Rockheim and Ringve /
National Music Museum of Norway

Meta.Morf 2024, April 21 – September 1

Lynn Goldsmith

Meta.Morf 2024 – [up]Loaded Bodies / Rockheim / April 21 – September 1 /
Curators:  Morten Haugdahl, Sigmund Vegge 

Smile (1983) / Will PowersLynn Goldsmith in the 80’s

The music videos “Smile” and “Adventures in Success” with the artist Will Powers were released in 1983 and were among the very first music videos to feature 3D-animated human bodies, appearing revolutionary for its time. Will Powers was a music project where the American photographer Lynn Goldsmith, with the support of Chris Blackwell and Island Records, enlisted the help of several prominent artists of the time. Through Will Powers, Goldsmith explored the self-help trends, technology, and questions of image and authenticity typical of the era. Will Powers’ visual legacy has been included in various art galleries and museum exhibitions. The videos, with its blend of digitally animated and real human bodies, also resulted from collaboration with the emerging breakdance scene of the time, resulting in an innovative and futuristic expression, characteristic of its era. 

While Lynn Goldsmith is credited as the sole producer of the music videos under the Will Powers project, it is not controversial to acknowledge that the innovative digital animation and direction can also be attributed to the digital artist Rebecca Allen. According to Allen, she had full artistic freedom and creative control in her attempts to combine live-action film and digital animation using tools that were still in the experimental phase: “At this stage there was no existing software, which would create the animated graphics, particularly the moving hands and faces. All this had to be built, coded, from scratch.” The videos played a role in securing Allen a job with electronic music group Kraftwerk, with whom she later created “the uploaded bodies” and what would become the bands famous avatars for the video “Music non-stop” in 1986. 

In the summer of 2023, Rockheim – The National Museum of Popular Music, opened a photo exhibition featuring Lynn Goldsmith. Goldsmith is widely regarded as one of the most prominent photographers in the field of pop and rock, responsible for iconic album covers for musicians such as Frank Zappa and Patti Smith. For this exhibition, however, we chose to only showcase photographs from the music scene of the 1980s. The 1980s marked a significant change in popular music with the rise of music videos, artists as fashion icons, and the breaking of musical boundaries through technological advancements. In curating the photographs, we were also fascinated by her musical alter-ego, Will Powers, from the same decade. This aspect of Goldsmith’s work also contributed to the exhibition’s title, referencing both the music video “Smile” and her work as a photographer and engagement with her models.

How to present Lynn Goldsmith’s career as a photographer in combination with her ground-breaking artistic work as Will Powers? Rockheim, as a museum, aims to be a technological spearhead in the museum world that conveys popular music and popular culture in engaging and including ways through innovative interactive solutions. The museum’s fundamental approach aligns with the ongoing discourse about the “New Museum,” which emphasizes the need for museums to invite dialogue and audience engagement with the exhibited material. With this approach the stories of the visitors are an essential part of the storytelling. This infers that the technological solutions should generate participation and activity among the audience, engaging all senses when encountering the exhibits.

In “Smile,” efforts were made to create participation within the context of the exhibition’s main themes: the 1980s, music videos, and the Will Powers project. In 1983, the ground-breaking MTV television channel was in its early stages, and music videos were crucial for the pop industry of the decade, particularly with their playfulness, formal experiments, and use of new technology. To convey these aspects, we chose to incorporate three elements from the Will Powers project: the original music video/sound, a physical recreation of digital elements from the video, and interactive body tracking allowing the audience to “participate” in the video.

The videos of Will Powers are characterized, among other things, by the artist’s head being computer-generated in 3D, resembling a stylized facial mask. We wanted to recreate this impression physically and tactilely, and in 2023, this could obviously be achieved with the help of 3D printers. The 3D head from the video was hand-drawn and then printed as a smaller prototype. The prototype served as the basis for the final installation, consisting of a one-meter-tall “living”, smiling head, greeting all visitors at the exhibition entrance. The head was illuminated after consultation with lighting designer Pekka Stokke and techno-wiz sound designer Øystein Fjeldbo, who, through light and animation, brought the head to “life.” 

Another characteristic visual component of the “Smile” video was several digitally and graphically stylized dancing avatars. Inside the exhibition, visitors can “become” the avatars from the original music video. In contrast to the work on the original video in 1983, there is affordable technology readily available to achieve this. Expertise was sought from the gaming world, represented by the small Trondheim-based company Studio Gauntlet. Using Kinect technology, avatars of the visitors are projected onto the wall. The avatars bear a striking resemblance to the same 3D figures seen dancing in the “Smile” video. The physical body of the spectator thus becomes part of the exhibition, creating a natural space for activity and dance in an otherwise static photo exhibition.

Mathias Østrem & Morten Haugdahl, 2024

The exhibition’s technology development: Arve Guldbrandsen (IT manager)
Project Manager: Sigmund Vegge

Lynn Goldsmith (US) b. 1948, is a recording artist, film director, celebrity portrait photographer, and rock and roll photographer. She has also made fine art photography with conceptual images and with her painting. Books of her work have been published by Taschen, Rizzoli, and Abrams. In 1985, she received a World Press Photo award. She has been active in the music business and as a photographer since the 1960s. In the 1980s, she wrote songs and performed as Will Powers.




Header graphics: Videostill from “SMILE” by Will Powers. Portrait photo: Sid Schneider