Arts

An interactive ancient ruin is the centerpiece of Palo Alto's Code:ART new media festival

The event also features six interactive artworks throughout downtown Palo Alto

"Paleoalto" is an interactive installation by Marpi Studio and Colour Feeders that will be set up in Lytton Plaza in downtown Palo Alto as part of the Code:ART festival, Oct. 7-9. Visitors can interact with video renderings of colorful primitive life forms in the installation, which is seen here in an early demo version. Courtesy Marpi Studio and Colour Feeders.

Palo Alto may be one of the birthplaces of Silicon Valley, but this week, one of the city's parks is going Paleolithic. A "ruin" populated by colorful primitive life forms will ​arise in ​downtown's ​Lytton Plaza​. V​isitors can even interact with the beings that inhabit the ruin.

It's not a time travel portal, but an interactive installation called "Paleo​al​​to" and despite its ancient theme, technology​ made it possible.

"Paleoalto" is a centerpiece of Code:ART, a three-day festival hosted by the city of Palo Alto that highlights new media, taking place on the evenings of Oct. 7-9 in Palo Alto. In addition to "Paleoalto," visitors can enjoy six other "urban interventions" — digital works that all invite interaction — placed in spots in and around downtown Palo Alto.

A rendering of "I/O" by Ben Flatau, a piece that is one of six "urban interventions" that visitors can interact with. The piece explores our love-hate relationship with technology. Courtesy Ben Flatau.

"Paleoalto" is a collaboration between Alameda-based Marpi Studio and technology system designers and installers Colour Feeders.

Artist Marpi specializes in interactive works, both large-scale installations and smaller pieces that can be experienced on screens as small as a phone. His exhibitions have been shown internationally, including in Shanghai, China, and Seoul, Korea, and often feature organic shapes that also have a slightly otherworldly quality to them.

Help sustain the local news you depend on.

Your contribution matters. Become a member today.

Join

"It's an interactive but imaginary world. So it's (about), 'How do you bring imagination to a physical, three-dimensional space?'" Marpi said.

He has collaborated with production designer Will Clark and systems architect Kevin Colorado, co-founders of Colour Feeders, for about three years. They have worked more closely together as pieces have become increasingly intricate or demanding in design.

"('Paleoalto') is more of a design collaboration rather than a technical collaboration. Traditionally, when I've collaborated with Marpi in the past it's been more from a technical perspective — designing the infrastructure that makes the digital experiences happen," Colorado said.

In this case, the collaboration meant getting more hands on in important details, such as how the piece would look.

"It's a big experiment, and even considering our previous work which was relatively experimental as well, this is just going further," Marpi said of "Paleoalto." "... with all of this we are treading in uncharted territory in a bunch of directions."

Stay informed

Get the latest local news and information sent straight to your inbox.

Stay informed

Get the latest local news and information sent straight to your inbox.

Marpi's works are site-specific, which posed a particular challenge for an outdoor space like a plaza. Most of Marpi's installations have been created for indoor spaces, and many of them have used projections. "Paleoalto" employs an LED wall and uses software to track and mirror visitors' motions.

"We've been researching different camera vision systems and hand-tracking software. In both cases we're focusing on technologies where you don't have to touch anything. Our work before was on touch screens and phone interactions, and touch-related interactions, but this time it's all tracking your skeleton and tracking your hands in midair," Marpi said.

Marpi's works often incorporate music, and although the specifics of what the music will be was still in development when Marpi and Colour Feeders spoke to this publication, "Paleoalto" will definitely have some original music to help set the scene for visitors.

One thing that makes "Paleoalto" especially unique as an interactive piece is its shape, with the installation built in a staircase shape.

"We've been working with the city of Palo Alto's engineers to design a truss system, and then attach a projecting LED wall to it. It's in a step shape, so it's not just a traditional square or a rectangle, like a screen would usually be. It has its own tapering edges and some extra panels on top of it," Clark said.

The pandemic delayed the exhibition of "Paleoalto" by more than a year. In the meantime, Lytton Plaza saw some changes that required alterations to the design, making the space for the installation a bit smaller, for one. Another significant change was the planting of some trees in the plaza that ultimately became a serendipitous addition, bringing an extra sense of realism to the piece.

"Paleoalto" features a doubled-sided screen in an unusual step shape. The two sides allow visitors on each side to interact through the installation. The piece is seen here in an early demo version. Courtesy Marpi Studio and Colour Feeders.

"That became a design consideration, which was pretty cool, and we incorporated the trees into our setup. The trees are emerging from our digital ruins, and that ties it into the physical world," Colorado said.

"It (ties) into the theme, as well, because I am always a fan of this kind of overgrown ruins look, where nature takes over again," Marpi added.

Not only is its shape unusual, but the design of "Paleoalto" allows for greater interaction. Where many interactive pieces have only one side where visitors can participate, "Paleoalto" is double-sided and actually allows for interaction between the sides.

"I'm really excited for the design aspect of it. I've never really seen something like this myself in terms of an outdoor installation of this type. I feel like we've done a lot of work to make it not stand out as a big video wall; it's a fully immersive thing that looks like it belongs in that space," Clark said.

"Paleoalto" may have moved into its temporary home complete with its own population of brightly colored whimsical creatures, but it's waiting for the visitors who will really make it come alive.

"More than anything else, it's the interactivity that gives it a soul, that gives it life," Colorado said.

