The Image Mill: Sustainable Cinema #1

Scott Hessels’ The Image Mill: Sustainable Cinema combines motion, illumination and duration in an eco-friendly installation.  In contrast to the late 19th century when cinema was invented and there was little concern for the environment, The Image Mill draws attention to issues of sustainability in an era of environmental crisis.

It reminds us of Eadweard Muybridge’s stop-action photographs of animal motion, the kinetoscope, and other pre-cinematic devices prior to the Lumière Brothers first public projection of their film, The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat in 1895. In this sense, the work is a form media-archaeology, as in Michael Naimark’s See Banff and Paul DeMarinis’ The Edison Effect. The artwork consists of two wheels that spin in opposite directions. A series of animation frames are painted onto glass that is placed on the interior wheel. The cut slits are mounted on the outside wheel and rotates in the opposite direction.  As water falls on the two wheels, a moving image appears, paralleling the way the mechanism of 19th century zoetropes and kinetoscopes.

This huge Zoetrope creates an optical illusion of action, as we can see a horse running. Which is one of the first ‘moving’ images that led to the invention of cinema. Hessels explores a possible future of environmentally responsible media- looking forward by looking back. An interesting notion of his artwork is the use of water. It is the water that makes the wheel spin, that gives us the illusion of action. In this era of global warming, climate models etc. where everything is being analyzed for its benefit to the climate, the artist shows us in actually a very simple artwork how natural resources can be used. The horsepower that drove the Michigan industrial age is at a transition to a new age of alternative energy… the pony stumbles but continues on. According to Hessels’ website, the artwork has been made by Michigan metal workers and the artwork proves that the skills of industrial-era tradesmen can be tapped as a valuable resource as the region considers new sustainable directions.

“Life, Nature and matter are a perfect unity,” wrote Lucio Fontana. (Fontana, 1946) Change is the essential condition of life. The ideas of Fontana, although written in the 40’s relate to Hessels’ artwork. As we are exhausting our natural resources, it is time we take a different approach to these natural resources (although this has been ongoing for a while now, and Hessels’ artwork is not really that much of a revolution). So in order to maintain our standards of life, we need to change. Hence the use of water, one of the most important and precious natural resources, as a natural source of energy to power this artwork.

Lucio Fontana, “The White Manifesto” 1946, in Art and Electronic Media, Edward Shanken, p 195.

See Hessel’s site with extensive documentation of The Image Mill