Mesocosm (Times Square, NY)

Software-driven animation. 73-hour year-long cycle (never repeats).
Triptych. Color, animation, sound
Format: Flash player/projector on (intel) MacPro with 3 monitors / projections
Dimensions variable

Animators: Marina Zurkow, Sarah Rothberg
Software Developer: Sam Brenner
Sound: Lem Jay Ignacio and Marina Zurkow
Add'l Software: Yotam Mann
Commissioned by The Museum of Biblical Art, New York

Mesocosm (Times Square, NY) is an algorithmic work that represents the passage of time in a speculative, hybrid Times Square. 12 minutes of real world time elapse in each minute of screen time, one year lasts 73 hours. No cycle is identical to the last, as the appearance and behavior of the human and non-human characters, as well as changes in the weather, are determined by a code using a simple probability equation: seasons unfold, days pass, moons rise and set, while animals, people, and weather come and go.
Presented as a triptych on three screens, Mesocosm (Times Square, NY) loosely corresponds to the spatiotemporal organization of Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights. The world is divided into three connected but discrete stages: Eden before The Fall, a crowded but pleasurable Present, and Hell. Zurkow's composition treats place as part past, present and future. A hybrid Times Square landscape is drawn from images gathered from Google Street View, present-day architecture, and allusions to geographic terrain prior to the city’s development- such as rolling meadows flanked by mixed forest, and a stream that runs where 42nd Street now lies. Populating the left screen are animals that thrived in Manahattan pre-European contact. Manahatta, as it was called, was by all research and accounts an ecological “paradise.” The movements of the wild animals in the left flow toward the middle screen, in which they appear no longer wild, but have been replaced by today's domesticated animals, represented by chickens, pigs, horses, goats and civilized people (naked joggers). The right screen is a future absent even of domesticity, and contains an assortment of “deities” and avatars – candy and marketing, drones and excess, plush mascots plucked from the streets of Times Square, Elmos, Hello Kitties and M & M avatars, strange performative humans, and rats, roaches and pigeons–our opportunistic companions– that assemble and parade as a novel urban environment.
Mesocosm (Times Square, NY) deliberately blurs the distinctions between these states of time and ecologies. One is not entirely sure where the past ends and the future begins, and this landscape, with its always-on scan line billboards and half-buried working traffic lights, mixes uncomfortably with its animal inhabitants. There is an implied morality in the notion of Eden—not because proto-perfect humans fell as a result of attaining forbidden knowledge—but because Eden itself is an inaccessible and nostalgic past to which we can never return. In the 18th century, the New World was marketed to investors and pioneers in Europe as “Eden,” promising vast capital, access, and freedom in the form of limitless resources. As we appear in the 21st century on the precipice of realization about the “limits to growth,” Times Square performs as a dystopic and dynamic present-day Eden, whose resources and capital are visited by throngs of “pilgrims” in a quest to partake in the abstracted, virtual, dazzling and unattainable flows of desire and wealth.
This is not a moral world. It is a world that attempts to track the stories we might tell ourselves about our past and our future. It is a world filled with Deus Ex Machina types, equipped with their own magic bridges and stepping stones, means of locomotion, a world of “business as usual” magical thinking.
Commissioned by The Museum of Biblical Art for a group exhibition, Back to Eden (curated by Jennifer Scanlan)
Mesocosm’s figures suggest an open, even infinite, set of beings and phenomena, unconstrained by taxonomic limits…Though the relaxed rhythms and spacious temporality of Mesocosm make it seem, on the surface, anything but explosive, its rendition of the human umwelt is founded on a sense of species life as volatile, capricious, random, and unpredictable. An expanded view of what constitutes ‘nature’ is revealed in this staging of the endless communicative events and interactions that shape the experience of human and other animals.”
(Adapted from a text by Una Chaudhuri).
Mesocosm constitutes an ongoing series of animated landscapes that develop and change over time in response to algorithmic rules. The title Mesocosm is drawn from the field of environmental science and refers to experimental, simulated ecosystems that “allow for manipulation of the physical environment… [for] organismal, community, and ecological research.” (1)
Mesocosm’s animated landscapes portray specific places populated by real and fantastic animals, people, plants and weather. The works are drawn by hand, frame-by-frame, yet their choreographies are dynamic—not looped or canned—dictated by constraints in real-time. Each work is long in duration and recombines perpetually as inputs determine order, density, and interrelationships. They have no beginning or end. Because change happens slowly, but can produce radical results over time, the works are intended to be seen in public places where people gather or pass through frequently, or lived with like a painting—in living rooms and meeting spaces.

1. Kansas State University, Division of Biology, Rainfall Manipulations Plots description