Giant Eyeballs and Media Design

If you walked through the Science Center Quad between 7:00 and 9:00pm over Halloween weekend, you may have felt a conspicuous presence. And if you looked skyward, you probably noticed that you were being observed from the water tower – or more accurately by the water tower, which had been transformed into a giant, animated eyeball by members of the Theater Department, LPAC Production Office, and ITS.

That idea, later entitled “Who’s Watching” by Scott Burgess, came about during a conversation between us  at the 2016 Media Architecture Summit (MAS). At MAS, we learned about digital placemaking through large-scale light installations and video projection. The lectures presented by the artists discussed engagement in public spaces, spectacle, ephemeral architecture, and the cross disciplinary aspects of media art. While our eyeball was merely an animation, spliced together with some video of dancing skeletons, ghosts, and a jack-o-lantern, many of the speakers at MAS presented on interactive artworks – pieces that people could influence through their own behavior, or control directly via mobile devices.

Among the works presented was Yong Ju Lee’s “Filament Mind,” a permanent installation in Wyoming’s Teton County Library. It utilizes a data stream from the library’s catalogue system, and a series of over forty projectors attached to a column in the building’s atrium. Aimed upward, with bundles of transparent fiber optic cable attached to their lenses, the array projects brilliant hues of electric blue, yellow and purple. The fiber optic bundles contain this light, twisting around the column as they climb to the ceiling, and then arcing outward to the walls, where each individual cable terminates on a different set of three dimensional words. As library-goers search the catalogue, their queries are illuminated in real time, thus visualizing the thoughts of the library as a whole, and its individual visitors, through fiber optic neurons.

Another talk addressed the issues of mass surveillance and big data. David Rokeby discussed “Taken,” a touring installation created in 2002 which simultaneously shoots and projects live video of people as they walk through a gallery, periodically zooming in on an individual, snapping a freeze frame, and arbitrarily applying an adjective to that person’s image. Visitors might be labeled “complicit,” “unsuspecting” or “hungry,” as the work asks them to consider the question “how does it feel to be judged by a computer?” and the idea that “when an algorithm is attached to a sensor, that algorithm projects behavior back into the space.”

Our own “Who’s Watching” did not seek to provide insight into important issues of the day, nor prompt any profound questions (though I’m sure we’d all like to know just how long the creature with giant blue eye stalks has been living under our parking lot). We simply set out to have a bit of Halloween fun on one of the larger unornamented surfaces on campus. In the process we experimented with projections of climate visualization, images created through electron microscopy and the Hubble telescope, and some interesting deep sea animals. If you have ideas for the future, if you’d like to experience an interactive work, if you want to add media design to your terms of study, or if you want to learn how we created the eyeball, we invite you to get in touch. Send us an email at the addresses below, drop by LPAC, or stop in at the Language and Media Centers. We’d be happy to hear from you. And stay tuned for more pop-up digital events around campus.

Jeremy Polk <>
Tara Webb <>
Scott Burgess <>

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