Longlist Profile – Heinrich and Palmer

By Carla Rapoport August 27, 2019

Film just isn’t what it used to be and Lumen’s Moving Image artists prove that each year with their incredible, innovative videos. Many of the works in this category are created by collectives, and some of these have been working together for years. 2019 Longlisted artists Heinrich & Palmer, who have worked together since the early 1990s, are an excellent example of how years of collaboration pays off when it comes to inspiration and execution.

The British pair, Anna Heinrich and Leon Palmer,  work with a range of tools, including digital media, photography, projection, light and optics. They frequently juxtapose ephemeral media with physical materials and structures to draw out stories or suggest alternative or ambiguous meanings.

Their early work such as Fountainhead (1994), Fastbuild (1996) and Float (1996) used light and large scale architectural projection mapping techniques to explore and deconstruct the illusion and symbolism of the architectural façade.

They have recently returned to this exploration of architecture. Floe, a large scale projection and soundscape event commissioned by Hull UK City of Culture 2017 for the iconic submarium, The Deep, investigated the nature and vision behind the building’s design and the activities within.

In 2016 they started working with 3D laser scanning technology, using projections of animated point cloud data augmented with architectural lighting and sound to create large-scale immersive environments. Their Lumen work, Ship of Gods, was inspired by the Norse myth of Skidbladnir, a magical shape-shifting vessel large enough to carry the gods and their equipment which could then be folded up to fit inside a pocket. Heinrich and Palmer connect this story with the landscapes of Norway and Hull’s maritime history, re-imagining Skidbladnir through the forms of the trawler, the Arctic Corsair, the Spurn Lightship and models found within Hull Maritime Museum and Hull and East Riding Museum.

Commissioned as part of Urban Legends: Northern Lights, produced by Absolutely Cultured in 2018 and projected at large scale within Hull Minster onto a theatrical voile screen, the structures of the Ship of the Gods were augmented with the illuminated architecture of the Minster’s interior as the viewer could see through the screen to the spaces beyond.

Early Days: An Old Whisky Warehouse

This grandeur and immense vision connects all the way back to their beginnings in the world of art. The pair met in art college in Cardiff and started working together in the early ’90s when they put on an exhibition together in a dark cavernous space in the basement of an old whisky warehouse in Newcastle upon Tyne. The space was without natural light so illumination was an integral element to the work they made and showed, hence the title of the exhibition,”in the absence of light”. After this ,they started collaborating and applying for commissions together and their artistic partnership has evolved ever since.

I asked them how the partnership works and they replied:  “If one of us has an idea, we bounce it off the other, which creates an evolving filter that focuses the ideas into projects and new artworks.”

As to why they gravitated to using technology, they said it began as a fascination with light and projection and the ability to make shape-shifting immersive installations involving the “push and pull of virtual illusory spaces, augmented with real objects and sites.”

A residency at London Electronic Arts in 1996, led by the artist Simon Biggs, gave them an insight into programming and interactivity.  A year later they undertook a residency at the Gallery of the Future, Loughborough University, where they collaborated with staff from the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department to make 4 Rooms.  This was an interactive room created from back projected digital imagery of the space whose perspective altered and was generated in real-time according to the viewer’s position.

From there, they moved on to such technologies as thermography, Lidar and CT scanning, high-speed film and time-lapse. “We were, and still are, chasing after this poetic and poignant relationship between appearance and reality, and discovering that the virtual world can reveal so many layers of illusion in the ‘real’ world.  We share an interest in revealing the extraordinary nature of the seemingly mundane or familiar, and were attracted to using technology because it can help cast an extraordinary light on the world,” they say.

Inspirations & Heroes

I asked if they had any heroes and they said heroes would tend to be people who have persisted in the face of populist opposition, bigotry and ignorance. This is a reflection of their family backgrounds, they believe, as Anna is half German, Leon is half Armenian and both their families have been caught up in turbulent and ambiguous histories.

“Artistically, when we started out, we were interested in work by artists such as Hans Haacke, Joseph Beuys and Rebecca Horn, but also the qualities and depths found in work by artists such as Vermeer, Rembrandt and Piranesi. The burgeoning installation art scene, particularly in the ’90s, involving radical and sometimes theatrical juxtapositions of art, architecture, technology, projection and lighting often at startling scales really excited us,” they add.

I was intrigued to discover that  their collaboration is not exclusive. “We have collaborated in the past with programmers and engineers in order to make work that we would not be able to achieve with just our own skill set. There is a balance here; for instance our use of point cloud data hasn’t extended to actually using a Lidar scanner ourselves, but working with various companies to undertake the scans and provide the resulting data. We feel that our work begins with what we do with the data and how we shape it and present it,” they explain. “Keeping up with tech advances has become important in this example in terms of finding and learning new software to extract the kind of image sequences we are hunting for; we know what they are when we find them, but it is not always initially obvious!”

For a glimpse of their longlisted work, click on the link below.


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