The Oregon Project | Tent Gallery

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Tent Gallery, Evolution House, 78 West Port, Edinburgh
Edinburgh College of Art
Running from April 8 to April 22
Open daily, 11am – 5pm, Except Thursdays 1pm – 7pm

One of the most impressive and exciting art installations in Edinburgh’s recent memory is currently on display at the Tent Gallery in the Edinburgh College of Art until April 22. The result of a collaboration between the artist, Keith Salmon, and Microsoft’s experimental technology centre, The Oregon Project is a new stage in creating truly accessible art. Salmon, himself visually impaired due to diabetic retinopathy, was put in touch with Microsoft’s Neel Joshi through a mutual friend and the results have been really extraordinary.

Salmon and the tech team took a journey into Oregon’s Hell’s Canyon region and captured the sounds and ambience of the area. This was combined with paintings Salmon made of the Cul Mor region in the far north west of Scotland. The images, from afar, seem to contain much detail. However, the closer one gets to each, the more it blurs and breaks apart into its constituents. This ties in perfectly with the technological element of the exhibition. Utilising the kinnect, Microsoft’s proprietary gaming motion detection software, the team have created a truly immersive audio-visual experience. Each image has been divided into six areas and each area has a sound composition attached. These compositions were created using audio recorded during the Oregon excursion. Different sounds play, with the assistance of the motion detection, depending on the distance which one stands from the image. This allows individuals with a visual impairment to enjoy the art and have a visceral and interesting experience with it.

Entering the exhibition space is initially confusing but quickly the idea behind the experiment becomes clear. While the prototype of the accessible art concept is slightly rough, with the space being obviously much smaller than desired, the exhibition itself is incredibly engaging and the concept carries it further then its setup.

The images themselves, including a selection of Salmon’s other works outside of the main exhibition, are excellent, with or without he addition of accessibility technology. Broad strokes and a varied palette make him the perfect artist for this collaboration. His landscapes pair incredibly well with the mix of ocean, bird and other animal sounds played through the motion sensing rig.

The annexed room with Salmon’s solo pieces

At the launch of the exhibition each member of the team was given the floor to discuss their role in the Oregon Project. The team consisted of audio-engineers, software-engineers, artists and accessibility researchers. All of these people came together and created something new, not completely related to any of their individual fields, something entirely original and creative. This captures the essence of collaboration and elevates the relatively simple exhibition into something higher. I intend to keep a close eye on the future of the project and hope to see it repeated again with even more ambition!

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