27 January 2018

Third Century Screens for U-M Bicentennial 2017

I’m pleased to report that our Third Century Screens (3CS) Project succeeded in attaining its goals! The 3CS project was plotted in four phases; the first phase allowed our team to complete implementation of the Pop-Up Projection Pavilion (PUPP), a multi-screen installation to be featured in our 3CS Competition. Both the 3CS Colloquium and 3CS Competition, the second and third phases, had to be rescheduled from earlier in 2017 to the fall semester due to health issues involving myself and one of my team members. The postponements actually worked to the benefit of our project: we were able to attract a more dynamic group of speakers, add a trip to Detroit’s DLECTRICITY Festival for the colloquium attendees and significantly increase the number of submissions to the 3CS Competition. Also, we were able to schedule a five–day installation of the PUPP as part of the “Off the Screen!” programming of the 2017 Ann Arbor Film Festival March 21-26. The second postponement involved the fourth and final phase, a performance and video installation at the U-M Detroit Observatory, to be realized on April 20, 2018. This postponement was due to unexpected renovations & repairs necessary on the Observatory dome.  

Summary of Activity: Goals, Attainment, Impact

The Third Century Screens (3CS) project has celebrated the U-M bicentennial theme of creativity and inventing by confronting the global proliferation of moving imagery on screens of every shape, size and function. Led by an interdisciplinary team of U-M faculty artists, 3CS has sought to explore, situate and create options for seeing on and creating media for screens. The screen has become a mirror and lens that frame how humans picture themselves in the world. Screen culture has spawned its own technologies and manifests itself in multiple disciplines, industries and commercial enterprises.  It has revolutionized learning, research and creative work at the university.


Our team’s endeavor was to highlight both the practice and research, the art and the theory of screen media. We therefore plotted a colloquium to generate and share dialogue from noted scholars and practitioners. We staged a competition and installation that challenged thirteen U-M faculty and alumni artists to make works for the PUPP, a multi-screen pavilion. Their new works were featured on the Pop-Up Projection Pavilion for three days during the Third Century Expo.

Phase 1: Completion of Pop-Up Projection Pavilion and 3CS Website

By August, 2016, the PUPP had been outfitted with two additional short-throw video projectors and accompanying media players to activate all five screens. This was accomplished with the assistance of Adams’s team of former grad students from his U-M MFA studio. The team also created the 3CS website: www.3c-screens.com, which offered an overview of all 3CS activities, registration access and guidelines for submission to the 3CS Competition. Carlos Garcia, a staff member of the Duderstadt Center Digital Media Commons, created an extraordinary software simulation of the PUPP that allowed for those submitting to download and view their files on a computerized model. Viewers could navigate around the model and change its scale.

The entire 3CS team held an Open House at team member Robert Adams’s’ design studio at Maple Village attended by 60 members of the faculty and community. Project leader Peter Sparling screened a selection of new works that he had created over the summer specifically for the new five-screen configuration.

Phase 2: Third Century Screens Colloquium September 23, 2017, 9 am-4 pm, U-M Alumni Center Founders Room, 200 Fletcher Street

The 3CS Colloquium featured guest artists and scholars who shared with U-M students and faculty their understanding of screen culture, histories, and practices. Guest speakers included:

Alison Griffiths, Professor and Faculty Fellow for Global Strategies, Baruch College, The City University of New York; author, Shivers Down Your Spine: Cinema, Museums, and the Immersive View and Wondrous Difference: Cinema, Anthropology, and Turn of the Century Visual Culture.
Ricardo Rivera, artistic director, Klip Collective, Philadelphia and artist/presenter at DLECTRICITY 2017

3CS Team:

Peter Sparling, project leader and moderator, Rudolf Arnheim Distinguished University Professor of Dance, Arthur F. Thurnau Prof of Dance

Robert Adams, Assoc. Professor, Taubman School of Architecture & Urban Planning, Stamps School of Art and Design; chair, U-M Initiative on Disability Studies, Director of the Master of Science in Design and Health

Cynthia Pachikara, Assoc. Professor, Stamps School of Art & Design, Taubman College of Architecture & Urban Planning

Additional guest U-M faculty speakers:

Sheila Murphy, Assoc. Professor, U-M Screen Arts & Cultures

Dr. Simon Glynn, Assoc. Professor, Michigan Medicine Neurology Clinic

Approximately 40 participants registered for the 3CS Colloquium (which included lunch) on the 3CS website. 28 registered for a seat on the bus to Detroit to witness DLECTRICITY, the light/video spectacle staged on the city’s streets that evening. The content and conversation varied among presenters, and fascinating connections emerged between scholars and artists. Sparling offered an overview of media on screens as it has permeated museum culture, social media and everyday life. Griffiths revealed precursors and historical precedents such as dioramas and wide-screen cinema to Rivera’s large-scale projected spectacles and computer mapping on building facades. Glynn demonstrated the power of the human subject on the screen within the context of videos of epileptic patients used for research and diagnosis. Adams shared the research that went into the design of the PUPP, from ancient Chinese screens to his work with disability populations. Pachikara showed her work in “shadow-catching” on mobile screens while navigating Chicago streets and Amsterdam’s canals. Murphy spoke of gaming ad game culture, “Star Wars” and pop cinema. At the end of the day, we turned the conversation over to the students in attendance, who entered into an animated conversation about the screen’s influences in their life and work, and their curatorial challenges of sifting through the inundation.

