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Desert Companion

Visual Art: A Wave of Your Hand

That’s all it takes to make the virtual desert bloom in Brett Bolton’s new City Hall art exhibit

“It’s an homage to the Las Vegas Valley,” says audio-visual whiz Brett Bolton of Overcast, his projection artwork set to open in Las Vegas City Hall this month. More pointedly, it’s an homage to the human potential to bring the valley to life.

Here’s how it works, minus all the technical mumbo-jumbo that actually makes it work: Inside a kiosk in the City Hall lobby, viewers will see a white landscape of mountains and valley, with the image of a cracked desert projected onto it from above. The viewer waves her hand in the projection beam. The resulting shadow acts as a raincloud. “As this ‘cloud’ passes over the valley,” says Bolton’s project description, “it leaves a trail of projected falling rain that lands on the earth and follows the contours of the landscape similar to actual rain. The low rumble of thunder and relaxing noise of falling rain will be heard …”

Overcast circleThe virtual rain absorbs into the cracked desert, and colorful patterns representing life will sprout. “It creates seeds,” Bolton says. “Each seed grows out in a unique pattern.” Each pass of the hand generates new seeds, new patterns. “The seeds interact with each other as they grow, and it creates really nice patterns.” Every interaction will be different.

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The patterns are metaphorically representative of new life — they’re not based on calculations of the actual effects of rain in the desert. “It’s an artistic interpretation,” he says.

As the viewer stops waving, the human-nurtured life retreats and the barren cracks return.

We won’t pretend to explain the technical side of this. “It’s pretty complex,” says Bolton, whose normal line of work runs more toward creating audio-visual effects for rock concerts. “It’s all technology I’ve worked with before, but I’ve never compiled it like this. It’s been a lot of fun to build.” 

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