Sunday, November 2, 2008

filed under the category of conceptual work that i’ve been thinking about for a long time | part I

white square represents one square mile

Many years ago, stuck in a left turn lane somewhere in Philadelphia with several cars in front of me I noticed that after a period of time all the blinkers would synchronize and all of them blink pretty much at once, then phase away. Thankfully I wasn’t there long enough to see the cycle repeat more than two or three times, but I was intrigued by the visual. I also remember thinking that the turn signals were a visual equivalent to Steve Reich’s work, like Drumming, on a rather basic level.

So I started thinking, what if there was a field full of blinking lights, lights like traffic construction barricade lights, at varying heights, all simultaneously blinking and going through phases like the turn signals? The field, at ground level, would look like it was filled with fireflies, blinking randomly, but in actuality the blinking would be building to one brief moment of one total synchronized blink, and then start decaying, and then rebuilding again.

So then I thought, while at ground level the lights would appear random, what if the view from above the lights formed a shape or a word or a phrase? I bounced around a lot of ideas and I haven’t really solidified the thought, but one that I’ve tinkered with is the phrase What is Art? It kinda feels trite, but then again — when playing around with the typography I settled on a Blackletter font, Wilhelm Klingspor Gotisch, for the sole reason that it uses the long ‘s’ that looks like an ‘f.’ In using this font, the phrase seems on first look What if Art?

Choosing a terrain was another aspect that has taken a long time to determine. The terrain had to be gently rolling so that the ground level view would not be too boring with the lights having only a limited variation in height, but the undulations had to be abrupt and occur in a small geographic footprint. Foliage also had to be at a minimum. I found the area about ten years ago when we visited some close friends in Cheney, Washington. Our friends — the husband, a flintlock rifle builder, and his wife, a weaver — took us to a rendevous south of Cheney, into the Palouse, west of Colfax. The Palouse is a great place and where it would be nice to do the work.


Above image from the luminous landscape


This is just an example using a randomly chosen area.The Palouse is over 3,000 square miles.
It would also be interesting to figure out the flashing sequences of the lights and determine a schedule for when they would all flash at once, and then see how the schedule would degrade because of ebbing batteries or cloudy days, if solar powered. I guess it could be possible they they would all blink at once only once, or maybe not at all. Have to talk to a mathematician.

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