Studio McGuire on bringing beautiful moving artworks to the fine-dining table

Davy and Kristen McGuire’s hallucinatory projection-mapped worlds helped bring Howl’s Moving Castle to the stage – but their latest project is a lot more intimate.

A decade ago, we featured a delicate, wonderful projection-mapped artwork called The Icebook. Created by husband-and-wife creative team Davy and Kristen McGuire – aka Studio McGuire – the work was an A3 papercut pop-up book where a fairy story featuring filmed characters unfolds across its page from a hidden projectors.

From there, its creators have since gone on to projects both small and larger scale, including at full theatre size for a highly praised, sold-out stage production of Howl’s Moving Castle. But Davy and Kristen’s latest work is possibly their most intimate, as it's projected onto the table in front of you and objects around you as you eat in a pop-up restaurant in west London.

The Banquet of Hoshena was conceived and has been produced by Nadine Beshir, who works with artists to create immersive dining experiences that tell stories over courses – including Davy and Kristin for this project.

I caught up with Davy and Kristin over email, who answered as one, to find out how the project was conceived and created – and how their work has developed over those 10 years.

Neil Bennett: Many of your projects – such as The Banquet of Hoshena – are intimate, designed for small audiences. How does that affect both the stories you want to tell and the way that you tell them?

Davy & Kristin McGuire: "Smaller audiences and more intimate projects allow us to cater to a spectator on more of a personal level. The audience is often closer to the work which allows us to incorporate much more detail into the projections themselves.

"In The Banquet of Hoshena there are talking plates. Each audience member sits down in front of a different plate, which is a different character in the story. I guess it gives more of an opportunity for more unique experiences.

"Also, because we love creating detailed work, it just lends itself to smaller audiences.

"We do create bigger pieces as well – but they also tend to have a lot of detail in them, which makes them quite intimate again in return: for example, our installation Micropolis [a room-sized city created for Hull's celebration of being UK City of Culture in 2017]."

NB: What’s the concept and narrative behind The Banquet of Hoshena?

D&KM: "The piece combines fine dining, theatre and projection art to create the ultimate feel-good and taste-good experience. It’s like a delicious pantomime with talking plates, flying fairies and a hyper-saturated world hidden underneath a table cloth.

"The concept and the narrative both came from Nadine Beshir, who wanted to build on her previous immersive dining experiences. She wanted to develop an engaging and possibly thought-provoking narrative, and she wanted the diners to become part of the story.

"So we suggested to work with a writer to write a theatrical script, and with a composer to write a cinematic score specific to the visuals we created. Nadine then added magic props in order to make the diners interact with the piece.

"The narrative is about saving a lost kingdom in which the diners become protagonists. All they have to do is follow the instructions of their host, the Queen of Hoshena, who urges them to eat and drink and enjoy each others’ company whilst considering a few ideas to reinstate the kingdom’s lost harmony."

NB: How does this manifest itself to the diner? What was the aesthetic you wanted to achieve and feelings you wanted to convey?

D&KM: "Nadine kept reminding us that the experience needs to be fun and beautiful, but not too computer-generated and we thought that we should just roll with that. So the aesthetic is hyper-saturated, super-fun and surreal, but all produced without much CGI.

"The characters are all filmed in front of green screens and the imagery is mostly created from photorealistic content."

NB: Could you give us a taste of the creative process that got you from the concept and narrative to the final visuals?

D&KM: "The characters in the story are all played and spoken by the two of us. Kristin is the Queen of Hoshena and she also plays all the flying fairies, whereas Davy plays the King of Hoshena and the talking plates.

"For both the Queen’s face – which appears projected onto a mannequin bust – and the talking plates, we filmed our faces with action cameras strapped to our heads and playing the characters to the camera.

"And for the King and the fairies we had a lot of fun with costumes and masks in front of a green screen. All of that footage then gets cut up and rearranged in hundreds of layers in After Effects."

NB: Is this the first time that you’ve worked on a project that combines taste and smell with projection and props?

D&KM: "Yes, and it’s been super interesting because we could apply all our theatrical knowledge to something that wasn’t strictly theatre.

"It’s quite rewarding to work like that. The reactions from people are just priceless.

"This was obviously a collaboration with Nadine and she had all the gastronomical knowledge, from choosing the right food to knowing how much time diners need to eat.

"There are themes in this piece that guide the choice of music, food, colours, acting and those themes bring all those elements together to create an immersive, coherent piece."

NB: How has your work and the practice that underpins it developed since The Icebook in 2009?

D&KM: "People think we are creative shapeshifters. We haven’t done any papercraft for a few years now – which doesn’t mean we won’t return to it one day – so our work develops in all sorts of directions all the time.

"The main red through-line [in our work] is some form of projection or video mapping, but the canvas and the challenges that come with it change all the time."

NB: Have there been technological developments over the past decade – or more recently – that have enabled you to produce work that wasn’t possible before?

D&KM: "I guess that processing power is always increasing, projectors are getting better and cheaper and cameras are ever increasing their quality – which is great. The next advancements that we are looking into going forward are mixed reality and augmented reality, so please watch this space for exciting projects to come."

NB:  What’s next?

D&KM: "We’ve started work on a holographic jukebox which will hopefully be revealed at the end of summer. The idea is that instead of hearing a song when you push a button on our jukebox you’ll see the artist perform for you inside the box.

"[Then] subject to confirmation, we’ll be bringing an incredible mansion house to life over Christmas – and mixed reality is on the cards for the next experiments and explorations."

The Banquet of Hoshena is in Westfield Shepherd's Bush in London from today until August. Prices start at £85 per head and can be booked here. The Icebook can be seen at the Merseyside River Festival in Liverpool from 
May 31 to June 2.

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