• Audiovisual Thinking

    Craig Scheuer
    Audio Visual Technician, Carnegie Museum of Art

    My name is Craig Scheuer, and I was brought into the Art Preparation and Installation department at the Carnegie Museum of Art as the Audio Visual Technician for the 2013 Carnegie International. Because I had an existing relationship with the Exhibitions department, my transition into the position was a fairly painless one, but even with a lot of audiovisual experience there was a very steep learning curve when helping to build a show with the magnitude of the International. Working with contemporary artists is always a surprising job, and during the lead up to the show, changes and crises came at a mile a minute. Iím going to share with you some of the most important lessons that I learned, and walk you through one of the installations that I worked on in the hopes that my experiences may be of benefit to others who find themselves working on such an enormous exhibition. A lot of this is common sense or things that any art handler would already do, but Iíve always been of the opinion that fundamentals bear repeating.
    ∑ Nail down the expectations of what you personally are responsible for as soon as possible; responsibilities balloon as a big install progresses, and understanding your core duties is critical.
    ∑ Follow the installation schedule as closely as possible, be clear and proactive with the appropriate people when you know that a project is going to go over the allotted time, and try not to let deadlines slide in the case of anything other than missing equipment.
    ∑ Set up a PO relationship with B&H, or whichever AV supplier you prefer. Youíre not going to have time to do this once design and ordering starts, and if itís a big exhibition youíre not going to be able to put all the purchases on credit cards. If you donít have one now, get started!
    ∑ On a related note, know which day of the month your institutional credit card rolls over. Youíll have to use it a lot, even if youíre using a purchase orders for most things.
    ∑ When youíre ordering cables or connectors (and you should probably be ordering from Monoprice), get a bunch more than you actually need. If you need 5 BNC to RCA adapters right now, get 25. It honestly doesnít cost that much more, and youíll almost certainly end up using them in the long run.
    ∑ Find a calendar of Jewish holidays and prepare around them. B&H and many other suppliers are closed for pretty much all of them, and they WILL sneak up on you. Thereís nothing worse than realizing that itís Sukkot when you need to overnight a new projector lens.
    ∑ Thereís someone in your area who makes a side business of servicing old 16mm projectors. Find them and expect to use them if youíre running film. Thereís are folks who work on televisions and VCRs as well.
    ∑ Let your museumís prep crew do as much of the install as they can. Design, final setting, tweaking, and revising your installations is going to take a huge amount of time, and even though itíd be nice to have gone A to Z with your own hands, your time is better spent on the phone with vendors trying to figure out whether the directional speaker that your artist wants actually needs a special amplifier or whether you can use one you have in storage.
    ∑ Some projects are too big to take on internally, and you should call an AV contractor. If you realize that one install is going to take an unreasonable percentage of your time, or more folks than you can reasonably spare, itís time to call in a third party. Itíll cost more, and there may be some disconnect from your specific needs as a museum, but at some level a big install has to be a pragmatic exercise.
    The International was full of artists with extremely unusual projection needs, which created very little challenge in what the artists wanted to do (after all, weird projections are par for the course in contemporary art), but quite a bit of trouble in the sheer number that had to be designed and produced in a fairly tight timeframe. We thankfully had a longer preparation period for this show than an average exhibition, but our schedule was still pretty compressed.

    Case Study

    (A panorama of the entire projections space)

    Initial Needs
    Iíll go through one of the projections we did for Zoe Strauss. The ground floor entrance to our freight elevator is immediately adjacent to the hallway in which she was displaying a large series of photographs, and she decided that sheíd like to use the doors of the elevator as a surface for art as well. That meant that we had to define a projection surface that was about 12ft high by 8 ft wide (vertical format), perfectly framed within the doors of the elevator.
    I determined early on that we would have to mount the projector on the wall opposite the elevator doors (as opposed to hanging from the ceiling on a pole projector mount) so that the system wouldnít impede use of the elevator in any way. This meant that I had a definite projection height, depth, and distance to work with, although I knew that with the correct projector I would have some wiggle room.

