Retrospectroscope AKA "Whirling Disk"


The "Retrospectroscope" apparatus was first constructed in 1996 funded in part by an award from the San Francisco Art Institute to celebrate their 125th anniversary. It was made using a single sheet of Plexiglas 5 ft. in diameter, and was mounted directly on a stand and illuminated from behind. As an optical device, its function was to create the illusion of movement utilizing large format still images. A variation of the phenakistascope , and many other such devices, my apparatus represents the need to re-explore the synthesis of years of scientific discoveries that culminated in the cinema, as we know it today. As the phenakistascope established the "stroboscopic effect", this concept inspired me to use actual strobes, the intermittent element of which acted as a shutter. The basic phenomena of the combined physics of kinetics frequency of light, velocity and persistence of vision constitute the piece on a material level. These elements converge to animate still images originally shot on film. The series of images are photographic transparencies either shot using the still camera to animate as the originator of the images, or used to re-photograph images originally shot on motion picture film using the analyst projector as a tool to harness the ephemeral image. The "Retrospectroscope" is an homage to the imaginary forces that lie beyond the ability of language to define. The play of image and mythology of machine became instilled with the ephemeral presence of celluloid. The "Retrospectroscope" apparatus has gone through many incarnations, its presence belies the processes that have created it. As a paracinematic device, it traces an evolutionary trajectory, encircling the viewer in a procession of flickering fantasies of fragmented lyricism. This reinvention simulates the illusion of the analysis of motion to recall early mysteries of the quest for this very discovery now taken for granted.; the "Muses of Cinema" represented by the female figures on the disk, have emerged from a dark Neoclassical past. Streams of images revolve around, in an attempt to harness notions of a cinematic prehistory tracing past motions and gestures to burn their dance on the surface of the retinas.

The images were affixed to the Plexiglas sheet in a concentric fashion working in a series, one ring of images informing the next, creating five circles. The device allows the viewer to investigate the cyclical aspects of time in an elliptical fashion as well as the perceptual illusion. All of the rings of images consisted of black & white 4x5 transparencies that could be read from outer ring to inner ring or in the reverse direction. The surface of the disk becomes the matrix upon which various associations develop between consecutive rings, evoking myriad interpretations. Rhythmical cohesive segments were formed building up a series of codified metaphors that sought to tantalize and enchant while questioning the role of the image in our society today.

Currently, a shift in our perception has already been dissembled and fragmented through computer based technology in the ways in which spatial temporal realms are challenging our views about how space is constructed. I hope this installation as a whole provides a link to this evolving, perceptual trajectory.

In 1997, a 16mm black and white silent film was made using the" Whirling Disk" as source material, which has been shown at numerous festivals. This film is known as the "Retrospectroscope, and was described in the San Francisco Bay Guardian as "A spinning flashing UFO/roulette wheel of Athenian proportions."
--K.L.


Kerry Laitala's love of the movie process gives rise to richly crafted and oddly unclassifiable imagery. Re-inventing an antique movie technology using a revolving glass disc, projected light and a sequence of early black and white images, and merging it with the later technology of 16mm film, "Retrospectroscope" pulls the moving image backward into a sense of wonder that is both nostalgic and strangely new.
--Scott Stark, "Ten Best Experimental Film/Videos of 1997".

Wraith infested spools spark to life. In 1895 Georges Demeny invented the revolving glass disc phonoscope/bioscope. This apparatus was designed for animating chronophotography and "to indulge the curiosity to commit a series of piquant indiscretions." Putting a new spin on this paracinematic apparatus, Laitala built a kind of sibling rival to that previous invention, made out of plexiglass transparencies and set in motion - the Retrospectroscope.
--Program Notes from "Program I: Stirrings, Still" Views from the Avant Garde, New York Film Festival, 1998.

Kerry A. Laitala Work