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!

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