In 2008 squidsoup went to the Technopark in Zurich to experiment with ETHZ’s Baby Nova Grid of LED lights. Over the year that followed we then created two exhibition works Stealth and Discontinuum specifically for the Nova grid.
It was a great opportunity to explore the possibilities of working with a LED grid. We had in front of us a grid of 1000 ping pong ball sized regularly placed voxels, each individually addressable to colour and all hanging from the roof in a public foyer. I guess we gave people something to step over when they entered the Technopark for the few days we were there, Experimenting in a public space, bit like having an audience with zero expectations.
We began by looking for a visual language to explore the possibilities of the grid. It made sense to start with “squidsoup” processes that were familiar to us. At the time procedural exploration of form and the illusion of a virtual object.
Step one, dividing the space into two colours or spaces and then playing with flexibility of the boundary between the spaces. It became a kind of virtual surface within the grid. Then creating forms that expand and overlap creating moving form.
The removal of the screen space initially was disorientating. The voxels do not move in real space, but the movement of virtual volumetric forms through the grid led to a powerful illusion of physical movement.
This is nothing new I guess, we look at pixel based screen, the pixels don’t move but “images” on them seem to move. When dealing with real volumes this same illusion of movement is exaggerated. Our perception of the boundaries between real and virtual movement can forge a powerful illusion that space itself is being distorted.
I’m trying to imagine what it would be like to objectively cast your eyes on a screen for the first time and be confused as to where the boundaries of reality are as volume and time merge into 2 dimensional space. Maybe as the technology for creating volumetric virtual spaces improves we could be looking at revelations as big as the first video projections.
Technically, the forms were worked out in actionscript using virtual 3d coordinates. A byte array was dispatched via ethernet to the grid. Each voxel was treated as an object that would decide what colour to present based on its proximity to the procedural forms created in the programming. The process was much more of a rendering procedure than a drawing one.
Aside from our tests of rendering form and movement, we made a system to inverse project a webcam onto the grid. This was, of course, only viewable from a sweet spot. The grid itself was constructed in the code and then the co ordinates of each voxel projected onto a webcam image where it would get the pixel underneath to set the colour of that voxel in the Nova grid. Also were were give the opportunity to test our experiments on the Larger 50*50*10 NOVA hanging in Zurich Train station. In a way because it was so high up, proportionally it presented itself as more so as a screen. Nonetheless an awesome piece of kit to behold in a public space.
Looking back, this was the first time of many that I had worked with an LED grid and I approached the task with quite a bit of scepticism. I could not appreciate exactly what you could get out of only 1000 lights when used to working with so many more pixels. Most people that passed though Technopark and gaze at the NOVA expecting some kind of image, comments were made about its resolution and initially I shared these same thoughts. Its not easy to create virtual aesthetics absent of the “image” and this is probably why we felt compelled to introduce the webcam, but working in this way truly is when virtual spaces can begin to inhabit sculptural space in a very real way even more so as we moved onto the Ocean Of Light.