Mapping: Art or advertising trick


An interview with Amar Mulabegovič from the Macula studio that was projected on the Prague astronomical clock as well as the Liver Building.

Mapping refers to projecting videos onto objects in space. The greatest projects are mostly buildings such as churches, museums or shopping centres. Mapping can be understood an artistic movement yet video installations in public space are often used as an advertising medium. One of the most significant pioneers or the genre in a world perspective is the Czech studio Macula, which obtained its fine reputation through a magnificent projection onto the Old Town Hall astronomical clock during the celebrations of six years since its origin or installation on the occasion of opening a new museum in Liverpool, where the series of projections were attended by about sixty thousand people and another hundreds of thousands watched it on internet.

We discussed the most interesting mapping projects, philosophy and future of the genre with a founder of the Macula studio – Amar Mulabegovič.


Mapping is a relatively new movement based on complex programming and technologies. Yet you originally started with the brush and paints…

At the secondary school I liked information technologies, but because out of all I loved drawing, after the graduation exam I began studies at UMPRUM (high school of fine arts) at the departure of painting. Two years later I realised that the atelier does not really work according to my expectations, so I left for Berlin where I started discovering new media. I finished the school in the atelier of graphic design and new media supervised by Petr Babák. My trouble with painting is the fact that the picture is a static medium but I like movement, a time line and you can hardly get that with pictures. I created my pictures with an incorporated mechanism causing them to move certain parts.

That reminds me of a chintzy target range where the little figures move after being shot at with an air gun.

That is actually something different. That is an acknowledged mechanical part. A picture requires a man to stop, feel an impression and move further on; yet no one expects anything in the picture to move spontaneously. I tried to get a person out of any common expectations. I think like that even in life as I often attempt to deny myself and whatever I do. I have no problem destroying any of my work that I am not totally convinced of and start with a new approach over again.

When you began dealing with new media, you actually interconnected both two of your fields – programming and fine arts.

I abandoned the world of traditional artistic techniques and embraced graphic art; I even made my living as a graphic designer for some time. I would often attend dancing parties and I was impressed by VJ-ing that is mixing video into music. It is similar to what DJs do, though it includes light and video. Nevertheless it felt too „psychedelically“, all the colourful tunnels and loops, I missed some kind of a story. That is why I founded the Macula studio. Honza Šíma and I began to play with video and some time later I realised this is exactly what I always wanted to do. An animation is quite similar to painting, while projection allows for mediating the movement I always cared about.

By all accounts the beginnings of your enterprise were quite punk. How did the development from the first experiments with video to the projection on the Old Town Hall go?

We literarily began inside a trash bin. We would pick stuff from the containers searching for polystyrene box lining used for wrapping up electronics. They come in all sorts of shapes we used for making sculptures we tried to project stuff on. That was around 2008. First we publically projected things at the Sperm festival in Abaton, which was a complete failure but then we started to take part in VJ parties, we projected in Aeroport club at MFF Karlovy Vary or at Street for Art festival in Jižní město in Prague. As we realised out project at the Old Town Hall in October 2010 it was a complete breakthrough not just for us but also for mapping as a genre. According to internet statistics there was a clear mapping boom after the Prague event in the world scope. We were extraordinarily lucky to have such big projects just from the beginning.



After mapping of the Prague astronomical clock the Liverpool city hall ordered an installation on the occasion of opening of new museum. So what was going on in Liverpool?


In Liverpool they opened the city history museum including an exposition of the Beatles as well. Also there was a hundredth anniversary of the Liver building which is a ninety metres tall tower originating in 1911, that was the highest skyscraper in the world until the thirties and today it is a part of the UNESCO protected zone. A new museum and the Liver Building stand opposite to each other so we thought of projecting onto both so when one mapping finishes people will simply turn around and watch another. The event lasted about three days and we realised three projections, each day on one of the buildings. It was presumed that there will be about twenty thousand people but in the end there were three times as many.

 How does production of such event work? You obviously need much equipment for mapping, so it is all yours or do you also rent?

