The advancement of digital and computer technology has transformed everything around us, increasing the speed and innovation of virtually every aspect of life, from logistics to romance. This is no less true for public art, with cities racing to come up with the most imaginative and engaging installations for open spaces around the world.
Billboards that come to life
Huge billboards advertising all manner of goods and services have been a staple of modern life for over a century now. By the 1990s, digital billboards started to crop up, with the most famous visual assaults coming out of Times Square, New York and Piccadilly Circus, London. However, recent technological advancements have led to more impressive and sometimes, scarily realistic, digital displays.
Last year, Seoul’s famous Gangnam district featured ‘WAVE’, a traffic-stopping 3D public art installation atop the SMTown Coex Atrium in K-Pop Square. The giant crashing wave encased in a glass box is remarkably realistic and soothingly beautiful, overlooking such a busy commercial square.
20.1 metres high and 80.9 metres wide, ‘WAVE’ is constructed of 31,000 video panels. The world's largest anamorphic illusion uses 1,600 square metres of 8K resolution screen, and took four months to finish, three of which was dedicated to the digital design alone.
Meanwhile, Kuala Lumpur’s Pavilion shopping mall went a step further for Chinese New Year 2021, the year of the bull. Located in Bukit Bintang, KL’s busy shopping and entertainment district, the mall has long been famed for elaborate displays in conjunction with cultural celebrations, but their 3D ‘Golden Bull’ takes the cake.
A giant wraparound LED screen was used to show animation of a muscly silver bull that charges, and seemingly breaks through the glass and scatters shards everywhere scaring viewers below, a testament to the exquisite realism of the illusion.
An international viral success, ‘Golden Bull’ was conceptualised as a spirited fight against COVID-19 and a wish for good health and prosperity in the new year.
Interactive and engaging
With technology, art can more easily move beyond simply an object to be looked at, and instead, can respond directly to the people that come in contact with it. Examples can be as simple as the piano stairs at Euljiro metro station in Seoul, Korea, that light up and play notes when stepped on to the daily delight of children and commuters alike.
Eco-consciousness can also be baked in, such as with the Pavegen sidewalk in Washington DC, USA. These springy yet firm pavement slabs capture the energy from pedestrians to power LED streetlights. Each step generates 5 watts, and during rush hour, about 1,000 walkers will pass through, creating green energy for immediate use. Any excess is stored in batteries that can then be accessed to power lights during less busy periods, thus increasing the safety of the area too.
A larger scale and more personal piece of interactive art was the MegaFaces Pavilion, created for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. Located at the entrance of the Olympic Park, the artwork was an invitation to “create your own Olympic history”. The installation allowed visitors to see themselves projected onto the 2,000-metre square cube-like pavilion simply by scanning their faces via 3D photobooths inside.
Booths were also available in 30 cities around the country to allow everyone in Russia to become the face of the Olympics. The resulting giant portraits - three at a time and magnified by 3500 percent, larger than the face of the Statue of Liberty - appeared as 3D images on the side of the pavilion. Internet technology allowed a livestream of the façade to be available 24-7 so no one missed seeing their faces at the event.
Taking digital technology to new heights, the monumental image-formation was possible courtesy of 11,000 computer-programmed actuators under the building’s stretchy skin. Each of these actuators was an RGB-LED light, corresponding to one pixel. The lights were able to change colours, and jutted out by up to two metres to render the final image three-dimensional.
Perhaps the biggest revolution in art wrought by technology, has been the mind-blowing possibilities now open to kinetic art, including the use of motorised mechanics, 3D technology, and the precise measurements and material finesse allowed by computer modelling.
The leading artist in contemporary kinetic public art is undoubtedly Anthony Howe, whose striking wind-powered metal sculptures bring life to public areas from Riyadh to Rio.
‘Lucea’, one of his latest, is found in downtown Dallas. Standing at 25 feet tall and fixed on a circular axis atop a 13-foot base, ‘Lucea’ loops, spirals and pulsates elegantly with the wind. Requiring supreme precision, the pieces are carefully crafted in order to seamlessly synch with each other. The effect is a gentle meditation that brings technology and nature together, a perfect artistic respite for a busy city.
"I want to show people something that slows their heartbeat down. I want to create something that gets them to a more meditative state, to make their lives better," Howe said to the Dallas Morning News.
Another delicate example of kinetic art lives in Changi Airport, Singapore. ‘Kinetic Rain’ consists of two sections, each made of 608 copper-plated aluminium rain droplets. The entirety of the suspended sculpture measures 9.8 metres by 4 metres, and the undulating shape is able to transform into 16 different forms, from the abstract to the literal, from an airplane, to a dragon, to a hot air balloon.
Each droplet is suspended by a thin steel rope, and floats gracefully into formation. But this is no accident; the choreography of the droplets is controlled by high-tech, high-precision motors and takes 15 minutes at a time, while the two sections move in synchrony with one another.
The complexity of this aerial dance - a futuristic yet nostalgic look back at Changi’s past in the open tropical air - required two years of designing and planning, including the programming of custom software.
Slider 3: https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/this-dupont-circle-sidewalk-turns-footsteps-into-power/2016/11/30/c69263f8-b020-11e6-8616-52b15787add0_story.html & https://pavegen.com/case-studies/dupont-circle/?ok
Slider 4: https://segd.org/megafaces-pavilion-0
Slider 5: https://www.dmagazine.com/arts-entertainment/2016/11/a-wind-powered-sculpture-is-downtown-dallas-newest-art-installation/ & https://www.dallasnews.com/arts-entertainment/visual-arts/2016/11/10/anthony-howe-creates-art-that-seeks-to-slow-your-heartbeat-down-and-make-your-life-better/