Lumia Learning

2021 - LED installation

In 1940, pioneer light and space artist Thomas Wilfred began surveying viewers of his art. Using light bulb filament reflected off an array of surfaces and color materials, Wilfred's Clavilux instrument projected ethereal forms of light in meditative concerts. Believing he was inventing a new art form (which he named Lumia) Wilfred also fancied himself an entrepreneur. Envisioning Clavilux’s in each home as the Home Clavilux, Tabletop Clavilux, or Clavilux Jr., his inventions could be seen as heralds to the coming of the television set. In surveying viewers of his performances, however, Wilfred's ambition went beyond commercial invention - believing he could find a sort of universal ‘ideal’ in his Lumia performances – surveying viewers on the color, tempo, forms, and even isolating these preferences to the gender and age of viewers. His notion was that Lumia could be perfected if the light, color, and forms were just so, and tailored perfectly to audience’s liking. 

Today, data analytics are a dominant field, and boxes that emit patterns of light and analyze our responses reside in most every pocket nationally. Parsing page view impressions, demographic analysis, the success or failure of this promotional reach or that, these are dominant tools of the day. So too do our social networks operate on semi-democratic processes wherein the most viewed media – the most liked or shared – rises to the top in a snowballing effect of popularity (the now questionable term of “going viral”.) This effect has changed not only the way that products are sold or the way fame is obtained or the way politics craft momentum, but also, at times, the very way that we perceive value in art and media. 

Lumia Learning is a work constantly in flux. The piece changes based on viewers’ attention. Should one approach and view the piece while it is a deep blue, with orange streaks moving quickly against an opposite pale green, Lumia Learning will note the colors, the speed, and the shapes that are resulting in the most prolonged attention. The piece will incrementally change to favor these attention retaining qualities. Via Wilfred and his Lumia art form, this piece also posits that there is “an ideal form”, and that ideal found in the eyes of a wide swath of viewership. 

Lumia Learning houses over 4,000 LEDs arranged into a pixel array. It utilizes a Kinect 2 sensor to track up to 6 persons at one time as they approach and view the piece. As persons do so, Lumia Learning adds weight to the current forms being viewed until the person(s) step away. The more people viewing at a given time, the more weight it gives that current form (or, over a long enough period viewing, the current forms.) To compensate for different periods of activity during the day, Lumia Learning operates on three looping twenty minute cycles. At its outset, post-installation, the piece will be tracking three different speeds of motion in these loops, while simultaneously surveying for background color presence in a full gradient sweep within each cycle, and a linear hue rise and fall over the twenty minute loop. As the piece continues to exhibit, it refines based on the preferences it observes, and alter the variables tracked and changed.

Click HERE to see what data Lumia Learning learned in its first exhibition in Torrance, California.

It is not difficult to imagine the uses capital would have for this technology. Lumia Learning first exhibited in a mall - the Del Amo Fashion Center in Torrance, California. One need only surmise what a shopping mall store would like to project. Using the technology that drives Lumia Learning in creating a light-up billboard, a shop might learn what sweaters attract the most head turning, what imagery most sells the latest iPad, or even what colors and forms are most successful in advertisement of any product. Again, in social media, across Instagram and Facebook, this is being done constantly. Campaigns are started and monitored, then tailored to suit a specific audience, or to more particularly strike a specific clientele. Though Lumia Learning does not utilize the technology inherent in the Kinect 2 for directional eye-tracking, this too is a possibility. Soon, our phones could track the very direction of our attention and gaze via the slight movement of our eyes. Advertisements could move across the screen to obstruct your view wherever your eyes turn. In this way, your attention, even your sense of vision becomes a vein for capital to mine. Lumia Learning is not meant to expose these realities – they are conducted openly and known. Instead, Lumia Learning is meant to probe the effect that this constant data analysis and refinement has upon the work itself and how this data inhalation alters and changes the media that we view. Like Wilfred's notions of Lumia, this piece proposes a publicly sourced notion of aesthetics. In this way, this work is an ongoing experiment visualizing the result when art is democratized to the most widely attractive taste, and when adaptability reigns supreme in maintaining and seeking attention and gaze. This is a work without any fixed center, but rather, a middling between boundaries created by the viewership of itself. So too do our media practices now avail themselves of this de-centered, constant flux approach in effort to further reach. Does this make the work, and indeed our world of media, vacant, void of initiative or design, or does this make it collaborative, conducted by simply the standing and watching of participants? Over time, will the push to the common denominator result in a great middling effect, turning the piece into an amorphous gray, or will this piece be pushed further and further to its outside limits by its viewers? If nothing else, set in its original setting, amidst the sales and promotional signage of the Torrance mall, this piece offered a momentary respite from one's attention being sponsorship of sold product. In that setting, the piece was an oasis in which one's attention subverted the efforts to commodify, and instead invited viewer's gaze to be coopted as artist agent in painting light. Wilfred could never have foreseen the degree to which patterns of light now alter and shift our actions throughout the day. So too, in this piece, in response, should our actions alter and tutor the kinetic manifestation of the art of light - Lumia, learning.

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Artist rendering created with assistance from Noah Hernandez.

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Wilfred's Lumia Diagram, 1940-50 Courtesy of the Yale University Library

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Wilfred's Results of Questionnaires Given to 200 Men and Women, 1940

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Wilfred's Sequential Development of Three Form Groups, 1948. Courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art