"Paleoalto" will be on view Oct. 7-9, 5-10 p.m., in Lytton Plaza, 125 University Ave., Palo Alto. For more information and a map of where to find all seven Code:ART pieces, visit cityofpaloalto.org.

Craving a new voice in Peninsula dining?

Sign up for the Peninsula Foodist newsletter.

Sign up now
Heather Zimmerman has been with Embarcadero Media since 2019. She writes and edits arts stories, compiles the Weekend Express newsletter, curates the community calendar, helps edit stories for the Voice and The Almanac and assists with assembling the Express newsletters for those publications. Read more >>

Follow Palo Alto Online and the Palo Alto Weekly on Twitter @paloaltoweekly, Facebook and on Instagram @paloaltoonline for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

An interactive ancient ruin is the centerpiece of Palo Alto's Code:ART new media festival

The event also features six interactive artworks throughout downtown Palo Alto

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Wed, Oct 6, 2021, 5:55 pm

Palo Alto may be one of the birthplaces of Silicon Valley, but this week, one of the city's parks is going Paleolithic. A "ruin" populated by colorful primitive life forms will ​arise in ​downtown's ​Lytton Plaza​. V​isitors can even interact with the beings that inhabit the ruin.

It's not a time travel portal, but an interactive installation called "Paleo​al​​to" and despite its ancient theme, technology​ made it possible.

"Paleoalto" is a centerpiece of Code:ART, a three-day festival hosted by the city of Palo Alto that highlights new media, taking place on the evenings of Oct. 7-9 in Palo Alto. In addition to "Paleoalto," visitors can enjoy six other "urban interventions" — digital works that all invite interaction — placed in spots in and around downtown Palo Alto.

"Paleoalto" is a collaboration between Alameda-based Marpi Studio and technology system designers and installers Colour Feeders.

Artist Marpi specializes in interactive works, both large-scale installations and smaller pieces that can be experienced on screens as small as a phone. His exhibitions have been shown internationally, including in Shanghai, China, and Seoul, Korea, and often feature organic shapes that also have a slightly otherworldly quality to them.

"It's an interactive but imaginary world. So it's (about), 'How do you bring imagination to a physical, three-dimensional space?'" Marpi said.

He has collaborated with production designer Will Clark and systems architect Kevin Colorado, co-founders of Colour Feeders, for about three years. They have worked more closely together as pieces have become increasingly intricate or demanding in design.

"('Paleoalto') is more of a design collaboration rather than a technical collaboration. Traditionally, when I've collaborated with Marpi in the past it's been more from a technical perspective — designing the infrastructure that makes the digital experiences happen," Colorado said.

In this case, the collaboration meant getting more hands on in important details, such as how the piece would look.

"It's a big experiment, and even considering our previous work which was relatively experimental as well, this is just going further," Marpi said of "Paleoalto." "... with all of this we are treading in uncharted territory in a bunch of directions."

Marpi's works are site-specific, which posed a particular challenge for an outdoor space like a plaza. Most of Marpi's installations have been created for indoor spaces, and many of them have used projections. "Paleoalto" employs an LED wall and uses software to track and mirror visitors' motions.

"We've been researching different camera vision systems and hand-tracking software. In both cases we're focusing on technologies where you don't have to touch anything. Our work before was on touch screens and phone interactions, and touch-related interactions, but this time it's all tracking your skeleton and tracking your hands in midair," Marpi said.

Marpi's works often incorporate music, and although the specifics of what the music will be was still in development when Marpi and Colour Feeders spoke to this publication, "Paleoalto" will definitely have some original music to help set the scene for visitors.

One thing that makes "Paleoalto" especially unique as an interactive piece is its shape, with the installation built in a staircase shape.

"We've been working with the city of Palo Alto's engineers to design a truss system, and then attach a projecting LED wall to it. It's in a step shape, so it's not just a traditional square or a rectangle, like a screen would usually be. It has its own tapering edges and some extra panels on top of it," Clark said.

The pandemic delayed the exhibition of "Paleoalto" by more than a year. In the meantime, Lytton Plaza saw some changes that required alterations to the design, making the space for the installation a bit smaller, for one. Another significant change was the planting of some trees in the plaza that ultimately became a serendipitous addition, bringing an extra sense of realism to the piece.

"That became a design consideration, which was pretty cool, and we incorporated the trees into our setup. The trees are emerging from our digital ruins, and that ties it into the physical world," Colorado said.

"It (ties) into the theme, as well, because I am always a fan of this kind of overgrown ruins look, where nature takes over again," Marpi added.

Not only is its shape unusual, but the design of "Paleoalto" allows for greater interaction. Where many interactive pieces have only one side where visitors can participate, "Paleoalto" is double-sided and actually allows for interaction between the sides.

"I'm really excited for the design aspect of it. I've never really seen something like this myself in terms of an outdoor installation of this type. I feel like we've done a lot of work to make it not stand out as a big video wall; it's a fully immersive thing that looks like it belongs in that space," Clark said.

"Paleoalto" may have moved into its temporary home complete with its own population of brightly colored whimsical creatures, but it's waiting for the visitors who will really make it come alive.

"More than anything else, it's the interactivity that gives it a soul, that gives it life," Colorado said.

"Paleoalto" will be on view Oct. 7-9, 5-10 p.m., in Lytton Plaza, 125 University Ave., Palo Alto. For more information and a map of where to find all seven Code:ART pieces, visit cityofpaloalto.org.

Comments

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.