The COVID-19 pandemic was a revelatory period for many of us: It reminded people how much we love gathering with others in public spaces. But in a world dotted with economic anxiety, partisan rancor, health worries and geopolitical strife, we, as humans, also crave beauty and wonder more than we ever have before. The nexus of those two forces is digital art, a creative endeavor that leverages technology to deliver powerful, evocative artistic works that, most often, people experience together in communal settings.
Here, we explore this ascendant artform by drawing on the wisdom of Nicholas Lynch, executive creative director, and Peter Sapienza, CEO, both of content specialist CFIRE Inc.; Chris Conte, executive consultant with experiential integrator Electrosonic; and Mike Sabia, director, Client Service Group, with DVLED specialist SNA Displays.
Uplift and Inspire
If a single word could describe the last three years, it would be “draining.” And although it’s exciting to see the progress that DVLEDs have made in recent years, the sheer number of advertising-centric screens can sometimes be overwhelming. “I think there’s a subconscious need for content that’s not just bombardment of the senses,” Sabia states. Lynch echoes this, observing that displays used solely for advertising want something from you (i.e., they want you to try a product), which can make some viewers numb. “We’re trying to reverse that trend,” Lynch declares. Indeed, the heart of digital art is to create something that is uplifting and inspiring…something that gives rather than takes. That’s one reason why digital signage operators in Times Square have graciously volunteered their screens every night, for a few minutes, to participate in the world’s largest digital art gallery: Midnight Moment.
Evoking emotion aligns perfectly with integrators’ role not as technology outfitters but, rather, as experience creators and storytellers. “The idea of the storytelling is so critical,” Sapienza underscores. “But it can’t just be sensory overload, or digital pollution, or an insult to the senses. There is a subtlety in storytelling.” True digital art emerges when a project team successfully marries a creative artist’s inspiring vision with the technology tools that develop a canvas for the artist to bring their creation to reality. And the storytelling truly comes alive when guests experience it…when they draw in a deep breath and have that Wow! moment. Conte captures this spirit perfectly, saying one question, above all, should shape client conversations: “What do you want your guests to feel when they walk into this space?”
Salesforce West at 50 Fremont St. in San Francisco is a prime example of digital art come alive in a corporate setting. It also happens to be where SNA Displays met Lynch and Sapienza, whose firm, CFIRE, emerged from creative studio Obscura Digital. Lynch and Sapienza forged a bond with the digital display specialist as they were working to install servers to drive content for the stunning DVLED display that SNA Displays installed in Salesforce West’s lobby. An enveloping 106 feet long and nearly 13 feet high, the videowall, which comes from SNA Displays’ BOLD Interior line, features a tight four-millimeter pixel pitch and a total pixel count of about 6.4 million. Even more dazzlingly, elevator cutouts allow the display to complement the Gensler-designed architecture, further heightening the artistic potential.
The content is what really gives the Salesforce West application its power. From lush, green forests; to cloud-dotted vistas with views of the Golden Gate Bridge; to eye-catching, parchment-colored old maps, the images immediately capture lobby visitors’ attention and ignite imagination. The most stunning content, however, is a simulation waterfall breaking over the elevator bays, with the water cascading around the cutout and sloshing downward. Online videos showing this application quickly went viral, garnering hundreds of millions of views. In fact, Sapienza notes, to this day, tour buses stop by the Salesforce West lobby to see that waterfall art. “[Salesforce] is a great portfolio piece,” Sabia declares. “And it’s a big door-opener because a lot of [potential clients], especially in the corporate space, aspire to get to that level of exposure that Salesforce has had.”
When asked for the quintessential example of digital art transforming a corporate lobby, Conte immediately cites Electrosonic’s work on WarnerMedia’s executive offices in Culver City, Calif. Another Gensler-designed space, the lobby transfixes visitors with four floor-to-ceiling pillars arranged in the shape of a “W.” Each of them 28 feet tall, six feet wide and one foot deep, the pillars are covered, 360 degrees, in sub-2mm DVLEDs from SNA Displays. Conte makes no bones about how intense the integration and engineering processes were, with the teams having to consider everything from precision mounting column structures, stretching between floors, to earthquake preparedness. And the end-to-end price tag of roughly $2.5 million, encompassing both displays and headend electronics, was substantial. But the results thrill the client, whose lobby is home to a singular artistic creation.
