Code:ART festival brings interactive installations by local artists to Downtown Palo Alto

STORY BY NAINA SRIVASTAVA, PHOTOS BY EMILY YAO

Interactive displays scattered the streets of Downtown Palo Alto with ambient music and colorful lighting in Code:ART, an “interactive new media festival.”

The festival, which ran from Oct. 7–9 and consisted of seven displays, was hosted by the City of Palo Alto Public Art Program in an ongoing effort to reimagine public spaces through art and technology. 

PALEOALTO (MARPI STUDIO AND COLOUR FEEDERS)

“Paleoalto” was the the anchor of the festival. The piece, displayed in Lytton Plaza, is a collaboration between Marpi Studio (led by creative technologist and artist Marpi) and system designers and installers at Colour Feeders. The interactive installation transports visitors to the Paleolithic Era, filled with unconventional creatures which they can interact with and mesmerizing music.

“From a design perspective, it was kind of like a portal through a digital ruin back to Paleolithic times, which is why this is [named] ‘Paleoalto,’” said Kevin Colorado, architect and co-founder of Colour Feeders.“It’s an imagining of creatures that may have been here at the time.”

Colorado said the final product makes countless hours of planning and setup worthwhile. 

“The best part about it is that when I’m doing it for myself, it’s fun, not work … [and] seeing people’s reactions to it and knowing that the concept is actually understood by other people makes it all worth it,” Colorado said.

Especially with digital art being less mainstream than traditional mediums, Colorado praised the festival for allowing increased visibility for the emerging art medium. 

“I think that digital art is still a pretty nascent industry, and because of that public exposure is very limited,” Colorado said. “So I’m really thankful and impressed that Palo Alto invited us here. And it gives [an] opportunity for people to finally begin to take the medium seriously.”

COLOR CURRENTS (CORY BARR)

A projection of colorful ripples in Cory Barr’s  “COLOR CURRENTS” plays with the ideas of motion and color space. 

“Every dot that you see moves that way because someone has moved that way,” Barr said. “It remembers how people have come up and viewed it and moved around in front of it.”

The installation has two modes which alternate every seven minutes: one fluid and one static, although both share the same general idea.

Barr’s piece ties movement to the color wheel: when participants move to the right, it creates red, and when they move left, the complementary color of cyan is created. Up and down movements create yellow and green, respectively.

“It’s interesting seeing people use it in ways that they didn’t really think of. Some people will really like [the static] mode because they’ll try and be very conscientious about sculpting,” Barr said. “After a while they’ll be like ‘Oh, it’s remembering.’ … And [it’s interesting] when people understand they’re leaving behind their motion.”

This piece in particular only took Barr around a week to create, though it’s based on other similar projects which use the same camera-based interaction that he has been working on for several years. 

“Code offers a lot of possibilities,” Barr said. “Versus some traditional medium, it’s really good if you’re an artist who likes to use repetition and rhythm and things like that; it’ll set you up to explore some patterns and visual languages that you couldn’t with your hand.”

COSMIC CANNON (JEFFREY YIP)

Inspired by the natural world of geometry and spirituality, the pyramidal “COSMIC CANNON” by Jeffrey Yip allows visitors to collaborate through art and sound.

“I wanted to do a public intervention and essentially create a sense of play,” Yip said. “In public places, we often just get from point A to point B and there isn’t [much] play emphasized in our everyday lives.”

Creating a piece for visitors — ranging from friends to family to strangers — to interact with each other through sound was also a priority to Yip. 

“Each of the buttons do a different kind of fixed thing, so one does a bass, one does a sound effect and one does a melody,” Yip said. “If people are putting it together, it can create music.” 

“It was definitely a lot of trial and error; [I] learned a lot, made some mistakes [and] corrected them,” Yip said. “I still don’t have it at 100%. There are still things I want to tweak with it now that I have it up and see that it’s going.”

Still, displaying his installation at Code:ART has been a rewarding experience for Yip.

“[I love] just seeing people’s smiles and seeing the reactions on people’s faces and the kids — it’s been really nice to see them interact with it now,” Yip said.

