The Light Drift installation with the Market Street bridge, 30th Street Station and Cira Center in the background. (photos from the Philadelphia Mural Arts program)
For three nights in October a section of the Schuylkill River in center city was transformed into a field of lights. On the water and along its bank vacuumed formed translucent shells were set up in a grid pattern and lit in constant changing glow of green, blue and white.
Known as “Light Drift,” the temporary installation was the brainchild of Boston-based artist J. Meejin Yoon and was created in collaboration with the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. The display was interactive in more ways than one. Not only did it encourage interaction with the art work but those in attendance, in some cases unwittingly, controlled the lighting effect.
Inside the shells—made of a non-toxic and fully recyclable material called Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol (PETG)—were Light Emitting Diode (LED) units, custom micro controllers and radio frequency identification (RFID) transmitters. The shells, also known as orbs, on the land respond to people in the area and use the RFID technology to communicate with the orbs in the water. The result is they change color. When someone approaches an orb on land, it communicates with a particular the line of orbs in the water and change into a milky shade of white. This is a transitional phase. When someone sits on the orb the line of shells in the water change from green to blue and back again.
On opening night, with soundscapes and new age music in the background, people milled about the orbs; touching and sitting on them while watching them change color on land and sea. Viewing it from above on the Chestnut Street bridge and “participating” with the display on the river bank with 30th Street Station, the Cira Center and the lit archways of the Market Street bridge in the background, there was calmness and warm feeling during the chilly night that no doubt was shared by others. It was a complicated installation but it appeared simple and pure in practice. It felt kind of magical.
Yoon is working at recreating the display in Boston on the Charles River. When the project is finished, the shells will be recycled.
Read more about it on A Daily Dose Architecture blog and see more images from Eric Höweler's flickr set. Below is a time lapse video of the Schuylkill River event.