Article categories: ANAT ReportsIssue 61
January 27th, 2010

In October 2004 I arrived in Amsterdam to find a gingerbread city bathed in autumnal light and glowing in all its 17th century finery. I had been invited to the Netherlands as a guest resident of the Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten, a truly amazing place. Housed in refurbished horse stables built for Napoleons cavalry it is an internationally respected artists residency programme whose antecedent academies date back to the 1600s.

Daniel Crooks, Intersection Number 4, (vertical volume), 2008

Roughly 50 residents undertake a work period of two years with approximately half Dutch and half international. Residents receive a studio, a stipend, a small materials budget, access to the technical facilities and to the advisors (technicians, artists, curators, critics and theorists). The studio spaces range in size from medium to extra large. The largest (populated almost exclusively by painters) are huge and allow for very large-scale works. In addition to the personal studios there are also 4 project rooms which residents can book for up to 2 weeks. These are very very large white cubes for the installation and presentation of projects. The technical facilities are incredible; almost anything an artist could hope to make can be produced on site (unless it’s a 3 tonne steel replica of an asteroid which had to be made in China). There are workshops for wood, metal, ceramics, paint and printmaking (including binding) all staffed by expert technicians. There are two fully equipped photographic studios (daylight and artificial), 2 darkrooms (colour and B&W), 3 fully spec’ed video editing suites, 2 flextight large format film scanners, a number of general computers, large format printing, audio workstation with a small sound studio, electronics station and the uitleen (loan desk) which is stocked with everything from DV cameras to large format view cameras, tripods to video projectors (or beamers), DAT recorders to Arri 16 mm cine cameras.

To top it all off there is an incredible library and a collection housing old books and prints including an original set of plates from Muybridges Animal Locomotion and the Big Book of Drawing and Painting (slightly smaller than a standard paperback) which was once in the possession of Rembrandt. I was even able to browse original French volumes on perspective from the 1860s (without gloves!).

I had come to the Rijks with the aim of experimenting with high-speed digital video to explore the possibilities offered by such greatly extended temporal resolution. The technology involved is extremely expensive and difficult to access. For a number of reasons (he says through gritted teeth) the negotiations became frustratingly drawn out and in the end I was unable to get my hands on the equipment I needed. Determined to make the most of my time at the Rijks I decided to embark on another project that would make best use of the unique resources at my disposal, namely the technical expertise of two of the technical advisors. Together with Kees (electronics) and Stephan (engineering) I set out to build a servo based motion control device that was smooth, precise and perfectly repeatable.

I’ve been working with stepper motors for a number of years now and though highly accurate they are generally far from smooth. I had wanted to work with servos and closed loop feedback for some time, as I knew this would provide the smooth and accurate speed control I sought, but the electronics involved were a real step up (no pun intended). This is where Kees (pronounced Case) steps in. He’s very good with digital electronics and programming PICs but he really knows his stuff when it comes to analogue electronics having worked in the television industry for years. He was able to find a cheap servo controller that would do everything I wanted and talk to a PIC microcontroller easily, but better still he was able to identify those quirky little analogue electrical vagaries that are a total mystery to me. From Stephan I learned how to use the lathe and the milling machine, which were a total revelation. Working with tolerances of 0.01mm I found a whole new appreciation for the term precision and had some very interesting discussions (while passive smoking several cigarettes) about the current state of engineering, especially the possibilities of rapid prototyping. After construction of two trial devices using recycled motors and gear boxes produced less than desirable results, I was forced to bite the bullet and get a real (read swiss) motor. I couldn’t afford a Maxon (as seen on the mars rovers) but the next step down wasn’t too shabby either, though rated at 12V it would still turn on as little as 10mV! With the encoder and gearbox fitted and some minor tweaks to the electronics it was onto the software. I developed two interfaces the first for the control box itself to provide a simple standalone method for controlling the devices and the second a GUI (in MAX) to run on a laptop for more complex control. The final result was 2 devices, a pan head and a track, capable of the most beautifully smooth, accurate and seamlessly repeatable motion.

My time at the Rijks was extremely valuable on a number of levels. Most importantly for my practice was the immersion in a community of such committed and exceptional artists. It was truly invigorating to be surrounded by a group of people who are so sure of their role as artists and it was invaluable to be able to present my work and engage in dialogues with them. I have made lasting friendships with a number of residents and established professional contacts with several individuals and organisations that I met through the Rijks. I also had the pleasure of in-depth and at times challenging discussions with internationally established artists such as Sigurdur Gudmundsson, Hermann Pitz, Paul Perry, Marie José Burki, Matt Mullican, curators such as Avis Newman and one of the Netherlands leading art critics Anna Tilroe. All of these people provided invaluable insight, advice and constructive criticism. I was especially glad to have met Sigurdur, a tobacco chewing Icelandic conceptualist who offered some profound advice on what it means to be an artist. I attended some great lectures including a talk on Paul McCarthy’s recent Pirate Project by John Welchman. I was able to visit some of Hollands finest galleries and museums including the Rijksmuseum, the Staedlijk, Van Abbe, De Pont, Witte de With, V2, De Appel, a raft of smaller spaces in Amsterdam and the fantastic Mesdag Panorama. And just the opportunity to live in a European city where art and especially contemporary art are so valued and supported by the general public was incredible.

The immediate impact of my time at the Rijks was the development of the 2 motion control devices and the possibilities that they open up for my work, but the real impact will be in the next few years when the research and period of reflection that the residency allowed begins to bubble through to the surface.

Thanks ANAT!

Daniel Crooks
Daniel Crooks is a digital media artist interested in distorting what is familiar to us and offering it back as a study in how we experience time and place. His digital manipulation of everyday materials and landscapes such as trains, trams and the passages of pedestrians across public spaces transform the work into a vibrant palette of colours and textures. Crooks is an artist who creates moving images that engage the viewer beyond and beneath the surface of the screen.

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