CODED ARCHITECTURES (AMOR MUNOZ)

Tiles of black and white run down the side of an alleyway forming “CODED ARCHITECTURES,” an interactive mural by Amor Munoz, who aimed to create a connection between technology, architecture and society through her piece.

The combination of black and white is inspired by binary code from computers.

Visitors of the interactive mural were provided with a binary alphabet postcard, which they must use to decipher the encoded message. The displayed message changes daily. 

Editor’s note: We unfortunately weren’t able to get an interview with Munoz.

HYDRALA (DANIEL TRAN AND NICK SOWERS)

“HYDRALA,” a sculpture which emits audio based on visitors’ movements, is suspended between four magnolia trees in front of City Hall. The installation deviates from the typically solely visual experience of a sculpture in favor of an “immersive, ambient experience.”

The collaborative project between Daniel Tran, a sculptor, and Nick Sowers, an architect and sound artist, who have known each other since architecture school was the result of months of planning.

“[Tran] came to my sound studio and we tried plugging in a transducer, which is part of a speaker that creates the vibrations,” Sowers said. “And when we put that transducer on the sculpture, it turns the whole sculpture into a speaker. ”

The final installation contains four transducers, which play sounds reacting to people underneath the sculpture. 

“I chose some instruments which are specifically designed for his sculpture that are using the frequencies which are naturally resonant in the material,” Sowers said. “That was quite a process — quite a wonderful process really [of] just trying to hone it down [and determine] what sounds good inside of the sculpture.”

“I’ve seen like two-year olds playing this thing — they’re playing with these little dishes and then [see] the joy when they hear that something that they just did has created a sound,” Sowers said. “Kids and old people, a lot of people have gotten delight out of this, but I get the most joy by seeing their joy.”

I/O (BEN FLATAU AND OTHERS)

The installation titled “I/O” (input/output) by architect Ben Flatau (and various architects, designers and technologists) provided visitors with a challenge: to find the correct pattern of symbols and reveal a hidden message. The puzzle consisted of spinning boxes, which visitors moved to create the correct pattern, and input and output sides.

“It’s a piece of technology that’s meant to highlight the good and the bad of technology — that technology can be a powerful force, but it can also be a force that divides us,” said Scott Bezeck, a software engineer who worked on the project.

The planning process for the installation began in late 2019, but picked up in the recent months leading up to Code:ART. 

“Ben reached out to me kind of randomly since I tinker with display technology like this in my free time, with the idea for this piece and then we were working together remotely during COVID to plan it,” Bezeck said. “And then finally in the last few months we were able to put our different pieces together and come together to build the final thing.”

The entirety of the display was made up of 4,320 individual flaps, the result of a myriad of contributors.

“It’s just been cool seeing people’s excitement and interest and in playing and working together on finding the solutions to the puzzles,” Bezeck said.

LUMINOUS GROWTH (LIZ HICKOK, PHIL SPITLER AND JAMIE BANES)

A large scale projection and sculptural installation, “LUMINOUS GROWTH” by artists Liz Hickok, Phil Spitler and Jamie Banes, allows visitors to explore the uncharted territory of a model city slowly being covered with crystals.

Hickok served as the crystal and photography expert, Spitler produced the 360 degree video and coding and Banes built the cityscape.

“We built a model and then we loaded it with crystals and the crystals grew all over it,” creative technologist Spitler said. “We put a camera in the middle [and] filmed it over two weeks… [which is] what is being projected.”

Using an iPad, visitors can navigate the installation and control where they are looking.

“The inspiration was partly with climate change and just this city being taken over — the crystals grow over this city and take over and we don’t have any control over that,” Spitler said.

A unique aspect of the project that Spitler found joy in was the unknown. 

“With this [project], it was a chemical reaction, so we didn’t really know what was going to happen,” Spitler said. “We filmed it over a two week period but we didn’t really know what we were going to get until we looked at the footage. It’s that kind of surprise moment that’s really gratifying.”

After nearly two years of conceptualizing the installation and three attempts to perfect the crystal growth, it was finally displayed.

“The kids are just like ‘wow’ because they’re so used to seeing things that are made digitally … but then to actually see the sculpture here … the surprise and delight in that has been really rewarding,” Spitler said.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s