Apr
10
2010
<em>Space Observer</em>
 

Björn Schülke
Space Observer, 2010
Steel, aluminum, GFK composite, electronics, motors, LCD screen, camera
28 ft / 8.5 m, height
33 ft / 1000 cm, diameter
Commission for the City of San José, CA
Installation at Norman Y. Mineta San José Airport – Terminal B

Surrealistic in both form and function, the sculpture stands on three 8′ tripod legs supporting a propeller-powered rotating body. The legs of the sculpture rise from the floor, allowing pedestrian traffic underfoot. The sculpture’s upper body rotates, propelled by its extended wings. Thin kinetic camera arms extending from the Space Observer body collect live video that is displayed on embedded monitors within the sculpture body. Triggered by motion sensors and custom electronics, movement in the Space Observer is dependent upon presence of its traveling audience.

The sculpture works with an industrial aesthetic; it appears as a futuristic commercial product, with references to clinical research equipment and plays with the concept of a cabinet of curiosities. Clear visual links to aeronautic devices of discovery are also made through use of streamlined form, which is especially evident in the sculpture’s propeller wing and fin. Equipped with two embedded small cameras, the sculpture explores its surroundings on the mezzanine level, and symbolically welcomes both the arriving and departing travelers. The smooth and silent movement of this sculpture is controlled by the ordinary gestures of travelers which are detected by several motion sensors that are built into the self-contained observation system. The maximum spinning speed of the head is limited to 10 seconds per turn.

Although video data is not recorded or stored in the sculpture, it is clear to visitors that they are being watched, as the extended camera arms slowly move closer and closer to its subject, and as the central body rotates. Also, quickly changing video imagery is displayed on each monitor, and toggles between the two live camera feeds. There is one large video monitor embedded into the central body of the sculpture and another smaller monitor attached to the tail end.

From this set simple set of interaction parameters, a dialog starts between the visitors and the sculpture. How does one interact? Who is watching whom? Is the piece following my movements? Is this “creature” sentient or otherwise artificially intelligent?

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