Australian artist Daniel Crooks forges new paradigms of space and time with digital imaging and mathematical algorithms. 

Art Radar profiles the award-winning artist, whose moving image compositions deconstruct the mechanisms of human perception and offer another view into reality.

Daniel Crooks, 'Static No.16', 2010. Image courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery.

Daniel Crooks, ‘Static No.16’, 2010. Image courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery.

Australian artist Daniel Crooks creates complex and aesthetically stunning image compositions that stretch and distort reality. Working across a range of media including digital video, photography and installation, he is one of Australia’s most renowned artists – and the recipient of numerous awards such as the critically acclaimed Ian Potter Moving Image Commission 2014.

Early temporal preoccupations 

Daniel Crooks (b. 1973, New Zealand) has always been fascinated with time and technology. In an interview with writer Lawrence Weschler, Crooks recalls childhood obsessions with novels and films about science fiction and time travel (PDF download), and describes a particularly “spellbinding” moment when presented with a primary school teacher’s photoshopped photo:

Each year he’d make a bespoke Christmas card […] a small black and white picture of him and his wife, sitting in various places around their lounge, multiplied. […] I was absolutely spellbound […]. It definitely planted a seed very early on, about how using this sort of time-recording apparatus could enable one to step outside of the continuum that we’re locked into, and offer alternatives.

During his final two years at the graphic design school at the Auckland Technical Institute, Crooks spent any spare time he had making videos and movies. After graduation, he enrolled at the film school at the Victorian College of Arts in Melbourne, and it was here that Crooks made his first major production.

Food(for)thought: (Three) ingredients from the mass consumer diet (1994) is seven and a half minutes of stop motion animation – the product of seven months of hard work. Crooks tells Weschler that the experience imbued him with a difference perception of the world – a slowing down that revealed the building blocks of reality:

You’re working at this glacially slow pace and looking at all the individual static moments that make up any kind of movement. So as soon as you go into the real world, you just start seeing that everywhere. You see those moments when a hand floats for a moment and then stops moving. When you look at people walking, you see the infinitesimal lift of the toe that clears the ground as they’re swinging through, and the tenth of a millimetre that it misses by […]

Daniel Crooks, 'Train No.1', 2002-05. Image courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery.

Daniel Crooks, ‘Train No.1’, 2002-05. Image courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery.

From filmmaker to engineer

Food(for)thought toured the international film circuit, showing at the Chicago International Film Festival and the Stuttgart International Animation Festival. When doors opened for him to work at leading global visual effects and CGI companies, Crooks decided to keep experimenting and making his own films instead. He tells Weschler that at this point he wrote an application to the Australia Council for a grant to

invent an entirely new form of four-dimensional filmmaking, with robots and all the stuff.

Upon receiving the grant, Crooks’s next stop was the RMIT – the Royal Institute of Technology in Melbourne – where he embarked on a “six-month odyssey to teach [himself] how to build motion-control devices”. It was an extreme learning curve, but Crooks persisted in building these robots that allowed him to control the movement of a camera in precise, infinitesimal gradations.

Click here to watch a STVDIO interview with Daniel Crooks on YouTube

Seeing time in the image

Although Crooks “didn’t get anywhere near” building the machines he wanted, the idea of the technology led to his famous sliced-up images. His first prototypes were created by cutting up time-lapse landscape panoramas into hundreds of slices, rearranging them and sticking them all together again. Soon, inspired by his obsession with trains, Crooks began not just offsetting video frames but also opening up each slice by a few pixels, which translates to a sixth of a second – only a tiny fraction of time.

Daniel Crooks, 'Static No.12', 2009-10. Image courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery.

Daniel Crooks, ‘Static No.12’, 2009-10. Image courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery.

Sculpting time and space

According to an exhibition press release by Future Perfect, Crooks’s work “gives the digital image a new elasticity”. As he developed increasingly complex works, Crooks employed techniques of light diffusion, chromatic patterning and angle variation in addition to mathematical algorithms, which calculate precise camera movements and frame distributions. His resulting works, according to Future Perfect:

effect uncanny and intriguing mutations of the visible world […] reveal[ing] its unseen rhythms and patterns [such that] time becomes a spatial, plastic dimension, something that can be moulded and transformed.

In addition to manipulating time and space per se, Crooks delves into the unique temporalities of foreign cities to capture distinct essences. Static No. 12 (Seek Stillness in Movement) (2011), a piece which won the Juror’s Choice Award at the APB Foundation Signature Art Prize is a mesmerising study of an elderly Tai Chi practitioner whom Crooks met in a park in Shanghai.

In a video interview Crooks described how he was inspired by the practitioner’s movements:

I started researching about Tai Chi and came across [its] 10 commandments […]. The tenth one is to seek stillness in movement. I’ve been experimenting with this process of sort of opening this crevice in time […] a still that gets pulled out […] a graft of the movement. It really resonated with what the guy was doing […] a spatialisation of time.

In another work, Static No.16 (fisher-yates shuffle) (2010), Crooks deconstructs a foreign city scene, slicing together unfamiliar fragments of buildings, people and advertisements. In Embroidery of Voids (2013), a video installation commissioned by the National Gallery of Victoria, Crooks guides the viewer through various lanes and in-between spaces in Melbourne. As the Chartwell Collection explains:

The laneway is an icon of Melbourne’s city life [but it] was obvious that [the work] had wider appeal to a general public. […] the laneway is used as a perspectival, compositional device […]. It was like a sequenced patchwork of perspectival paintings unfolding in moving image. […] the slicing/collaging occurs as you weave through the laneways themselves.

Daniel Crooks, 'An Embroidery of Voids', 2013. Image courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery.

Daniel Crooks, ‘An Embroidery of Voids’, 2013. Image courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery.

New paradigms of space and time 

According to Future Perfect, Crooks’s work “tests the new paradigms of space, time and vision forged by our ubiquitous digital image technologies”. The artist insists, however, that technology does not play a primary role in his work:

None of this stuff is inherently digital. You could do it analogue, with film […]. So what I’m saying is my videos, which sometimes look psychedelic and completely unnatural […] are entirely topologically valid, in the same sense that we consider the real world to be. They are the same thing. I’ve sliced them, but that’s really just a means of looking at them from the side.

Michele Chan


Related Topics: Australian artists, video, film, photography, time, artist profiles

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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