Saturday 16 March 2013

Post Hoc Updates

We have a couple of updates on the way.  This past summer we decided to continue our explorations in public space by providing folks with the materials to create their own light installations along one of the darkest parts of the path along McHugh Bluff.  Our projects involve the revision of overlooked spaces through installations, where we invite visitors and passersby to actively participate the selected space’s temporary transformation.  This is done by providing site visitors with access to building materials, tools, and simple electronics and sharing how to bring these together to create installations. 

The Local Board of Revision also presented a DIY Electronics Workshop in the Calgary +15 System between the City of Calgary Parkade and the EPCOR Centre for the Performing Arts.  This in-between 'public' space was quite the adventure to work in, and we are excited to share these stories with you shortly.

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Choose Yer Own 2012

Dear People of the Inter-web, 

It's that time of year again - time for the fifth Annual Choose Yer Festival.  We have two projects in this year's festival and we are keen to share some of our plans, as we have two events, the first taking place on Friday, August 31st and then a completely different one on Saturday, September 1st.  In the meantime, check out this year's Choose Yer Own Festival posters made by Laura Leif!  They capture the festival like nothing else.  They are even hand-coloured!  

Our projects for this year were funded by the Calgary 2012 Grants Program.  We're excited to explore two very different overlooked spaces, and we hope you will join us.  Stay tuned for more updates and secret location hints.  
We can't guarantee Hover 20000, but we can tell you there will be LEDs on Friday and Peizos on Saturday.  

Monday 12 September 2011

Your feet stuck to the skies

On a rainy evening in late August in Calgary, something strange was afoot.  The stars of the night sky above, obscured from view by the glare of city lights, migrated to take shelter elsewhere, and little windows to the universe began to appear in the ground.  Constellations migrated from above our heads to below our feet, and the world as we knew it was briefly upended...

Tuesday 30 August 2011

Finding the universe at your feet

After a brief hiatus following PLAY!, we decided it was finally time to set out and plan for our final installation, entitled Constellations.  This one was on the drawing boards since the beginning; however, we decided to keep it until the end because we really couldn't decide on the best format to execute it.  Finally we decided that since our previous installations were events, we would try something different and install the project on our own, so it would be something that people happened to stumble upon without any preconceived notions or expectations. As a result, they would be free to create their own narratives about what they were experiencing.  We were therefore curious about whether or not this would allow people to take ownership of the public space in a different way, and whether or not the presence of the LEDs alone might spur random interactions between strangers or just generally cause people to snap out of downtown zombie mode.

Constellations took advantage of some AMAZING subterranean ventilation spaces for underground parkades.  They are usually covered in metal grates to allow for air flow to the underground areas.  We walk over these everyday without really paying attention to them (Unless you're a woman wearing stilettos... then I suppose they might be the bane of your existence, but I wouldn't know.)  Some are small and intimate (spatially, of course), while others are five storeys deep and become amazingly expansive black holes at night.  

Our plan was to suspend LEDs from the grates into these bottomless pits in the form of constellations in order to give back the night sky to downtown Calgary, which is obviously obscured due to light pollution.  First, however, we needed to find appropriate spaces for installation, so we took a leisurely walk downtown, trying to be inconspicuous about strangely peering into holes in the ground.

Vlad peering over the edge.
We weren't sure of the public reaction to a couple of people spending time fishing things into grates at night, so we looked for a couple of smaller ones to practice and get started on.

Perhaps a nice small one to start?
Eventually, we started seeking out larger and larger grates, as we realized that these would probably be the most powerful in conveying a sense of infinite space at night.

"Hovering" 5 storeys above the bottom of the pit.
The mother of all ventilation shafts!
 During our walk, we also noticed other urban elements we might one day like to illuminate...

Tiny holes lend themselves to a "Light Brite" effect.
The mesh screen background consists of holes perfectly sized to accept LEDs.
Pixel art?

By the end of the day, we had an idea of which areas of the city we wanted to target.  Now, we just had to gather enough courage to do it...

Back at Claudia's, we tested out methods of suspending the LEDs.  We settled on fishing wire tied to the grates, as it was the least conspicuous method of attachment, and it was fairly quick to tie (a concern when guerilla-LED-suspending on what is technically private property.

 Vlad illustrating proper suspension technique.

Once darkness hit, we went out and tested our technique on a grate by Claudia's house.

Test grate.

By the end of the day, we were ready to attack the city, LED style, the following night!

