Nadine Valcin


(Un)seen is a video installation about presence/absence that relies on proxemics to trigger 3 different processed video loops. It creates a ghostly presence projected on a screen whose image recedes as the viewer gets closer to it despite constantly trying to engage the viewer through its voice.

As visitors enter the room, they see a barely distinguishable extreme closeup of the ghost’s eyes. As they get closer to the screen, the ghost remains unattainable, visible through progressively wider shots. The last loop plays when visitors are in close proximity to the screen. At that distance the array of squares and circles that are layered over the video giving it texture become very distinct making the image becomes more abstract. The rhythm of the images also changes as short glimpses of the ghosts are seen through the progressively longer black sequences.

The video image is treated live by a custom filter created in Processing to give it a dreamy and painterly look.


In terms of content, my recent work and upcoming thesis project deal with memory, erasure and haunting. I am interested in how unacknowledged ghosts from the past haunt the present. As Avery Gordon (1997, p.7) remarks:

“Haunting is a constituent element of modern social life. It is neither premodern superstition nor individual psychosis; it is a generalizable social phenomenon of great import. To study social life one must confront the ghostly aspects of it. This confrontation requires (or produces) a fundamental change in the way we know and make knowledge, in our mode of production.” (2008, p. 7)

This project was a way for me to investigate through image and sound, how a ghostly presence could be evoked. I also wanted to explore how technology could assist me in doing it in an interactive that differed from the linear media production I normally engage with. The video material for (Un)seen comes from an installation piece entitled Emergence that I produced in 2017. I thought the images were strong and minimalist and provided a good canvas for experimentation.

(Un)seen is heavily inspired by the work of Processing co-creator Casey Reas and his exploration of generative art.  I have been interested in his work as it explores the way in which computing can create new images and manipulate existing ones in ways that are not possible in the analog realm. Over the years, Reas has used various custom-built software to manipulate video and photographic images.


Transference, Source: Casey Reas (http://reas.com/transference/)

Transference (2018) is a video that uses frames from Ingmar Begrman’s black and white film Persona (1966). It deliberately distorts the faces represented rendering them unidentifiable and reflecting on contemporary questions around identity and digital media.


Samarra, Source: Casey Reas (http://reas.com/samarra/)

He applies a similar image treatment in the music video Samarra (2016) and in Even the Greatest Stars Discover Themselves in the Looking Glass, An Allegory of the Cave for Three People (2014), an experience in which three audience members interact, mediated through cameras and projected images. In that piece Reas, once again looks at identity as through a technological lens against the backdrop of surveillance.


Even the Greatest Stars Discover Themselves in the Looking Glass, An Allegory of the Cave for Three People, Source: Casey Reas (http://reas.com/cave/)

KNBC, Source: Casey Reas (http://reas.com/knbc/)

In KNBC (2015), Reas pushes his experimentation further, manipulating images to a level of abstraction where they become unrecognizable in the finished product, breaking their visual link to the original source material. The recorded television footage and accompanying sound are processed them into a colourful, pixelated  generative collage.


Surface X, Source: Arduino Project Hub (https://create.arduino.cc/projecthub/Picaroon/surface-x-811e8c)

From the group project Forget Me Not (assignment 2), I retained the idea of working with an Arduino Uno and a distance sensor, this time to control the video on the screen. I wanted to create a meaningful interaction between the image and the distance that separated it from visitors..

The interactive art installation Surface X by Picaroon was cited in assignment 2 and is still relevant to this project because of its use of proxemics to provoke the closure of the umbrellas, revealing the underlying metal structure and mechanism when visitors approach. Whereas the cretors saw the activation of the umbrellas as a metaphor for the way we constantly prefect and control our digital personas and how they collide with reality upon closer inspection in the moments where all our cracks and flaws are revealed.


Surface X, Source: Arduino Project Hub (https://create.arduino.cc/projecthub/Picaroon/surface-x-811e8c)

In (Unseen), the proxemics are used differently, to signify the refusal of the ghost to visually engage with the visitor, or perhaps, signalling that its presence is not quite what it seems.



Still from unprocessed original footage

I started by going through my original footage selecting all the takes from one of the four participants in the shoot for my installation Emergence. I chose this woman because she had the most evocative facial expressions and dramatic poses. I then created 3 video loops between 30 and 60 seconds in duration. The first loop is comprised of extreme closeups focused around the eyes, where the entire face of the character isn’t seen. The second loop consists of closeups where her entire face was visible. The third loop features shots that are a bit wider, but their duration is shorter and there is a significant amount of black between them.



