Art and digital signage intersect at NYC's Lincoln Center

Dec. 19, 2014 | by Christopher Hall

Almost 5,000 photographs, a video game engine and digital signage combined with digital simulation to create art in a recent installation at New York City's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

The performing arts center, in association with Public Art Fund, presented a new digital commission, "Solar Reserve (Tonopah, Nevada) 2014," by Irish artist John Gerrard, that combined LED digital signage with digital simulation to create in immersive visual experience.

The digital simulation displayed on a 28-by-24-foot frameless LED digital signage wall re-creates a Nevada solar thermal power plant and the surrounding desert landscape in a virtual world that changes in real time throughout the day. Installed on Lincoln Center's Josie Robertson Plaza from Oct. 3 through Dec. 1, Solar Reserve marked Gerrard's first major public art work in the U.S., as well as his most ambitious installation to date, according to a Lincoln Center announcement. The artist was selected by the Lincoln Center Art Committee with guidance from Lincoln Center's Curatorial Advisory Working Group.

"With its compelling, subtle imagery and sophisticated use of digital technology, John's work will be of interest not only to visual art fans and casual passersby, but also to those who follow gaming and environmental technology," Lincoln Center President Jed Bernstein said in the announcement. "Lincoln Center's 'front-yard' is a terrific location for visitors to explore this free, theatrical work of art."

Displayed on a monumental frameless LED wall on Lincoln Center's Josie Robertson Plaza, "Solar Reserve (Tonopah, Nevada) 2014" is a computer simulation of an actual power plant known as a solar thermal power tower, surrounded by 10,000 mirrors that reflect sunlight upon it to heat molten salts, essentially forming a thermal battery which is used to generate electricity. Over the course of a 365-day year, the work simulates the actual movements of the sun, moon and stars across the sky, as they would appear at the Nevada site, with the thousands of mirrors adjusting their positions in real time according to the position of the sun.

This virtual world is meticulously constructed by the artist and a team of modelers and programmers using a sophisticated video game engine. Simultaneously over a 24-hour period the point of view will cycle from ground level to a satellite view every 60 minutes, creating an elaborate choreography among perspectives, 10,000 turning mirrors, and a dramatic interplay of light and shadow. Commuters passing by Lincoln Center on their way to work will see the sun charging the power plant as it rises in Pacific Standard Time, while visitors to evening performances might view a sunset before local Nevada constellations emerge and floodlights illuminate the solar tower at night.

"With each of these public art installations, we are hoping to provide unique, unexpected ways to engage with Lincoln Center," Lincoln Center Art Committee Chair Peter Kraus said in the announcement. "John's large-scale combination of technology and artistry superbly fits that bill."

For the project, Gerrard sent a photographer to Tonopah to "function like a human scanner" and document everything at the solar power site, from the shiny surfaces to down to small rocks on the dry ground, according to an annoucnement. In the end, nearly 5,000 pictures of the site in every kind of light from dusk to dawn to dusk again were given to his team of producers, who built digital 3D models of the site for manipulation in the game engine. "At the end of a long process, it's exported as a piece of software," Gerrard said of final presentation. "It may look like a film, but it's not really of that history. It's an alternative history. It's a file."

The work also is based around the complex choreography of actual astronomy, according to the announcement. "The sun, moon and stars are situated as they would appear at the actual Nevada site over the course of a year. As this virtual world rotates on the earth's axis throughout a 24-hour day, the perspective of the viewer gradually shifts from ground level to satellite view every 60 minutes, so that no view is precisely the same at any point during the course of the exhibition."

The installation has drawn plenty of attention on social media, fromTwitter:

To Instagram:

Watch a video about the exhibition below:


Topics: Content, Customer Experience, Display Technology, Entertainment Venues, LED Signs


Christopher Hall / Christopher is the managing director of the Interactive Customer Experience Association and former editor of DigitalSignageToday.com. A longtime freelance writer and reporter, he's bringing a fresh perspective and critical take on the industry.
wwwView Christopher Hall's profile on LinkedIn

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