A long time ago,
I was a professional animator.
And at night,
I would make my own experimental films.
And I was spending a lot of time,
way too much time, in front of a screen
for work that would be
presented on a screen,
and I had this great need
to get my hands back on the work again.
Now, before "The Simpsons,"
before "Betty Boop,"
before there was such a thing
as cinema and television,
animation was hugely popular in this form.
This is a zoetrope.
And you spin this drum,
and you look through the slits
into the inside of the drum,
and you see the animation pop to life.
This is animation in physical form,
and it's animation I could
get my hands on again.
I took these ideas to Denmark.
I went there with my family
on a Fulbright Fellowship.
That's my daughter, Mia.
I rode around the city on my bicycle
and shot all the interesting
moving elements of Copenhagen:
the boaters in the canals,
the colors that explode in spring,
the free-use city bikes,
the healthy cuisine --
And I brought all that video
back into the physical world
by printing it out on these long
strips of ink-jet paper
and cutting out the forms.
Now, I invented my own
form of the zoetrope,
which removes the drum
and replaces the slits
with a video camera.
And this was very exciting for me,
because it meant that I could
make these physical objects,
and I could make films from those objects.
That's me riding on my bicycle.
I made about 25 paper sculptures,
each the size of a bicycle wheel.
I brought them into the studio,
and shot them to make the film
This project not only allowed me
to get my hands back on the work again
but it helped me get my life back.
Instead of spending 12, 15 hours a day
with my face plastered to a screen,
I was having these little adventures
with our new family
and shooting video along the way,
and it was kind of a symbiosis
of art and life.
And I think that it's no mistake
that zoetrope translates
into "wheel of life."
But film and video does flatten sculpture,
so I tried to imagine
a way that animated sculpture
could be experienced as such,
and also a completely immersive
kind of animated sculpture.
And that's where I came up with the idea
for the zoetrope tunnel.
You walk through with a handheld strobe,
and wherever you point the flashlight,
the animation pops to life.
I plan to finish this project
in the next 30 to 40 years.
But I did build a half-scale prototype.
It's covered in Velcro,
and I could lay inside on this bridge
and stick animated sequences to the walls
and test stuff out.
People would comment
that it reminded them of an MRI.
And that medical connection spoke to me,
because at the age of 14,
I was diagnosed with
a degenerative retinal condition
that's slowly taking my vision away,
and I'd never responded
to that in my work.
So I responded to it
in this piece called, "Implant."
It is an imaginary,
super-magnified medical device
that fits around the optic nerve.
And the public is, in a sense,
miniaturized to experience it.
With a handheld strobe,
they can explore the sculpture,
and discover thousands
of cell-sized robots
hard at work, leaping
in and out of the optic nerve,
being deployed to the retina
to repair it.
It's my science fiction fantasy cure
of my own incurable disorder.
Now, in the real-world gene therapy
and gene therapy research,
healthy genes are being administered
to unhealthy cells using viruses.
There's a lot of colorful,
fluffy hope in this,
and there's also some creepy,
of viruses maybe becoming
an invasive species in your body.
Vision loss has helped
to take me away from the things
that disconnect me from the world.
Instead of being sealed off
in an automobile,
I ride my bike,
take buses and trains
and walk a lot.
And instead of a visually intensive
process in the studio, primarily,
I'm also getting outdoors a lot more
and using more of my senses.
This landscape is a couple hours east
of San Diego, California.
My brother lives out that way.
He and I went camping there for four days.
And I grabbed my camera,
and I walked through the canyons.
And I tried to imagine and figure out
what kind of motion would be present
in this place that was so still
and so devoid of motion.
I think it's the stillest
place I've ever been.
And I realized that it was the movement
of my own body through the landscape
that was creating the animation.
It was the motion of changing perspective.
So I created this piece called "Mud Caves"
from those photographs.
It's a multilayered print piece,
and you can think of it as
a zoetrope laid flat.
It's kind of my western
And next to the print piece
there's a video monitor
that shows the animation
hidden within the artwork.
I think one of the best parts
about this project for me
was that I got to hang out
with my brother a lot,
who lives 2,500 miles away from me.
And we would just sit
in this seemingly eternal landscape
sculpted by water over millions of years
We'd talk about our kids growing up
and the slowing pace of our parents,
and our dad who's suffering from leukemia,
memory loss and infection.
And it struck me that, as individuals,
but as a family,
we are an ongoing cycle --
a kind of wheel of life.
Now, I want to leave you with a tribute
to one of my mentors.
She reminds me that physical
presence is important
and that play is not a luxury,
but a necessity.
and she's our family dog.
And she loves to jump.
(Dog barking and spring boinging)
And this is a new kind of zoetrope
that I developed
at the Imaging Research Center
at UMBC in Baltimore.
And I call it a "real-time zoetrope."
(Dog barking and spring boinging)