Art imitates life in surprising ways. For Miami residents hurrying through the lobby of the city’s 1985 Stephen P. Clark Government Center lobby, Reflect, a permanent, interactive installation by artist Ivan Toth Depeña, does it by capturing their movements in real time, and transforming them into dynamic video paintings that illuminate the building’s columns with vivid moving pixels.
A busy commuter hub, the 3,500-square-foot lobby is adjacent to city bus and train depots and sits under a 28-story civic office tower. Depeña was commissioned by Miami-Dade Art in Public Places to create a work that would engage the community using new media. The artist—a graduate of Harvard’s GSD—sought to minimize the footprint of his intervention as much as possible. “The existing [Modernist] structure is already quite massive,” says Depeña. “Adding to that weight seemed to be the wrong direction to take.” Instead, his concept manifests lightness, translucency and color, using surfaces already in place.
Working with New York City'based Focus Lighting, Depeña devised a series of 6-inch-deep light boxes mounted to five of the lobby’s 13-foot-high structural columns. Made of steel, the giant luminaires are topped with seamless polycarbonate diffusers and outfitted with internal grids that house precise arrangements of RGB (red/green/blue) LED nodes and strips. The LEDs are programmed to respond to a system that includes special cameras, one in the base of each panel, that track the flow of people and record their form. The motion then plays back as visual patterns via custom software written by the lighting designers, based on the artist’s vision. The resulting light show delights those who notice it—enticing some to mime before the panels. If no one is in front of a camera, the system repeats the last five interactions until someone approaches.
A triumph of means, Depeña’s clever scheme fuses with the architecture of the space, giving static elements performative qualities. By using the circulation in the lobby to activate the art, he not only continually morphs the installation’s composition, but also the public’s perception of the space itself.