February 9, 2010 — For photo and video artist Aaron Henderson, the lure of the thrill of the amusement ride was a powerful part of his cultural experience growing up. Year after year, he would wait for the carnival to come to his hometown in suburban Detroit.
"I loved the adrenaline of the rides," he said.
In "Midway," an installation of three multi-channel videos on view in the University of Virginia's Ruffin Gallery through Feb. 19, Henderson recreates that thrill by immersing the gallery-goer in the action of the rides and reaction of riders.
At the Jan. 29 opening reception, Henderson said children ran from wall to wall, following the swaying images of "Pharoah's Fury," a ride that swings like a pendulum. Even standing off to the side, one can feel the visceral pull of the ride.
In the images, "everyone is going through the same motions, but their experience and understanding is so different," he said. Their reactions cover a range of responses – happy, surprised, scared and performing for other people, he said.
With "Feuerball," Henderson invites the viewer to step inside a ring of four screens on which he projects images of riders as they spin and simultaneously swing in a pendulum motion. Surrounded by the images, he is able to convey to the viewer the experience of the riders who are arranged in a similar configuration on the ride.
To create the effect, Henderson said his goal was to find a continuity in action across time. To accomplish this, he edited the images at the point where the riders' cars cross the horizon line. Working on his computer with two sets of images at time he said it's like putting together a "video puzzle." It's not until the installation is in place that he realizes the full effect of the creation.
The third installation, "Gravitron," shows riders from multiple digital recordings side-by-side over two video screens as they simultaneously resist the pull of gravity. As the ride spins and creates a centrifugal force, the riders play with that tug of physical energy. The plates they lean against slide up and down, and sometimes the riders end up diagonal to their starting position.
U.Va. music professor Ted Coffey created the audio portion of the installation. He composed music for "Gravitron"; for the other two works, he manipulated the sounds that Henderson recorded at the county fairs in South Carolina and Indiana where he captured the visual images.
"I love working with people who work in sound," Henderson said. "Collaboration brings a richness that either does not have alone."
The works exhibited are influenced by his experiences dancing with STREB, an extreme action dance group whose compositions are based on the scientific principles of the body moving through space. Henderson worked with STREB to create a video projection installation for a recent production.
"In my work, I observe and reflect on what we do. I take play seriously. I am fascinated with pop culture and how Americans spend time," he said.
Henderson looks to contemporary culture for the tools to create his work. Frequently, computers and digital cameras are his implements. His work embraces different technologies and often crosses artistic disciplines. "New media is complicated. It is always changing. What's the next new thing you can learn?," he said.
Henderson is a visiting professor in studio art at U.Va. this academic year, teaching beginning and advanced students and overseeing Aunspaugh Fifth-Year Fellows working in new media. The students are embracing various technologies, using digital video and images to create Web sites that function as art and writing computer code or programs to make code-based art.
Henderson said he likes working with different technologies. "It allows you to work with the same tools that surround us every day, such as TV, movies and digital images, and use these tools for your own purposes. It allows you to be part of creating culture," he said.