Erin Petersen

Carousel Resurrects the Slide Projector

By - Apr 28th, 2009 12:00 pm
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Last Friday, on the hottest and most beautiful day of the year, it was difficult to stay indoors. But the promise of a quirky and intriguing slide show was tempting enough to bring me in. As I settled into my seat in the back room of Woodland Pattern, I didn’t know what to expect from my first Carousel.

The invitational slide show, organized by Naomi Shersty and Carl Bogner, started about three years ago as a sort of rebirth for the now extinct mechanism. When the first slide film was launched by Kodak in the mid-1930s, it was the medium of choice for serious photographers because it produced clear, sharp images with vivid color . However,  the advent of digital photography in 1990 expanded the market for photography. New technology and post-capture software enable even fair weather photographers to take high quality photos and it seems there’s little room left for older, more arduous methods and equipment. As for the slide projector, once a staple in family living rooms and art history classes, in the Digital Age PowerPoint reigns supreme.

But the medium and the mechanism are both very much alive. Despite that fact that slide projectors are no longer manufactured,  Carousel proves that the aged technology still holds a lot of creative potential. Much in the same way vinyl will never truly be replaced by MP3s, there is still a specialized niche for slide shows, and the possibilities are endless.

Here’s how it works: Carousel sends out a roll of 35mm  film to selected artists around the country. The invited artists then present a slide show of their own design, combining old and new techniques to maximize and in some cases re-imagine the use of this “ancient” technology. I’ve heard rumors of audience chanting, interactive storytelling and multiple projectors at previous shows, and waited in anticipation to see what would unfurl this year.

Within a few minutes, every seat in the house was filled and the room was humming with excited laughter and conversation. We sipped on complimentary glasses (well, plastic cups) of Two-Buck Chuck as the lights went down and Carl Bogner introduced the show with an excerpt from Tennessee Williams’ Desire and the Black Masseur over a series of slides that had been randomly collected from the basement of Mitchell Hall (the slides were later handed out as souvenirs).

“He felt more secure at the movies than anywhere else. He loved to sit in the back rows of the movies where the darkness absorbed him gently so that he was like a particle of food dissolving in a big hot mouth.”

The audience giggled as each image appeared on the screen. Judging from the amount of mustachioed men in plastic rimmed glasses, the slides were mostly stills from some sort of instructional film, circa 1981.

Next slide, please.
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In total, there were only six slide shows that evening, and yet each one brought something different to the screen. One pair from Seattle took images of abandoned spaces- industrial and private- and slightly distorted the slides with what appeared to be a burning and dodging method. In the next show was Jennifer Kelly’s “Parts and Vanderbilt Barks“, a collection of photos she took at the Frederick Vanderbilt National Historic Site in Hyde Park, New York. Kelly painted slightly over each slide, following the contours of the wildlife and natural landscape, to convey the organic process that each painter goes through when they begin a new piece.

Brian Perkins presented next with musical accompaniment by Steve Schlei. The two added percussive experimental music — ambient noise, mandolin and a cabassa shaker — to a series of marker drawings, breaking up the silence and bringing an eclectic vibe to the show. Angela Deane’s “Birthday” was a lighthearted follow up to Perkins and Schlei, presenting what the artist called “a tea party for grown-ups” that was altogether sweet and a bit romantic.

Kimberly Miller was quite possibly the standout performance of the night. During her presentation, she stood directly in front of the projector, casting shadows across images of the cosmos behind her as she proceeded to have a very dry and hilarious heart-to-heart with the audience.

” Wow. I’m really glad to be here, and I’m glad you guys are here — uh, next slide please,” she began, ” and I want to tell you how much I care about you — next slide please…”

During the course of her speech, she mentioned the concept of hugging each other through time and space (“Like, you know, into the fifth dimension”) and why we should still consider Pluto to be a planet despite the scientific evidence that states otherwise, all the while only punctuating her monologue with “next slide, please.” Her droll delivery had audience members cheering for more.

The evening ended with a collaboration by Alan Calpe (Brooklyn) and Jon Orth (Gainesville) that utilized two projectors for a tribute to Sal Mineo, who was best known for his performance opposite James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause. Mineo was subsequently typecast into similar roles throughout the rest of his career, and in 1976, he was stabbed in the heart in an alley behind his home in West Hollywood. Calpe and Orth used the dual slide projectors to “act-out” a vivid knife-fight, providing haunting and poetic commentary about Mineo’s fateful death.

And then the lights came on.

The tiny back room of Woodland Pattern is literally packed with people at this point, and around me I can hear people talking about their ideas for next year’s show. Stay tuned later this week for a Q&A with Carl Bogner and Naomi Shersty to find out what’s coming around on the next Carousel!

Categories: Art, Arts & Culture

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