Barcelona-based creative studio Tigrelab works on the cutting edge of technological possibility. But work like Mixed Mirrors, their installation at Intersect, have a very low-tech goal: starting conversations with the people around you.
When festival goers at Intersect this year walk into the junction where the festival’s main pathways meet they’ll encounter an installation that will stop a lot of them in their tracks. Ten towering “totems” combining screen, camera, and interface, and on them the faces of the people interacting with them, swapping features between them to create new composites, a facial remix happening at larger-than-life scale. And the people watching and interacting with Mixed Mirrors, as the piece is called, will step across an invisible but very real border into the dreamy world of Tigrelab.
Lines tend to get a bit blurred on a Tigrelab project. The Barcelona-based studio specializes in both screen work and installations, but much of their work exists in the spaces between them. Their installations often incorporate screens full of surreal animations, while one of the commercials they produce might incorporate some of the video mapping technology that they use to create immersive real-world pieces capable of warping the senses in new and intriguing ways. The visual and the tactile blend together, and the borders between virtual and IRL collapse.
“We are a strange Frankenstein,” says Federico Gonzalez, one of Tigrelab’s co-founders. “But it works.”
As a young design startup going into business during the worst part of Spain’s financial crisis, Gonzalez and co-founders Javier Pinto and Mathieu Felix had to learn to be adaptable just to stay afloat. They created animations and special effects, designed lighting for live musicians, even designed the user interface for a fictional app for a commercial.
But things started taking off for them once they started combining those skill sets. “We started to bridge different technologies and mix them together,” says Gonzalez. They began creating large-scale installations that used projection mapping to wrap churches and museums around the world in fluid animations with an uncanny 3D effect, some of them with an interactive element that allowed the audience to shape the animation, and gained a global following.
The experiences Tigrelab creates can be almost magical in their seeming effortlessness, but creating them often means figuring out new ways to push their gear to its limits, and beyond. At times their commitment to testing those boundaries can make the designers seem like creative adrenaline junkies.
“In our heads we want to make a lot of crazy stuff,” says Jon Corcuera, who’s collaborating with Tigrelab on Mixed Mirrors. Often, though, the crazy stuff they want to make isn’t feasible with current technology. “Sometimes it’s just about getting to that line that we want to cross.”
Lines tend to get a bit blurred on a Tigrelab project. “We are a strange Frankenstein,” says co-founder Federico Gonzalez. “But it works.”
But solving those problems is what makes the work rewarding. “Sometimes it’s frustrating,” Corcuera says, “but it’s good for us. You end up finding another way to do what you have in mind. You find a way there.”
While their work is intensely tech-heavy, the point of it isn’t to celebrate technology itself as much as the imaginative streak that drove humankind to invent technology in the first place. “It’s technology mixed with human touch,” explains Gonzalez. Tigrelab’s work, he says, represents, “all of the different stuff that a human can create.”
Mixed Mirrors is a perfect embodiment of this philosophy. While the process of designing it has brought Corcuera and the Tigrelab team once again to the limit of what’s possible with our current tech, its ultimate goal is to facilitate a fundamental kind of human interaction, as users getting their faces remixed meet their neighbors and watch, together, as their features combine. “The idea is to bring people together,” Gonzalez says, “where their shared experiences and ideas can meet each other and mix. It’s a place where you mix with other people.”
Once it’s up and running, Corcuera says, “We don’t have full control of the installation. We’re curious how it’s going to act. People’s mood and feelings will affect it.”
“Every project has a different reaction,” explains Gonzalez. “Every one we try to experiment in a different way. But, he says, there’s one reaction that they’re always aiming for above all others: “How did they do that?”