The Open Sky Project functions as a permanent experimental lab for art in public space
Urban Media Projects: the OPEN SKY PROJECT Hong Kong
published in What Urban Media Art Can Do, Susa Pop, Tanya Toft, Nerea Calvillo, Mark Write editors, AVedition, Stuttgart, Germany, 2016
WHAT – URBAN MEDIA ART CAN DO
Started in 2013, right after the amazing experience of Eternal Recurrence by Jim Campbell that we curated with Jeffrey Shaw, I started an art and research program on the highest tower in Hong Kong (480m), the ICC Tower, which happens to be the biggest screen with more than 70,000 sqm and is acknowledged as the largest light and sound show on a building in the world (Guinness Book of Records). This is a very specific venue for different reasons:
- Visibility: This tower in the south of Kowloon commands Victoria Harbour. It is totally isolated from the surrounding buildings, which much are lower and not even close to it. While the island side of the harbor has a quite uniform skyline, the Kowloon side is still much contrasted and it is quite impossible to miss the ICC Tower. About 1 million people can see the tower at the same time. One month programs are probably seen by more than 50% of Hong Kong population (i.e. by about 4 millions people)
- Hyper low-tech approach: Even if only three sides are used due to light pollution prevention, the four sides of the building are covered with LEDs. At a time when screens at home can be in UHD 4k horizontal and 2k vertical, the ICC vertical resolution is only 140 lines, 1 line every 3.5m. This is probably the lowest resolution in video history since the very first CRT tubes. Furthermore, the display is only in black and white.
- No advertising: As a statement from Sun Hong Kai, the building owner, probably due to its visual prominence in Hong Kong landscape there is no advertising on this screen. This makes it very appealing and this is why we decided to propose a specific art program.
Having worked for more than 12 years on the concept of Critical Fusion, Fusion of Fiction/Art and Reality with the opposite perspective than the unavoidable Society of the Spectacle, I believe that artists can play a strong role in the city as they used to do in past history. When the public space imagery mostly consists of billboards and LED screens promoting jewels, watches, fancy cars and expensive photo cameras on displays generously provided by large scale post functionalist buildings with mirror façades, most of Hong Kong visitors see the city as the kingdom of consumerism. I believe that Urban Media contributes to express the city’s ambitions in social, political and cultural terms. For the same reason I wanted to apply, at the city scale, the artists’ right of response, introducing criticality and poetry in this solid chunk of urbanism.
The Open Sky Project functions as a permanent experimental lab for art in public space. The involvement of MFA students allows a continuous reflexive process on the actuality, the relevance, the significance as well as the social, political and aesthetic impact of the works. It is the place to debate about questions like the wording of the artist’s statement, the narrative taking into account what could be the screen owner’s agenda, often conservative, and the challenging will to never renounce the original intention.
The Open Sky Project includes 2 different actions:
- Open Sky Gallery: a white cube inside out. Often based on specific events, artists are invited to submit a project on line. There is an international advisory committee of 10 personalities of contemporary art and urban media, artists, curators and theoreticians from 6 different countries (see detail on openskyproject.org).
ISEA2016 Open Sky call is a good example of perfect timing. We received 73 submissions from all over the world. 6 were selected and 22 of them got an honorable mention for having being selected by some of the jury members. The honorable mentions will be part of later programs.
- Open Sky Campus: the School of Creative Media of City University of Hong Kong MFA students of the urban media class and their international academic partners produce each semester a work for the Tower. At the end of the semester all works are displayed on the Tower for a first critical testing and recording, and then for a second iteration 2 weeks later after integrating observations and critiques. About 2 months after that, a selection of 6 to 8 works is presented every night during one month. Thus twice a year, the School of Creative Media Students have their work displayed every night during one month and seen by around 4 millions people.
All works produced for the Open Sky project are rather specific. The extreme verticality, the volumetry, the low resolution and the colorless aspects of the projects barely allow to re-use the content on other urban screens. They are conceived for the ICC Tower and should be presented there. Nevertheless the concept developed by the artists can be adapted to other contexts.
Regarding the financial considerations, Sun Hung Kai provides the façade screen display technology and the mobile app for sound. City University of Hong Kong School of Creative Media provides all the preparation, formatting process and the video and photo documentation. The artists and students provide the video content.
The title Open Sky Campus is not innocent as the project works as a 70,000 sqm extension of the university campus.
This project is made possible by the extreme simplicity of the technologies in use.
We created a website openskyproject.net with 2 parts openskygallery.net and openskycampus.com. Here artists and students can find presentations, archives of previous projects and a full submission kit including, presentation, technical requirement, list of constraints and a simulator. We have developed this simulator to help artists figuring out the impact of their work on the building and on the Hong Kong skyline. It as well allows the collaborative work of the selection jury.
The video is produced in black and white low resolution, so there is no big technical challenge. The video is provided in a mov file with a composite of the 3 building façades in the same file and a mask helping to position the content according to the specificity of the LED grid.
The videos are finally edited together with titles. All credits are on the phone app. The result is provided to Sun Hung Kai as a swf file for the image and a separate soundtrack to be submitted to Apple two weeks before the show.
The sound is also played back in open areas on the IFC Tower balconies, the second highest tower in Hong Kong that is just facing the ICC Tower so spectators can get the sound and the vision of the show without using a phone app.
Link to OPEN SKY PROJECT official website