BELFAST HARBOUR PUBLIC ART COMMISSION

This project concept has been developed in response to the call for submissions put forward by the Belfast Harbour Commissioners. The concept encompasses several practises including video, sculpture, architecture and interactive art.
 
In this document I propose a sculptural video space which will show precomposed graphics and audio of a maritime theme—they will react to local weather and tidal data via an RSS data-feed. It will graphically translate weather/tidal information in a variety of glowing, luminous streams and forms e.g. When the tide rises it swells, and it conversely shrinks when the tide drops. The concept is that the sculpture will emphasise the importance of tides and weather in the shipping sector.
 
The nature of the electronic installation will also allow for public interaction whereby Belfast Harbour Commissioners could put out a call for submissions; in response to a theme, artists, students or community groups could submit videos/graphics to an online database and subsequently view the screening of their work at the proposed site­. The concept of public interaction will be suitable for festivals, events and performances.
 
The site itself will be comprised of a modest, concrete, “amphitheater-style” auditorium overlooking an elongated, minimalist, low-resolution LED screen. On the east side of the bridge the screen will be embedded in an undulating concrete wall (please see fig. 1 — Artistic Impression). This shape alludes to wave motion. On the west side it will be embedded in a level, 4-foot-high wall (please see fig. 2 — Proposed Site Plan). The wall is kept low so as not to obstruct the view up the river.

The screen will be made up of an array of RGB (fully adjustable colour) light-box panels. Each lightbox is an oversized pixel. The lightbox panels will be made from sandblasted, toughened glass. The sandblasting will disperse the light evenly over the whole panel and the toughened glass will make the sculpture vandal proof.
 
The proposed sculpture integrates the aesthetics of interactive, electronic technologies with public, architectural spaces. It introduces the concept of Telepresence—the ability to see and act over a distance. Via electronic networks, it invites the public to interact and affect real public space in the Belfast Docklands.

“Remote video cameras and remotely navigated devices... exemplify the notion of being ‘present’ in a physically remote location... Telepresence can be thought of as one example of representational technologies used to enable action, that is, to allow the viewer to manipulate reality through representations.”
Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media, (Cambridge, Mass: 2001), p.16
 
A triangular, interdependent paradigm is crucial to the underlying concept of the sculpture. It administers interplay between:

  1. electronic data-feed and the sculpture,
  2. viewer and sculpture­, in the real sculptural space,
  3. and viewer and sculpture in virtual space—via an internet application.

The objective is to create a work of art that simultaneously resides and communicates in real-world space as well as that new world space of the internet, giving rise to a two-tiered communication. Not only can an observer viewing this project instantly appreciate the pixilated graphics, in the material sculptural space, but so too are these graphics affected via the dialectic of Telepresence and the constant fluctuation of RSS weather data.

This bipolar dialectic attains even greater conceptual depth by semantically alluding to the juxta position of old world and new world economics—the new world embodied by the sculpture itself, and the old world inherent in the site location. Historically one of the most important maritime gateways in Europe, Belfast Harbour has a deeply rooted importance in seabourne trade. By appointing such electronic artworks the Belfast Harbour Commissioners assume a position of knowledge and appreciation of new economic methods, and their importance in the transfer of information, an appointment that was historically held by global shipping networks.