Regaining Consciousness With Public Art

 

This was first published on September 11, 2016 to Art Review Oklahoma.

 

In one of my favorite books, Incognito: Secret Lives of the Brain, one point author David Eagleman makes is how our brains are able to run on ‘autopilot’ when doing familiar activities while preoccupying the active part of our brains with daydreaming; until something out of the ordinary happens and our brains are signaled to direct its conscious attention back to the stimulus surrounding us, upsetting the path and pace. This disruption could come in the form of an object in the road when you’re driving, or, in the case of the pedestrian bridge connecting East Archer and North Boston in Tulsa, could be the road beneath you suddenly lighting up where it never had before.

Grace Grothaus Grimm and Geoffrey Hicks, Trace, 2016, Installation. All images courtesy of the artists.

 

In this modern age of disconnection and distraction, many pedestrians are thrust into an experience of the unexpected with Trace, a public art installation by Grace Grothaus Grimm and Geoffrey Hicks in partnership with Urban Core Art Project. If the faux bricks’ dissimilar color and texture among the red bricks constructing the path weren’t enough to signal people’s brains, surely the resulting light show is enough to pull their attention into the present moment.

 

Grace Grothaus Grimm and Geoffrey Hicks, Trace, 2016, Installation. All images courtesy of the artists.

In this installation, hundreds of bricks have been replaced with custom resin cast bricks that each hold circuitry, LED lights, solar panels, and the programmed software that dictates their responses.[1] When a step applies pressure to the individual bricks, they respond with a white light. After a few seconds, this light fades out and a blue light illuminates the translucent brick. This sequence then allows for a succession of lights so that when a person walks across the section of the bridge, the bricks repeat their steps back to them in blue light.

 

This relationship between viewer—or walker—and the installation allows for interaction with the environment, and the bricks’ playback even influences how people walk as they step on each resin brick in anticipation of the blue-lit reaction. Once noticing the first lit brick, people are then drawn to step on only the resin bricks in a stretched out game of hopscotch.

 

Though the title comes from the fact that the installation traces the steps of the viewer, it is only after these individuals first trace the steps of the installation that it gives its full response, in that it continues to glow even after the participant has walked away. The name then has a dual meaning—to retrace the steps laid out for you, but also the trace left behind by those walking across the bridge, as though hinting at our lasting impressions.

Grace Grothaus Grimm and Geoffrey Hicks, Trace, 2016, Installation. All images courtesy of the artists.

This temporary installation injects an element of color and play that breaks up the monotonous trek from Archer to Boston and grabs the attention of pedestrians, bringing their awareness to the space and the present moment. Though by the end of the year when the installation ends, the lighted bricks will likely become familiar enough to no longer disrupt a daydreamer’s musings, at least for now, it is a refreshing and unanticipated change.

 

[1] Grothaus Grimm, Grace, and Geoffrey Hicks. “Trace.” Trace. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 July 2016. http://www.tracepublicart.com/