“That’s a perfect example of taking technology and mixing it with artform to serve a corporate purpose,” Conte states. The enveloping, 360-degree nature of the display surfaces makes them ideal to showcase the iconic cultural touchstones that compose WarnerMedia’s portfolio. “This was a stunning canvas to do media for WarnerMedia and all their content that they have,” Conte declares. “They wanted to reveal the creative engine behind their content and display it in the lobby in a unique way.” WarnerMedia, working in partnership with X2O Media and Gensler’s Digital Experience Design (DXD) practice, created the content. Electrosonic then matched the content map, pixel for pixel, against the map for all of the columns.
The Power of DVLED
Everyone seems to agree that DVLED is an exceptionally effective canvas for digital art. Sapienza points to the high brightness and remarkable image consistency. “The sensory aspect is really a powerful part of it,” he emphasizes. “It’s a high-quality visual experience. It can be seen through glass from a block away!” Just thinking about it engages Lynch emotionally. “I find the way [DVLED] makes me feel compared to other technologies is radically different,” he attests. Recalling images of redwoods in a 2,000-year-old forest — content that he helped capture and edit — Lynch says, “Every time I would walk into the lobby and that piece of content would be on, I’d feel myself take this deep breath. The same deep breath I take when I’m there physically. It gave me the same feeling of being there.”
For Conte, DVLED’s greatest virtue might be its flexibility. “LED is such a powerful delivery of media in such dynamic ways because it’s now customizable,” he says, “where we can make shapes and curves and strips and horizontal stripes. [DVLED] has created this palette of shapes and geometry that artists and designers can use to paint landscapes.” In Conte’s mind, this unlocks incredible creative potential. He mentions, for example, opting for stripes of a 40-foot videowall instead of a complete, rectangular image. Yes, this might result in a 50% cost savings, but, far more importantly, it gives an opening to engage the viewer’s imagination. “Let your eyes do the magic,” Conte smiles. “You don’t need to pound people in the head with the image. You can give people pieces of the image, and they’ll fill in the rest.”
Digital Art’s Continued Proliferation
DVLED leaders like SNA Displays are continuing to push the boundaries of digital imaging; experiential technology companies like Electrosonic are embracing their role as storytellers; and digital creative specialists like CFIRE are developing immersive content that stirs the soul. As such, there’s little doubt that digital art will proliferate in the years ahead. Lynch points to the popularity of the touring Van Gogh Exhibition: The Immersive Experience — it has welcomed more than five million visitors — as proof that people are actively seeking out these experiences. He also cites Fête des Lumières (Festival of Lights) in Lyon, France, a multi-day spectacular of luminous wonderment. “I think there’s really just some deep need for people to go out to see and experience art at that level,” Lynch declares. “It wouldn’t surprise me if we start seeing more lobbies and public spaces look a lot like those installations.”
Meanwhile, Conte has his eyes on airports and other transit hubs, saying LED-based digital art projects in those locations has been a huge trend. He cites Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) as a prime example. Electrosonic, in partnership with Moment Factory, Digital Kitchen and Smart Monkeys, brought to life a set of displays and columns that didn’t merely share data but, more importantly, introduced digital art into the west coast transit mecca. With these deployments burnishing digital art’s luster, it likely won’t be long until we see more exhibitions in outdoor malls, public plazas, courtyards and other environments.
“The artists and designers are using LED technology as kind of an artist’s palette,” Conte observes. In so doing, they are transforming out-of-home environments into can’t-miss attractions. Take the AT&T Discovery District in Dallas as just another example. Outfitted with SNA Displays’ EMPIRE Exterior technology on a massive Media Wall in the outdoor plaza, and BRILLIANT Interior displays throughout The District’s lobby, AT&T has chosen to rely mostly on astonishing digital art from Moment Factory, artist Refik Anadol and many other content superstars, all in service of enhancing their presence in Dallas and online.
As Sapienza notes, digital-art deployments truly elevate a space, providing unique branding opportunities, creating immersion, and enhancing architectural and interior design. “It creates mystique and power in a place,” he says. That leaves Lynch feeling bullish about creative technologists’ power to foster a more imaginative, artistic world. “We’re going to see a lot of beautiful new digital art all across the world, and tons of it will be on SNA Displays screens,” he declares. “The future is brilliant.”
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