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Q&A: Meet the artist - C. Thomas Lewis

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This rendering shows how a three-dimensional wall will be made to appear as if it's being filled with liquid through video projection. The piece is part of the ''From Now On'' installation.
This rendering shows how a three-dimensional wall will be made to appear as if it's being filled with liquid through video projection. The piece is part of the ''From Now On'' installation. SUBMITTED PHOTO

On the walls and screens of Gallery 924, a constant loop of video projections shows how humanity and nature are in conflict.

Pictures of the unspoiled Amazon rainforest are offset by images of urbanization and development. A whirlpool displayed on the floor calls to mind the same mechanics as animated gears shown on a nearby wall.

A dead 12-foot-tall maple tree, stripped of its bark and sanded down, becomes a projection screen for symbols of rebirth.

In C. Thomas Lewis’ most recent video installation, “From Now On,” the Indianapolis artist tackles climate change in a series of unique and thought-provoking videos. Lewis juxtaposes the grandeur of nature with the constant advance of industrialization, forcing viewers to think about their role in the world.

“From Now On” opens during the First Friday celebration at Gallery 924 in Indianapolis.

“It’s a group of video projections that work in concert around the theme of climate change,” he said. “It juxtaposes a lot of different images, some of them obviously related to climate change, some not so much. The whole point to increase dialogue through these images.”

Lewis, a photographer, filmmaker and media arts instructor at IUPUI, has been working on his idea for “From Now On” for the past eight months. His focus has been on video mapping — using software to tailor projections for different surfaces and screens.

The concept allowed him to create videos that used a maple tree as a projection surface and to create a massive moveable three-dimensional wall that would appear to fill with rain, or contain molecules that bounce faster as if being heated.

“I tried to go beyond just these over-clichéd images of global warming. I do take some of those, but I weave them into other types of images that may not be so much like what people relate to climate change,” Lewis said. “The interesting questions arise when you see them juxtaposed against each other.”

His previous video installation was part of the TURF exhibition, which showcased various large-scale art projects in downtown Indianapolis during the Super Bowl last year.

“Better or Worse” included projections of blinking eyes, spinning fans and other surreal images to challenge the concept of visual perception.

The exhibition proved to be a gateway to this next project, Lewis said.

“From Now On” will be on display through February at Gallery 924, located at 924 N. Pennsylvania Ave., Indianapolis. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Thursday.

An opening reception will be from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday.

How did you come up with this idea?

I’ve been working on it now for about eight months. I was in Indianapolis during the Super Bowl, where they had the TURF exhibit. I had a piece in there, and that was really my first entrance into video mapping. It was exhilarating. After it was done, I wanted a bigger challenge. I wanted to really run with it. Shortly after, I started speaking with some other people, touching on climate change, and I thought that would be an interesting thing to create a thematic issue.

What is video mapping?

It’s a technique where we can develop some software that allows us to precisely align projected images on a screen. For example, I might have a bunch of different images being projected where I can individually manipulate where those images lie, as far as placing it, rotating it, distorting it, any way I like to map it any way I want.

Within this video mapping, what are some of the images you’re projecting?

One of the pieces, I have about 20 giant ears that I’m projecting. It’s a 30-minute piece, where those ears will swap out for other images during that 30 minutes. The images that are swapped out are Google Earth images that I collected from around the world. They kind of trace a story in geologic time. It starts out with images of the Amazon rainforest, when it’s all green, and ends up telling the story of land use — land development, urbanization. I don’t want to give away the end, but there’s a whole arc to it. Another of the pieces is, I took the idea of a slot machine, with three windows that spin and change. Each dial has 18 video images in it. They spin, and they lock, and for 20 seconds, it’ll be a video display, and they it’ll spin again.

How does the maple tree fit into the exhibition?

I had a 14-foot-tall maple tree that was dead in my neighborhood. I have this stop-motion animation of peeling all of the bark off it, which is a video that will play in the lobby. Then I spent 60 hours sanding this tree. We left the major limbs while it was still standing, and then we transported it to my studio, and I spent weeks and weeks sanding this tree down. Then we reconstructed it here. I’m still developing the video that will map on that tree. The idea is we’ll precisely outline that tree. What’s projected on that relates to what’s going on in the lobby.

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