LANCASTER, Pa. (WHTM) — Zoetropes, developed in the 1800s, are kind of like very short early movies. A series of sequential images inside a cylindrical device is viewed through slits on the sides of the device, and when the viewer spins the zoetrope, the images appear to move, creating an animation.
Baltimore-based artist Eric Dyer has brought the zoetrope from the 1800s to the present day and to the Pennsylvania College of Art & Design in Lancaster, which is currently featuring Dyer’s work in the exhibit “Pulse and Flow: Art of the Modern Zoetrope.”
Dyer began his career working in animation and music video direction, he explained during an artist talk at PCA&D on Friday, Nov. 12.
“I found I was spending a lot of my time in front of a screen for work that would be presented on a screen…so this made me really want to get my hands back on the work again,” Dyer said. “That had me looking back 180 years — this desire to be more tactile with the creation of my work — to the zoetrope.”
“We’re used to motion pictures, but what about the motion object? What about the motion artifact?” Dyer questioned.
Replacing the slits on the zoetrope for a perfectly timed camera shutter, Dyer began creating films using the same principles as the zoetrope. He constructs sculptures using still images or figures, then spins the creation and captures the movement on film.
His work “Copenhagen Cycles,” for example, featured scenes from a trip to Denmark. Dyer captured interesting moments of motion on video during his trip, then converted the video into long strips of still images, which he printed out and manipulated to build around 25 paper sculptures about the size of a bicycle wheel. Then he captured the sculptures’ movement.
“All these sequences of images…became like a motion collage or like a pop-up book in motion,” Dyer described. “There’s something about taking the real world and miniaturizing it, collaging it, and then putting it on the cinema screen. That change in scale is really satisfying.”
The change in scale from wheel-sized sculpture to movie screen is exciting, but “Copenhagen Cycles” grew even bigger when it was featured as a Times Square Midnight Moment in 2015, during which the film played across screens all around Times Square in New York City.
From there, Dyer began working with 3-D printed sculptures and then interactive exhibits.
“Girona Octopi,” which is one of the pieces in the exhibit at PCA&D, enables viewers to put themselves into Dyer’s zoetropic artwork. A graphic on the floor depicts a series of octopi, and when a viewer steps onto the graphic and turns a crank, a projection shows the viewer and the graphic spinning, creating an animation.
Some of Dyer’s other interactive pieces allow viewers to spin a sculpture mounted on a wall, and the flashing of a synchronized strobe light tricks viewers’ eyes into seeing the still images come to life. In the PCA&D exhibit, “Flora” is an example of this type of work.
More recently, Dyer has been experimenting with manipulating mediums like yarn or nails and animating them in their original forms using the same flashing light technique as “Flora.” Some pieces from his series “Looms,” which embraces this idea, can be seen at PCA&D.
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“Traditionally in animation, you’re taking a medium, and you’re manipulating it, and then you’re turning it into film or video, and then it becomes flat, it’s presented on the immaterial screen,” Dyer said. His recent projects push back against that process, animating objects just as they are.
Other pieces by Dyer bring motion and stories to moving paintings.
“I’m taking the idea of the sequence and the fact that the painting can exist as a painting and come to life as a material object and not be converted to the screen, so you’re seeing the actual painting come to life in front of your eyes,” Dyer said.
Each piece of zoetropic art takes Dyer about three weeks to three months to complete. In addition to being featured at PCA&D and Times Square, his work has been exhibited at the Smithsonian National Gallery of Art, the London International Film Festival, Ars Electronica, and the Venice and Cairo Biennales. Check out more of Dyer’s work on his website.
“Pulse and Flow: Art of the Modern Zoetrope” can be visited at PCA&D until Jan. 12 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Masks are required in the exhibit, and visitors are warned that the exhibits feature strobe lights and fast-moving images.