Santa Monica Lookout
Artist Will Transform Smartphones into Instruments of Art at Santa Monica's Glow Festival
By Jason Islas
September 17, 2013 -- How can we stop ourselves from “becoming a nation of narcissist cyborgs”? That's the question at the root of Steve Boyer's project for Santa Monica's all-night art festival on September 28.
Boyer, who describes himself as a creative technologist, an artist and inventor, was one of 15 artists selected to participate in Glow after he submitted plans for his project in January.
For Colorfields -- as he calls his piece -- Boyer will use people's smartphones in order to create a fluid work of art painted with light on a canvas of about 40,000 square feet of sand.
How exactly does he plan to that? He's designed an app for it.
“You see people involved in a one-to-one very solitary experience with their screen,” Boyer said, describing a trend he finds disturbing among users of smartphones. “We're living more in screen space than we are in real space.
“This piece is about turning that around,” he said.
For his project -- he calls it an experiment -- Boyer designed an app that participants can download for free to their Android or iPhones. The app uses the phone's Global Positioning System (GPS) to make it glow a specific color depending on where its owner is within the “colorfield,” a 200-foot by 200-foot patch of sand just south of Santa Monica Pier.
As visitors wander through the colorfield with their phones pointed away and up, a camera atop the Wyndham Hotel will capture the pattern of multicolored lights and project the image on the side of the hotel.
He hopes that Colorfields inverts the tendency of our phones to minimize our interaction with our surroundings by “bringing the screen into the social environment.
“This is really a multidimensional piece because the experience exists on several different levels,” Boyer said.
Since the participants won't be able to see the projection from the patch of sand, they will only get to experience at eye-level while those watching the projection will see something totally different.
“I can't believe how many layers of technology are involved in this piece,” said Boyer, who coded the app himself. “My role in this is, in a sense, a kind of composer... (or) an instrument designer.”
At the heart of Boyer's work is his complicated relationship with technology.
“As someone who has been working with technology all his life, I have a deep appreciation for it but I am also skeptical.
“The more our experience is mediated between electronics and electronic devices, the more room there is for all kinds mischief to take place,” he said.
Boyer's interests are a perfect fit for Glow, which looks for artists willing to work with technology in their creations.
“I've always been interested in Glow because my work has involved light and sound as media,” he said.
As an undergrad, Boyer studied music and was fascinated with the idea of organizing sound not by time -- as in traditional music -- but by space.
In the 1980s, he developed a project that allowed people to create “sound paintings.” By using a simple touch interface, participants could play notes in an order not necessarily intended by the composer.
“It was up to the performer-listener,” said Boyer, to decide when the notes were played.
Colorfields is an extension of Boyer's interest in using space to organize sound.
“Another way I look at this piece is that it's an instrument that's played by the people who are in this space,” he said about Colorfields.
For more information about Boyer's Colorfields or to download the free app, visit colorfields.org.
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