Subtle Chroma is a technique and aesthetic philosophy of projection art that takes advantage of ambient light in a space and dynamic architectural surfaces. It originated while thinking about ways to integrate projection into built spaces during a brief residency at architecture firm NBBJ’s Seattle office with Samuel Stubblefield’s design group there. This essay is an explanation of the concept in formal terms and larger context within the field of projection art. It can be seen as both a series of artworks and a way of creating artworks.
Projection typically requires darkened spaces or environments as free of ambient light as possible, and surfaces designed for flat image display. The nature of projection is the addition of light onto a surface. Darker shades in the projected image require an otherwise unlit environment as other light sources will affect their contrast. The desire to preserve image quality as it would be seen on a monitor or print has created a requirement that projection occur at night outdoors or in light-proofed darkened rooms, often on rectangular projection screens.
The forms in Subtle Chroma instead respond to and integrate with the unique environments they are designed for rather than attempt to flatten them as a canvas for representational imagery. The projection becomes part of the architecture more than simply a layer on top of it, adding additional visual dimensions.
Timescales are slowed to an architectural pace in this modality and one becomes aware of the additional projected light in the space over time, as opposed to the attention forcing, retina-blasting, speeds we have become accustomed to in visual media.
The modality is designed to be in the background of experiencing a space, to use color, form and motion in an ambient way, founded in aesthetic formalism and a contemplative awareness of space. It is a way to take clean functional architecture and breathe a bit of organic, prismatic, nebulous form into the space.
Subtle Chroma is also within the lineage of, and draws from, non-objective abstraction and minimalism. It responds to minimalism in architecture and the use of light already existent in its design by augmenting it, heightening the experience of broad stark surfaces found in the International Style. It uses a saturated polychromatic palette to bring forward a dreamlike state while honoring the forms it is integrated with. Gradients, glows, luminance and simple geometries are placed into physical elements like corners, edges and decorative features. The projections blend into places where natural and artificial light falls and bounces onto walls and ceilings, playing with it rather than attempting to erase it.
Technically the mode uses algorithmically generated animation built from hand drawn digital tracings of the projection surfaces. A variety of techniques can be used, but a basic workflow is setting up the projector, positioning its beam to cover a region of architectural surfaces, and then using some kind of drawing software to create several images that align to those shapes. The images are then fed into a custom software application that slowly cross-fades the images over long periods of time. LFO’s (Low Frequency Oscillators) and randomness are used to govern the transparency of these images at slightly offset rates so that particular blends of images rarely, if ever, repeat.