CANVAS: Lighten Up

Posted: November 2, 2008 by jerkmag in Uncategorized
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Colin Todd (a member of Avalanche Collective) at work on a video project.

Colin Todd (a member of Avalanche Collective) at work on a video project.

Our downtown is sprinkled by shells of once-was architecture; we’ve got the largest mall in the U.S. under construction on the outskirts of the city; we’ve got a major interstate highway cutting Syracuse straight down its center; a wealthy private university sitting at the top of the hill, and poverty sitting at its base (isn’t that ironic).

It’s a daunting picture to imagine art against this kind of bleak backdrop.

But an impressive regional art group called URBAN VIDEO PROJECT (UVP) is taking that chance. To these digital divas our city is the gallery—no need to build one. Our buildings and streets are the “white walls,” the blank canvas waiting for some color.

The UVP has a simple aim: “activate public space.” Their method: feature multimedia installations and performances in the cityscape. To these guys our post-industrial, factory ghost town is more than appealing, it’s a cityscape of budding beauty. Their eventual hope: Syracuse, N.Y. will turn into a singular creative art form (and not just home to an obnoxiously large mall).

UVP was born in 2007 (out of a well-bred partnership between SU’s Avalanche Collective, 40 Below Public Arts Task Force, and Cantor’s prized Connective Corridor Project).

This October SU and Syracuse Stage unveiled the first installation of the UVP. The vibrant display sits in the Stage’s atrium windows from dusk to 11 p.m. And the artwork picked is all courtesy of students and faculty from SU’s own College of Visual and Performing Arts.

The latest UVP installation on the side of Syracuse Stage.

The latest UVP installation on the side of Syracuse Stage.

The 300 square foot surface is made of a mesh curtain. Over 5,000 red, green, and blue lights cover the mesh. That makes for 15,000 bulbs, and over 16 million color combinations. That’s one hell of a television screen. An interactive control system translates the video into instructions for each bulb—everything timed down to the millisecond. And the videos are put into a continuous playlist.

UVP is one of the first permanent urban video installations in the U.S. And this group has got plenty more to come. Installations are in development at the OnCenter, and Monroe Building downtown.

UVP’s effort reminds me of a similar project in Chicago’s Millennium Park. The park’s Plensa Fountain features two 50-foot glass block towers at the end of a shallow reflection pool. The towers are activated with changing video images, with water cascading down. I was at the park just short of five years ago. My mom and I—even as adults—couldn’t resist rolling up our jeans and splashing in the pool. That’s just the kind of multimedia playground that UVP is after.

I don’t think Syracuse will morph into the next Chicago Millennium Park. But UVP has the potential to give our downtown an artful makeover.

I think the initiative to lighten up our city is money well spent. It’s better money than the billions pumped into the mall off I-81, soon to be Destiny U.S.A.

A better destiny for Syracuse is to liven up the city itself. So I take my hat off to UVP. I think they’ve got a great thing coming.

~ Sarah Parker

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