Reframing Time: Time Frames – Route 66 Revisited

Philip Sanders

Digital artist
Associate Professor, Interactive Multimedia / Art and Art History
College of New Jersey

Fig 1. Time Frames: Route 66 Revisited, 2012, Philip Sanders, photograph of digital installation at the Monterey Motel, ISEA 2012, Albuquerque, NM. © 2012 Philip Sanders.

Time Frames: Route 66 Revisited, 2012, Philip Sanders, photograph of digital installation at the Monterey Motel, ISEA 2012, Albuquerque, NM. © 2012 Philip Sanders. (Used with permission.)

Fig 2. Time Frames: Route 66 Revisited, 2012, Philip Sanders, photograph of digital installation at the Monterey Motel, ISEA 2012, Albuquerque, NM. © 2012 Philip Sanders.

Time Frames: Route 66 Revisited, 2012, Philip Sanders, photograph of digital installation at the Monterey Motel, ISEA 2012, Albuquerque, NM. © 2012 Philip Sanders. (Used with permission.)

Fig 3. Time Frames: Route 66 Revisited, 2012, Philip Sanders, photograph of digital installation at the Monterey Motel, ISEA 2012, Albuquerque, NM. © 2012 Philip Sanders.

Time Frames: Route 66 Revisited, 2012, Philip Sanders, photograph of digital installation at the Monterey Motel, ISEA 2012, Albuquerque, NM. © 2012 Philip Sanders. (Used with permission.)

Fig 4. Time Frames: Route 66 Revisited, 2012, Philip Sanders, photograph of digital installation at the Monterey Motel, ISEA 2012, Albuquerque, NM. © 2012 Philip Sanders.

Time Frames: Route 66 Revisited, 2012, Philip Sanders, photograph of digital installation at the Monterey Motel, ISEA 2012, Albuquerque, NM. © 2012 Philip Sanders. (Used with permission.)

It’s really about time. Time is the pervasive unknown – clearly like water for fish, there’s no place that we can look at it, there’s no place to put a lever to it. We’re looking down our noses, with no way to resolve the image. Time supports, unites, sustains us, what we do, what we know. It’s our medium, the basis of space, energy, life, consciousness, but like Heisenberg’s viewer, our observations are inextricably a part of the thing itself. How is it that we become able to understand time? One thing we can do is to look at its effects and triangulate. Like Plato’s cave dwellers, tracing sunlight with shadows, we can frame time through varying circumstances. If we’re lucky, every once in a while we manage to put together the right set of parameters and find ourselves working our way back toward the source.

Time Frames: Route 66 Revisited was an installation at the Monterey Motel on Route 66 in Albuquerque, NM, as part of ISEA2012. It recreated the look of a 60s-era motel room with tourist artifacts as if it were in the possession of time travelers. On a built-in cabinet near the door, digital images, animations and video were projected onto a three-dimensional miniature set, presenting the experience in a way distinct from the usual flat screens. Using both abstract and realistic projections onto the three-dimensional miniature set gave participants a complete microcosm of time and space in the American Southwest. In a fashion similar to the experience of toy trains, dollhouses, or miniatures, its goal was to give people a chance to experience a magic realism of the vast world around them.

ISEA2012’s theme was Machine Wilderness, a term from Ronald Horvath referring to changes to the Southwestern United States brought about by the introduction of cars to the area. [1] In conjunction with ISEA2012’s view of positive interactions of living things and machines, this project’s view is that we are in a wilderness, potentially disembodied tourists without connections. The technology that we have made to extend our grasp and awareness in many instances disassociates us from an actual, authentic experience of the world itself and the people who inhabit it. We are stuck in Umberto Eco’s Travels in Hyperreality. Like Superman in his Fortress of Solitude, we need a complete miniature reality to inform our imagination – our metaphors must actually be real before we can believe and perceive them. [2] This is why Time Frames: Route 66 Revisited was created. It included a constructed sculptural arrangement of small everyday items painted white to make them into a “screen” on which interactive video was projected. The video started with computer-generated artwork, including self-portrait images. Participants could use a mouse to navigate through the video, animations and stills, and they would stumble upon visual “trapdoors” that would unexpectedly transport them to other imagery. Ultimately participants would move from the starting point of specific computer graphic images of today to timeless landscape imagery from the Southwest and eventually arrive at historical images of the hotel and of the room in which they were sitting. Abstractly, the participants would take their own unique journey from today to a specific time of the 1960s re-created in the motel room in which the installation was situated. The participants had the experience of walking into a motel room from the past, the 1960s. Not only was the hotel and room décor from that era, but there were period postcards and souvenirs, and a View-Master with images to inspect. Snacks and drinks associated with the 60s were offered to participants. The interactive video on the miniature set served as a time machine that took participants on a journey culminating in their arrival at the 1960s-era Monterrey Motel.

Since prehistoric times, the Southwest and Albuquerque have been at the intersection of north-south and east-west trade and migration routes. Probably the best known of these routes is the historic Route 66, which Steinbeck called the “Mother Road.” Generations of travelers, migrants, and traders have travelled its path, leaving records from the legends of verbal histories to the present. Nearby are some of the largest concentrations of rock art in the United States. The dust bowl migrations followed Route 66 west to California, and tourists have driven it since the early days of the automobile. These provide a multitude of narrative and visual threads that could be woven into a digital installation. This piece is derived from associations that were activated when I heard that ISEA2012: Machine Wilderness would be in Albuquerque. In the early 1960s, my family took an extended road trip across the country from the east coast to California. Fifty years later, my current family took a similar trip. Both times my family happened to stay at the Monterrey Motel, a Route 66 motor court in Albuquerque. The possibilities for a time-based installation immediately suggested themselves, along with the ideas of cycles of time, time travelers, migrations, and a Route 66 recreation.

We constantly make up stories that we tell to ourselves and to others. This internal dialog rarely stops, and it is the main way that we reinforce our identity and sense of both place and time. With projective geometry, it is possible to map images onto external realities in an analogous fashion. The goal is to achieve an image that resonates on multiple levels, in a process that involves both discovery and shaping. It is a process of exploration, analysis and making. In Time Frames, the room, cycling through time, is the artwork, and the individual elements of the interactive computer graphics projected onto the miniature set, the 1960s era items to explore, Nat King Cole’s Route 66 soundtrack and the refreshments all contribute to the whole. Through the combination of the complete miniature reality and time travel, Time Frames participants are offered an experience of the pervasive unknown of time. The separation caused by machine space does not necessarily extend to the digital world, which through visualization and multilevel communication, can contribute to a reintegration of human and nature. “Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, won’t you join the dance?” [3]

References

1. Ronald Horvath, “Machine Space,” The Geographical Review 64, no. 2, (1974), pp. 167–188.
2. Umberto Eco, Travels in Hyperreality, trans. William Weaver (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986), p. 4.
3. Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, (London: MacMillan and Co., 1865).

Bio

Philip Sanders is digital artist and educator whose work explores visual constructs, storytelling and the construction of meaning. Presentations of his work include SIGGRAPH, ISEA, IMAGINE, Boston CyberArts, Images du Futur, the Kitchen, Space 2B, the Alternate Media Center, the Digital Salon, the Knitting Factory, and most recently the New Museum.