Video & Filmmaking

Beyond the Single Video Screen: Richard Barnes’s Multi-Channel Video Exhibition

December 21, 2015

By Conor Risch

Screens are everywhere. In public, we’re surrounded by them—they’re hung on store and gallery walls; they’re mounted to the tops of taxis; they’re in people’s hands. They’re common, in other words, unremarkable. For some artists, they’re even limiting. Many storytellers are thinking beyond the single screen, creating immersive commercial and art installations that demand the attention of viewers. To learn more about the creative and technical considerations that go into developing multi-screen installations, PDN recently spoke with Mirada, a Los Angeles-based production studio, and with artist Richard Barnes, who created multi-channel videos for a project about undocumented migrants.


Fine-art photographer Richard Barnes created his first multi-channel video installations for a collaborative project that considers the journeys that undocumented migrants make and highlights the detritus they leave in the desert as they approach the United States border. Barnes teamed up for the project, “State of Exception,” with anthropologist Jason De León, who leads the Undocumented Migration Project at the University of Michigan, and artist and curator Amanda Krugliak.

De León and a team of archeologists have been collecting items migrants discard at the border. “Basically they carry on their backs [in backpacks] their possessions and a change of clothes,” Barnes explains. “Once they get to the border, they want to blend in and not look like they’ve been walking through the desert for five days so they change their clothes and they leave all of this detritus.”

In 2012, Barnes accompanied De León and his team to the border in Arizona and made still photographs and did interviews. Barnes was also interested in doing video work, but had minimal experience at that point, so he also invited a former student, Yoni Kline, to come and help him.

Working with a video editor, Shared Patel, Barnes produced a three-channel video piece that is projected onto the floor and gives the viewer the sensation of walking through the field of debris found along the border; and a two-channel piece that shows two views of a vehicle driving along the border. The right frame looks at the fence, while the left looks out the front window of the vehicle as it travels along the border in the pouring rain.

The exhibition, which Barnes and Krugliak have installed in different art spaces on four different occasions, also includes still photographs, lightboxes with portraits of migrants, and a full wall of backpacks discarded by migrants.

Barnes initially intended for the video of the debris field to be a single channel. His editor suggested they split the piece into three channels, and have each one “walk” in a different direction. “It’s disorienting when you’re in there, as it would be for someone who’s been walking for five days,” Barnes says.

The immersive experience Barnes and Krugliak created through the videos and other elements “is a lot less passive,” Barnes says. “I think that two-dimensional photography shows are just fine. I’ve done many of them and will continue to do them, but there is something about the engagement that the viewer has” with this installation that is unique.

Barnes also feels the immersive experience of the installation appeals to museums and curators, and it is part of the reason the show has traveled to four venues. “We live in an age when it’s just so speeded up now, whether you want to avoid it or not, you can’t…. That’s what curators are responding to.”

Through the process of working on the video pieces, Barnes learned “a lot” he says, and one of the lessons was about “being open to possibilities and being able to throw things away, too.” It’s important to let go of ideas that aren’t working, even if you spent a lot of time or money on them, Barnes says. “I think it’s really important to know when something isn’t working.”

In making art, “I’ve always wanted to get it off the walls and become less two-dimensional,” Barnes adds. “As much as I love photography, I felt like this is a way to expand the repertoire, it’s another medium, it’s something else I want to challenge myself with, so I learned a tremendous amount.”

Related: Beyond the Single Video Screen: Mirada’s Immersive Storytelling for IBM

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