Sunday 28 August 2011

PLAY in the park after dark

Here are some photos from Wednesday night's PLAY installation (August 17) in Prince's Island Park.   Thanks to Alex MacDonald for taking all the photos in this blog post!

Claudia and I got to the Park early (around 9:00) to start blowing up balloons so that we'd have a few balloons ready to go at 10:00, when everybody was invited to come play.  Thanks for Carolyn and Graeme for coming early to help us out with your lung power!  We even had a police officer stop by and blow up an LED balloon.  With the cops on our side, we knew the night was a go!

After a while, we had a pretty good start to the balloon collection.  The weather, however, was not too cooperative, so after some pretty big gusts of wind that threatened to send our balloons everywhere, we had to tie them down.  Phil and Brett (our first actual visitors who just happened to stumble upon us in the park) were instrumental in corralling the stray balloons.  

Luckily, the weather finally cooperated just as people began to arrive.  We cut the balloons loose, and they were finally at the mercy of the visitors.  We left it up to people to animate the landscape by playing with these glowing orbs of light.  

Interestingly, there was a moment of critical mass that happened during the night, when enough people were present and enough balloons were blown up, that everyone standing around was compelled to pick up a balloon and start playing.  It was at this moment that the goal of the night was fulfilled: to provide adult Calgarians a chance to reconnect with their inner children, to ignore notions of what it means to be "grown up," to shed inhibitions, and to have fun with friends and strangers alike in a park that sees little inhabitation after dark.

It turns out that burying your friends in a pile of a couple hundred balloons and them letting them explode out is a fun thing to do!  This was definitely a recurring activity throughout the evening that had everyone wanting their own turn being buried:

It turns out that a bunch of glowing objects in a dark area are also conducive to some cool photograhic effects:

 As more and more people were playing with the balloons, we noticed a pretty steady rate of attrition due to balloons bursting.  Every so often, a balloon would pop, and everyone around would scream in laughter.  This surprise never got old.  As this happened, we replaced popped balloons with new ones to replenish stock.  We had about 300 blue and green LEDs, which were all in balloons by the end of the night.

Yours truly, towards the end of the night with a bunch of visitors playing in the background:

By the end of the night, we estimated that 50 people came out to play with us, including many people that happened upon us on their nightly wanderings.  We even had a group of construction people who were working on the River Cafe come by during one of their breaks to check it out.  At the end of the night, we had a balloon popping party (who doesn't like to burst balloons?) and left the park as we found it earlier, without a trace of our adventures.

Saturday 27 August 2011

Getting Ready to PLAY!

We've been asked a couple of times how to make the LED balloons.  It's super easy and fun!  Use non-diffused doomed top LED lights; we got ours from MRO Electronics.  They have the ones you want right next to their cash register at the front of the store.  They are roughly 15,000 millicandella which  means they are super bright, and perfect for our purposes.  We also tested the flat top LEDs and those made all of the balloons  pop after just a little bit of play time.  Also, avoid buying cheap balloons.  The initially tested balloons from Canuck Amusements were only $15.00 for 100 white balloons...but those popped the moment we started hitting them around.  We found some tougher balloons for $25.00 per 100 at Canuck Amusements (we're thankful for return policies).  

After making a couple of tester balloons, we did just that.  We tested them out.

 This is a blurry photo of me with the balloons.  This photo is not really necessary.  

 We also tested some of the helium balloons we wanted to use too.  Here, we tested them out at Central Memorial Park.  This park is great, but incredibly well lit.  We wanted to have a ground experience of hundreds of LED balloons and an air experience of helium balloons.  Testing these out taught us that the weight of the balloon tether really makes a difference.  

 Then we took some of the air only balloons and kicked them around at Prince's Island Park in the area we hoped we'd stage this installation.  A couple balloons popped, but much less than in earlier testing sessions. 'Casualties' were expected, but we wanted to maximize the duration of balloon related fun times.  

 After all of that pivotal scientific research (phew!) we got organized.  We cut the LED leads down so they wouldn't poke at the balloons and then we wrapped them in electrical tape.  

 Then we shoved them into the balloons, and packed them up so other folks could lend their lung power.  

 To keep things somewhat organized, especially since playtime was taking place in the dark, we mounted all the LED lights and batteries on dissection trays.  The way helped keep the LEDs in one place, so if the containers toppled over, we didn't have to go search with a flash light for all the spilled LEDs.  These last two photos were taken by Yuen-Ying, and they nicely illustrate play in motion on the actual night of this event.  All the testing was totally worth it.  

