Life+Turn: The Work of R James Healy

Life+Turn: The Work of R James Healy

by Stephanie Burke


M16 Zoetrope Stand Development

For their inaugural Artist in Residence, What It Is of Oak Park (operated by Tom Burtonwood and Holly Holmes) invited London based artist R James Healy to live, work, and exhibit in the space. For the past couple months Healy, primarily a digital 3D artist, has been working on prototyping and construction of an analog zoetrope.

Clark: Herr Barr from R James Healy on Vimeo.

Healy is probably most well known for an animated video he did to
accompany Chris Clark’s track Herr Barr. The video, which was the
overall winner of the Radar Festival in 2007, features an animated cast
of birds-cum-hands swirling and maneuvering an a way akin to flocking
European Starlings. In the act of swooping and rushing, the flock
sculpts and animates a human form. The video can be puzzling at first,
leaving viewers wondering what exactly happened to their internet
connection that caused the image to pixilated so horribly, until it
dawns on the viewer that the pixilation is part and parcel of the video
itself. The piece transcends simple music video tones and motifs,
existing easily as an artwork in and of itself. 

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Digital rendering of possible zoetrope interior structure

While in residence at What It Is, Healy has transitioned from the
virtual to physical world, maintaining a digital practice that manifests
as material objects. On his blog, Healy discusses the entire process of
creating his new zoetrope, from his inspiration based in the twists and
undulations of a flag, through digital prototyping, to actual maquettes
and models of the final piece.


Victorian-style zoetrope

Though it is assumed to have been invented by the Chinese as early as 180 BCE, the zoetrope (a Greek derived term meaning literally zoe life + trope turn) gained wide popularity during the Victorian era as a parlor amusement. Traditionally, zoescopes only move in one direction, with slots for viewing through the round board and an image simulating movement around the interior of the board. Healy’s zoetrope differs from most traditional pieces, in that it is motor driven, contains two parts moving in opposite directions, and uses 3D elements rather than 2D images for the subject of the zoetrope. The physical elements within the zoetrope were made using a rapid prototyping technique based on a digital design, while the structure is built from walnut. No image is furnished of the finished work, which will be on display at What It Is beginning this Saturday. A reception for Healy’s exhibition, M.16.2, will be held Saturday afternoon, May 28th, from 3-8pm, at What It Is, 1155 Lyman Ave. in Oak Park.

For more information visit:

What It Is
R James Healy

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