Doug Foster's Illusions of Grandeur

Exhibiting at Hell's Half Acre, the audio-visual artist creates full-scale light projections of breathtaking symmetrical imagery

The Heretics' Gate

Manipulating the cyclical rhythms of flowing liquid in varying densities and textures in order to play with the molten effects, artist Doug Foster exhibited his epic large-scale display of a haunting vision of Hell. Deep underground at London's Old Vic Tunnels, Foster's piece greeted visitors at the Hell's Half Acre exhibition - a wholly-immersive replica of the circles of Hell as depicted in Dante's Inferno. Displayed across light as a giant projection, Foster's work was a breathtaking installation that rather than using tricks of light and computer graphics was entirely crafted from natural movements of liquid and light, reflected by a thirty foot long pool. Dazed speak to the artist about what inspired his piece, his past work and what's to come...

DD: What particular themes do your film installations focus on?
Doug Foster: The way that people behave when faced with serious challenges. The cyclical rhythms of nature that dominate our lives. Bilateral symmetry and its innate visual appeal. These are some of the themes that I have begun to explore in creating the few artworks that I have made so far. I would like to think that these works offer some tiny insights into the human condition, but that's for others to judge.

DD: Where did the fascination with the human visual system come from?
Doug Foster: As a child I learned that our eyes have lenses, just like cameras, so the images on our retinas are upside down. That's when I began to realise just how simple our eyeballs are and how hard our brains have to work to assemble a visual model of the world that we can trust. This reliance on visual cortex guesswork is the reason why we are so susceptible to optical illusions and sleight of hand trickery.

For the last ten years I have studied stereoscopic vision in order to create a convincing sense of human presence within some of my artworks. I feel that I need to know how human vision works if I expect to make compelling visual art.

DD: How do you plan on utilising technological developments like HD for your works?
Doug Foster: All my film and video works are presented in high-definition. I'm obsessive about high image quality because I feel that it helps to remove a barrier between the work and the audience. I'm lucky to be working with a medium that is constantly improving in quality, but that relentless technological progress also means that I have to future-proof my work as far as I can.

The recent flurry of 3D feature film production has spawned some useful stereoscopic tools which I hope to take advantage of, but I'll be sidestepping the lower quality technologies such as '2D to 3D conversion' and 'glasses free 3D' which are not yet developed enough to be useful.

DD: One of your pieces was exhibited in the Hell's Half Acre show, can you tell us about how it was made? How long does the projection loop?
Doug Foster: Many viewers assumed that the nebulous, fiery eruptions seen in The Heretics' Gate must have been made with computer graphics, but they were actually created 'in camera' by manipulating liquids and light in a tank of water. The vertical mirroring and long mixes between shots were the only post-production processes used.

For the Hell's Half Acre show the film was projected onto a large screen set into one of the crumbling brick arches that hold up The Old Vic Tunnels. A thirty foot long pool of water at the base of the screen, mirrored the imagery yet again to produce a fourfold kaleidoscope of ethereal clouds and demonic faces. The ten minute loop is joined seamlessly so that a viewer can enter the installation space at any point and follow the cyclical arc of the film for as long as that they like.

DD: What are you working on now?
Doug Foster: I have a solo show at the Lazarides Gallery in Rathbone Place, which will open on the 21st of January. So, at the moment, I'm busy building an interrogation chair for that!

Doug Foster: In the Naughty Chair at Lazarides Gallery from 21 January to 19 February, 11 Rathbone Place, London, W1T 1HR

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