Image: Yuen-Ying
Image:  Yuen-Ying
Thanks for your taking such awesome photos Yuen-Ying!  

Friday 26 August 2011

Firefly Adventure Club: More Photos

My neighbour, Ramin Eshraghi-Yazdi recently left a CD of photos at my apartment door.  He took some amazing photos from the Firefly Adventure Club, and we're really grateful that he shared these shots.  If you want to see them in their full glory, I recommend you click on the images to enlarge them.  It will be totally worth the 2 seconds. 

 Everyone was welcomed at the soldering station.  It is great that for a couple of Calgarians, the first time they ever soldered an electric circuit board was under the 4th Street bridge at Elbow Island Park one summer evening.

 Once the circuit boards where soldered together, folks could place them in mason jars with some foliage to create jars with captured fireflies.

 One of the great things (and not so great things) about night time LED projects is that they are generally pretty tricky to photograph.  In spite of that, this is one of the amazing photos of the installation under the bridge.  Using string and floral wire we mounted hanging LED lights in the area where an acoustic set would happen later that evening.  The floral wire worked really well for mounting the LEDs into the ground to give the appearance fireflies fluttering just above ground level.  Whenever wind would enter the tunnel, it looked like they were flying all over.  

 The LED station remained busy all night long.  Vlad drew really great instructions with sharpie on the cardboard we were using as 'work stations'.  

 People built multiple LED fireflies, had conversations and made new pals under that bridge.  Power to the people!  Special thanks to the folks from Protospace and Solarbotics for lending us generators, back-up AC power supplies and soldering irons!  

Click to see this image.  Elbow Island Park is a small island right off the south end of the Mission community.  The lights you see in the darkness are the LED fireflies (yellow and green) installed into the park.  You can almost see the Safeway sign from the other side of the Elbow river through the trees and bushes.

 During this experience, a lot of us talked about wanting to spend more time on the island in the future.  It's such a neat space, and it really just needed some friendly folks and a little bit more light to make it the most inviting and magical space.  

 People got super creative with the LED lights.  They put multiple LEDs on a lithium ion cell.  We even saw a couple of folks who synchronized their blinking LED lights to produce some really neat flashing patterns.

 More firefly clusters.

 There was one path that folks would travel down to add their LED firefly.  One of the visitors in attendance noted that every time you walked down the LED path it got a bit longer and longer, as other people added more LED fireflies to the path.  The last LED light along the path marked how far onto the island people were willing to go.  It was a really neat observation. 

 Folks got really involved with the general DIY mood of the evening.  Will Knoll, who is involved with Protospace, brought his prototype of the JeLEDfish; an electronic device raised into the air with helium balloons with really neat oscillating purplish lights.

 Here it is getting ready for launching.

The soldering station was constantly full!  You can see Ben Reed from Protospace at the left giving some tips for soldering.  Thanks Ben! 

 A lot of folks came on their bikes, and they attached some LED lights to themselves for safe rides home!  Stay safe night cyclists!
Someone holding their glowing jar of blinking LED lights.  Some folks took their jars home, others added them throughout the park and even along the river. 

 The LEDing continues.  

 The JeLEDfish takes flight!  It wasn't released into the atmosphere (don't worry green pals!).  It was anchored down, so it could be re-launched in the future.

Vlad and I were unable to take photos this evening, with all the running around and chatting we were doing.  But this is the image we were both hoping someone would take.  You can clearly see all the LED fireflies under the bridge in this shot, as folks peer into the space.  We encouraged people to go in there even before the acoustic set.  That way they could push around some of the hanging fireflies to create movement when there was no wind.   

 Vlad and some folks and a lone balloon under the bridge. 

Getting set up for the acoustic covers under the bridge.  This was another event during the Choose Yer Own Festival organized by Sean Stewart and Peter Hemminger.  

 Ben Reed from Protospace and Mark Martens from Solarbotics taking in the music after a night of soldering and LEDs.  

Enjoying the jams and some ambient lighting. 

This was such a find!  A couple of folks made LED light mobiles that they they added to the bridge tunnel.  In the dark it looked a bit like the outline of the Starship Enterprise.  So glad people really got into things! 

A memorable evening.

This is what the soldering station looked like right before we had to clean up.  We'll post some images of what collecting the LED lights looked like after.  Thanks to everyone who came.  Thanks for everyone who's shared photos with us.  And thanks for everyone who helped collect all the LED lights that evening.