Despite widespread publicity, the attendance was somewhat disappointing, indicating that interdisciplinary endeavors on campus may still be thwarted by territoriality and orthodox clinging to disciplinary borders and ownership of domains: a quiet boycotting effect of anything not generated within a “home” department. There were no Screen Arts & Cultures faculty other than Terri Sarris and Sheila Murphy, no Stamps Art & Design faculty, no Taubman faculty, one Dance faculty (Jessica Fogel, chair), and Joanna McNamara, Dance faculty, EMU. Most of the students were either from Pachikara’s studio class (required to attend) or from Dance.

But it also could have been the fact that it was a lovely Saturday morning in September, when the campus population was not eager to spend the day indoors listening to speakers.

Phase 3: Third Century Screens Competition Screenings/Pop-Up Projection Pavilion October 26-28, 2017, U-M Alumni Center Founders Room, 200 Fletcher Street, Hours: 10 am-7 pm (Free and open to the public); Opening Reception: Thursday, October 26 at 5-7 p.m.

In tandem with U-M’s Third Century Expo on Ingalls Mall, the Third Century Screens Competition occupied the Alumni Center Founders Room on October 26-28 and featured works submitted by 13 U-M alumni and faculty video artists. These works were created specifically for the Pop-Up Projection Pavilion (PUPP), a 5-screen projection system for multi-layered video. U-M alumni artists were graduates of Department of Dance, LSA/Screen Arts & Cultures, and Stamps School of Art & Design: Shawn Bible, Michelina Risbeck , Brittany Whitmoyer-Fishel, Danny Gwirtzman, Robert Maynard, Marly Spieser-Schneider, Alex Springer/Xan Burley, Barbara Twist, Nicholas Williams and Jacqueline Wood.  Faculty/staff artists featured were Christopher Burns (SMTD/PAT), Sean Hoskins (SMTD/Dance), and Markus Nornes (SAC/Japanese Studies).

The four members of the 3CS faculty team were joined by 3CS Colloquium guests Allison Griffiths and Ricardo Rivera for the judging phase, occurring in two stages shortly after the submissions deadline August 15, 2017. The 3CS faculty team met at the Duderstadt Center in early September to screen and rate the 13 submissions. A finalist “shortlist” of seven works were then presented to Griffiths and Rivera to view on simulation software.

Prizes of $3,000 each were awarded to one U-M alumnus/a and one U-M faculty member. There were also a 2nd ($2,000) and 3rd ($1,000) prize in the U-M alumni category.


Christopher Burns, first prize faculty (SMTD)

Jacqueline Wood, first prize alumni (Screen Arts & Cultures)

Shawn Bible second prize alumni (Dance)

Barbara Twist, third prize alumni (Screen Arts & Cultures)

The quality and innovation of submissions were impressive and deeply satisfying to 3CS team members, guest judges and all who visited the installation. The 3CS Competition served to further realize the PUPP’s potential as an invention and instrument to be “played” and inspire further invention by a diverse range of artists. Because of the uniform quality of the submissions, it was decided to present ALL thirteen works in succession and on a loop. See the following link for a sampling of all works: https://vimeo.com/249076025.  Also see trailer made using computer simulation software: https://vimeo.com/235556795.


Occurring over three days, with a Thursday evening Opening Reception and opening hours 10-7 Thursday-Saturday, the overall attendance was approximately 120. Attendees were transfixed by the spectacle of multiple layers of moving imagery, the color, the spill onto the floor, the variety of stylistic approaches, esthetics and subject matter, and the intricacy of timing and synchronization. They were equally fascinated by the technology and design of the PUPP, and Peter Sparling was present for the entire duration of the installation to answer questions and provide guided tours and ongoing commentary for the hour-long presentation of the thirteen works. (Many visitors stayed to view the full sequence, often more than once. Each work was screened 25 times over the three-day run.)
Like the 3CS Colloquium, attendance was disappointing, despite publicity. With a multitude of competing events during the Expo/Homecoming weekend activities, the installation was overshadowed by the glut of simultaneous events even while it benefitted from being listed a part of the week’s celebration. Only one member of the Bicentennial Office attended, and no other funding sources were represented: UMOR, SMTD. This speaks very poorly of faculty and administration support from departments involved, but it is something that faculty artists learn to expect at U-M. Also, few students of those related schools attended. (Student will only attend if required; many faculty colleagues are indifferent.)

Phase 4: 3CS at the Observatory: Heavenly Bodies

The remaining event will consist of a 30’ sequence of three video projections onto the north façade of the Detroit Observatory, covering both the central and side components of the structure. The first 10’ will feature a live performance by Peter Sparling as a somewhat hyper, overenthusiastic “Mr. Science” or “Mad Astronomer” figure who is presenting a lecture with wide-screen rendition of a vintage science filmstrip. See link for simulation: https://vimeo.com/249865913   password 3CS

The remaining 20’ of video projection will be moving frescoes or animated murals composed of 20 Dance majors videotaped against greenscreen and floated in a black void to evoke constellations, stellar networks or “heavenly bodies”. The 30’ sequence will repeat three times during ongoing tours of the Observatory tower as part of the SWAN or State-Wide Astronomy Night. Planning with the staff of the Bentley Historical Library and Department of Astronomy is underway.

Documentation is being coordinated through Aprille McKay of the Bentley Historical Library via both the Bicentennial Archive and the Peter Sparling Collection. This will include a copy of the Website, videos on Vimeo, photos, press releases and publicity, Peter Sparling’s Opening Lecture for the 3CS Colloquium, and original grant proposals. (The website is no longer up on line due to costs of maintaining site and culmination of project.)