rAndom International talk nocturnal dancing, shape shifting cubes and Museums at Night at the Horniman

By Mark Sheerin | 08 May 2013

Ahead of their spectacular light and dance installation in the gardens of the for Museums at Night, rAndom International's Florian Ortkrass talks to Culture24's Mark Sheerin about three-dimensional art cubes, blue chip museums and the essential element of darkness...

a photo of a figure seen through a series of suspended lights
rAndom International's Future Self will be appearing at the Horniman Museum as part of Museums at Night on May 16© rAndom International
To say Random International respond to a technical challenge is putting it mildly. Even descriptions of the work they plan to share at Museums at Night are a bit mind boggling. While on the phone to Artistic Director Florian Ortkrass, I’ll confess to getting lost in the description of their performance.

In short, it’s a nocturnal dance spectacular with a score by Max Richter and a shape-shifting cube made from thousands of lights. The group have fallen for the eclectic charms of the Horniman Museum and hope to stage their son et lumière performance in its Victorian conservatory.

Ortkrass supplies the technical details: “You have this cube, which is made out of individual light filters. Then on each side we have two cameras that track whatever’s in a certain area in front and either side of the piece in three dimensions. And then that gets reproduced inside the cube in three dimensions.”

The two dancers either side will be mapped into “two moving figures inside the cube and that all happens in real time so you kind of have two copies of the dancers overlapping”.

At least seeing will be believing. This was true with Random International’s recent work Rain Room; in 2012, their installation at the Barbican allowed visitors to walk through a shower of water without getting wet. Both incomprehensible and incredible, it was a runaway success.

“There are still people who walk up to you,” says Ortkrass on the Rain Room’s aftermath. “I’m like ‘How did you know about it? and they go, ‘Are you kidding? It’s in every newspaper’.” He says the attention received by the work came out of the blue.

Random international are a group of 12 artists and Ortkrass is one of three Directors. He tells me that work destined for the Horniman Museum in May has already been seen in Berlin and Paris, and it goes by the title Future Self. Museums at Night offers the chance to add new elements.

Given the demanding nature of his company’s work, Florian is delighted to find the South London museum is “fantastically unbureaucratic”. He offers a favourable comparison between the former home of Frederick John Horniman, with its varied collection of musical instruments, anthropology and natural history, and some of the “blue chip museums” which try to cover everything.

“There you walk into the room and there’s so much, and there’s very little context so you walk out. Usually I’m like, ‘What have I actually seen or taken in?’ But here there’s so many stories to all the exhibits,” he says. “They reflect my personal interests.”

a photo of a figure in a darkened responding to a 3-d image of themselves
Future Self - after dark© rAndom International
It comes as little surprise to hear that imagination, rather than innovation, is what inspires his work. Along with his two fellow artistic directors, Ortkrass claims to be adept at closing down the rational, problematising side of his brain and focussing on “the pureness of the idea.”

In his words: “To complete the project you need to be able to focus on a lot of detail and to a certain extent be realistic about what can be done and how. But when it comes to ideas we can bypass this, otherwise we would instantly say ‘Oh no! It’s not possible, it’s not possible.’”

Ortkass tells me that, as we speak, there is a production manager on site taking measurements at the museum.  But he adds that people “organically” grow into certain parts of certain projects.  Even more impressive are the lengths the group will go to in the name of site specific art.

“Sometimes if it’s a new project where we create something specifically for a space or in the context of a certain space, then we recreate the environment and work out how things fit in,” he says. In other words, they build a complete mock-up back in the studio.

This will, however, be impossible before the Museums at Night event, which takes place to all intents and purposes outside, in the building’s grand glass conservatory. The element it relies on therefore is darkness, which is estimated to fall at 8:43pm on the evening in question.

“We can’t just switch the light off. We have to work with when the sun goes down,” he points out. So given the possible limitations on a late opening, Random International are, as usual, working with what he elsewhere describes as “a whole bag of difficulties.”

But Ortkrass promises that, on aesthetics alone, the piece will “look stunning from the outside and the inside, and also nearly being outside that will be interesting as well and we have a couple of ideas of new things we want to try that could affect the visual impact.”

The performance is likely to be as baffling and brilliant as any by Random International. Early booking is recommended - after all, you don’t want to be left hearing about this second hand. How will anyone possibly describe it?

  • rAndom International are appearing for Museums at Night at The Horniman Museum on May 16 2013 as part of the Connect10 national competition linking artists with museums, galleries and heritage venues. Book online. The programme is supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

Visit Mark Sheerin's contemporary art blog and follow him on Twitter.

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