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Cheap Imitation

‘Cheap Imitation’ is an homage to Marcel Duchamp, who was himself a frequent re-user of existing works of art. In this installation David Rokeby has cut up Duchamp’s ‘Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2’ (1912, below, left) into several hundred facets. This faceted image is projected on a wall in life-size. All the facets are interactive, they will only light up when there’s movement in front of their exact locations. When there’s no movement, the projection is all black. This means that the nude from the projection will start coming to life through motion tracking.

A monitoring camera is pointed at the viewer from the screen. When the viewer moves his/her hand, only a part of the projected image is revealed. When the viewer moves his/her whole body, the entire work can be revealed. So through a participant’s motion, the artwork of Duchamp temporarily comes to life; the facets illuminate and fade away revealing the dynamic experience of a movement.


      Cheap Imitation


Duchamp’s ‘Nude Descending a Staircase’ was inspired by Eadweard J. Muybridge‘s ‘Woman Walking Downstairs’ (below, center) – a stop-motion film from his 1887 picture series, published as ‘The Human Figure in Motion’. Duchamp’s painting combines elements of both the Cubist and Futurist movements. He tries to depict motion by superimposing his images, much like stroboscopic motion photography.
Rokeby’s imitation of Duchamp’s artwork, takes Duchamp’s image a step further by making the nude really able to “move”. The installation also takes Muybridge’s early cinematic achievements a step further by making his installation an interactive experience.

Duchamp: 'Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2’ (1912)     Duchamp: 'The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even' 


This interactive feature coul d also be seen as another homage to Duchamp. Rokeby states that ‘Cheap Imitation’ also incorporates the “feel” of Duchamp’s ‘The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (1915-23, above right).  This is a painting on a transparent glass, which sort of functions as a mirror. It reflects whoever stands in front of it; we are never able to look at it without seeing ourselves. In this way it channels a form of interactivity between the viewer and the artwork. Rokeby’s work functions as an interactive mirror as well.



One might consider Rokeby’s installation as ‘archeological media art’, as defined by Erkki Huhtamo in his article ‘Resurrecting the Technological Past: An Introduction to the Archeology of Media Art’. Huhtamo defines these artworks as time-machines that are: “not automatic or remote-controlled means of mass transportation (like the cinema), but individual ‘hand-driven’ vehicles. The realm they transverse only opens up for the active participant”. [1]  ‘Cheap Imitation’ is such a time-machine; with every move, the participants light up different facets of the artwork, thereby sliding through different facets of time.




More information:

Website of David Rokeby:

Website of ‘Cheap Imitation:




[1] Notes: Huhtamo, Erkkhi. ‘Resurrecting the Technological Past: An Introduction to the Archeology of Media Art’ (1995). In: Edward Shanken, red. Art and Electronic Media. London: Phaidon, 2009: p. 199.