Mike Martin is the creator of Olga, the world’s first ready-to-use video mapping structure kit. How was his collaboration with HeavyM born? What was his creation process to make Olga a perfect surface for video mapping? We caught up with its creator.
Being interested in video mapping requires loving sounds, images and their relationship with the stage. How did you get into that field?
Mike: I was born in the 80s and grew up during the same era as rave culture. It went big at the same time as electronic music–this was impossible to miss! That’s also the time when people started thinking more about decorating for events, with a focus on video mapping. I remember this time when I was 18 and we drove for almost 1,000 km with my friends to attend a massive festival happening on the beach near the Spanish border and which gathered over 50,000 people. From then on, I’ve been spending a lot of time attending festivals and being in charge of stage design.
And then? Has stage design always been part of your life?
M: I didn’t really wake up one morning thinking: “Oh, I’m just going to become a stage designer!” I’ve always been interested in space and thought it could be cool to arrange it, change it and recreate it so it would fit my tastes. It’s pretty much the same process as building tree houses as a kid!
I did stage design for the first time around 2006 during Hivernautes, a festival that takes place in Quimper, in the Bretagne region of France. I didn’t want to do something lame with just two trestles and a plank.
In the end, I went a bit overboard while decorating the booth. It even had a little path in the middle so people could walk around. This was my first DIY experience in stage design.
How did you get the idea to use triangular shapes as projection surfaces? Do you dream of geometrical shapes?
M: Haha! It’s a sort of running gag among my friends who say I invented the triangle, but that’s not true! (he laughs). Actually, the installation I made for this festival in Quimper was made out of Akylux, a material which is primarily used to make signs for construction sites.
I decided to use it for stage design and it’s become my base material.
The problem was only that, every time I was doing stage design, I would just improvise using Akylux and everything would land in the trash after the event.
During this time, I was also living in a small apartment in Paris and didn’t have a workspace. Therefore, I had to think of something if I wanted to keep doing such work, I had to come up with something. That’s how I thought of cutting out triangles that would have the same size. My idea was to use the same material for the next installation. I’m actually a product designer originally, and in this case, the design was influenced by constraints.
So that’s how Olga was born?
M: Oh no, not yet! At this time, I was working on large scale stage design for a lot of festivals. On time, I was working during Vision’R, a VJing festival where mapping played a significant role. I saw these young guys who told me they were working on their own software and started chatting me up because they liked my design. I remember Etienne told me “It’d be great to collab’ to create a smaller scale installation that would fit smaller spaces”.
I had actually also thought of creating objects that the general public could use. We wanted to create something that was aesthetically-pleasing and self-sufficient, even when the projector isn’t turned on. For HeavyM, it was crucial to have an object which could be used in public spaces and that was easy to install. We wanted something that was light, fireproof, compact and modular–these were the idea behind Olga.
Artwork, stage design, design… What is Olga to you?
M: Art has a unique character, whereas design is the opposite: it’s all about series. Therefore, Olga is a decoration object which can also be used for stage design. I still don’t think of myself as a design though, because I don’t produce enough series. I don’t like labels much: I wouldn’t say I’m an artist or a designer. I just like fiddling.
Did you ever imagine that so many copies of Olga would be sold throughout the world?
M: Not at all! The first Olga came out of the factory in December 2015 and the Kickstarter campaign that had started 6 months prior to that really helped introduce it on a larger scale. It’s been insane–a crazy surprise!
When the founders of HeavyM launched their campaign, Olga was still a prototype. After 36h, they had already reached their funding goal and more than 100 copies of Olga had been pre-ordered. Every morning, I’d check the campaign to see how it was going. At the end, I had 300 copies to produce!
It was quite crazy for me to think my product was going to be delivered across the Atlantic Ocean! We sold some to Japan, Australia, New Caledonia, Houston…
It was “Olga all over the world” and it went way beyond my own network.
Is that what you liked about this project?
M: Yes, definitely! I liked popularising this concept and making mapping accessible to amateur artists. What I love is seeing videos of installations I would never have thought of myself. People use Olga in their own way, with shapes I would never have made but that I find great.
In Houston, this agency ordered a kit and thought it was so great that they ordered 18 more straight away. They made an installation using 19 kits!
By the way, where does the name come from?
M: Every time I have to find a name for a creation, I look at Russian Constructivists, a movement from the 20s which focuses on simplicity. Olga Rozanova is an artist from that movement.
I really enjoy graphic design from Eastern European countries. That’s where I find inspiration. German design, Russian painting, that’s what I love. These are my references. Dark, raw stuff, I like that.
Büro23 ft. HeavyM will keep going in 2017, then?
M: Of course! We have a lot more stage designs projects in mind. I can’t say much for now but we are thinking of quite a lot of new shapes with kits in various sizes. And I’m also working on personal projects with Büro23, for example a very special composter…