Urban Constellations (2000)

Solar powered lighting distributed and viewed around town

Ultrabright solar-powered flashing devices are placed around a town, so that when viewed at night from a particular window in a building they appear as a constellation. Funded by the International Academy of Media Arts and Sciences, Japan. Ultra-bright LEDs provided by Nichia Corp, Japan.

Extremely bright light sources are placed at various locations in the city and each is focused towards a viewing location where visitors may draw and record the patterns that they see.

The visitors, each of whom sees different patterns in the lights, themselves create the work by contributing to the collection of drawings.

Purpose-built Urban Constellations 'star'
Urban Constellations drawing window

As you look across the urban skyline, you will generally notice many lights in the distance. Some are street lights, some are warning lights, some are traffic lights. Many of them help to guide us through the city, much like stars helped guide us in travel and in life in ancient times. In the same way that we create constellations from stars in the sky, we can also use these urban lights to creat patterns in the city.

In the case of these urban stars, however, we notice much more the effect of changing our viewing location -- the patterns change shape and some lights may be hidden from view. We begin to notice how viewpoint affects the patterns we create and also how different people will "see" different patterns from a given collection of points.

In this project, several extremely bright light sources are placed at various locations in the city and each is focused towards a viewing location where visitors may draw and record the patterns that they see.

Patterns that people see are quite different
People 'create' patterns in the layout of the stars

The light sources are provided by ultrabright LEDs powered by batteries that are charged up daily using solar panels. As darkness falls on the solar panels, the LEDs switch on and flash at a rate of about 4 Hz. At dawn, as the light level rises, the LEDs switch off and the solar panels start to recharge. In this way, these stars, once installed, will carry on shining every night for as long as the batteries remain chargeable, potentially several years.

At the viewing location, which in this version of the project is in the glass clad stairwell of a tall building, visitors will see these stars through the window as night falls. Though it may not appear so on video, the light sources are extremely bright and, because of the common flash rate, most people tend to associate the individual stars as part of a pattern. Using a mouse, and looking through the window, the visitor is able to draw the image that he or she sees directly on to the window, incorporating either the given stars, or other lights, or even all lights that are visible.

Urban Constellation as viewed directly

Drawing on the window is achieved by projecting from behind directly on to the surface of the window which has been specially coated to catch the light of the projector. A simple computer application allows for both the creation of drawings and the random cycling of drawings created by previous visitors. The projector is mounted unobtrusively on the ceiling and the visitor stands at a podium where the mouse is. Projected at the bottom of the window are several buttons allowing for the choice of 4 colours and also the options to save or clear the drawing. When no one is drawing, previous drawings are cycled through at the rate of about 1 every 5 seconds.

From outside, the constellations are visible from large distances glowing on the window pane. It is of course unlikely that viewers outside will associate them with the lights that they are seeing because the relative positions of the lights as viewed from outdoors is quite different from those viewed at the viewing location. However, there is a chance that the images might entice them to come in and draw for themselves!

The drawings created are limited only by the imaginations of the viewers...