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Stanford faculty to create art installation in Caltrain tunnel

The Palo Alto Public Arts Commission recently approved an interactive art installation that will display colorful gradations of LED light and ambient music in the University Avenue tunnel located under Alma St. and the Palo Alto Caltrain station.

Ala Ebtekar MFA ’06, an artist and a visiting lecturer of art and art history at Stanford, and Binta Ayofemi MFA ’07, visiting artist at the Institute for Diversity in the Arts, will collaborate on the project.

In addition to serving an aesthetic purpose, the installation will also be affected by tunnel use data — the amount of traffic, weather, time of day and day of the week — collected by sensors. The peak number of commuters and pedestrians will determine the color of light and tempo of music that will play in the tunnel three times a day.

The art piece is a response to a call from the Palo Alto Public Arts Commission that sought to program temporary rotating public art displays in the tunnels of University Avenue. Ebtekar and Ayofemi’s proposal, which was selected over other proposals, will remain in the tunnels for up to a year.

Elise Demarzo, public art program manager at the City of Palo Alto, worked with the Palo Alto Public Arts commission panel, which included members ranging from Russ Cohen of the Palo Alto Downtown Business and Professional Association to artist Joey Piziali, to make the final decision.

“I loved the idea of the sound element being tied into an interactive app and possibly tying into local music generated from the Stanford campus, Palo Alto High School, Gunn High School, Cubberley Community Center or elsewhere,” Demarzo said. “This has the capacity to build community in a new and different way.”

The photo-sonorous displays will take the idea of building community to a new level, as the music of the installation will pair Ebtekar and Ayofemi’s score with songs gathered from suggestions the public can submit via Twitter.

“I thought about what it means to have sound activate an urban space and the possibility of bringing in a playlist,” Ayofemi said. “Students will be invited to shape the final experience and their input will affect how our playlists are updated via Twitter.”

The installation will respond to each day as source material, Ayofemi continued. Changes in the dynamic of everyday life, ranging from celebrations to games, have the potential to change the flow of light and sound in the tunnels.

Ayofemi, who described the current appearances of the tunnel as not representative of Palo Alto, said that she hopes the project will better reflect the city’s dynamic by linking contemporary life to urban architecture.

“The question was how we could subtly transform daily life through the simplest materials, [like] moments of light and sound?” Ayofemi said. “We were both interested in making the space [tunnel] more of a sensory experience, activating the everyday commute and everyday flow in Palo Alto.”

 

Contact Angelique Dakkak at angeldak ‘at’ stanford ‘dot’ edu