Part 1: Skies Painted with Unnumbered Sparks

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This is a city-block-sized installation by sculptor Janet Echelman and media artist Aaron Koblin. (Aaron’s been a part of many a crowdsourced art project, including the Johnny Cash project, the Sheep Market, and This Exquisite Forest.) Viewers complete the work by choosing animations from their smartphones to add to the graphics projected on Echelman’s suspended fiberwork piece.

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This piece involves participants gathered in one place, unified under the impressive lightshow going on, but their contributions all travel independently to the projectors. If there’s the potential for participants to organize so that they can color the piece as a collective, it doesn’t seem to be happening in the project’s documentation.

Considering telematic art, I’ve been looking for crowdsourced projects that amount to more than just an exquisite corpse (I want something more goal-oriented, like e-Nable’s crowdsourced 3d-printed hands or EteRNA’s modelling). I think Unnumbered Sparks has the potential to be an exquisite corpse, but invites interactions from audience members that can be so independent from each other that it doesn’t need to be anything more than a more general interactive artwork.

What sets this project apart from some other audience-completed installations is that it compresses the results of the contributions into a single object visible to all the participants at once (vs. scrolling through The Sheep Market, or even zooming in to actually see details on r/place), and it limits contributions to the present (vs. the accumulation of drawings in Gutai’s Please Draw Freely, or of clay figures in Urs Fischer’s The Imperfectionist).

Part 2: Watermark


This is Ann Tarantino’s 2017 work in Millvale, right here in Pittsburgh. It visualizes the flow of water through the town along Girty’s Run, the Allegheny tributary and name of the watershed that provides drinking water to this part of Pittsburgh.

I learned about this visualization project on Saturday while attending the Water Walks Luncheon in East Liberty, a discussion on the watershed issues challenging Pittsburgh communities. Millvale frequently experiences severe flooding that’s been highly destructive to the town. It’s because it sits at the bottom of the watershed, and with urban development built over the streams and ponds on higher elevation, rainwater and snowmelt now wash over parking lots and roadways and right into Millvale homes. Sometimes 6 feet of it.

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This kind of visualization project is so critical because where our water comes and goes is really invisible to us. But it matters, as much a house or a business at risk of flooding does. Building an understanding among Pittsburgh communities of how water flows into Millvale could help drive policy that invests more in ways to channel water out of the town, and in the protection and even re-exposure of the Girty’s Run watershed.