Art installation in West Tisbury distills thousands of photos


The original unshortened name for movies – moving pictures – could be resurrected to describe a film/art installation that had its debut screening two weeks ago at the Grange Hall in West Tisbury. Valerie Sonnenthal’s 30-minute visual experience set to original music was the focus of an evening that she referred to as a “trilogy of trilogies.” As a small crowd arrived, a trio of woman sat at the corner of the Grange Hall stage and sang softly while three dancers staged an unchoreographed improv performance. The theme of threes was planned to coordinate with Ms. Sonnenthal’s trisected (split screen) visual piece, which was followed by three very short films by Richard Skidmore.

Ms. Sonnenthal’s “Visual Diary Project” is made up of rapidly changing images presented as a triptych. The screen is divided into three sections, each featuring a barrage of rapidly changing photographic images creating the illusion of movement. Using simple digital applications on a laptop computer, a kaleidoscopic effect was achieved. Images – primarily faces – divide, then condense and absorb other images, morphing themselves into a variety of fascinating animation-like visuals.

In 2005 Ms. Sonnenthal’s then seven-year-old son showed her how to use the photobooth and mirror effects on a Sony Vaio and his mother, an artist , poet, writer and publisher of Avalon magazine, was entranced. “My life was falling apart at the time and this was the one safe place to play. It was like you were a magician.” she says

The photographs – 40,000 in all — were completed over the course of a full year in 2005 and 2006. With the aid of an NYU intern, Ms. Sonnenthal spent the next year constructing the series of images into a non-stop sequence, which gives the illusion of kaleidoscopic movement. Begun as a sort of therapy for its creator, it has turned into a very personal and very powerful visual statement.

Ms. Sonnenthal sent the piece to a friend, composer Sergio Cervetti, whose music has been performed by the New York City Opera and featured in Oliver Stone’s “Natural Born Killers,” Oliver Stone’s film. “I was mesmerized by it,” he said. “I got high watching it. I had to spend three months not doing anything else.”

Although Mr. Cervetti composed a score for the entire piece, Ms. Sonnenthal eventually made the decision to transform the material into a half hour triptych. “I never saw it as a film but more as an art installation,” she said.

This month’s screening was the debut of the “Visual Diary Project” and the small audience was mesmerized both by the innovative visuals and the haunting, powerful score. A summer encore is in the works.