The Gorgeous Tics And Errors Of Laser Scanning Gone Wrong

Matthew Shaw and William Trossell, the London-based duo known as ScanLAB Projects, continue to push the envelope of laser-scanning technology, producing visually stunning and conceptually intricate work that falls somewhere between art and practical surveying.

Their work also often has an unexpected political dimension, as they have scanned concentration camp sites, designed insurgent objects for thwarting police laser scanners, and even point-mapped melting ice floes in the Arctic as part of a larger study of climate change. The results are astonishingly, almost hypnotically detailed, as in this cinematic fly-through of an outdoor festival, passing through tent walls and very nearly revealing individual expressions on participants’ faces.

Last week, Shaw and Trossell premiered a new project at London’s Surface Gallery, exploring where laser scanners glitch, skip, artifact, and scatter. Called Noise: Error in the Void, the show utilizes scanning data taken from two locations in Berlin, but — as the show’s title implies — it actually foregrounds all the errors, where the equipment went wrong: a world of “mistaken measurements, confused surfaces and misplaced three-dimensional reflections.”

The tics and hiccups of a scanner gone off the mark thus result in these oddly beautiful, almost Romantic depictions of the world, like some lunatic, lo-fi cosmology filtered through machines.

Frozen datascapes appear like digital mist settling down over empty fields — or perhaps they’re parking lots — like some virtual Antarctica appearing in the middle of the city.

Huge domes of white light burn like spherical halos above a central point that remains both mysterious and unidentified, resembling nuclear explosions or the birth of stars.

And spectacular bursts of colour suggest the presence of some new stratosphere, where black aeroplanes roam the edge of space and the clouds are nothing but processing errors in a blurred celestial rendering. Perhaps we could call it expressionist scanning.

In Shaw’s and Trossell’s own words, “Using terrestrial LIDAR technology it is now possible to capture the world in three dimensions. This technology can create near perfect digital 3D replicas of buildings, landscapes, objects and events. But these digital replicas are always an illusion of perfection. NOISE: ERROR IN THE VOID explores the inherent mistakes made by modern technologies of vision. Here we see the unedited view of the world as seen through the eyes of the LIDAR machine. Reality is shrouded in a cloud of mistaken measurements, confused surfaces and misplaced three-dimensional reflections.”

A short film — more like a dark ambient music video — shows some of the images in action.

In all honesty, many of the images are coloured in a way that looks more like a Pink Floyd laser show than the almost melancholy landscapes I like so much above, and I even made a few of these greyscale to see if, stripped of colour, they’d still repeat the lonely, wanderer-above-a-sea-of-fog feeling that the other images have; but then thought I shouldn’t mess with ScanLAB’s work and I left them as is.

But, even here, blinded in the colours of a rave, throbbing architectural shapes rotate and spin, as if parts of London are stuttering and out of sync with themselves, a whole city rumbling through a shockwave of digital reverb, gyroscopically out of control.

In any case, check out the exhibition at Surface Gallery — and, even better, if you’re an architecture student, you can actually take a class with these guys. Check out their teaching work here. [Surface Gallery, ScanLAB Projects]