Unseen residue

Artist Marco Pinter combines art and technology to capture movement

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“Iron Bow," by Marco Pinter
Marco Pinter

In a way, art can stop time; it captures fleeting moments, lets us go back and see them happen again. But multi-media artist Marco Pinter is more concerned with what’s lost.

For example, a dance performance can be captured on film, yet Pinter feels the essence gets lost in translation.

“We talk about dance being ephemeral, yet in the last 60-plus years, it’s been captured by video. But somehow, I think that not all of the dance experience is captured in the video,” Pinter says. “Video documentation of dance is somehow not that interesting to look at.”

So Pinter uses his art to capture dance in a different way, one more satisfying for him. In a series of work now on display at The Dairy Arts Center through Jan. 21, Pinter uses thermal photography to capture the movement of dancers over time. The Dairy features Pinter’s video work and prints, as well as a kinetic sculpture that invites the audience to examine their own motions using technology created by Pinter.

His work is exhibited in a solo show, Less Ephemeral, and also in the group exhibit Marking Presence, along with the work of Rudi Monterroso and Erin Wiersma. The two shows complement each other, exploring and recording human movement through space. For Less Ephemeral, a conversation with a friend led Pinter to the name of the solo series.

Marco Pinter

“She said … ‘You’re trying to capture, in a more permanent way, dance, which is completely ephemeral and is gone at the end of each performance … So I see that’s what you’re doing with this thermal work — capturing dance and gesture over time in a more permanent medium, [creating] something that’s less ephemeral,’” Pinter says.

It isn’t surprising that Pinter favors tech-driven art; he’s long worked as a software entrepreneur, launching four of his own companies. 

But throughout his life, Pinter has also carried a passion for dance and sculpture. About a decade ago, Pinter was inspired to create his own art. 

“I was watching dance performance that was making an attempt to integrate media, and maybe not very well in this particular case,” he says. “And the pieces came together for me of how I could work with dancers, not being a dancer, and work with sculptures, not being a sculptor, and work with things I was comfortable with like interactivity.”

Throughout previous work with Disney Imagineering and toy company Mattel, Pinter had worked with interactive products before, but never in a fine arts sense. He decided to pursue the desire even further, getting his Ph.D. in media arts and technology at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Thermal cameras interested Pinter early on. Some of his formative work, from about nine years ago, integrated the use of infrared imaging simply out of convenience.

“Today we have sensors [in digital cameras] that can sense your body that cost like $100. But that didn’t exist back then,” Pinter says. “The thermal camera was a way to capture the silhouette of a dancer’s body in a very robust way. The dancer’s hot. The background is cold. It makes it really easy to capture the silhouette.”

The catalyst for Less Ephemeral began with an outdoor installation Pinter did in California. Working with a choreographer and a sculptor, Pinter created a large-scale setup with thermal cameras that the public could interact with.

Marco Pinter
“Arch,” by Marco Pinter

“But when the dancers came through [the piece], it was sort of naturally capturing this temporal experience of their dance gestures,” he says. “It was sort of a realization there that they were creating some really beautiful images and that could be a path to go down, to more deliberately work with dancers with this set up to work with this imagery.” So with the help of five dancers, Pinter moved the installation indoors and spent an entire day filming the movements of the dancers. The video is now on display in the Dairy show, giving viewers a first-hand look at Pinter’s process.

The setup utilizes a thermal camera pointed at a piece of stretched Lycra, a material able to hold heat and capture rear projection. When someone interacts with the fabric, the camera captures the heat and feeds that into a computer which adds color, then casts the image via a projector back onto the fabric. It’s a concept of Pinter’s invention, for which he has a patent pending.

An example of this kinetic sculpture is on display in Marking Presence. The audience is invited to touch, push, breathe on, rub, elbow and interact with the fabric. Pinter’s technology captures the movements in real time.

“A lot of my work has a lot of code behind it, but this is actually in some ways a very simple loop,” he says. “All you’re seeing is the live heat of this piece of fabric at this moment in time. So all of this sort of fading away and residue of gesture is actually the heat of that piece of fabric. It’s nothing that’s being created in a computer program.”

The piece allows the viewer to think more consciously about how they move and what those movements produce, an element typically unseen to the human eye.

“Especially with playing with this, you get an understanding when you move through space, there’s an unseen residue on environment that you’re leaving behind,” he says.

While the sculpture gives the audience a chance to play with Pinter’s process, he also hopes it will encourage people to enter the same headspace as a dancer. Many dancers experience a flow state when in movement — of being in the zone, so to speak — but that experience isn’t always as relatable for non-dancers.

“Not everyone feels as free to move as a dancer,” Pinter says. “So [my sculptures] are also about facilitating movement. People can feel more comfortable moving in a silhouette, interacting with an art piece to help them on that journey to start moving.”

Along with the video and the sculpture, the exhibits feature Pinter’s prints. The pictures vary in color and shape. Some clearly show a human figure surrounded by rays of light, while others resemble wisps of smoke or flashes of lightning.

In his work, Pinter loves to play with perception and the assumptions you create based on your own reality.

“Your brain is telling you something through your perceptual systems and it’s not necessarily true,” he says. “And we kind of live our lives assuming what we see is reality, when it isn’t. It’s a construction of the mind.”

Pinter’s work invites you to project your own ideas onto the prints, and he hopes you’ll question those ideas — in and outside the gallery.

“What the viewer perceives with their eyes is not really reality,” he says. “Therefore the conclusions and blanket assumptions they might come to in their day-to-day life are really just a product of the human brain, and maybe we should question those assumptions we make. In a sense, it’s asking us to question our beliefs.” 

On the Bill: Marking Presence and Less Ephemeral, featuring the work of Marco Pinter. Dairy Arts Center, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder. Through Jan. 21.