    Using Projector Central, I was able to find a handful of units that fit my needs, and then was able to chip them away by features and robustness until I found one Casio projector that had the correct aspect ratio, brightness, and was safe to mount in a vertical format without burning itself out (this required a few rounds of email double checking with Casio support). I ended up spending a fair amount of time emailing back and forth with a representative from Casio in order to make absolutely sure that the projector could do what I needed; sometimes features arenít mentioned on spec sheets, and speaking to someone who has access to internal documents can really simplify the process. I decided to use the same standard media player units that we were using through the rest of the show because of their reliability and familiarity.
    I ordered the projector from B&H, the media player in a big batch order from its manufacturer, and assorted hardware from McMaster Carr. Thankfully we had some flexibility with this install, and shipping wasnít an issue. In some parts of the show it became extremely important to know exactly how long packages would take to arrive from each supplier, as artistsí schedules made some

    (The completed projection setup)

    Because nobody makes an appropriate portrait orientation projector mount (as itís only recent laser LED technology that allows us to use a projector safely in so many varied orientations), I ended up designing a mount in Sketchup and having it fabricated in our woodshop out of plywood. A homemade mount is much more customizable than a universal mount, but itís also naturally much less adjustable. After having the mount made, I then did a rubbing of the bottom of the projector to create a template for mounting holes, calculated the angle of the projector to the elevator doors to fine tune its orientation, cut down screws for each mounting point so that theyíd attach cleanly, and then brought the whole thing out to the wall and moved it around until I found the perfect spot. It took the better part of an afternoon, and I would certainly suggest that others use universal mounts if they offer the appropriate functionality. We were able to run the power cabling in a way that wasnít too terribly intrusive, and all of the components, including the remote controls for this and one other installation were concealed within the mount.
    I received the files a few days before the show opened, and after a few rounds of back-and-forth with the artist and her videographer, we were able to get the files into a near perfect format and size. The videographer transferred the files to me via DropBox, and was able to easily move them onto the media player we were using. In this case, I was fortunate to be working with a very easygoing artist, who was comfortable giving me a great deal of agency in developing the design of her projections.
    Once we had the projector up, the throw of the projection still wasnít quite perfect. There are a few ways to deal with this sort of problem; your first thought should obviously be to preserve the clarity of the image. If a projector natively supported a 1080p image, ideally youíd use a 1080p video and avoid keystoning or digital image manipulations. If I absolutely had to keystone or image mask, Iíd usually request that the person who created the video render a new version based on a template I would provide. In this case, though, the image was of water ripples and really functioned more as an atmosphere piece than a narrative video, so I felt that a little digital manipulation was acceptable. I used the software of the BrightSign player that was displaying the video to change the size of the image, and was able to get it to a very tight fit in the frame of the elevator.

    (Components stored within the projector mount)

    Post Installation
    Our curator for this installation ended up deciding that he wanted to better camouflage the components of the projection setup, so a few days after the opening we added a plate to cover the side of the projector (as opposed to boxing the whole thing, which would have impeded airflow), and a hinged door to conceal the rest of the components. The additional parts were designed and built by another preparator who had built a number of other boxes and elements for the show. I also ended up adjusting the framing of the image a few days in, as the projector settled into its natural position. After that, the projector has been functioning smoothly and consistently, and no maintenance or adjustment has been required.

    This projection for Zoe Strauss was more or less straightforward, thankfully. Every audiovisual installation in the International had its own little difficulties, and it was through careful planning and teamwork that we were able to pull everything off successfully. Even a simple installation like this one involved a lot of discussion, planning, and revision in order to create a system that satisfied everyoneísí needs. Although the audiovisual installation has its own peculiarities, in the end itís art installation like any other, and has to be treated with the same level of care and dedication.

    A Few More Installations

    (Mark Leckey, looping 16mm projection on floating screen)

    (Frances Stark, wall fitted projection mapped to match a wall vinyl)

    (Tobias Madison, monitor tower on scaffolding, hanging speakers, intentionally messy presentation)

    (Rodney Graham, artist-built 16mm looper and screen)

    (Tezuka Architects, 360-degree overlapping videos on custom curved projection screen, floor)

    (Me, stuck behind glass in a diorama while installing a projector for Pierre Leguillon)