(Un)seen – loop 1


(Un)seen – loop 2


(Un)seen – loop 3

I originally thought of manipulating the video image through Adobe After Effects, but I encountered a Coding Train video by Shiffman that showed the potential of extracting the colour of pixels from a photograph (much like it is possible to do in Photoshop) to program filters that would change the appearance of images. It seemed interesting, but I didn’t know if it would be possible to apply those same features to a moving image, given the processing capacity necessary to play and render live video.

Some of the original footage was intentionally shot with a very shallow depth of field, leaving parts of the shots out of focus depending on the movement of the subject being filmed. As I started to experiment with textures, I found that images that were slightly out of focus helped blur the outline of the circles and squares that created were part of the video filter. I used the gaussian blur function in Premiere Pro to get the desired texture. It was a trial and error process, manipulating the footage in Premiere Pro, then in Processing through several iterations.



Left: Original source footage, right: blurred footage


Same footage rendered through processing


Left: Original source footage, right: blurred footage


Same footage rendered through processing


I recorded the soundtrack, then edited and mixed it. It consisted of a loop with a woman’s heavy breath on which a selection of 13 different short clips play randomly.


The clips are mostly questions that demonstrate the ghost’s desire to engage with the visitor, but also at times challenges them. Examples include: Who are you? Where do you come from? Can you set me free? Do you want to hear my story?



The technical set-up was rather simple. The Arduino Nano was used to read the distance data from the LV-MaxSonar EZ ultrasonic distance sensor. The video for the idle state (loop 1) loaded automatically and two different thresholds were set to trigger the playback of loops 2 and 3.


The distance sensor gave wildly different distance readings depending on the space and had to be patiently recalibrated several times. Despite the Arduino being set to send readings to Processing at 1500 millis intervals, the liminal distance at the thresholds for the different video loops triggers posed some problems creating rapid  flickering between the different loops. One might say that the system itself was haunted.

The ventilation in the classrooms at OCAD also proved challenging as despite playing at full volume on speakers, the soundtrack wasn’t fully audible except at very close range. The original intent was to have a 360 degree soundscape through a P5.js library to heighten the immersion and feeling of presence. Unfortunately I could not find an equivalent for Processing.





Closeup of image as seen up close, projected on a screen

The Exhibition   

The exhibition was a wonderful opportunity to get members of the OCAD community and of the general public to engage with the work. The fact that (Un)seen was in a separate room was at once an advantage and an inconvenience. Some people missed the piece because they concentrated on the main spaces, but those who ventured into the room focused their entire attention on the installation. Being the sole creator of the piece, left me with all the duties of engaging with visitors and didn’t allow me to visit my colleagues’ pieces, especially those from undergraduates or second year graduate students that I had not seen. I met and spoke with Digital Futures faculty that I hadn’t yet encountered as well as staff and students from other departments. It was a useful and engaging sharing that should happen more often as it created a real sense of community.

People were eager to engage with the piece and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Visitors understood the concept and enjoyed the experience. Because of the issues with the distance sensor, they had to be instructed not to move too quickly and to take the time to pause to minimize false triggerings. The only drawback to the room was the extremely noisy ventilation. Despite the sound playing at maximum volume on the room speakers,  the soundtrack and clips were barely audible. The fact that the door was open to entice people to come into the space only added additional din. It would also have been nice to have a totally dark space to present, but I ended up switching spaces with some of my colleagues in order to accommodate their project.


CODE: https://github.com/nvalcin/Unseen



Correia, Nico. “Bridging the gap between art and code” in UCLA Newsroom, April 25, 2016 http://newsroom.ucla.edu/stories/bridging-the-gap-between-art-and-code. Accessed on December 6, 2019.

Gordon, Avery F. (2008). Ghostly Matters, Haunting and the Sociological Imagination. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Picaroon (2018), Surface X in Arduino Project Hub. https://create.arduino.cc/projecthub/Picaroon/surface-x-811e8c. Accessed on December 6, 2019.

Reas, Casey(2019). Artists website. http://reas.com/ Accessed on December 6, 2019.

Rosenthal, Emerson, “Casey Reas’ Newest Art Is A Coded, Projected ‘Allegory Of The Cave’” in Vice Magazine, March 14, 2014. https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/mgpawn/casey-reas-newest-art-is-a-coded-projected-allegory-of-the-cave-for-thedigital-age  Accessed on December 6, 2019.


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