We actually have no equipment ourselves and we do not wish to have it. Acquisition price is huge; for example a single projection machine with light performance of 35000 ANSI Lumens without objectives costs about two and half million crowns and we needed four of them in Liverpool. These are more powerful devices than the ones we used in cinema halls, for example IMAX uses devices of 22000 lm. But we cooperate with the company AV Media that allows us to try out all the equipment at their storage. We also cooperated on the Old Town Hall project and established a mutual trust. The sound was provided by a local company that takes care for concerts of Paul McCartney, which means the absolute top.

Was there any difference between the Czech and English co-workers during organisation of the events?

In England everything was much more professional. No one would every dare to say that anything is impossible or would not work. We told them exactly what we needed and they just asked: „OK, is it ok to bring it tomorrow at seven in the morning?“ In case of several more complex issues we really thought they are making fun of us but everything was ready in the morning. In the Czech Republic everything is much more complicated.



How long does preparation of a large event such as Prague or Liverpool take?


Project always has a preparation and realisation stages; what is most difficult are all the permissions because the installation enters a public space and you need tons of stamps. Old town Hall astronomical clock administration took us four months to deal with; the animation itself only a single month. We started working on Liverpool in November and the realisation happened in the end of July; last two months we worked even eighteen hours a day and made a quick trip to Dubai to realise a smaller advertising project.

Video mapping can be art but also an advertising medium. There are companies focusing on production of light billboards. I presume that Macula is interesting in respect of advertising and you also get such offers.

We definitely do not want to end up as an advertising company. If we decide to agree to a job order, we primarily aim at visually enriching the space and not just “pushing” the final product. We always tell the client that we either do it our way or not at all. Even now advertising is forced to us every step we go so mapping does not need to become a part of it. When we did the Dubai order we obviously could not avoid the lemonade bottle showing up in the ending. But even with this line of work we give a history reference or more information. Yet job suppliers generally are not very interested in that kind of thing and look at mapping as an advert trick.

So what do you work on now?

Also advertising. But I cannot tell how exactly it will look and what is it about. It will take place in Strahov in March and the projection will be up on the high airing shaft of the Strahov tunnel.

Apart from these gigantic installations Macula also realises smaller but not less interesting projects. Recently there was for example Archifon installation in the framework of December Film Animation Festival in Olomouc. What was it about?

Archifon was an interactive installation in a desecrated chapel of Boží tělo that is now used by the Art centre of Palackého University. The chapel turned into a huge music instruments that the visitors would control by a laser cursor. As they pointed on a certain object, a statue, pillar or a window, there was a sound. There were four pointers working at the same time so people could mix music together. The project was a great success and people would cue to try it and found it hard to let go and pass their pointers to others.

I cannot imagine how you project things onto a curved object. A projector signal certainly gets deformed then. How do you manage to reach a sharp image while projecting onto a vault?

You cannot set the depth of image definition that would adjust to the curving so you can only influence it by the number of projectors you use and where you put them. The trouble with Archifon was the lack of finance so we could only use a single projector and not six as was actually needed. On top the chapel is too small so the projector was too close and could not focus properly. It was a compromise to blur some parts so the question remained what and how much. On the other hand we enjoy creating improvised technical solutions of mapping a lot.  Surprisingly you often invent original solutions with small and underfinanced projects that move mapping further on.

How many similar studios to Macula exist in the world? Have you got any competition of equal quality or experience?

Formerly I used to follow mapping scene but I began looking touch with it because of simple lack of time. Lately mapping got hugely popular because there is no problem to do for example a guerrilla event when you just park a car in front of a bank and project something onto it and in an hour it is already available on YouTube. With such quantity the quality obviously decreases. According to my estimation of really quality studies all over the world there is less than ten all over the world but most of them does commercial stuff and that shows on the installations; they lack any aesthetic dimension or distinguishable signature, it is simply a high quality commerce.


Thanks for the interview. See for more information and videos on Macula studio projects.



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