Urban_Matter_MAIN.jpg

Silent Lights by Urban Matter converts sound into light:Silent Lights:

Inspiration and initial explorations around the concept for the installation.

Testing and configuring the LED light strips.

The installation

Founders of Urban Matter Inc (L to R): Valeria Bianco, Rick Lin, Shagun Singh

Detail of the colourful gates of the Silent Lights installation.

Urban_Matter_MAIN.jpg
Lab 31 Jul 2014

Urban Matter Inc introduces “Silent Lights” – a year long light installation and think piece on noise pollution

An experiential data art project in Brooklyn, New York created by design studio Urban Matter Inc.

Silent Lights is a year-long light installation, located at the noisy and bleak intersection of Park Avenue and Navy Street, in Brooklyn. The installation uses the expressway’s ever-present traffic noise and makes it visible—illuminating the cheerless, cacophonous underpass with a pathway of peaceful lighted gates. It was designed by Urban Matter Inc, an interdisciplinary experience design studio based in Red Hook, Brooklyn, founded in 2012 by Shagun Singh, Valeria Bianco, and Rick Lin. Bringing together their  diverse skills in interaction design, architecture, product design, technology, sculpture, and film, the collective creates work that tells stories, visualises information, and inspires interaction.

Colour Quotient talks to Urban Matter Inc. about Silent Lights, and the effort to address community engagement and shared experiences in urban public spaces.

Silent Lights by Urban Matter converts sound into light:Silent Lights:

How did the location play into the idea of the installation?

Silent Lights sits at the intersection of five different Brooklyn neighbourhoods. We chose this site from a variety of locations pre-selected by the Department of Transportation because of the physicality of the space and the overwhelming quality of sound causing voices to literally be drowned out by passing traffic.

We wanted to initiate a dialogue on urban noise pollution and neglected urban spaces through an urban sensing project utilising sound data for artistic purposes. For us this was an opportunity to have different communities engage and interact with the installation and with each other.

We have a couple of sites in mind for Silent Lights when its time at the present location comes to an end. We hope the piece will bring the same level of excitement and delight that it has brought to its present neighbourhood. There are thousands of square feet of empty space under the freeways in New York and we hope to revitalise another part of it through Silent Lights. 

Inspiration and initial explorations around the concept for the installation.

Testing and configuring the LED light strips.

The installation

What is the role of colour in the largely visual interactive display of Silent Lights?

The installation site was a giant dreary parking lot. The first idea that popped into our heads was to add light and colour to the space to brighten it up. The project became a lot more technically and conceptually sophisticated as we continued working on it, but the idea of lights and colour remained. This effect is amplified by graphic animations. The lights are a deep sea blue during the quiet part of the day. They turn into hues of pink and red when there is a loud traffic sound like a car honk. During peak traffic hours, the lights create up to fifteen different kinds of animation in hundreds of different colours which makes it quite a spectacle to watch in this dark underpass location.

Detail of the colourful gates of the Silent Lights installation.

How did the visualisation of data in this project become a way of engaging with people? 

Silent Lights allowed us to utilise urban data to create an experiential data art project  at the confluence of various communities and neighbourhoods. We wanted to create a connection point between the site and the community, by creating an interactive experiential project that visualised traffic noise as beautiful light patterns. Our intention was to use the negative attributes of the site; it’s the darkness and loudness, and convert them into a positive experience using light and art. The hum of the traffic thus becomes a tangible, reactive presence rather than a hidden aggravation, and passers-by can walk beneath the multi-coloured gates to experience a moment of respite from the constant noise. The installation also acts as a way-finding element, making the inconspicuous pedestrian pathway more visible and engaging.

What has been the reaction of passers-by and commuters to the project?

During and after the installation was completed, a lot of local residents, kids, passers-by, people in cars, even policemen stopped by to inquire about the piece. The sheer number of people who stopped and asked questions was a surprise. We had hoped that the project would pique interest but the response has been overwhelming. The project has led to greater activity at times when this path might otherwise be avoided, bringing the community together. Our reward was an appreciative community and putting art in a place which would have been otherwise overlooked.

What were the biggest challenges that you faced while bringing the project to life?

One of our biggest challenges was raising additional funds for the project. It took us two and a half years to reach our goal. We were forced to make design changes and deal with increased costs when we were forced to move off our original site because of reconstruction work. We also realised our limitations when it came to powering, wiring and programming 2,400 LEDS. This was overcome by spending a lot of time on site working on different options, as well as consulting with experts in the field. The project went up in the peak of New York City winter so it taught us physical and emotional resilience as well. 

Why do you think interventions, such as Silent Lights, that target urban public spaces are important?

A straightforward goal for such interventions is to provide a communal space which is a point of interest and beauty. The community is a lot more attractive and fun because of such projects. However, the value that it provides is as a tactical participatory intervention in an unused urban space. It is an experiment in creative placemaking. Such interventions address issues of safety, cleanliness, beautification, engagement and civic pride. This is a tactical experiment in creating positive urban experiences by transforming negative attributes of the city. Our hope is that this will open doors for future revitalisation projects for the millions of square feet of unutilised space under the New York street bridges and expressways and other such spaces.

Founders of Urban Matter Inc (L to R): Valeria Bianco, Rick Lin, Shagun Singh

Project Details:
Urban Matter Inc: Valeria Bianco, Rick Lin,  Shagun Singh.
Partners: Michelle Brick, Mike Kelberman, Brett Burton, David Rife, Aaron Campbell.
Fabricators: David Isley, Serrett Metalworks.
Partners/Sponsors/Clients: DOT Urban Arts Program, Brooklyn Arts Council, Artplace America, Black Rock Foundation, Awesome Foundation, Designers Lighting Forum of New York.
Check out more work by Urban Matter Inc. at www.urbanmatterinc.com

 
IMAGES


All images courtesy Urban Matter Inc.