Exchange: our Camera Obscura visits Maine College of Art (without leaving the building!)

Several months ago, an artist named David K. Ross approached me to ask about connecting the Camera Obscura on our third floor – the optical device that projects a 360-degree view of Portland into aroom with no windows – to the Institute for Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art. Mr. Ross had been invited to take part in a new exhibition at the ICA called “Exchange,” which would feature artists exploring  the theme of collaboration. We agreed to let Mr. Ross (and a team from MECA’s technical support department) come in and install a video recorder in our Camera Obscura. The result: “Alhazen’s Problem,” a 24-hour live image projected in a gallery at MECA, several blocks east of us on Congress Street. The view our visitors see during a camera show is projected simultaneously onto a gallery wall in the ICA!

Camera Obscura and "Alhazen's Problem"

I see budding artists every day at the Museum & Theatre, so I wanted to ask David K. Ross a few questions about how he became an artist. He’ll be answering more questions during his artist talk on Thursday, February 18th at Maine College of Art’s Osher Hall. The talk is free – click here for more information about Exchange!

Chris Sullivan (Director of Exhibits and Operations): What is your favorite color?

David K. Ross (artist): I have never really had one favorite color in particular, but if push came to shove, I would go with the kind of blue you find on the inside of lots of old churches in Florence, Italy.

CS: At what age did you first get interested in art?

DKR: I have a scrapbook album that my grandmother gave me when I was five year old which is filled with school projects from Kindergarten to Grade 8. On every page there is a place to write the answer to the following question: What do you want to be when you grow up? Starting at Grade One, I always wrote “Artist.”

CS: Do you wear a beret?

DKR: Never. Although I do wear a bike helmet when I bike.

CS: What makes you an artist?

DKR: Artists are people who make art. Art is the stuff that sometimes looks like advertising, but asks more questions than it answers.

CS: What is your favorite part about the creative process?

DKR: I like the beginning and the middle the best. The beginning is the part where you sit around and say “hey, wouldn’t it be great to connect the Camera Obscura at the Children’s Museum and Theatre to the ICA gallery in the Maine College of Art?”

The middle part is when you try to figure it all out. That means, making all the many many parts – like technology, and scheduling, and how the things look – work together at the same time. It is where the work part comes in.

The end part, when the art is done, is ok, and satisfying, but really by then all the fun is gone.

CS: How did you come up with this project idea?

DKR: Lauren Fensterstock, who is the Director at the Institute for Contemporary Art at the Maine College of Art, asked me to come up with a project for her that used the idea of collaboration, or working together, as its main idea. After thinking about it for a long time, I decided to try to make two places (not two people!) work together. That meant the ICA and the Children’s Museum and Theatre had to work together to make things happen.
CS: What is one thing you learned through this process?

DKR: I learned that sometimes, if you face in the right direction, and look hard enough and use your imagination, you can see things really far away – things that you didn’t know were there.

CS: Who’s your favorite artist?

DKR: I don’t really have a favorite artist, but lately I have been listening a lot to a composer named David Lang. He wrote an incredible piece of music to go with a Hans Christen Anderson story called the Little Match Girl. It is a sad story about a poor girl who sells matches for a living. It has a very tragic ending, but it is the most beautiful piece of music I have heard in a long, long time. The piece of music is called “The Little Match Girl Passion.” You can hear a little bit of it here.

CS: What is your connection to Portland?

DKR: I know someone whose father worked at the Porteous, Mitchell and Braun Department store fifty years ago.