures on campus in what can only be considered a “contemporary” look and feel. While the building itself is a modern masterpiece, the museum did not house a space dedicated solely to contemporary art. Instead, the museum looked towards the greatness of the past, adorning brightly lit rooms and hallways with “traditional” art forms, including an impressive rotating collection of over 45,000 works that spans geographies, media and styles.

Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art

Elliot Reichert joined the Eskenazi Museum of Art staff as Curator of Contemporary Art in 2019 to help lead the charge to augment and highlight contemporary art because of the natural way it engages with science, technology, modern politics, and current events. This line of thinking makes sense. After all, college campuses are typically filled with young people. Bringing art to them that was immediately relevant and tapped into the things they were studying was something Reichert believed in wholeheartedly. Serendipitously, an effort to install a projection-based art studio had already been in discussion at the university for some time.

Elliot Reichert

“We wanted to focus on new imagery,” said Reichert. “The idea came out of knowing that we had this brand-new gallery carved out of old office space in the museum, and we wanted to ensure the space was flexible and dedicated purely to contemporary art. We also wanted something world class that could stand up to Picasso and Pollock and ancient Egyptian sarcophagi, but also something that was incredibly new and versatile,” Reichert continued.

Reichert dove headfirst into the effort to design and build a contemporary video-based exhibition space with other colleagues on campus, focusing on getting a first piece of art into the new space. He networked with artists on campus about the styles and technologies they were using, the considerations they had to address when displaying video art, and the various other facets of well-executed curation only a seasoned art museum curator could know.

“I began to realize the space we were building was much different than the projection black box you might see in a normal gallery setting. Typically video art galleries are more of a cinematic experience, and we thought that we could do that, and we’d be able to show a lot of work that already exists. But we had this unique trapezoidal space, painted gallery white, that frankly wasn’t well-designed for traditional projection, but we wanted to make the most of what we had,” said Reichert.

Photo by Shanti Knight

Given the modest space, unique shape of the room and gallery white paint, where contemporary art would be displayed, Reichert and his team knew the best way to capitalize on the space would be through three channels of video to create an immersive projection (one channel per each available wall) where they could show a huge variety of work that would properly envelop viewers.

Aside from the fact that projection-based art was already in discussion at the Eskenazi Museum of Art prior to Reichert’s arrival, there was also an artist on campus who was working on contemporary multichannel video projects. That artist, Jawshing Arthur Liou, was invited by the museum to envision the potential of this direction. In response, he launched a production of an ambitious 4k immersive three-channel video inspired by the historical Indiana painter Theodore Clement (T.C.) Steele titled “House of the Singing Winds.” The work was developed through a discussion first between Liou and Eskenazi Museum of Art’s Wilma E. Kelley Director, David Brenneman, and later with Elliot Reichert upon his arrival. These discussions – and collaboration from many of the university’s technical team, faculty and students – led to the installation of one of the country’s most vivid and immersive campus projected art studios.

Project Design and Installation

There were many challenges when building the immersive projection space housed within the Eskenazi Museum of Art. First, and certainly not least, was the fact that the room was comprised mainly of three gallery-white 16’ x 9’ walls in a trapezoidal shape. There is no door and abundant natural light streaming into the gallery. Decidedly not an ideal space for ultra-crisp, high-definition projection to function at its best. In addition to the abundance of natural light and strange room dimensions, the team at Indiana University also wanted to ensure people could walk up to the space without interfering with any projection taking place.

Enter Joshua Foster, the Manager of Learning Space Design at Indiana University.

Josh Foster

“Early on, when we were investigating this project with the museum, we were looking at a lot of options,” said Foster. “At first, we said ‘no projection.’ There were these big windows across the hall, a giant glass roof on the atrium as well, it just didn’t lend itself to being able to project and give the vivid projection we wanted to accomplish. We did shootouts with several projectors, but we just didn’t have the 4K projector we were really looking for to accomplish what we were trying to do.”

However, Foster and his team had planned on using this space as a projection area for years and as such, took measures to make the space more suitable to house the right projector when it became available.

Given the university’s relationship with Epson as a provider of other on-campus projection needs, Foster and his team reached out to Epson to find the right product for the space. They had to consider the fact that the room was very well lit, didn’t have a door to block outside light, and did not have a drop ceiling, meaning a typical projector installation wouldn’t cut it.

“We had to be really careful about ripping out holes in the ceiling as we don’t have a typical drop ceiling. We actually had to do paper diagrams on the floor to measure everything out perfectly. Even fine tuning something down to the inch,” said Foster. “In a traditional projector situation, we have some flexibility in terms of throw, length, etc., but with short throw projectors, we didn’t have that flexibility.”

Photo by Tayla Blewitt

Ultimately Foster and his team decided to go with three just-released projectors and lenses from Epson to meet their needs: the Epson Pro L12002QNL, Epson’s first native 4K 3LCD Laser Projector and Epson ELPLX02W (V12H004Y02) ultra-short-throw lens designed for Epson projectors. Indiana University is the first institution in North America to install these brand-new native 4K 3LCD projectors and lenses.

“The native 4K 3LCD projectors are much brighter than what we were used to, so that large window was able to stay fully open if we needed. Given the right circumstances, we could keep that window open and viewers would be able to see the work through the window. At night you can actually see the work from outside the building.  Because of the vivid colors and high brightness of the projectors, and the uniqueness of the space for its shape, size and exterior vantage point, we’re showing the artwork to the museum, but also to the outside campus. It’s a little counterintuitive, you’d think a large window into a projection space would not be ideal, but the space and advanced projector technology lends itself to a pretty unique experience,” said Foster.

An added plus? The native 4K 3LCD projectors are laser-based, so university technicians on Foster’s team will not have to go up to the projectors and change the lamps.

With three new state-of-the-art projectors built into the space, the Eskenazi Museum of Art now has a fantastic new medium for artists on campus and beyond to explore and capitalize on. Despite the initial challenges of the space design, the new projectors were able to deliver a unique solution to overcome the many limitations and create a nearly boundary-less area for artists to fill. With three different channels of video available, artists have the flexibility to use as many channels as they want depending on how many movies or videos they can do. The options they have are unlimited in that regard given they have such a huge “canvas” to work with.

Also, given the projectors are high frame rate capable, they offer incredibly smooth motion – a  feature that Reichert and Foster believe artists will take advantage of, along with the brilliant color capabilities. All this video excellence requires formidable processing power to bring it to light, however.

“We have some major horsepower running to execute these videos in a multi-channel format. For example, the video files Elliot and Arthur put together is almost 12K worth of video horizontally. So we have an extremely powerful computer that can output all that simultaneously, it’s really impressive,” said Foster.

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