Nussbaum's "Topology": the Arc of Life

Filmmaker Karl Nussbaum’s latest project is a 15-minute two-channel video performance piece entitled, “Topology”  — which is the mathematical study of shape and space. He is working on two separate videos to be projected side by side onto a 10’ x 15’ overhead screen mounted on a metal framework that resembles a huge cage. The screen, which is made of stretchy material, can he manipulated by the artist using a series of ropes while the videos play to create new topological/curvilinear shapes and make the images merge or interact. This not only underscores the topographical theme of the piece, but also adds a performance element as Karl moves about within the frame, casting his shadow and interrupting the projection beam while he makes adjustments.

In adding performance to the piece, Karl was inspired by Victorian scientists who acted as showmen and spokespeople for their discoveries, often taking their science show on the road. Another inspiration is the French father of animation, Charles-Émile Reynaud, whose projections entailed a kind of hidden performance: in a small room directly behind the theater screen, Reynaud fed his slides through a magic lantern accompanied by live music. By being part of the piece, physically involved in its function, Karl introduces a mechanical element—a refreshing throwback in this digital age. He also employs a tactic of Reynaud’s using mirrors aimed at the projectors to bounce the image into the air with the idea that he can separate and merge the two images by turning the mirrors.

Karl uses such images as a Mobius strip, a highway cloverleaf overpass, a diagram of the movement of air and smoke, knot theory, weather patterns, cells dividing, a radar screen, all of which seem connected. He pairs these with an otherworldly soundtrack that features such interesting sounds as a gong recorded backwards, a shofar, a Buddhist horn and submarine sonar.

According to Karl, “Topologists think of taking shapes and stretching and distorting them in space, but these topological shapes always retain the same properties no matter how they have been transformed. So it’s really the study of connectivity and continuity.”  This continuity and connectivity has a direct relation to family and “the arc of a human life…how we start and end and when we peak and fade out. That’s essentially what the piece is about,” he says.


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