Multisensory Art

John Fillwalk
John Fillwalk

FillwalkStills from Fillwalk's digital work.
Stills from Fillwalk's digital work.

Painting with photos, sculpting with video, weaving with sound--these are the skills honed by the digital artist, whose innovative palette is wielded not by brush or knife, but primarily by computer mouse. John Fillwalk of Ball State's Department of Art is a trailblazer on the electronic art frontier who takes intermedia art a step further. He creates an experiential relationship between the artist and the viewing public, noting that the viewer's interaction "is essential to the completion of a work's meaning."

A prime example of this active creative relationship is Stand, a piece employing interactive media that can be manipulated by viewers. Created with Ball State composer Keith Kothman, director of the music technology program, the work premiered in 2004 in downtown Indianapolis to great acclaim.

"We created the work with the intention of literally and metaphorically interpreting the phenomenon of figures moving through a horizontal space," Fillwalk says. "Viewers interact via cameras and sensors connected through a computer interface. The movements of participants trigger changes in the video and sound, creating an individualized experience with the work."

Stand, which was seen by more than 2,400 people during its two-day installation, was a competitive commission awarded through the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art and also funded by Ball State University's Center for Media Design, where Fillwalk is artist-in-residence.

A recent video entitled Survey, supported by the Indiana Arts Commission, functions as an electronic, time-based painting that is projected onto a 4-by-16-foot canvas. It explores a theme common to Fillwalk's work through the years: the superimposition of the built environment upon the natural landscape. With music by Kothman, this seven-minute video, which features shifting sounds and landscapes, is intended to provide viewers with an immersive environment such as that achieved by Monet in his large-scale Water Lilies series.

Fillwalk also has collaborated with longtime mentor and internationally renowned intermedia artist Hans Breder and critic and poet Donald Kuspit in creating Final Wisdom I after bringing them to campus in 2004 as visiting artists. The result is a compelling evolution of color, voice, poetry, music, and shadows. In 2003 Fillwalk and Joseph Harchanko, from Ball State's music technology program, created Polis, a video displaying constantly evolving urban landscapes. Photographed primarily in Chicago, the work was presented using three projection screens and Harchanko's musical composition in digital surround sound.

Though his work has been exhibited and heralded in venues throughout the world, including Germany, France, Mexico, Italy, England, and Austria, Fillwalk is committed to cultivating a new generation of digital media artists at home. He has been instrumental in developing the new bachelor of fine arts degree emphasis in electronic art and animation at Ball State. The curriculum provides art majors with a comprehensive digital media arts experience exploring the intersections between art and technology--computer animation, high-definition video, intermedia, interactive art, and Internet-based projects.

Fillwalk also has advised an interdisciplinary team of students at Ball State in an immersion project called Asyntaxis. The work consists of four video screens that surround the viewer in a virtual reality environment. The system is designed to be interactive, using sophisticated infrared cameras to track viewers' motions.

The interdisciplinary and experimental nature of the Asyntaxis project has been continued in the Intermedia Projects Group, which is moderated by Fillwalk, funded by the Center for Media Design, and facilitated through Ball State's Virginia B. Ball Center for Creative Inquiry. The new group is beginning a project that explores "nanoart," creating sculptures and imagery at the nano level (that is, measured in billionths of a meter) in collaboration with the university's Center for Computational Nanoscience.

Fillwalk points with pride to the Asyntaxis Web site, noting that such avenues will help contribute to a broader understanding of intermedia art. In addition, he says, collaborations with new media artists and fellow Ball State faculty and students will help establish the new electronic art and animation emphasis as "a vibrant center for innovative artistic endeavor." Indeed, Fillwalk finds himself at the leading edge of the brave new world of digital art.